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.
Welcome to the East Texas Oil Museum at Kilgore College in Kilgore, Texas.
This fascinating museum houses an authentic recreation of oil discovery and production in the early 1930s in the largest oil field inside U.S. boundaries. Here are the people, their towns, their personal habits, their tools and their pastimes, all colorfully depicted in dioramas, movies, sound presentations and actual antiques donated by East Texas citizens.
Inside the lobby, see how tall you stand beside the Texas-size, hand painted murals of early oil production and portraits of famous oil men. Journey back into the early 1930s to see how people lived. Refresh your memory with the lyrics of a good gospel hymn in the Church exhibit. Get a lesson on the history of the schools, and wonder how that antique car in the Transportation exhibit ever got anywhere on those rough, rutted roads.
Then step across the city limits into Boomtown, USA, a full-scale town of stores, people, animals, and machinery depicting the lively activity of a town booming in oil.
Stop in at the General Store and browse over the shelves. Take the children to the Drugstore and watch Mom and Pop dance to vintage 1930 big bands on the jukebox. Don’t get your feet dirty in those rutted streets walking to the Newspaper Office for a Boomtown paper. As you pass the Barbershop, listen carefully for news of a new gusher. Pump your own gas outside the Gas Station. Be sure to go inside and see the video on drilling an oil well.
Remember afternoons at the movies? A visit to the Theater brings back actual historical footage of the boom period, while you feel a blowout gusher. Your visit is not complete without a trip to Boomtown’s Museum. Study the geological exhibits and take the Elevator Ride to The Center of The Earth. Let your guides take you 3,800 feet below the surface of the earth to where the oil deposits lie. It’s fun and informative.