Boomtown

Colonel Drakes' discovery of oil in Pennsylvania led to a full-fledged oil boom that spread throughout the Ohio Valley. The success of Edison's light bulb soon rendered petroleum practically worthless but once the Plains were at peace and Henry Ford's automobile gained popularity, a new demand for oil sparked a century long series of booms and busts in a market that seemed tailor made for the skills and nerve of the frontier gambler. Their "hole card" was now the information found with the drill bit.

Perhaps the biggest stakes ever contested were won by a dapper, young Arkansas poker player, H. L. Hunt. The pioneer of the game, "Dad" Joiner, also considered quite dapper, made up for his advanced age with flowery poetry. Like the promoter in Broadway's hit play "The Producers", Dad charmed a great number of mostly elderly women into investing in his ventures. The discovery well was named the Daisy Bradford and she was a gusher. A room full of Dad's investors, mostly half-interest holders, demanded Dad's hide. H. L. Hunt hid Dad out at the Adolphus in Dallas while the second discovery well, thirty miles from the first and named the Lou Della Crim, blew in. When H. L. got the news, he pressed Dad to take a million dollars for his interest which included a large number of leases between the two discovery wells; many undoubtedly bearing the names of lonely, widowed land owners.

Next the clever young man bought the local title companies, virtually tying up transfers while he contracted the facilities necessary for the transportation to the refineries. He persuaded Dad's investors to settle for a proportional fraction of their interests, keeping the matter out of the court and allowing them all to begin making money. Unlike Spindletop, Texas' first great oil boom which produced Texaco and Gulf, the East Texas field contained thousands of small land owners and they benefitted financially. Though Hunt was the big winner in the play, lots of other small companies and independents joined in the development including my grandfather. The East Texas Boom went on for years and after the Ranger Lone Wolf tamed the town, city wives brought their families to join their husbands in camp, like pioneer days before. I have a treasured copy of Michael T. Halbouty's, The Last Boom, which was given to me by my grandmother. She noted in the margin next to a description of the tent community that sprung up near Kilgore that she had the only tent with a floor including Mrs. Hunt's.

Many other boomtowns sprang up across Texas prior to the East Texas discovery including Burkburnett, Ranger and Desdemona which are on the Indian frontier. All boasts interesting and informative oil boom related displays or tours.

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