CASPER — Fourteen years after the first oil refinery was built in Casper, the Salt Creek Oil Field had its first gusher.
It was 1908, and Casper officially hit a boom. The population exploded between 1912 and 1918, from 2,000 to 20,000 people.
Casper went from producing 50 barrels to 100,000 barrels a day, and Salt Creek became known as “the greatest light oil field in the world.”
The Salt Creek, Shannon and Teapot Dome oil fields’ effect on Wyoming history is the subject of the state’s new Black Gold Byway, which opened in a public dedication recently in Casper.
Part of the Historic Mine Trail and Byway Program, the route travels through Salt Creek and follows a 42-mile stretch of road from Casper to Midwest and Edgerton via Interstate 25 and Wyoming Highways 259 and 387 in central Wyoming. Six interpretive panels placed along the byway detail the social, economic, political and geological history of the oil fields.
This is the second byway completed by the program, which is managed by the State Historic Preservation Office’s Monuments and Markers Program. The Gold Flakes to Yellowcake Historic Mine Trail, designated in 2005, was the first.
“Mining history is a very important part of Wyoming history,” said Laura Nowlin, program coordinator for the Monuments and Markers Program. “... It has made us the state we are.”
The byway program was created by the Wyoming Legislature in 2005 and originated with former state Sen. Bob Peck of Riverton. Peck got the idea from a local museum curator who told him schoolchildren seemed to know very little of Wyoming’s mining past, he told the Casper Star-Tribune in 2005.
Peck, who died in 2007, said he wanted to preserve the history before it was forgotten.
The Monuments and Markers Program has managed the byway program since 2009 and receives $50,000 every two years to go toward mine byways, Nowlin tells the Star-Tribune (http://bit.ly/OzunHk).
The Rocky Mountain Oilfield Testing Center nominated Salt Creek for consideration in 2010, she said. A specialist then spent a year researching with local historians, museums and Casper’s Western History Center to develop an interpretive plan.
Sandy Schutte, curator of the Salt Creek Museum in Midwest, said Salt Creek can be noted for its social impact on the area. Although only 600 people live in Midwest and Edgerton today, more than 10,000 people lived near there in the 1920s and ’30s, in eight towns and hundreds of camps.
A number of those working the Salt Creek field today are third generation, tracing their roots back to relatives who moved here decades ago to work.
“We have folks working the same ground their grandfathers worked,” said Dennis Ellis, government relations adviser for Anadarko Petroleum Corp., which has operated the Salt Creek field for about 10 years. “... It’s good for folks to know what our history and heritage is living in Wyoming.”
Metal interpretive panels along the byway can be spotted from the road and look like miniature oil derricks. Text and photos on the panels also address the Teapot Dome Scandal of the 1920s and the technical aspects of oil drilling.
Nowlin said two other byways are in the works, one each near Sheridan and Green River. The Black Diamond Trail near Sheridan will highlight local coal mining history and is scheduled to open Sept. 29. The byway near Green River is slated for the summer of 2014, Nowlin said.
“I hope Senator Peck would be proud of what we’re doing,” she said. “It really is a public program like he intended it to be.”
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com