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Spindletop, an east Texas oil Field, produced 80,000 barrels a day and changed the country and oil production forever.

Spindletop - HISTORY

On November 13, 1925, Miles Frank Yount struck oil at Spindletop field in Beaumont, Texas. The field, which had been dormant since the early 1900&rsquos, produced over 340,000 barrels of oil an acre per year, pumping in excess of 50 million barrels within 5 years. Now financially secure, Miles Frank and wife Pansy established a stable of American Saddlebred horses, quickly becoming recognized as leaders in the industry. On November 13, 1933, the eighth anniversary of Spindletop&rsquos second discovery, Miles Frank Yount died of a heart attack at age 53. Left as the beneficiary of great wealth, Mildred (Pansy) Yount chose Kentucky as the place she would start anew. Spindletop Farm was established in 1935 on 800 acres of land. At a cost of one million dollars, construction of Spindletop Hall began in 1935 and took two years to complete. Mrs. Yount deemed the house to be a showplace of Kentucky, a modern mansion of classical architecture. When completed, the mansion housed 40 rooms, each with its own thermostat, 14 bathrooms, 133 full size exterior and interior doors, 102 windows with screens of copper, and 11 fireplaces. There are over 45,000 square feet of floor space. At the time of construction, the circular staircase and the 30 x 60 foot living room were the largest in Kentucky. Eventually, Mrs. Yount expanded the farm to 1,066 acres. On the property were seven miles of metal fences, 17 houses for servants and farm hands, and 18 barns. There was also a greenhouse, a swimming pool, a bath house, a tennis court, two aviaries, and three kennels. Pansy Yount lived at Spindletop with her adopted daughter, also named Mildred, and third husband and horse trainer Cape Grant. She was considered "new money" by the Kentucky Blue Bloods and was never accepted into their social circle. After divorcing Mr. Grant, Pansy left Spindletop in 1955. In early 1959, Spindletop Farm was sold to The University of Kentucky for $850,000. The farm was self-financed by Pansy over a period of ten years with no interest charged to the University. Mrs. Yount died in 1962 and in that same year Spindletop Hall became the residence of the University of Kentucky Faculty, Staff, and Alumni Club. The Club&rsquos roster boasts over 1000 family, couple, senior, and individual members. We welcome new Members and invite all members to come to their Club for any of the numerous activities we have planned for their enjoyment.

Membership information is available in the lobby or can be requested here on the website. The Club at UK&rsquos Spindletop Hall publishes a bi-monthly newsletter to provide members with information regarding all Club functions and special events. An Annual Calendar of Events is produced at the beginning of each year and a Summer Outdoor Activities Guide is mailed to the membership in early spring. The Outdoor Activities Guide details all of our summer programs and functions including information about swimming, tennis, golf practice facilities, and more.

Memberships Available to University of Kentucky Faculty, Staff, Alumni and Associate Members of the UK Alumni Association. Alumni Status is NOT required to join. Club Memberships Subject to Approval.


In a small cinderblock second-hand store with a crude hand-painted sign in the window still promising ''Year-End Sale'' sits Brown L. Peregoy, purveyor of dreams.

The dream, in this case, is of oil, the biggest gusher of all time, Texas` legendary Spindletop, and of the possible $2 billion or $3 billion in royalties that may be waiting for anyone who can stake a legal claim to the famous oilfield just south of Beaumont, Tex.

''This time,'' says Peregoy, ''I think we got `em.''

The heirs of Pelham Humphries have said that before.

A Tennessee bounty hunter, Humphries owned 4,428 acres that included much of Spindletop before oil was discovered there in 1901.

And his heirs have filed 19 lawsuits claiming the land ever since the day the sky turned black and oil rocketed 100 feet into the air, unchecked for nine days, transforming Texas--and America--forever.

Three Spindletop wells alone generated more oil than all of the Russian fields, the leading oil producers at the time.

The companies that would become Texaco, Exxon, Amoco, Phillips, and Gulf got rich at Spindletop, and paid millions in royalties to landowners over the years.

For the Humphries heirs, however, their last legal challenge ended in defeat in 1968. At the time, Judge Homer Thornberry, of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, wrote prophetically: ''Unlike old soldiers, expectant heirs never fade away.''

But almost two decades later, in the verdant, rolling hills of east Tennessee, two rival groups of Humphries heirs, perhaps 2,500 in all, have hired dueling British genealogists and amassed what they claim to be million- dollar legal war chests to mount what may be the most sophisticated, well-financed challenge yet.

The first lawsuit will be filed ''in 30 to 90 days,'' says Peregoy, head of the Humphries Heirs Trust Association.

''We have more hope now than ever before,'' says Nadine Decker, great-great-grandniece of Pelham Humphries and the president of the original heirs group, the Pelham Humphries Heirs Association, Inc. ''We`re going to find the truth.''

