The discovery of oil in East Texas was a long-held dream fueled by early
geological reports indicating the existence of a layer of oil-producing
sands known as the Woodbine formation. As early as 1911, production attempts
began with the forming of the Millville Oil Company. The attempt failed.
Other oil exploration followed; mostly centered in the northeastern portion
of the county. By 1925, there had been 17 failed attempts. Only an occasional
wildcatter looked over the field geological reports before moving on.
However, one man, Columbus Marion (Dad) Joiner, a native of Alabama, believed
in the dream of oil in East Texas. Joiner was 70 years old when he came
to East Texas, but he followed a dream of discovering a giant field of
"black gold," and, as a wildcatter, he sought that dream in
places where others did not believe oil existed. East Texas was such a
After several oil ventures in Oklahoma, Joiner moved to Dallas in 1925,
where he bought up several thousand East Texas oil leases. In 1926, he
came to Rusk County to look over his leases. Dr. A.D. Lloyd, a self-proclaimed
geologist of dubious qualifications, but who had an enviable record of
locating successful well sites, joined him. Joiner's drilling rig consisted
of rusty pipes, a sawmill boiler for power, and old tires and cordwood
for fuel. His crew consisted of one experienced, and imaginative driller,
Ed Laster, and a crew of out-of-work farm hands.
Joiner leased the 975-acre farm of widow Daisy (Miller) Bradford, near
present day Joinerville, and promised to drill the first well on her property.
In 1927, the first well, the Daisy Miller Bradford No. 1, was abandoned
when a drill bit jammed and could not be dislodged. In April, the derrick
was moved 100 feet and drilling began again. This well site was abandoned
because of equipment failure also. For the third try, an experienced driller,
Ed Laster, was employed to oversee drilling operations. The derrick had
been moved about 300 feet when, during skidding operations, one of the
beams supporting the derrick broke. A decision was made to spud the well
at that location, and drilling began in May 1929 on the Daisy Bradford
No. 3. Had the derrick been moved to the selected spot, Joiner would have
drilled another dry hole.
On Sept. 5, 1930, at 3,536 feet, drillers reached the oil-saturated sand
of the Woodbine strata. Then, on Oct. 3, 1930, 8,000 people went to a
spot on the widow Daisy Bradford's farm to see Dad Joiner strike oil.
The experts were skeptical; they knew Joiner as a dreamer, a promoter,
a sometime poet, and a failed wildcatter who operated on his wits and
borrowed money. He was 70 years old and stooped with pain. Experts were
also convinced that there was no oil to be found in East Texas. They pointed
out that Joiner had tried twice before and had come up dry. But he wouldn't
give up. The old man's drilling rig consisted of rusty pipe, a sawmill
boiler for power, and old tires and cordwood for fuel. His driller, Ed
Laster, was a skilled and imaginative professional, though, and somehow
Laster and a crew of farmhands kept the bit biting deeper into the rusty
But no oil came forth. The crowds of well-wishers who hoped Dad would
find oil and save East Texas from penury, were disappointed. But they
had a good outing anyway. Hamburger stands among the pines did a brisk
business; just beyond the official view of the law, a little corn whiskey
was passed around; for $2 a barnstormer from Dallas would take you for
an airplane ride. Later that night, after most of the crowd had left,
drillers brought in the first East Texas oil well, the Daisy Bradford
Number 3, soon followed by two others within the field, marking the boundaries
of the largest area of oil deposits known at that time.
Joiner had seriously oversold shares in the well to continue financing
his efforts, and within months after the initial discovery of oil on the
Daisy Miller Bradford farm, he was embroiled in numerous lawsuits. Another
Texas oil man, H.L. Hunt, bought out Joiner's interest in the wells, and
although the giant East Texas Oilfield made many millionaires, "Dad"
Joiner was not one of them. He did leave a legacy of social and economic
change in East Texas, and brought to life a community named in his honor
A few weeks later, on Dec. 28, 1930, the Lou Della Crim No. 1 sprouted
oil in a little valley nine miles north of the Joiner well. A fortune
teller had told J. Malcolm Crim, a Kilgore merchant, that he'd find oil
there. He did, at a rate of 22,000 barrels a day.
Not quite a month later, on January 26, 1931, the Lathrop No. 1 near
Longview blew in at 20,000 barrels a day, with an audience of 18,000 farmers
and townsfolk cheering. The Lathrop site was 27 miles north of the Daisy
Bradford No. 3.
No one connected the three strikes for a while. Then the preposterous
fact dawned: Below the pine-velveted hills and red surface soil, down
about 3,500 feet, there lay a single monstrous ocean of oil. It wasn't
just a dab here and a dab there. It was a black giant. It stretched 45
miles long and from 3 to 12 miles wide, a total of over 140,000 acres.
