A series where we take a #lookback at the stories and history of our community, brought to you by Mick Pryor, Financial Advisor with Edward Jones.
In the early 1830s, oil was first sighted in Wyoming Territory by the Popo Agie River about 10 miles south of present-day Lander. This oil was discovered by mountain men at the Green River Rendezvous. The discovery was reported to Captain Benjamin Bonneville, who was on an expedition to explore the Oregon Country. This territory included the states of Washington, Idaho, and Oregon as well as small portions of western Wyoming and Montana. The oil discovery made by the mountain men at the Green River Rendezvous was later named the Dallas Dome. In 1883, the first oil well drilled in the State of Wyoming was produced at the Dallas Dome by Mike Murphy. After the first oil well was drilled, the oil began being discovered all throughout the county. Oil fields were discovered at Plunkett Field north of Hudson, the Maverick Springs Oil Field, and Big Sand Draw.
In 1917, the Wind River Refining Company was established in Lander and began construction on an oil refinery along the Chicago & North Western Railroad. Wind River Refining Company was a subsidiary of the Wind River Petroleum Company. The plant was finished and operating by September 1918. This refinery processed oil from the Lander, Hudson, Dallas Dome, and the Pilot Butte Oil Fields.
During this time, there was a huge rivalry between the Wind River Refining Company in Lander and the Riverton-Wyoming Refinery, which was being constructed a half-mile north of Riverton, near the Chicago & North Western Railroad. The Riverton-Wyoming Refining Company was incorporated in 1917 and was headquartered in Denver. The company began construction on the Riverton-Wyoming Refinery in 1918 and completed the construction in July of 1919. This plant planned to refine oil from Dallas Dome, Hudson, and Pilot Butte Oil Fields. There was a lot of back and forth between the two companies in the local newspapers. An example is this quote that was published in an article in the Wyoming State Journal on January 25th, 1918:
“The Riverton, Wyoming, we are informed has a lot of very promising oil land and the chances for getting production from fields yet to be brought in are very good. Some of the oil sharks think that lands owned by the company below Riverton will prove big oil producers when drilled. With a lot of good stuff at home, the Riverton-Wyoming ought to content itself with what it has without claiming the rest of the world.”
The Riverton-Wyoming Refining Company principals, E.C. Kingsbury and C.C. Clark heavily promoted the company stock in the newspapers. This caused a controversy over the growth of the company because of misleading claims made about the company’s assets and future development. Before the refinery could be opened, Kingsbury and Clark were investigated by the Manager of Safety and Assets in Denver. After the investigation, a report was released that the company was organized as a stock selling scheme to make the principal stockholder’s money. Later in 1919, the Riverton-Wyoming Company changed management. The refinery did not stay open for long after the management changed. Due to operation problems and insufficient crude oil supply, the Riverton-Wyoming Refining Company started foreclosure proceedings in 1921. The property was purchased by the Riverton State Bank at a public auction.
The Wind River Refinery did not last any longer than the Riverton-Wyoming Refinery. The refinery was unable to handle the grade of oil it was required to refine and was shut down in 1919. In December of 1919, the company applied for receivership. United States Oil & Refining owned by Milton McWhorter in Lusk, Wyoming, started negotiations to take possession of the Wind River Refinery in July of 1920. However, the Wind River Refining Company and McWhorter could not come to an agreement, so the refinery remained closed. However, more oil field discoveries continued to be made throughout the county. Oil was discovered at Alkaline Butte, Derby Dome, Circle Ridge, Sheldon Dome, and Crooks Gap.
In 1936, Pilot Oil Company operated the Pilot Butte Refinery. This refinery was located 30 miles west of Riverton on the Wind River’s north bank. The boilers used at the company were salvaged steam engines from the North & South Railroad. The Pilot Butte Refinery was closed in 1955.
Later in 1944, another refinery was built in Riverton. Husky Refining Company obtained a contract fuel oil for the United States Navy. As a result, Husky Refining Company built a topping refinery in Riverton in mid-1944, using surplus equipment from the refinery in Cody, Wyoming. The new refinery was in southwest Riverton adjacent from the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad. The new Husky Refining Company refinery produced heavy oil from Maverick Springs, Pilot Butte, Winkleman Dome, Dallas Dome, Derby Dome, Hamilton dome, Circle Ridge, and the Lander Fields. From the refinery in Riverton, the heavy oil was shipped to Cody by truck and then shipped on the railroad to the west coast. This refinery was closed in 1946 after the United States Navy canceled its contract with Husky Refining Company at the end of World War II. The equipment at the refinery was shipped to a subsidiary of Husky Refining Company in Alberta, Canada, to help start an asphalt plant.
Next up for the Fremont County Museums
February 8th at the Riverton Museum at 2 pm, “Exploring Historic Computers”
Bailey Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Exploration Series
February 14th at the Riverton Museum 5:30-9:30 pm, “Murder Mystery Night at the Museum: Roaring 20’s”
March 12th at the Pioneer Museum 7 pm, “Lander in 1920”
Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series
Consider supporting The Dubois Museum, the Pioneer Museum in Lander or the Riverton Museum with a monetary donation. The museums are more reliant than ever on donations from the private sector to continue to provide the quality programs, collections management, exhibits and services that have become their hallmark. Please make your tax-deductible contribution to be used specifically for the benefit of the museum of your choosing by sending a check to Fremont County Museums 450 N 2nd Rm 320 or taking it directly to the museum you choose to support.