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 Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical

Lyne Taliaferro Barret

by Archie P. McDonald, PhD
Archie McDonald, PhD

Few East Texans remember Lyne Taliaferro Barret, but they should: Barret drilled the first oil well in Texas.

Moderns may also struggle to remember when oil reigned as king of Texas industries, but from the Spindletop field discovered near Beaumont in 1901, to the EasTex field around Kilgore in 1930 and the expansion of the business to West Texas, oil was THE industry associated with the state for most of the 20th century.

Barret was born in Virginia in 1832 and a decade later his family moved west, settling first in San Augustine County and later on a plantation near Melrose in Nacogdoches County. Barret's interest in oil exploration predated the Civil War. As early as December 1859, he leased 297 acres from Lucy W. Skillern in an area known as Oil Springs. Barret selected that site because crude oil seeped out along with spring water there.

The Civil War kept Barret from pursuing his search for oil. Meantime, he clerked for the Harademan mercantile firm and became a partner by 1862. He also served as quartermaster for the Nacogdoches District in Confederate service between 1863 and 1865.

On December 21, 1865, Barret joined Benjamin Hollingsworth, Charles Hamilton, John Flint, and John Earle in organizing the Melrose Petroleum Oil Company. Drilling began on the Skillern tract in the summer of 1866, and on September 12 they struck oil at a depth of 106 feet. The well produced only ten barrels per day, but it proved that oil was beneath Texas soil.

It is ironic that the first oil well in Texas was drilled in Nacogdoches County, which then led to the first surface storage tanks and the first pipeline for oil in Texas, but these "firsts" never produced great wealth there as did later discoveries at Spindletop to the south and the EasTexas field to the north.

Modern residents can drive to the site of Texas' first well but they won't find much there. For years former Nacogdoches Fire Chief Delbert Teutsch labored to preserve the well area and several others, among them the late Lucille Fain, tried in vain to get Texas Parks & Wildlife to develop a state historical park there.

That effort should be renewed by any legislator who represents Nacogdoches County--where oil was discovered first in Texas.


All Things Historical
February 4-10 , 2001
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers

Published by permission. (Archie P. McDonald is Director of the East Texas Historical Association and author or editor of more than 20 books on Texas)

 
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