10, 1901: Patillo Higgins'
theory that a large pool of oil awaited discovery under a salt dome
located south of Beaumont
Higgins had spent most of the previous decade trying to convince others
that this was so and raise capital to drill a discovery well. The
site was first known as Gladys Hill, and later as Spindletop,
named for a tree growing there that resembled a child's toy. Higgins
first partnered with George O'Brien, George Carroll, Emma John,
and J.F. Lanier in the Gladys City Oil, Gas, and Manufacturing
Company, but their shallow wells failed to locate oil. Later a
Czech engineer, Anthony Lucas, joined the search in 1899, and before
the discovery well blew in he had taken in so many partners to raise
capital to keep going that he retained only a small interest.
Postcard courtesy rootsweb.com/ %7Etxpstcrd/
Spindletop gusher was located on land owned by the McFaddin, Weiss,
and Kyle families, adjacent to dry holes drilled earlier. The
discovery well blew out six tons of drill pipe with sufficient force
to sustain a 100-foot geyser of oil until capped ten days later, and
flowed an estimated 100,000 barrels daily. By the time the well was
capped the drilling rig sat in a lake of oil.
|Spindle Top Oil
Postcard courtesy rootsweb.com/%7Etxpstcrd/
changed the world. Coming about the time the internal combustion engine
was adopted by the new automobile industry, it perfectly
fulfilled the supply-and-demand symbiosis. Great 20th-century companies,
notably Gulf Oil, TEXACO, and Hughes Tool Company, were born in the
race to get rich from Spindletop's black gold.
In this 100th year since the efforts of Higgins and Lucas paid off
so handsomely, there will be much remembering. My own memories drift
back to the 50th anniversary, when I was a freshman in French High
School in Beaumont.
That celebration was called the CavOILcade. I remember watching a
parade go "up Pearl and down Orleans," the principal streets of Beaumont's
business district. It featured movie stars Robert Cummins and Theresa
Wright, though I haven't a clue why.
I remember interviewing leather goods merchant I.W. Ableman
to write an article for the French High Echo -- even then I fooled
around with newspapers.
Ableman was an enterprising young man in 1901. He collected empty
bottles behind saloons, filled them with oil from the lake created
by Spindletop, and sold them for $1 each to tourists who had ridden
special excursion trains from Houston
and New Orleans to view the phenomenon. By then oil sold for only
10 cents a barrel at the well head, such was its abundance.
Spindletop offered many ways to make a buck.
All Things Historical
December 24-30, 2000 Column
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)