William Henry Foster, geologist who discovered the unusual Kosse Oil Field, was born at West Plains, Missouri, on December 23, 1891. He was the son of the Rev. Henry Bowman Foster, a Methodist clergyman, and Mary Elizabeth (Chandler) Foster.
Foster was a graduate of Drury College and received his master of science degree from the University of Kansas in 1914. In 1916 he joined the staff of F. Julius Fohs’s highly successful geological consulting firm in Tulsa, Oklahoma. At a time when many wildcatters were little more than gamblers or dowsers, Fohs and his university-trained team sought to establish petroleum geology as a respected science.
In 1919 Fohs selected Foster to accompany him to Egypt and Palestine as emissaries of the Zionist Commission to hunt for mineral resources which might support the founding of a Jewish homeland. British troops under Gen. Edmund Allenby were assigned to guard the two geologists, who came under fire at least once from Arab bandits. Their report to the British War Office led to the establishment of cement manufacturing and mineral extracting plants on the Dead Sea.
Returning to the United States, Foster was ordered to Mexia in Limestone County, where the Mexia Oil Field was proving to be a milestone in the history of Texas oil as the first fault-line field and the first producing from the rich and pervasive Woodbine Sand (see WOODBINE FAULT-LINE FIELDS). Foster now joined in the development of the Mexia area and often said in later life how proud he was to have been part of this critical breakthrough in the history of oil exploration.
Here in the small town of Kosse, twenty-eight miles south of Mexia, he experienced one of the most bizarre adventures ever to befall a geologist. Having worked out the fault-line geology, he invited his future wife, Carrie Annette Berry of Mexia, to drive the stake for the discovery well of the Kosse Field. On August 18, 1922, the Jones No. 1 well blew in with hitherto unheard-of force but three days later mysteriously ceased to flow. Later work turned Kosse into a small producer, but it never fulfilled its initial promise and is still a text-book example of a one-well oil field.
Foster married Berry on October 3, 1922. They had three children. In 1922 Foster and Wilhelm A. Reiter, the discoverer of the Mexia Field, left the Fohs organization to form Foster-Reiter Consulting Geologists and the Reiter Oil Corporation. These successful companies evolved into the Reiter-Foster Oil Corporation, with offices in Dallas, Tulsa (where Foster made his home), and New York. The young company prospered and helped to develop, among others, the Woodson Field in Throckmorton County and the immense Cushing Oil Field in Oklahoma.
In the 1930s Foster became an independent with headquarters in Dallas and helped to discover and develop many oil and gas fields in Texas and Louisiana. One of his most significant finds was the discovery of natural gas for the first time in the Crane Trend of the Petit Lime in Panola County, Texas. His other interests included silver prospecting in Durango, Mexico.
Foster was a member of the honorary scientific society Sigma Xi and a charter member of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. He died on December 16, 1969, in Dallas and was buried in Sparkman Hillcrest Memorial Park there. His son, William Henry Foster, Jr., became an independent geologist operating out of Bartlesville, Oklahoma.
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Mexia Evening News, January 27, 1922. Edgar Wesley Owen, Trek of the Oil Finders: A History of Exploration for Petroleum Vol. 6 (American Association of Petroleum Geologists, 1975). W. A. Reiter, “Memorial to Ferdinand Julius Fohs,” Geological Society of America Bulletin 76 (1965). Carl Coke Rister, Oil!: Titan of the Southwest (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1949). Walter Rundell, Jr., Early Texas Oil: A Photographic History, 1866–1936 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1977). C. A. Warner, Texas Oil and Gas Since 1543 (Houston: Gulf Publishing Company, 1939). “William Henry Foster,” Find A Grave Memorial (http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=74408072), accessed February 8, 2014.
Oil and Gas Industry
Geologists and Geophysicists
Dallas/Fort Worth Region
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Mary Foster Hutchinson,
“Foster, William Henry,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 23, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
February 20, 2014
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: