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Boomtown

Michael has a BA in History & American Studies and an MSc in American History from the University of Edinburgh. He comes from a proud military family and has spent most of his career as an educator in the Middle East and Asia. Please consider reading our editorial policy to understand how and why we publish the resources we do.

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Jack County, Texas

Colonel Drake drilled the first successful oil well around the end of the Civil War. The success of Edison's light bulb drastically reduced the nation's demand for lamp oil, which rendered petroleum practically worthless. Once Henry Ford's automobile gained popularity, a new demand for oil arose, gasoline.

Boom Town Movie Poster
Boomtown Movie Poster
Picture of Gushing Spindletop
Spindletop

Corsicana was the site of the first oil production in Texas, but Nacogdoches can claim the first commercially successful field. Spindletop produced the first gusher, and the resulting overproduction gave the industry its first bust. Within a few years oil prices recovered, and the Red River uplift was discovered. Centered in Burkburnett, this play ushered in the North Texas oil boom, which was bolstered by subsequential discoveries to the South (Desdemona, Breckenridge and Ranger), as far west as New Mexico, north beyond Tulsa and east through Arkansas and Louisiana. The great elephant of the North American discoveries was the East Texas field.

From the book, Oil Comes To Us, by Rose Wyler & Warren W. McSpadden
From the book, Oil Comes To Us,
by Rose Wyler & Warren W. McSpadden

This risky new business was defined by its booms and busts and was tailor made for the skill and nerve of the frontier gamblers who knew when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em. Their "hole card" was the information found with the drill bit. Their constant quest was for a stake; wildcatting was a capital intensive game.

War of the Wildcats Movie Poster

Two legendary characters of the game, "Dad" Joiner and Doc Lloyd made up for their advanced age and weight with courtly manners and flowery poetry. Like the promoter in Broadway's hit play "The Producers," they charmed quite a number of elderly women into investing in their ventures. Their great discovery well was named The Daisy Bradford, and she was a gusher but Joiner had sold over a thousand percent of the venture. Soon a room full of Dad's investors angrily demanded their money or his hide. A judge intervened and said, "When a man brings in a baby, he is allowed to rock it for a while."

H.L. Hunt, a rich, handsome, and young Arkansas poker player, (cigar smoker, third from the right) tied up the local title companies, dominating leasing while he contracted the facilities necessary for the transportation to the refineries. He gave Joiner a million dollars for his interests and 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 make money. Wildcatter to the end, Joiner blew the million searching for a new field in West Texas.

Unlike Texas' first great oil field, Spindletop's little salt dome, whose riches produced Texaco and Gulf, the East Texas field covered hundreds of square miles owned by thousands of small farmers who benefited 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 once Texas Ranger Lone Wolf Gonzaullas tamed the region, 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 near Kilgore that she had the only tent with a floor, including the Hunts'. More boomtown

Here's another telling of the story:

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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