So I thought I would check out a little history of oil in the west. It was a little ironic that men searched so long and hard for minerals when black gold lay beneath their feet across the great plains.
One of the first finds was in Texas. Indians had known of places where brown fluids seeped from the earth, oils which healed battle wounds and skin diseases. Around such seeps were invisible substances in the air that would burn forever – better than pine torches to light the night during times of tribal ceremonies. The first pioneers learned to use the brown fluids for softening leather, lubricating wagon axles and making ointments. But most ranchers hated the stuff. It ruin their water for drinking.
In 1886, a rancher near San Antonio drilled for water and hit oil instead. He was not a happy man, not until he discovered he could use it for fuel around the ranch.
But nothing more happened until 1894 when a well being bored for water at Corsicana suddenly spouted oil in a steady stream. It caught fire and started the first oil boom in the west. Corsicana was soon producing petroleum commercially – 1,450 barrels the first year. Four years later production rose to more than half a million barrels.
The find encouraged other petroleum drilling, leading to the Spindletop, a oil gusher near Beaumont that was big enough to surprise even a Texan. The driller expected maybe fifty barrels. With his old fashioned rig, he drove down a thousand feet. According to “The Settlers West” by Martin Schmitt and Dee Brown, the drill pipe shot up out of the casing and knocked off the crown block. “In a very short time,” the driller said, “oil was going up through the top of the derrick and rocks were shot hundreds of feet into the air. Within a few minutes, the oil was holding a steady flow at more than twice the height of the derrick.” Spindletop spilled oil all over the Texas landscape, a hundred thousand barrels a day.
In a few weeks Beaumont was running a high fever. Wooden oil derricks shot up like weeds. The population jumped from ten to thirty thousand. Land values soared from $40 to $1,000,000 an acre.
From then oil fever consumed the country, just as gold fever had a few decades earlier. Oil was found in an impoverished Oklahoma near a sleepy village which the natives called Tulsey Town. Gamblers and speculators and the new fraternity of oil men in big hats and laced boots swarmed into the little town on the Arkansas River. Little Tulsey Town became Tulsa.
The finds in Texas and Oklahoma spurred more searches north and west across the great plains, and strike followed strike. There was so much oil that there weren’t enough storage tanks and thousands of barrels flowed back into the earth or wells caught fire and burned for days.
And wherever oil was found, tents, shacks, saloons and gambling houses, and boarding houses sprung up just as they had in the old cattle trail towns of an earlier generation.
California had some small fields before the Texas finds but boomtowns and oil fever was constrained, perhaps as an aftermath of gold fever until a gusher blew in neaar Lake View and poured out 90,000 barrels a day. The spray covered an area 15 miles around and the well became the richest of all time.
Do any of you have any stories of those black gold glory days. And have you seen “Giant?” If not, do yourself a favor and rent it. The music is great, too.