" xml:lang="\">" lang="\">"> Texas Oil – the Early Days

Texas Oil – the Early Days

Texas Oil – the Early Days

By Todd Campau
July 7, 2015
What comes to mind when one thinks of Texas? Many things, including horse-riding cowboys, longhorn cattle, the Alamo, NASA, and most importantly, oil.

Texas will always be known for the Wild West image of Hollywood lore. With no disrespect to ranching or astronauts, the discovery of oil has had the biggest impact on Texas economically, geographically and even educationally.

In the 1800’s, oil was considered more a nuisance than a resource as ranchers and farmers drilled for water to supply their parched herds and fields. Then, cattle and crops were the money makers. No one wanted oily black liquid – but that opinion changed.

Cable-tool-rigThe first producing oil well in Texas hit in September, 1866 in Nacogdoches County. Lyne T. Barret drilled the “old-fashioned” way with an auger fastened to a pipe, rotated by a cogwheel, driven by a steam engine. Interest piqued, prospectors flooded in, and soon Nacogdoches County saw the first commercial oil field, pipeline and initial attempts at refining. The Texas oil industry had taken its first steps.

But remember, the quest for water was still a priority. In June 1894 a well-water contractor accidentally discovered the Corsicana oilfield while drilling for water. The city council was so mad about finding oil instead of water that it only paid the company fifty percent of what it had promised!

The American Well & Prospecting Company drilled three wells. The first went to 1,027 feet where it struck oil. The oilfield was developed shortly afterward and produced a total of 44 million barrels of oil. This field in Corsicana established the potential for wide-scale commercial oil production in Texas. And Corsicana brought us many firsts.

Bug-eyed and abuzz with oil fever, people flocked to Corsicana in the pursuit of quick riches. Ingenious wildcatters designed the first hydraulic rotary drilling rig. The first planned, organized network of pipelines soon followed. And maybe most importantly – Lyman T. Davis found a way to feed all those empty bellies with what became Wolf Brand Chili.

At five cents a bowl and sold from the back of his wagon parked on the streets of Corsicana, Lyman’s Famous Chili was so popular that Mr. Davis started canning and marketing it locally. It became a staple in Corsicana. The Corsicana oil experience might’ve been the first major one in Texas, but it wasn’t the biggest.

spindletop-gusherThe oil well considered the Big Daddy of them all was drilled in January, 1901 when a massive gusher erupted at Spindletop, south of Beaumont. Coincidentally, the American Well & Prospecting Company was the driller. American wasn’t ready for a gusher of that size. It took nine days to control that oily beast – not before losing nearly one million barrels of oil! With Spindletop producing, the price of oil plunged from $2.00 to three cents a barrel and within 24 months there were more than 400 wells in the greater Spindletop area.

The extraordinary size of the Spindletop field generated world-wide excitement and led to the rapid development of the Texas oil industry. Soon reserves were found across the state and in only forty short years Texas dominated oil production in the United States.

So while you might first think of South Padre Island, Friday Night Lights, or incredible sports teams when you think of Texas, realize that without the wild success of the Texas oil industry no one would’ve cared who shot J.R. because he might not have existed. Houston wouldn’t have had a problem because the Space Industry might not have developed. Our Aggies, Longhorns, et al might not have become the world-class institutes they’ve become. And the only thing you might’ve remembered from Texas history is the Alamo. We owe much to the Texas oil industry for it’s touched many aspects of our lives. In Texas, oil is King.

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