“More than 500 residents of Santa Cruz County attended the official ‘spudding in’ of… the first well of the Nogales Oil and Gas Company, at Elgin, Sunday. By their presence, the large crowd… gave evidence of the fact that they have faith in the extended and favorable reports regarding the oil bearing possibilities of the company’s holdings…From daylight Sunday morning… the roads leading to Elgin were dotted with automobiles climbing over the mountain roads, resembling a trail of black ants…. More than 150 automobiles…were parked about the field…” [The Border Vidette, 7/8/1922]. The field was on Babacomari ranch lands, on the west side of the Elgin Canelo Road.

Financing of the exploratory drilling came from the Nogales Oil and Gas Company, irganized in the summer of 1921, “for the purpose of developing the Santa Cruz County oil fields.” [The Border Vidette, 8/13/1921]. Company officers were L.W. Mix, president; J. A. Harrison, vice president; Manuel Escalada, treasurer; and F. J. Barry, secretary. [The Border Vidette, 9/17/1921]. Lee W. Mix was a prominent Nogales leader who had served as mayor (1913-1916) and was the first chief of the volunteer fire department. He was involved in mining and owned a great deal of property in the area. [Nogales International, 10/29/1932].

Nogales Oil and Gas had secured a mineral rights lease for the 33,792 acres of the former Babacomari land grant, owned by Dr. E. B. Perrin. Funds raised from the sale of stock financed the drilling operations. A contract with Western Pacific Drilling specified that Nogales Oil and Gas would pay half of the drilling expenses up to $25,000, and then Western Pacific would pay the balance. If a strike of oil in commercial quantities occurred, Western Pacific would have the rights to half of the oil lease acreage. [Letter from L.W. Mix to Major A.L.P. Johnson, 8/21/1922]. Drilling continued throughout 1922 and by early 1923 had reached an oil shale bed at a depth of 1,050 feet. [Casa Grande Dispatch, 2/22/1923].

In April 1923, when drilling had reached a depth of 1,100 ft., drilling ceased when Nogales Oil and Gas sued Western Pacific for breach of contract. [Tucson Citizen, 4/23/1923]. A settlement reached a few months later gave Nogales Oil and Gas title to all equipment, and they contracted directly with Western Pacific’s head driller, E.R. Cady to continue exploratory drilling [Border Vidette, 7/21/1923].

Before work could resume, tools left in the well had to be retrieved. Then the drilling bit was dropped in the well, and a blizzard left two feet of snow on the ground. By the end of 1923 Capt. Mix noted “We have three months yet before we can possibly forfeit our big lease … and we will keep at it [if] it is possible to do so,” [Letter from L.W. Mix to Major A.L.P. Johnson, 12/25/1923].

Apparently, Nogales Oil and Gas was unable to continue. In 1925, when Oklahoma driller J. E. Waldron took over, with funding from local investors, the drilling depth was at 1,174 ft. Waldron noted: “I figure we will have to go approximately 3,000 to 3,500 feet but expect to get gas at from 2,100 to 2,200 feet.” [Arizona Daily Star, 1/4/1925]. Finding no further news reports of the Elgin oil well it appears that the drilling was abandoned.

Probable location of the drilling site on Babacomari ranch lands. Thanks to Bill Schock for guiding the author, using coordinates obtained from the Arizona Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Photo by Alison Bunting

Note: Many thanks to Marina Smith, great-granddaughter of L.W. Mix, who shared some of Captain Mix’s letters that provided a firsthand account of the oil exploration activities.

Alison Bunting can be contacted at alisbunting@gmail.com