What renewed their hopes was that the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals last July revived a suit brought by the heirs of an oil-driller allegedly deeded a piece of Spindletop in 1911.

In a ruling that was interpreted as a major victory for all those filing claims, the court said a Texas District Court judge had dismissed the case too hastily, and ordered a new hearing, which has not been set.

A meeting of Humphries` heirs last fall drew 4,000 people to Johnson City, Tenn., where they heard from genealogists and lawyers.

''It`s like a fairy tale come true,'' said one potential heir.

Both Humphries heirs groups say earlier attempts to prove their ownership failed because they lacked the money to compile the convincing documentation that has been uncovered only in the last two or three years by several genealogists and lawyers.

They now claim they can prove, among other things, that Pelham Humphries never sold the land he was granted from Mexico in 1835.

''If they have something new to bring to the table that would cut through 80 years of history, we`ll certainly consider it,'' says Mike C. Smith, associate regional counsel for Chevron U.S.A., who has followed the various claims made not only by Humphries heirs but hundreds of others over the years. ''If it`s just the same old stuff, which it seems to be,'' Smith added,

''I think negotiations wouldn`t be too fruitful.''

The rival groups seem undaunted at the prospect of taking on the major oil companies.

''Big Oil don`t bother me,'' says Peregoy, 48, a former pipefitter who sells ''Uncle Pel'' T-shirts featuring his own sketch of his stern-visaged ancestor. Peregoy remembers when his uncle, Rev. L. B. Glover, filed a suit in 1948 on behalf of 200 heirs, only to have it dismissed on a technicality in 1951.

''He really lost his mind after that,'' Peregoy says. ''It made an impression. It`s something that when you get it in your mind, it don`t go away.''

Peregoy took up the quest in 1983, after a heart attack forced his retirement.

''It`s something I always wanted to do,'' he says.

''It`s a lot of poppycock,'' declares Michel Halbouty, owner of an oil company in Houston and co-author of the definitive book on Spindletop, published in 1952.

''Somebody gets an idea, and they say well, my name is Joe Goose, and my relative`s name was Joe Goose, and his relative`s name was Joe Goose, all the way back to Spindletop.

He gets all the family together, all the Joe Gooses, and they put up several hundred thousand and where that money goes nobody knows. And then it starts up again in five years,'' Halbouty said.

The quest also has kindled a feud in the family.

In 1985, Peregoy, who claims to be the great-great-great nephew of Pelham Humphries, was ousted as president of the Pelham Humphries Heirs Association because they said he had violated the association`s charter by accepting a referral fee from a genealogist working for the heirs.

The genealogist, James Petty of Salt Lake City, says he told Peregoy his 16-month study of the family showed that Peregoy was not a relative of the Humphries family.

Peregoy and Petty are not on speaking terms. Peregoy admits he took the money, but maintains that he resigned ''because we had 32 board directors and I felt like my hands was tied, so I started over.''

He says his new group has 6,000 members in all 50 states and seven foreign countries--and five board members. The rival group claims 1,000 members.

The one undisputed fact about Pelham Humphries is that he came to Texas in the early 1830s when it was still part of Mexico, and acquired a league of land, 4,428 acres, in 1834.

After that, however, the accounts diverge. Actually, even Humphries` name is in dispute. The heirs say there were two Humphries--William and Pelham

--while genealogist Petty maintains there was but one, William Humphries, and another genealogist has come up with John Pelham Humphries.

Whoever he was, the man who owned the land signed his name with an X.

Peregoy says Humphries either died in 1835 of unknown causes or in a gunfight in 1840, without a will or any direct descendants. Petty says Humphries died in 1846 or 1848, and he left a widow and seven children.

Deed records show that Humphries or his heirs ''sold'' the land several times, once to William Inglish in 1836, and again to other buyers in 1840 and 1859, when, by some genealogists` estimation, Humphries already was dead.

Proving the fraudulence of those deeds, one filed 24 years after the purported sale, is a key element in the heirs` case.

Meanwhile, Peregoy has written ''The Ballad of Pelham Humphries,'' a bluegrass ode to his ancestor that he thinks has a shot at the charts.

The song recounts the legend of Spindletop, then segues into: ''Ten thousand heirs now roam the streets of every little town when we put them all together, we`ll bring that Big Oil down . . .''

Peregoy`s wife, Lena, says she already has plans for the money.

''I wouldn`t go for a Rolls-Royce,'' she says thoughtfully, ''but I might buy me a new Lincoln. Mine`s just about wore out.''

Texas History: The discovery at Spindletop that changed the oil industry forever

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Texas’s economy relied on agriculture, cattle ranching and the lumber industry. Southeast Texas had another resource - oil - but the amount of underground remained a mystery.

According to History, by the end of the 19th century, several discoveries of oil had been made in the southeastern part of the state, including small fields near Nacogdoches and at Corsicana. However, there was a need for more oil.

