A Brief History of the East Texas Oil Field

The easy-going rural life of East Texas changed drastically with the discovery of oil during 1930 and 1931, when hardship, scorn, luck, and wealth brought people, ideas, institutions and national attention to East Texas.

Columbus Marion “Dad” Joiner, a seventy-year-old wildcatter, had already drilled two dry holes when in May 1929, he spudded a third hole on the Daisy Bradford farm in Rusk County. But it was not until October 3, 1930, that a production test was done that resulted in a gusher.

Oil fever began to mount with a test by Bateman Oil Company on the Lou Della Crim farm. On Sunday morning, December 28, 1930, while Mrs. Crim was attending church, the well came in, flowing 22,000 barrels a day. This well was only nine miles from Joiner’s well, yet no one believed there was any connection between the two. No one reckoned for what was then a geological phenomenon: an incredible deposit of oil in the Woodbine formation that “pinched out” as it tilted upward against the Sabine Uplift.

The initial “boom” was completed on January 26, 1931, when J.K. Lathrop in Gregg County came in at 3,587 feet, producing 18,000 barrels a day. The well was situated on land assembled by B.A. Skipper of Longview and taken over by the Arkansas Fuel Oil Company

Drilling increased rapidly from seven wells every two weeks to seven wells a day and then to one hundred a day and more. The first oil produced sold for $1.10 a barrel, but the price dropped to 15 cents as supply flooded the market. Drilling activity spread to Upshur, Smith and Cherokee Counties. Production was more than a million barrels a day. In August of 1931, National Guardsmen were ordered into the area to keep peace between roughnecks, lease hounds, oil speculators and camp followers. These actions finally culminated in legislative action: a market demand law, confiscation law, truck tender law, the refinery control and felony bill, and the Connolly Hot Oil Act of 1935, which restored order and stability.

The East Texas Oil Field has produced 6 billion barrels of oil, some of which gave the Allies the petroleum reserve stability needed to win World War II. The resulting wealth has produced new towns, new ways of living, and livelihoods for thousands of East Texas citizens. And the wells are still pumping.

The East Texas Oil Museum at Kilgore College is a tribute to the independent oil producers and wildcatters, to the men and women who dared to dream as they pursued the fruits of free enterprise.

Fun Fact Info

“In the modern era, the first roller cone patent was for the rotary rock bit and was issued to American businessman and inventor Howard Hughes Sr. in 1909. It consisted of two interlocking cones. American businessman Walter Benona Sharp worked very closely with Hughes in developing the rock bit. The success of this bit led to the founding of the Sharp-Hughes Tool Company. In 1933 two Hughes engineers, one of whom was Ralph Neuhaus, invented the tricone bit, which has three cones. The Hughes patent for the tricone bit lasted until 1951, after which other companies made similar bits. However, Hughes still held 40% of the world’s drill bit market in 2000. The superior wear performance of PDC bits gradually eroded the dominance of roller cone bits and early in this century PDC drill bit revenues overtook those of roller cone bits. The technology of both bit types has advanced significantly to provide improved durability and rate of penetration of the rock. This has been driven by the economics of the industry, and by the change from the empirical approach of Hughes in the 1930s, to modern day domain Finite Element codes for both the hydraulic and cutter placement software.”