High Hopes Failed to Materialize
By Steve Lent, Museum Historian
A wheat field on the west slope of Grizzly Mountain became the site of much expectation in Central Oregon in 1908. The site was selected for drilling the first oil well in the region. Local newspapers promoted much excitement in the event. Some oil was produced and the Prineville Review reported on the event on August 27, 1908:
Petroleum has actually been taken from the well on the west slope of Grizzly Butte, about 17 miles northwest of this city, according to parties from the locality and samples of good commercial oil taken from the well now are on exhibit at Madras. The oil well is the property of the Madras Oil and Gas Company, which has been sinking it for the past two or three months and the company, while knowing all the time that oil was there, is highly gratified of being in a position to also convince the public of this fact.. Besides oil and water, coal has also been found in the well.
There were high hopes that a plentiful supply of oil would draw the interest of the Harriman railroad line which had just begun construction of a rail line to Central Oregon in competition with James J. Hill. It was believed the railroad would become one of the best customers of the oil company. Several local entrepreneurs were investors in the oil company.
It is not certain why the site was selected by the Madras Oil and Gas Company. The company continued drilling for another couple of months. Although a small amount of oil was produced it was not in sufficient amounts that warranted further drilling. The project was soon abandoned and the well capped. It did provide some brief excitement in the region but soon was a forgotten enterprise. The site of the well drilling is known as Oil Well Flat.