Texas was only producing a mere fraction of the country’s total. In 1900, Texas oil production was 863,000 barrels, while the national total was 63 million.

Just south of Beaumont in eastern Jefferson County, the Spindletop oilfield discovered a salt dome formation. Several oil and manufacture companies attempted to capture oil in Spindletop but were unsuccessful.

In 1899, Anthony F. Lucas, a leading salt dome formations expert, was in charge of the drilling operation. Lucas was able to drill to a depth of 575 feet but was unsuccessful at getting through the salt dome.

A year later, Lucas used a new heavier and more efficient rotary type to dig. For nearly three months, Lucas dug with the assistance of an experienced drilling team from Corsicana.

On January 10, 1901, after numerous attempts at digging into the salt dome, Texas’s oil industry changed forever.

The mud began bubbling from the hole, then six tons of four-inch drilling pipe came shooting up out of the ground. After several minutes of mud, followed by gas then oil spurted out. It’s believed the plume of oil was seen from miles away.

The success of Spindletop was a significant financial impact on the land and its surrounding areas. Beaumont’s population rose from 10,000 to 50,000.

Many investors came to Texas to get their hands on the oil boom. By the end of 1902, more than 500 companies had been formed, including Gulf Oil Corporation and Texaco. A total of 285 wells were in operation.

The History of Oil climaxed when the salt dome gusher, known as Spindletop, spewed Black Gold 150' in the air!

Spindletop is renown in the history of oil as the first oil well of any real significance.

Because this discovery of black gold changed Texas history as well as global history.

Before 1901, Texas history was merely one of rural, agricultural roots.

However, the discovery of mass amounts of petroleum combined with drilling advances made by Howard Hughes to more efficiently remove it from the ground, thrust Texas history suddenly into the petroleum and industrial age.

The gusher at Spindletop was drilled on January 9, 1901, near Beaumont, TX. This oilwell was NOT the first attempt by man to harness the earth's petroleum. For instance, the first North American oil well was drilled in 1858 in Ontario, Canada, and one in the United States in 1859 at Titusville, PA to a depth of 69 feet.

However, most people don't realize that the history of oil actually began in China in 347 A.D. At this time, the Chinese drilled for oil to depths of up to 800 feet. How? A type of drill bit was attached to the end of bamboo poles. Black gold was also known as "burning water" in the 7th century A.D. in Japan.

Natural oil seeps were present in Texas for hundreds of years prior to the arrival of Europeans and had even been used by the Native Americans.

Texas Indians are reported to have told the Europeans that the black gold had medicinal uses, and Spanish explorers reported having seen petroleum floating on the surface of waters and used it to caulk their boats.

Around 1899, Austrian mining engineer, Capt. Anthony F. Lucas answered an ad placed by Patillo Higgins for a new partner. Lucas and Higgins believed that Spindletop Hill was a large salt dome and might contain oil and sulphur. Higgins had noticed oil seeps and gas flares on the hill while taking his Sunday school class on picnics.

With the help of Al and Curt Hamill, Lucas began drilling in 1900. After several months of disappointment, the discovery that would change the course of Texas history was made - the Spindletop gusher!

Spindletop gushed for nine days before it could be capped and spewed black gold 150 feet in the air. Three months later, five more gushers had been drilled. These six wells produced more than oil in a day than the entire world and changed man's perception of petroleum more than any other even in the history of oil.

Within just a few months, more than 50,000 "oil boomers" flooded Beaumont. Wooden derricks filled the skyline as far as the eye could see. Men seeking work filled Beaumont and slept on the streets if they couldn't find an available bed.

The most infamous spot in Beaumont was Grinnell's Log Cabin Saloon. Legend has it that someone was killed at Grinnell's every Saturday night.

Not unlike the California Gold Rush, the rush for Black Gold was on - this time in Texas. But pick axes and gold pans were replaced with drill bits and derricks. The history of oil was being written.

Salt domes attracted the attention of speculators worldwide. Companies were formed to seize and capitalize on the stampede to obscene wealth and riches. Most of the major oil companies today were flung into existence with the news of Spindletop: Texaco, Exxon, Mobil and Sun are a few.

Amongst all these entrepreneurs and businessmen, one man cannot be left out of the history of oil and drilling - the infamous Howard Hughes.

Thanks to this man, today's world of oil and gas exploration includes sophisticated advances like directional drilling and offshore oil drilling.

The fishtail bit (or drag bit) was successfully used on the Lucas well at Spindletop but was unable to drill loose formations and those prone to caving. Thus, drilling was limited to reservoirs near the surface. Not only were fishtail bits limited to shallow drilling, they were also slow, drilling at rates as low as 2' per day.

