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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture


In 1920 oilman Ernest W. Marland, on the advice of E. Park "Spot" Geyer, who headed his geology department, became convinced that there was oil to be found southwest of Ponca City near the town of Tonkawa. He persuaded the Humphreys Petroleum Company, Cosden Oil Company, Prairie Oil and Gas Company, and the Kay County Gas Company to enter a cooperative venture to drill ten wells in the area to test the idea. After drilling nine dry holes, they spudded in during autumn 1920 on a location about eight miles south of Tonkawa in northern Noble County. The well, called the J. H. Smith School Land Number One, came in on June 29, 1921, at a depth of 2,660 feet in the Tonkawa sand as a thousand-barrel-per-day producer. By the time the discovery became well known, the field had crept north into southern Kay County to eventually cover eight square miles. The price of leases became so high that only the larger companies were active in the area. Ultimately, nine separate pay horizons were discovered in the field, with three of them, the Carmichael, the Wilcox, and the Tonkawa, being the largest oil producers, giving the field its better-known name of Three Sands. Despite its small size the field produced a significant amount of oil, due to the large number of producing horizons. Flush production from 1923 through 1925 ranged from twenty-three million to twenty-eight million barrels annually but diminished rapidly until by 1947 the field was producing less than four hundred thousand barrels per year.

The Tonkawa Field also produced a large number of high-volume gas wells, which led to the building of numerous natural gasoline (casinghead gas) plants in the area. The proliferation of gas wells in the field also led to the first large-scale use of rotary drilling rigs in Oklahoma because that equipment was better suited to controlling gas wells. Moreover, with twenty-six pipelines serving the area, for the first time in an Oklahoma boom there were enough pipeline outlets and storage facilities in the field to contain all the production.

Bobby D. Weaver


Kenny A. Franks, The Oklahoma Petroleum Industry (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980).

Bess Mills-Bullard, comp., "Digest of Oklahoma Oil and Gas Wells," in Oil and Gas in Oklahoma, Oklahoma Geological Survey Bulletin 40, Vol. 1 (Norman: Oklahoma Geological Survey, 1928).

Carl Coke Rister, Oil! Titan of the Southwest (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1949).

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The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Bobby D. Weaver, “Tonkawa–Three Sands Field,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=TO006.

Published January 15, 2010

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