East Texas changed overnight. In less than a month, Kilgore grew from
a sleepy town of 700 to a bustling city of 10,000. The entire area became
a mecca for frantic fortune-seekers. Oilmen of every stripe converged
at the spot. Camp followers came in waves. Prices shot higher than gushers
- prices, that is, for everything but oil. At one point, a barrel of oil
cost a mere dime while a gallon of water cost a dollar. Buildings were
leveled to make room for drilling rigs. One downtown block in Kilgore
was spiked with 44 live oil wells. Eventually, 31,000 wells would be drilled
into the black giant.
It was also an orgy of waste. The field was being drained without sense
or purpose. By August 1931, production was headed toward one million barrels
of oil a day, roughly 26 times more oil than the world could use from
East Texas. Governor Ross Sterling issued a shutdown order and sent 1,300
troops of the Texas National Guard's 112th Cavalry Brigade to enforce
it. A long and bitter fight over energy conservation had begun.
The freewheeling oil operators fought regulation, and sold "hot oil,"
the name coined for crude produced illegally on the sly. A "hot oil"
producer might tap into someone else's flow line, or put a by-pass on
his own. A daredevil might install a "left-hand" valve so that
when the troopers turned it off, and padlocked it, they were actually
sealing it open. A Gladewater operator built a concrete blockhouse around
his well to confound the soldiers. In New London, the "Tower of London,"
as they called it, arose. An ingenious resident erected a penthouse over
his derrick, registered it as his homestead, and pulled up the portable
steps any time the authorities appeared below.
Crime and violence exceeded the control of local police. Kilgore's mayor
placed a call to the Texas Rangers. The stage was set for a superhero.
He was "Lone Wolf" Gonzaullas, the most famous of the world-famed
Texas Rangers. Handsome, powerful, wearing two pearl-handled pistols,
he rode a prancing black stallion with lordly grace. No one was sure how
many desperadoes he had dispatched. InTexas lingo, he was "much man."
One stormy night Lone Wolf arrived in Kilgore and met secretly with the
mayor. He then went "underground," disguised, to learn the whereabouts
of the dangerous criminals in the area. Two weeks later, he shucked the
disguise and led a raid of other rangers and Kilgore police that netted
300 badmen. Marching them down the main street of the town, he herded
them into the Baptist church - Kilgore's jail was unfinished - and hooked
them to a long heavy chain. Many were wanted by authorities elsewhere;
they were held for transfer. Others were given four hours to leave town;
most left instantly. For almost a month, Gonzaullas averaged 100 arrests
a day. The townspeople called the chain "Lone Wolf's trot-line."
By the mid-1930s, the Market Demand Law, the Confiscation Law, the Refinery
Control and Tender Bill, and other legislation had taken control of the
once-rampaging output. Conservation measures worked out amid the turmoil
of the East Texas field by responsible firms such as Humble Oil &
Refining Company, Exxon's progenitor, prevented the loss of huge volumes
of natural gas and crude oil. If the pell-mell conditions had continued,
only one billion barrels of oil could have been taken from a field too
quickly exhausted. Experts now say the field will ultimately yield six
billion barrels of oil and its life will be extended into the next century.
Conservation principles born at East Texas became models for other fields
around the world. That was a huge step toward maturity.
Then, as order came out of chaos, another event shook the people of East
Texas. On March 19, 1937, just 10 minutes before classes were to be dismissed
for the day, the public school in New London blew apart, killing 298 children
and teachers. Leaking natural gas had filled the walls and basement of
the school building. It blew up with the force of a World War II blockbuster.
In horror and sorrow, East Texans converged on the spot. Every oil company
released all employees from work to help remove rubble from the bodies.
Food, clothing, ambulance service, shelter, and help in every possible
way flooded into the town from the oil firms. Arthur Shaw, now an Exxon
employee of 36 years, remembers the arrival of a Humble Oil & Refining
Company airplane with a contingent of doctors, nurses, and a supply of
cash for the families of victims. Shaw was a student in a math class at
the time of the explosion; 12 of his 16 classmates were killed. A dentist
and a hairdresser sewed up wounds in his head.
It was perhaps the greatest outpouring of unselfish concern and generosity
that East Texas had ever seen. The tragedy emphasized to both the industry
and the people it served that safety measures cannot be overlooked in
the handling of petroleum and its products.
A third dramatic point in the maturing of the industry came in the early
years of World War II. German U-boats were crippling the Allied war effort;
by sinking oil-laden tankers bound for East Coast refineries from Texas
and Louisiana. The industry met the challenge by building the "Big
Inch," a 1,400-mile-long pipeline from Longview to the refineries
of the East Coast. They did it in a phenomenal 12 months. In August 1943,
300,000 barrels of East Texas crude oil began flowing each day to the
Northeast, a volume equal to 70 tanker loads. Another, smaller-bore pipeline
called the "Little Inch" was constructed the following year
from Spindletop near Beaumont.