In 1908 Mr. Hughes and his partner, Walter Sharp, built a wooden model of a roller type bit and tested it in Goose Creek, TX. Their concept was not to rely on scraping the rock like a fishtail bit but to chip, crush and powder hard rock formations utilizing cones that rolled in a true circle.

The cutting edges were designed to prevent the cuttings from falling into previous cuttings, thereby preventing tracking. This rolling motion enabled the bit to constantly crush and grind new rock with each turn.

The experiment was a huge success! They immediately founded Sharp-Hughes Tool Company in 1909, with Howard Hughes ending up with complete ownership in 1915. The company then became known as Hughes Tool Company.

With Howard's death in 1924, his son, Howard Robard Hughes dropped out of Rice University to manage Hughes Tool Company.

Howard Hughes, Jr., sold Hughes Tool Company in an initial public offering in 1972. In 1987, Hughes Tool Company merged with Baker International and became known as Baker Hughes.

With the acquisition of Eastman Christensen, Baker Hughes merged Eastman Christensen with Hughes Tool Company. This became known as Hughes Christensen Company in 1992.

Not enough can be said about contributions to drilling made by Howard Hughes.

His contributions forever changed the history of oil and drilling as mankind has become completely dependent on crude. 

One hundred years later, all major drill bit manufacturers still follow the basic concept of the Sharp-Hughes two cone drill bit. The contributions of the two-cone drill bit has been so immense that The American Society of Mechanical Engineers has designated the Hughes Two Cone Drill Bit a Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark.

Spindletop: How it changed the world

In celebration of that centennial, a big blowout, literally, will be staged in Beaumont on Wednesday, Jan. 10. It will be a daylong commemoration and a return to those first ten days of the 20th century, replete with characters in period dress. Admission is free.

A replica of the original wooden derrick well has been constructed and will blow 120 feet into the air as part of the re-enactment at the Spindletop-Gladys City Boomtown Museum on the Lamar University campus. Of course, it won't be real oil, but plain old water.

Opening Wednesday's ceremony at 10 a.m. will be former President George H. W. Bush, the honorary chairman of the event. The first gusher re-enactment will be at 10:32 a.m. Another one will be at 3:03 p.m. The festivities will end at 3:30 p.m.

Various activities, historical and entertaining, are planned for the day, including rides on a stagecoach and a fire truck tram. Free shuttle service will be available throughout the day from nearby parking lots to the celebration area. County singer Tracy Byrd will perform his "Spindletop Song."

When that first Spindletop well, the Lucas Gusher, whooshed in, it had a stunning and immediate effect on Beaumont. From a city of 9,000, seemingly overnight, it mushroomed to 50,000.

Trains from nearby cities like Galveston were making special nightly runs to Beaumont. Suddenly, everybody wanted to be there. And they were. Incredible tales come from those days and many of those will be seen, heard or read on Wednesday.

From Spindletop rose hundreds of oil companies. Some are long gone. Some stayed around and got bigger. Like Texaco or Exxon.

Texas became synonymous with oil. From the wildcatters and independents to the giants. Hundreds of thousands of wells, oil and gas, dot the state's landscape. There isn't a county area that hasn't been touched by oil and gas.

Thousands of wells are producing in the Bay Area, including several hundred in the Clear Lake-Friendswood-Pearland-Alvin area. One of the most recent has been the well on Space Center Blvd., near NASA Road 1.

The Lucas Gusher blew unchecked for nine days before it was capped. No one had ever seen a well blow with such force. Compared to today's wells thousands of feet deep, the Lucas was only 1,160 feet. But that was the norm in those days since technology didn't exist to go much deeper.

Oil wasn't very plentiful at the turn of the century. Then, coal provided 90 percent of the energy used in the U. S. Petroleum was a high-value product and used basically for lubrication and burning in stoves and lamps.

Before the Lucas Gusher blew in the big one, oil production in the states was fewer than 60 million barrels a year, with most of it coming from back east. A well was considered a good one if it produced 150 barrels a day. The Lucas Gusher produced an estimated 100,000 barrels a day. By 1902 Spindletop by itself was producing 20 percent of the U. S. market.

Beaumont swelled in riches and those wanting to be rich, called "Boomers." That was because, along the south edge of Spindletop, a boomtown sprang up. It consisted of boarding houses, restaurants, saloons and such. It was named Gladys City.

Every room in Beaumont and Gladys City, came at a premium. There wasn't a room to be had. In their book "Spindletop," James Clark and Michael Halbouty noted that, "men slept on pool tables, in barber chairs, on roof tops&hellipporches, store windows&hellipwherever they could find a place." Small boys could make $10 a day selling their place in line at outhouses. "Deals involving millions of dollars were as common as popcorn sales at a fair," Clark and Halbouty write. "Silver dollars were stacked like cordwood in the banks and railroad stations. Men would come in and scoop it up in shovels and count it in back rooms."

