- Historic Sites
Gusher At Spindletop
The story of the first great Texas oil well, which ushered in a new century and a new age, as remembered by participants
June 1958 | Volume 9, Issue 4
When they were unable to make headway, they decided to pull pipe. It was discouraging work, pulling up twenty-loot lengths at a time when they should be going steadily toward their 1,200-foot depth. They found the fishtail bit dull from battering rock. They sharpened it and went in again.
Another night of keeping the boiler going and the rotary turning. Still the rock would not give way. Another day of drilling with no progress. All their bits were worn down to nubbins. Finally, on the morning of January 10, Al brought a new bit from Beaumont and they put it on.
Suddenly, at about 700 feet, mud commenced boiling up through the rotary. It got higher and higher. Then the drill pipe began rising—something they had never seen before. It moved up and started going through the top of the derrick.
Al and Peck yelled to Curt and ran. Curt scrambled down from the derrick, covered with slimy mud. From a safe distance they watched as the pipe kept on rising. It took the elevators and traveling block off and then knocked oft the crown block. Fascinated, they watched pipe break in sections of three or four lengths and fall like crumbled macaroni. It knocked down the smoke-stack of the boiler and curled on the ground around the derrick. The last length of pipe was followed by rocks, and then by a deafening roar of gas.
McFaddin’s carpenters scrambled like monkeys from the nearby barn and raced on horseback toward Beaumont.
The roar died down gradually and within a few minutes all was quiet. Peck and the Hamill brothers crept back to find a discouraging mess: engine and boiler seemed ruined; mud stood six inches deep on the derrick floor. They could see no signs of oil.
Al picked up a shovel.
“Let’s get some of this off the floor,” he said.
Of a sudden, a chunk of mud shot out of the six-inch hole with an explosion like a cannon. Then a stream of mud blew up, with a little blue gas following it. Again the men ran.
Then it quieted down and ceased altogether. The crew looked at each other wonderingly. Again they inched forward till they stood on the derrick Hoor in the mud. Al walked over and peered down the hole. They could hear a kind of bubbling deep in the earth. Then they could see frothy oil starting up. The well seemed to be breathing: oil was coming up and settling back with the gas pressure; with each breath it came a little higher.
When it poured out over the derrick floor they moved back. With each pulsation the flow went a little higher and a little higher and a little higher. Finally the momentum was so great that oil shot through the top of the derrick. With it came rocks and sand and shale from the conglomerate formation they had drilled into. It spurted skyward in a stream over 160 feet high—at least twice the height of the derrick. Once the oil was in full flow, there seemed to be no lessening.
After a few minutes, when their excitement had subsided somewhat, they crept closer, getting soaked with a spray of black oil. Their excitement changed to disgust. The machinery was damaged. Mud Howed all over the derrick floor. Strings of drill pipe lay on the ground, twisted and useless. They saw no way to control the power they had unleashed.
Al shouted for Peck to go lor Captain Lucas. Peck drove at a gallop across the prairie to Captain Lucas’ house, more than a mile away, only to find that Captain Lucas had gone to Beaumont.
Mrs. Lucas located him at Louis Meyer’s Dry Goods Store, where he had set up his headquarters while waiting for something to happen. She had seen the gusher from her door. Quickly she told him what she saw.
Peck got back to the well as fast as he could. Some of McFaddin’s carpenters had returned, but they stood far off, watching.
In a short time they saw Captain Lucas come over the hill in his buckboard, his horse at a dead run. At the gate, the horse stopped short, pitching Lucas to the ground. He landed on his feet and came running—panting, out of breath.
“Al, Al,” he called, his Austrian accent more pronounced in his excitement. “What is it? What is it?”
“Why, it’s oil, Captain. Oil!”
Captain Lucas grabbed Al and hugged him.
“Thank God, thank God,” he cried. Then he hugged Curt and Peck.
Within an hour people began to arrive from Beaumont—in buggies, on horseback, on loot—attracted by the rumors spreading from Louis Meyer’s store and by the roar of the gusher, which could be heard as far as Beaumont and beyond. They came as near as the fence, about 150 feet from the well, and watched in fear and astonishment. Every time the wind shifted, a spray of oil drove them back.
Lucas, when he had regained his composure, hurried to Beaumont and wired John Galey to come at once.
The effect of oil was already beginning to be felt in Beaumont. Oil spray drifted in on the Gulf breeze. Sulphur gas filled the air. People held their noses against it. They watched it tarnish their white houses with black and orange stains. They told of Negroes holding prayer meetings, thinking the end of the world had come.
Back at Spindletop Captain Lucas, seeing the danger of fire, had Curt sworn in as a deputy sheriff to keep everyone away from the well. Together they drove the curious onlookers back beyond the fence. Lucas hired extra guards, armed them with shotguns, and stationed them in lines on the east and west. To the south, marsh grass stretched unbroken.
“Keep the people back and don’t let them smoke,” Captain Lucas told Curt. “Don’t let anybody smoke.”