Last updated: April 22, 2023
Wallace Everette Pratt was born on March 15, 1885 in Phillipsburg, Kansas. By 1908, Pratt had earned two Bachelor degrees in geological studies from the University of Kansas. He subsequently earned a Master’s degree in 1909, and an Engineer of Mines degree in 1914 from the same university. From 1909 to 1914, Pratt lived and worked in the Philippines, where he became the chief of the Division of Mines. In 1916, Pratt was employed by the Texas Company and moved to Houston, Texas. Pratt was hired in 1918 as the first geologist for the Humble Oil Company, which would later be incorporated into Exxon. He was promoted several times and eventually became the vice president of Humble’s parent company, Standard Oil Co.
Pratt was introduced to the Guadalupe Mountains by an associate, Judge Drane, while on a business trip to Pecos, Texas in 1921. After Drane mentioned that there was land for sale, Pratt and three colleagues bought ranch property in the area. By 1930, Pratt had purchased the rest of his original partners’ land holdings and continued to expand his ownership, which included the lower portion and mouth of McKittrick Canyon. Pratt grazed approximately 100 head of cattle on his property, which he called Manzanital Ranch. Between 1931 and 1932, Pratt and his wife, Pearl Stuckey, had a stone cabin built at the confluence of the north and south forks of McKittrick Canyon to serve as their summer home. The site of the Cabin also includes a stone garage, a pump house, and stone walls along the west, south, and east edges. The Cabin was intended to be used as a primary residence, but the threat of strong floods inspired Pratt to consider other options. Pearl died in 1940, and in 1941 Wallace remarried Iris Calderhead, a prominent suffragist, who had once been arrested for protesting in front of the White House. Shortly after their marriage the couple began designing a second home, which they named Ship on the Desert, on higher ground outside of the canyon.
After moving from the area in the early 1960s because of Iris's declining health, the Pratt family donated their property, including the Cabin, to the National Park Service between 1960 and 1963. Additional land that is now encompassed by the Guadalupe Mountains National Park was purchased by the federal government and the park was officially dedicated and opened to the public in 1972. Iris died in 1966 and Wallace had her ashes scattered in McKittrick Canyon. He married Suzanne d'Autremont shortly afterwards. She cared for Pratt until his death in 1981, and had his ashes scattered in McKittrick Canyon.
Wallace Pratt was among the pioneers of scientific exploration in the oil industry. His distinguished career led to great advancements in geologic research and technology related to oil exploration. Pratt published numerous documents, notably Oil in the Earth (1941) and Toward a Philosophy of Oil Finding (1951), which are still pertinent to the natural resources industry today. He was ahead of his time, calling for advancement in oil and natural gas conservation, and alternative energy technology early in his career. Pratt advocated for responsible and efficient methods of extracting, transporting and refining oil. His deep appreciation of the natural world was a catalyst for the preservation of what is largely considered one of the most beautiful areas in Texas and now makes up the core of the Guadalupe Mountains National Park.