Never mind that the price per barrel plummeted to 25 cents because of the vast new find. There was a different kind of land rush now. It was parceled and sold by the measurements of the legs of a derrick.

Water, however, became undrinkable due to the spills and overflows from the dozens of wells that had gotten into the ground water. Entrepreneurs soon were selling boiled bottled water. Whiskey became the liquid of choice for the area. Half the whiskey sold in Texas was consumed in Beaumont.

Because oil became so plentiful the U. S. Patent Office was issuing 30 patents a week for equipment that burned liquid fuel. Pretty soon Spindletop oil was being shipped to countries like Germany and Japan.

While Spindletop and Gladys City made millionaires out of many, it was a bust for many more.

But all good things did come to an end, thanks to overkill in production and drilling. The hundreds of well had done their job so well that by 1911 Spindletop was a virtual ghost town. But what it had done was to force the wildcatters to move to other fields in Texas and Louisiana.

The Lucas Gusher was named for Anthony Lucas, who, with Pattillo Higgins, forced a partnership that went through hardship and heartbreaks attempting to find oil before landing the big one. Higgins, a part-time preacher, named Gladys City for a girl in his Sunday School class. Both men had colorful pasts. Lucas was in the military in his native Austria, and an expert on salt domes. At one point, to keep the drilling on the Lucas #1, as it was known then, going, he and his wife sold their furniture out of their home to meet expenses. When Higgins and Lucas got together with a new team of drillers, the Hamill brothers, success was on the horizon. The Hamill brothers were true experts in drilling.

Both men remained in the business after selling out their stake in Spindletop. Higgins explored fields around the Texas Gulf Coast for nearly 50 years while Lucas was a much sought-after consultant. The Hamills had a very successful drilling career after Spindletop.

EnergyTexas History Today in Texas History: Oil Struck at Spindletop

His discovery turned an agrarian and ranching reliant state into the foremost energy producer in the country. Nondescript behaviors such as filling up the gas tank, flipping a light switch, and turning on the television each hail in lineage the Spindletop discovery and the boom it created.

Born in Sabine Pass, Higgins and his family moved to Beaumont when he was six-years-old. As fate would have it, this would be the town to which he’d usher prosperity. At the age of 17, a six-shot scuffle with sheriff’s deputies left Higgins wounded in his left arm — resulting in amputation.

Despite losing his arm, Higgins might well have uttered the machismo quip “you should see the other guy” as the bullet fired proved fatal for the deputy on the wrong end of the future wildcatter’s barrel.

The incident stemmed from Higgins’ slingshot-laden vandalism of a black church, during which he broke its windows and terrorized the congregants.

He was found not guilty of murder by a jury only a few days before he turned 18. Crippled and tarnished, Higgins languished in town further tarnishing his family name with mischief. Eagerly trapped in his pantomime ways, nothing short of divine intervention would pull him out.

Excelling as a logger for a Beaumont company, Higgins found salvation in the Bible. In his own words , “I used to put my trust in pistols … now my trust is in God.”

He went from miscreant to Sunday school teacher in nearly a flash and thus began his journey from small-town delinquent to trailblazing entrepreneur.

Now a dogmatic Bible thumper, Higgins disapproved of alcohol and loathed any public entertainment. He also had a penchant for adopting young, orphaned girls — one of which would become his wife.

One day on horseback Higgins discovered the red clay dirt was optimal for brickmaking.

Having heard of brickmaking successes in the Midwest, as far as Pennsylvania, Higgins made the reverse journey as that of Alamo defender Sgt. Maj Hiram James Williamson to learn from the Keystone State’s innovators.

While there, he discovered the brickmakers produced a lighter but sturdier product by kilning at hotter and more consistent temperatures. Burning oil, rather than wood, achieved a higher intensity and constant flame.

The impression left on Higgins was not just of the fuel’s potential for his new vocation, but also of the fuel itself. Similar terrain existed in Pennsylvania’s nascent oilfields as did around his southeast Texas home.

Though a different type than those who rushed to California in the mid-19 th century, Higgins was a prospector nonetheless and returned to Texas with treasure in his eye.

Upon return, Higgins chose Spindletop, a nearby salt dome as the place for his brick factory, believing beyond any shadow of a doubt that beneath its soil lay the oil and gas needed to fuel the fire.

Teaming up with two others, George W. Carroll and George Washington O’Brien, the men secured full rights of the hill. O’Brien, notably, had already owned half of the terrain — convinced of the petroleum’s existence since seeing it ooze out of the ground in 1865.

Forming a partnership, the three men minted the Gladys City Oil company in 1892, named after one of Higgins’ favorite Sunday school students. But for nearly 10 years, the trio and their company pierced earth and emerged with nothing more than dirt.

Having resigned from the company at the midpoint of the decade, Higgins jumped, hat in hand, to any potential financier or ally he might be able to convince to back another effort to find oil.

