Phillips, Jacob Rice (1881–1957)

By: H. Allen Anderson

Type: Biography

Published: May 1, 1995

Updated: April 28, 2019

Jacob Rice (Jake) Phillips, Panhandle oilman, the son of William and Mary (Keefe) Phillips, was born on March 6, 1881, in Deep Valley, Pennsylvania, the eighth in a family of fifteen children. He attended a one-room country school and spent his youth in near poverty. Weary of farm life and hearing of opportunities in the oilfields, he left home in the summer of 1901. He spent three months digging ditches for a new oil pipeline at St. Mary's, West Virginia, and later went to Salem, West Virginia, and worked as a roustabout for the South Penn Oil Company. In 1903 Phillips moved west and was hired as an oil scout in Independence, Kansas, for the Prairie Oil and Gas Company. He started in the field at Chautauqua Springs, where he quickly mastered the techniques of locating and drilling potential well sites. He was transferred to Skiatook, Oklahoma, and made superintendent of the territory's first major oilfield. His ability to map out good locations for new wells attracted the attention of geologists like Professor I. C. White of the University of West Virginia, who accompanied him on geological expeditions in 1907. On February 24, 1909, Phillips married Martha Alice Benge; seven children were born to the couple, but only five survived.

In 1912 Phillips and two partners, A. W. Lucas and L. L. Wiles, formed the Paloma Oil and Gas Company and started drilling in the swampy Osage area near Tulsa. That venture proved successful against heavy odds, and in 1917 Phillips and Bill Scott invested their savings in an equally profitable gas lease in Kansas. Nevertheless, Phillips remained with Prairie Oil and Gas until 1919, when he and J. E. Foster of Tulsa organized the J. E. Foster Oil Company. For the next six years Phillips enjoyed good fortune. In 1925 he decided to investigate the wildcat drilling that was going on in the Texas Panhandle and sold out his Oklahoma holdings.

He bought property from the Kingsland Ranch on Dixon Creek, Hutchinson County, Texas, about three miles east of the site of future Borger. There he established a camp and family homesite which he named Skiatex, a portmanteau of Skiatook and Texas. He secured several area leases and organized the Stansylvania Oil and Gas Company, which brought in its first well on September 1. During the next two years he successfully drilled eight more producers. His Skiatex camp quickly grew from tents to a village of wooden houses; there he established a grade school and hired two teachers from Canyon for his own children and those of his employees. In 1926, after Sherman D. (Tex) McIlroy's Smith Number 1 touched off the boom that resulted in the founding of Borger, Phillips became involved in that town's civic and cultural growth. Eventually, he and his associates brought in more than 200 producing wells; as the owner of forty of them, Phillips was one of the Panhandle's most successful wildcatters.

The onslaught of the Great Depression left Phillips and his fellow wildcatters momentarily broke. In 1930, despite financial straits, he and the Currie brothers of Amarillo secured an eighty-acre lease on the Harvey Ranch east of Borger and formed the Texilvania Oil Company. Eventually that lease paid off with the opening of the Watkins field. Phillips also began developing leases around Stinnett and in 1937 sold one successful holding to the Phillips Petroleum Company (no relation) for $160,000 to help pay off debts. World War II brought new growth to the independent oil producers, but the temporary shortage of manpower prompted Phillips to resume a roustabout's role. That ended late in 1944, when a falling mast severely injured his right leg during a well-cleaning operation; the leg had to be amputated, and Phillips was fitted with an artificial limb. In October 1955 the first Magic Plains Oil Exposition was held at Borger in his honor. Phillips was president of the Texas Independent Royalty Owners Association and a charter member and president of the Panhandle Producers and Royalty Association. He was also a Mason, a Shriner, and an organizer of the Borger Methodist Church. He died at Borger on September 25, 1957, and was buried there. Many of the oil leases in which he invested are still active producers.

Betty J. Phillips, Grand Old Man of the Panhandle Oil Industry: Jacob Rice Phillips (M.A. thesis, West Texas State University, 1970).


  • Oil and Gas Industry
  • Oil Entrepreneurs and Wildcatters

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

H. Allen Anderson, “Phillips, Jacob Rice,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 27, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 1, 1995
April 28, 2019