Remember when I mentioned my great-great-grandfather Joe Lee’s decision to leave his nice government job to work for the Beaumont Confederated Oil and Pipeline Company in early 1902? Remember when I wondered why? HA. That’s before I’d Googled “Beaumont” and “oil” and found out that fourteen months before Joe Lee resigned in Austin, the MOTHER GUSHER OF THE TEXAS OIL BOOM had busted out of a hill near Beaumont. No big deal, it was only the birth of the modern oil industry.
In January 1901, a team of prospectors, acting only on a hunch, had been drilling through a salt dome known as Spindletop Hill. On January 10th, after they had drilled to a depth of more than a thousand feet, an unknown force shot the drill pipe out of the ground, followed by a geyser of oil like nothing the world had ever seen. It shot over 150 feet into the air and initially produced over 100,000 barrels of oil a day. Previous oil wells drilled in Texas yielded a few hundred barrels a day at most; at the time, the most productive oil fields were in Pennsylvania. Spindletop, though, was producing more oil than all the other wells in the country combined.
Clearly this was huge. The event attracted reporters, excursion trains full of tourists, and, of course, hundreds of prospectors and companies looking to get in on the action. I have to assume Joe Lee Jameson wanted in, too. Beaumont’s population grew fivefold within a year, and by 1902 more than two hundred oil companies were drilling on Spindletop Hill.
I found a list of some of these companies in a 1902 industry journal on Google Books. The company Joe Lee went to work for, Beaumont Confederated Oil and Pipeline, is listed as having two million in capital. Later he would work for the J.M. Guffey Company, which had financed the original drilling and was by far the biggest player on Spindletop Hill. (Eventually it became Gulf Oil). Notice how Guffey has sixteen wells in the list below. I love the names of some of these tiny one-well operations, though: Knickerbocker Oil and Refining Company, Queen of Waco Oil Company, and my favorite, Young Ladies’ Oil Company. I wonder how they made out.
By 1902 Joe Lee had moved the family to Beaumont, where they lived at 1479 Hazel Avenue.
Obviously part of my family history research is devoted to finding out why we didn’t become one of those rich sexy Texas oil families like the ones in Dallas and Written on the Wind.
If you want to see more, there’s a great photo gallery of the Spindletop boom days at the Beaumont Enterprise website.