The man who answered the call was Anthony Francis Lucas, a petroleum engineer and salt dome expert from the east. The pair, like the previous crew, again came up short and drained their coffers during the short-lived partnership. The mission became a mockery back in Beaumont as those watching became increasingly convinced of its futility.

Lucas was able to secure funding for continued drilling back east — including from famed banker Andrew Mellon — but returned with only a minor cut of the prospective profits and left Higgins hanging out to dry entirely.

And so, shortly after the turn of the century, Lucas continued drilling operations sans Higgins.

Not exactly the climactic storybook ending Higgins likely imagined, the ruffian-turned-roughneck was vindicated on January 10, 1901 when 100,000 barrels of oil a day rocketed out of the Spindletop well for nine straight.

Higgins eventually sued Lucas for breaching the previous leasing agreement, a challenge which the pair settled out of court. But that undisclosed settlement became all Higgins profited from that Spindletop hill. He bounced around the region speculating, sometimes finding success, other times finding bankruptcy.

He remained a nomad, much too impatient and hard-nosed to differentiate between a dry well and a gusher-in-waiting.

After years of unverified speculation, Higgins was instrumental in the discovery which spurred Texas to new heights — the highest of which came with the fracking revolution of the late 1990s.

Beaumont and the rest of southeast Texas has long been outshined by the west’s Permian Basin. But without Spindletop, the speculation frenzy which followed may not have produced the basin’s first well 19 years later.

It’s serendipitous that roughly six months after the area’s decimation from the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 , a flood of another type would usher in wild prosperity.

The recent tumult of the industry, and derivative economic slump, remains a discouraging testament to the importance of Spindletop’s legacy to Texas. And there is no Spindletop without Patillo Higgins.

In their chronologic tome “ Giant Under the Hill: A History of the Spindletop Oil Discovery at Beaumont, Texas, in 1901 ,” authors Judith Walker Linsley, Ellen Walker Reinstra, and Jo Ann Stiles said of Higgins, “Both [his] virtues and his faults were larger than life. For good and ill, he simply was as he was — as it turned out, to enormous effect.”

Over a century ago, a one-armed wildcatter named Higgins altered the trajectory of the state borne by Austin, fostered by Houston, and regaled by Nelson and Strait .

If not among those figures on the Lone Star Mt. Rushmore, Higgins is within arms’ — rather, arm’s reach.

Disclosure: Unlike almost every other media outlet, The Texan is not beholden to any special interests, does not apply for any type of state or federal funding, and relies exclusively on its readers for financial support. If you&rsquod like to become one of the people we&rsquore financially accountable to, click here to subscribe.


Anthony F. Lucas began drilling a salt dome well with the Gladys City Company near Beaumont, Texas in 1899.

When Lucas and his company ran out of money, John H. Galey and James M. Guffey, financed Lucas and formed a partnership named J.M. Guffey Co.

They struck oil on January 10, 1901, creating the great gusher on Spindletop known as the Lucas Well.

John H. Galey began his oil career at historic Pithole (12 miles from Titusville) in 1865 where he drilled the Maple Shade Gusher.

Both Galey and Guffey in the early 1870's worked as agents for the Titusville oil country supply firm of Gibbs & Sterrett.

Their work at Spindletop resulted in the formation of the Gulf Oil Company.

Texaco was also formed as a result of the success as Spindletop

Topics. This historical marker is listed in this topic list: Industry & Commerce. A significant historical date for this entry is January 10, 1901.

Location. 41° 37.087′ N, 79° 40.271′ W. Marker is in Titusville, Pennsylvania, in Crawford County. Marker is on Smock Road (Pennsylvania Route 8), on the right when traveling north. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Titusville PA 16354, United States of America. Touch for directions.

Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Gulf (here, next to this marker) Union 76 Gasoline (here, next to this marker) Texaco (here, next to this marker) Sun Oil Co./Sunoco

(here, next to this marker) Pennzoil & South Penn (here, next to this marker) Exxon (here, next to this marker) Drake Well (here, next to this marker) Sterling Oil (here, next to this marker). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Titusville.

Spindletop: The Gusher That Launched The Oil Industry

Although the modern oil industry is said to have begun with the drilling of the first oil well by Edwin Drake in Pennsylvania, it was the discovery of oil at Spindletop in Beaumont, Texas, that pushed the world into the age of crude oil. The exact date when this happened is January 10, 1901.

That day, an enormous geyser of oil exploded from a drilling site at Spindletop Hill coating the landscape with a thick slimy mess for hundreds of feet. Nobody had seen a gusher so powerful and so plentiful before. Soon a booming oil industry grew around Beaumont, and America’s oil production tripled overnight. Petroleum that was previously used only as a lubricant and in place of kerosene in lamps became the main fuel source for trains and ship, and new inventions such as automobiles and airplanes.

