Let’s Talk Clovis: Clovis Oil Fields, 1909 & 1916

In the early 1900s, there was considerable speculation that oil existed in Clovis and surrounding areas. (Courtesy of clovis Museum)

Fortune hunters turned their interest from gold nuggets to “liquid gold” in Fresno County in the late 1860s.

The City of Coalinga made its first attempt (1867) to drill for oil. It was not until 1890 that their “oil” boom began. By 1910 they were the most productive oil field in California. Their production began to decline in the 1960s and 1970s. There was considerable speculation that oil existed in the locality of Clovis.

We quote portions of the article “To Drill for Oil at Clovis, Fresno” printed by The Bakersfield Californian, Tuesday, May 11, 1909:

“The first move to ascertain if oil is paying quantities actually exists under the ground near the town of Clovis was made yesterday when articles of incorporation were filed with the county clerk by the Clovis Oil Company. Fresno is to be the principal place of business of the new company, which is capitalized for the sum of $100,000 with $25,000 actually subscribed. (L.L. Eversoll of Clovis was listed as a director.)

Many persons well versed in such matters are positive that oil does exist near Clovis. It will be remembered that something over a year ago oil in abundance was found in the Shaffner water well, which is located bout two and a half miles northeast of Clovis.

This oil was found floating on the water and several gallons of the valuable fluid were dished out and tested. It was stated at the time that the finding of the oil proved exclusively that the fluid existed in paying quantities under the earth stretch of land upon which the town of Clovis is located.

One of the directors of the new company stated: ‘Nor do we know how deep we will sink our first well. We may stop at one well and then again if things come out the right way we may not stop at 2000. It may be that we will eventually put John D. Rockefeller out of business.’”

Here are portions of a second newspaper article “Oil shale located by test well in Clovis field, Fresnans back of broject are encouraged by find at 250 feet” printed by the Bakersfield Californian, 1916:

“What is considered a most promising indication that oil will eventually be struck in the Clovis fields was the discovery recently of oil shale at the depth of less than 250 feet in the well now being drilled on property owned by J.M. Browne and located five miles northwest of Clovis and about one-half mile due south of El Prado.

The discovery has sent a thrill of excitement through several dozen Fresnans whose property holdings near Clovis make up the 3,200 acres of land that surrounds the Browne piece and much speculation was indulged in yesterday of the drilling.

Drilling for oil near Clovis has been underway only since Sept. 27 last, but the prediction that it would be found there was made last fall by G.W. McCrosson of Los Angeles, inventor of an instrument which he claimed would expose the location of the mineral.

On the strength of this prediction, McCrosson succeeded in obtaining leases for 25 years on 3,200 acres of land near Clovis. The leases were negotiated on his positive assurances that he had financial backing to carry on the drilling. McCrosson in turn, signed over his leases to C.J. Heyler, prominent promoter and experienced oil operator of Los Angeles.

It was understood that in the event of a successful strike, the land lessors were to receive a royalty of 10 per cent. The rent of the land was provided for differently in the various leases. Each contract was provided with a general clause to the effect that in the event of a strike the entire 3,200 acres must be developed within a period of three years.

It is reported that $20,000 has already been invested in the venture. A 24-hour shift is kept steadily at work and the drills are sinking deeper daily.”

We have not been successful in designating the actual location of the drillings nor collect information of names that were printed. We will continue to research this intriguing part of our rich heritage.

Peg Bos is the president of the Clovis Museum on 4th and Pollasky avenues in Old Town Clovis. She not only manages the museum but she also writes her Let's Talk Clovis column in our publication which features and highlight the amazing history of our city and culture. One fun fact about Peg Bos, she was the first female mayor of Clovis from 1984-86.