Lakes of Oil is a photographic record of the oil boom days around Drumright, Oklahoma starting around 1912.
The name of the oilfield was officially the Drumright-Cushing Oil Field, even though it lay several miles east of Cushing, Oklahoma. It was actually situated around Drumright, going north of that town to and sometimes beyond the Cimarron River and to the town of Oilton. South of Drumright, the field went beyond the town of Shamrock. It touched up to the Creek and Payne County line and went a few miles east of Drumright. In 1919, this oil field produced three percent of the world’s oil production and drew several hundreds of people to Drumright, Oilton, Shamrock, even some to Cushing, turning these locales very quickly into boomtowns.
Author Eileene Russell Huff’s father, Ben Russell, took the photographs that make up the majority of this book right when the boom was going big. His wonderfully clear photos provide a great eyewitness to this time in Oklahoma history when Oklahoma was producing the most oil in the country. There were literally lakes of oil around some rigs because workers could not keep up with building tanks to hold the oil. Much of the oil in the lakes evaporated, and some oil lakes and tanks were ignited by lightning, causing major fires that took a long time to either put out or burn out. The photos show some of these fires, and several photos show various fires going on simultaneously, the sky darkened by the smoke.
Eileene Russell Huff organized her father’s photos and provides a commentary and the history of the oil field. Her introduction to the oil field which orients the reader to the topic. Chapter topics include Huff’s father, Ben Russell; the oil field and its development; the town of Drumright, Oklahoma; the people who worked and lived around the oil field; and postcard photography.
The black and white photographs (some of which are repeated) show many oil rigs in the field, along and in the Cimarron River, and in and around the towns mentioned here. The remarkable photos of oil rigs with pools of oil around them that look like huge lakes give the book its title. The photographs also chronicle the growth of Drumright from a tent town to one filled with buildings made from stone and wood. The reviewer’s family might be in some of the photos since his great-grandfather worked in the oil business and lived with his family for a time in Oilton. His youngest child was born in Oilton, but the family eventually moved to Cushing.
This book is a great addition to the Oklahoma Centennial celebration and is highly recommended to those interested in Oklahoma history, the oil industry, or the history of Drumright, Oklahoma.
Eileene Russell Huff is a local historian in Drumright, Oklahoma and has written several articles for the local newspaper on this history as well as a book entitled Drumright’s Unique History: Rare Photos of a Boom Town Born to Survive (2004), also published by New Forums Press.