The Lucas gusher of Spindletop Hill in Beaumont, Texas, blowing thousand of barrels of oil in the air on January 1901.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Texas had a rural economy revolving around agriculture, cattle ranching and lumber. Oil production was insignificant, representing just one percent of the total national output. However, the fact that there was a substantial reserve of oil somewhere beneath Texas was apparent. People knew about oil in the area for hundreds of years. In the mid-16th century, the Spanish used oil from seeps near Sabine Pass for caulking their ships. Settlers near Nacogdoches used seeping oil as lubricants before 1800. The first attempt at drilling was made just after the Civil War at a place called Sour Lake. In the later years, numerous discoveries were made in east and central Texas, especially at Corsicana in 1896.

In the early 1890s, Patillo Higgins, a one-armed mechanic and lumber merchant became convinced that there was oil to be found under a hill called Spindletop near the town of Beaumont in southeast Texas. Higgins had noticed gas bubbling up from numerous little springs on the hill, which he tried to light and they immediately caught fire. He even bought a book on geology and taught himself everything he needed to know about oil formation and exploration. In 1892, he organized the Gladys City Oil, Gas and Manufacturing Company, and tried unsuccessfully to drill, until he ran out of money. Higgins pleaded for funds, but geologists declared that there was no oil under Spindletop, and that Higgins was a fool and so was anybody who invested in Higgin’s stupid dream. Higgin's responded by siphoning a couple of gallons of gas from the hill and burning it in a lamp at his home. But people only ridiculed him.

Patillo Higgins (L) and Captain Anthony F. Lucas (R)

In a last act of desperation, Higgins placed an advertisement in a magazine seeking a partner. Only one man replied—he was Captain Anthony F. Lucas, an experienced geologist who knew a lot about salt domes, which Spindletop was one.

Lucas stuck a deal with Higgins, leasing the track of land from the latter and commenced his own drilling operation. But when Lucas too ran out of money, he approached John Galey and James Guffey, the country’s most successful wildcatters. Galey and Guffey agreed to help finance the drilling, but Lucas would get only one-eight of the share. Higgins, on the other hand, would get nothing, unless Lucas split his own share.

Galey, who had an uncanny ability to find oil, went to inspect the hill one morning accompanied by Lucas’s wife (Lucas being out of town), drove a stake on the ground next to a bubbling little spring and declared to Mrs. Lucas, “Tell that Captain of yours to start that first well right here. And tell him that I know he is going to hit the biggest oil well this side of Baku”

John Galey (L) and James Guffey (R)

Drilling began in the autumn of 1900. The drillers fought their way through hundreds of feet of quicksand that had frustrated all previous efforts. At around 870 feet, just as Higgins had predicted and Galey had confirmed, oil began to show, but this oil-sand layer was too soft and fine, and the technology was not refined enough to recover oil from such a slush. The drillers decided to continue drilling, and at approximately 1,100 feet, they struck an enormous pocket of oil. At first, mud began to bubble with great force from the well. In a matter of seconds, the immense pressure within the well shot the 6-ton drill pipe out of the ground and up through the derrick, knocking off the top. Then there was silence. The drillers, who had scattered away for their lives, approached the well gingerly to find the derrick in a terrible mess, with debris and mud six inches deep on the derrick floor. As they started to clean the mud away, the well began to rumble and mud began to erupt again in a deafening roar, followed by gas and finally green, heavy oil. The geyser of oil blew over 150 feet up in the air, twice the height of the derrick itself.

The historic Lucas oil well gusher at Spindletop, Beaumont, Texas, 1901. Photo: University of Texas Arlington Libraries

For the next nine days the well flowed at a unprecedented rate of 100,000 barrels a day, far more than any oil producing well in America. As a matter of fact, the Spindletop gusher was producing more oil than all of the oil wells in the United States combined. Nobody had seen anything like this before, except perhaps in Baku, in Azerbaijan.

When news of the discovery flashed across the nation, there was a mad scramble for leases. Land prices rose exponentially. Land that sold for $10 an acre went for as much as $900,000. By June there were a dozen successful oil wells on Spindletop, and by the end of 1902, there were over 200 wells jammed on the hilltop owned by at least a hundred different companies, many of them drilling on postage-stamp-sized sites. While many of these companies went bust before the year was over, others managed to gain a strong foothold over the oil market and went on to become major corporates with a global presence. These companies include, Texas Company (later Texaco), Gulf Oil Corporation, Sun Oil Company, Magnolia Petroleum Company, and Humble (later Exxon), to name a few.

Spindletop Oil Field in 1902. Photo: Texas Energy Museum

The town of Beaumont itself swelled from 10,000 to more than 50,000 in a matter of months. Nearly one-third of these were living in tents on the hill. Surrounding the hill, many shacks, saloons, gambling houses and whorehouses sprang up to serve the various needs of the rowdy population. According to one estimate, Beaumont drank half of all whiskey consumed in Texas in those early months.