The next generation of East Texans will enjoy economic benefits from the
East Texas field's production, as secondary recovery methods have extended
its useful life to a second half-century.
Oil's Economic Impact on Education
The discovery of oil brought a great increase in the scholastic population.
The small rural common school districts were overwhelmed. Enrollment at
Gaston School went from 231 in1929 to 850 by 1932. Gladewater 's superintendent
asked every company for an advance on taxes, which would be due later.
Many solved the problem by creating independent school districts there-by
keeping the taxes generated in a specific district. Common schools share
the taxes generated by the entire county. For the first time, black schools
were merged into these independent districts.
New schools were built and others were enlarged and improved. These oil
field schools became some of the wealthiest schools in the nation. Educational
opportunities for the children, both black and white, increased significantly.
Most of the districts created during the boom still exist. Look for these
educational plants as you drive the tour.
Photo of wildcatters, including: Joyner, Lloyd,
Hunt and Laster
Oil Industry plaque
East Texas Oil Field Map
LESSON PLAN #1
Topic: Oil Field - "Who is Joe Roughneck?"
Curriculum Connections: Reading, Art, and Social Studies
TEKS: Grade 1: (1); (17AB); (18); (19)
Grade 2: (1B); (4); (17); (18B); (19)
Objectives: The student will: use critical thinking skills to create
visual picture to express knowledge; understand how historical figures
and ordinary people help to shape our community, state, and nation.
Vocabulary: roughneck, oil boom, oil field, rig, petroleum
Background Materials: Briefly discuss oil boom in Rusk County; also discuss
what it was like to be an oil field worker-(show pictures if possible)
1. Read "Who is Joe Roughneck?"
2. Have them to think about what Joe Roughneck might look like (brainstorm
3. Activity: Have students to draw a picture of what they think "Joe
Roughneck" looks like. Display.
Material Needed: paper, markers, map colors, crayons
LESSON PLAN #2
Topic: Oil Boom
Curriculum Connections: Math
Vocabulary: oil well
Background Material: Discuss oil boom in East Texas
Math Word Problem-
The Daisy Bradford #3 was producing 300 barrels of oil a day at $1.10
price per barrel. Which shows #3 was making $330.00 a day. In 30 days
they earned $9900.00. Using the information above state how much money
did the Hathrop well make in 30 days if the well produced 18,000 barrels
Material Needed: calculator
This site has a graph to look at and analyze
LESSON PLAN #3
Topic: Oil Boom (Fields)
Curriculum Connections: Social Studies, Geography, and Reading
TEKS: Grade 1: (4B); (6A); (19)
Grade 2: (4C); (5); (19)
Grade 3: (1); (5); (18)
Grade 4: (4B); (5); (6); (24)
Objectives: The student will: explain the growth and development of the
oil industry in Rusk County; apply geographic tools including legends,
symbols and scales to construct and interpret maps.
Vocabulary: derricks, pumping jack; wild catter; roughneck; Christmas
tree; gusher; boomtown; black gold
Background Materials: Review the Oil Field vocabulary terms with the
students; show pictures if possible.
1. Activity: Have student complete the "Oil
Field Match-Up" worksheet. When completed discuss as a class.
2. Extra: Have students make flashcards with terms. Draw pictures of the
word on one side and write the definition on the other.
Materials Needed: "Oil Field Match-Up" worksheet, index cards,
markers, pencils, map pencils
OIL FIELD TERMS
Lease Hound: A landman who obtains leases of tracts of land for exploration
and development of petroleum and brine products.
Hot Oil: Oil production that exceeded state allowances.
Pumping Jack: A surface production device similar to a pumping unit but
having no individual power supply. Usually several of these were operated
from an eccentric wheel central power source.
Rod Line: A line of "string" of metal rods, which connect as
eccentric wheel power unit to an individual pump jack.
Rotary Drilling: A drilling method which bores a hole with a rotating
bit using exterior applied downward pressure. Additional joints of drilling
pipe are added as drilling progresses.
Rotary Table: A machine used to turn the drill stem and support the drilling
assembly. It has a gear arrangement that creates the rotational motion
in the bit.
Roughneck: A worker on oil well crew other than the driller.
Slant-hole Drilling: Wells that were drilled with a slant hole to steal
oil from another lease.
Stripper Well: A well nearing depletion that produces a very small amount
of oil or gas.
Tank Battery: A group of production tanks located in the oil fields that
store crude oil. They were sometimes called tank farms.
Walking Beam: The horizontal member of a "beam-pumping unit",
which pumps the well with a rocking motion.
Wellbore: The hole drilled by the drilling unit.
Wellhead: The equipment used to maintain surface control of a well and
complete the production process.
Wildcat: A well drilled in an area where no oil or gas production presently