In its first year, Spindletop produced more than 3.5 million barrels of oil 17.4 million on its second year. Spindletop utterly destroyed the monopoly held by John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil, as the center of the oil industry shifted from Pennsylvania and Appalachia to Texas. Spindletop’s oil also ushered in the new era of fuel oil. However, this was not by design but rather the unintended consequence of the fact that Texas oil was of such poor quality that it could not be made into kerosene. So it primarily went for heat, power and locomotion. Crude oil became so abundant and cheap, that a host of industries converted from coal to oil overnight, including the Santa Fe Railroad and steamship companies.

“Spindletop Viewing Her Gusher”, a painting by local artist Arion Arion, commissioned by Higgins’s partner George Washington Carroll. It depicts a lady wearing Grecian drapery reclining on a cloud bank and gazing at a gushing oil well. The painting now hangs in the Tyrell Historical Library, in Beaumont. Photo: Jeff Wilson/Texas Monthly

In the years that followed, Spindletop’s success was repeated many times over in the southeast, along the Gulf Coast and Louisiana. But Spindletop itself couldn’t keep up the momentum for long. Over production caused the underground pressure to give out, and production on Spindletop plummeted to only 10,000 barrels per day. Eventually, the locus of American production moved away from Texas to Oklahoma, where a string of oil discoveries were made, beginning in 1901 and culminating in the discovery of the Glenn Pool Oil Reserve in 1905. By 1906, Oklahoma was producing over half of the region’s total production.

In the late 1920s, Spindletop experienced a second boom when another oil reserve was discovered at deeper depths. In 1927, Spindletop produced its all-time annual high of 21 million barrels. Within five years, 60 million barrels had been produced. Spindletop continued to be profitable until about 1936. From the 1950s to about 1975, Spindletop produced sulphur.

A crowd watches the replica Lucas gusher right off Highway 69 in Beaumont, Texas, blowing water hundreds of feet into the sky at the same rate oil blew in on that famous day in January of 1901. Photo: Beaumont CVB

To commemorate the importance of the development of Spindletop oilfield, a pink granite monument was erected in 1941 near the site of the Lucas gusher. But decades of extraction of oil and suplhur caused the ground to subside, and the monument was moved to the Spindletop-Gladys City Boomtown Museum at the Lamar University campus at Beaumont, about 1.5 miles south. The museum features a replica of the oil derrick Lucas used to drill at Spindletop that gushes out water from time to time, recreating the historic event of January 10, 1901.

The actual site of the gusher is marked by a flagpole flying the Texas flag.

The replica Lucas gusher in Beaumont, Texas. Photo: Mike Towber/Flickr

The Lucas Gusher, 1901

Photograph of the Lucas gusher in 1901. The Lucas gusher is a spindletop that is gushing oil out of the top of it. On the ground surrounding the spindletop are several workers, two holding a large hose.

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One photographic image, b&w: 11.25 in. X 14.0 in.

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This photograph is part of the collection entitled: Where the West Begins: Capturing Fort Worth's Historic Treasures and was provided by the University of Texas at Arlington Library to The Portal to Texas History, a digital repository hosted by the UNT Libraries. It has been viewed 11765 times, with 63 in the last month. More information about this photograph can be viewed below.

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Photograph of the Lucas gusher in 1901. The Lucas gusher is a spindletop that is gushing oil out of the top of it. On the ground surrounding the spindletop are several workers, two holding a large hose.

Physical Description

One photographic image, b&w: 11.25 in. X 14.0 in.


Attached to the back of the photograph is a newspaper article from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on Sunday, September 28, 1941. The headline reads, "Birthday Party for Spindletop. World's Most Famous Oil Field". The article reads, "Spindletop, the world's most famous oil field, is having a birthday party next month. Discovered 40 years ago when the Lucas gusher roared in on a low hill south of Beaumont to open America's first great oil field, Spindletop was the beginning of the modern petroleum industry and started a new industrial era for Texas. The Texas Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association is holding a three-day anniversary celebration at Beaumont in connection with its annual convention. On Oct. 9, a monument will be dedicated to the Spindeltop pioneers, and on Oct. 10 a reunion of oldtimers will be held. In these pictures you see the big oil field in its early days."



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  • Accession or Local Control No: AR406-5-20-8_01
  • Archival Resource Key: ark:/67531/metapth41398


This photograph is part of the following collection of related materials.

Where the West Begins: Capturing Fort Worth's Historic Treasures

The materials in this collection, which include photographs, letters, books, and more, reflect the history of Fort Worth. This project was funded by the Amon Carter Foundation and the Adeline and George McQueen Foundation.

Watch the video: This Story Will Help You Activate YOUR HIDDEN POTENTIAL The Story of Spindletop


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