The Birth Certificate of the Texas Oil Industry.
A rare promotional map published by the Father of Texas Oil, Pattillo Higgins, pre-dating the discovery of oil at Spindletop. Upon its discovery in 1901, the gusher at Spindletop became the most productive oil well in the world, and it propelled the United States (and Texas in particular) into the role of top oil producer in the world.
This map of Jefferson County, Texas was issued in 1898 as a promotional tool for Pattillo Higgins, the "Prophet of Spindletop”, a local amateur geologist and land speculator who hoped it would spur investment in lumber and oil in the area. The map features railroads, towns, canals, and names of property owners. At the lower right is the figure of Uncle Sam standing next to Sabine Pass, below him a satchel of money proclaims "Jefferson County / Deep Water / A Success", and below that, the Pass is called "A Door to the World." An American flag stands nearby with the motto "Uncle Sam's Deep Water. The World's Progress." The map takes particular care to highlight the wealth of lumber in the area, and the ease of transportation to many nearby commercial hubs, including, most prominently, Houston. The map very effectively communicates a sense of boundless industrial potential.
The map is rare, with only 3 records in OCLC (Houston Public, Library of Congress, and UT Austin).
Pattillo Higgins, Spindletop, and the Lucas Gusher
If one had asked a Beaumonter on January 1, 1901, what big news of recent months had most interested him, he would have said the great Galveston hurricane of September 8, or the dawning of a new century. If one had asked him on January 10, he would have said the great gusher at Spindletop - a salt dome about three miles south of Beaumont. Dubbed "The Lucas Gusher," the oil discovery on Spindletop Hill changed the economy of Texas and helped to usher in the petroleum age. -- Spindletop Gladys City Boomtown Museum, Lamar University.
The maker of the map, Pattillo Higgins, is a fascinating and controversial figure, whose stubborn enterprising nature led him to be the individual most responsible for the birth of the oil industry in Texas. (See the biography below for more about his life.)
Higgins first came across the Spindletop salt dome on an excursion with his Sunday school class. The area had a "sour" sulfur smell and mineral water seeped from the ground. Higgins was an amateur geologist and recognized these as signs of a potential oilfield. To pursue his hunch, Higgins partnered with George O'Brien, George Carroll, Emma John, and J.F. Lanier to form the Gladys City Oil, Gas, and Manufacturing Company in 1892. In the 1890s, most professional geologists held that oil would not be found along the Gulf Coast. Indeed, Higgins was thought a dilettante by many and his personal character was challenged in the local newspaper. Higgins forged on in spite of that and began drilling in 1893. Unfortunately, all of the initial three shallow drilling attempts failed to locate oil due to the shifting sands and unstable clay under the hill. Higgins held onto his ownership and leases of land over the salt dome but resigned from the company.
Higgins held onto hope of finding oil at Spindletop but had no luck finding new partners until, in 1899, he received a response from another semi-professional geologist who shared his belief about Gulf Coast oil domes. That man, Anthony Lucas, signed an agreement with Higgins and began drilling in late 1900.
Drilling at the site was incredibly difficult. A new rotating hydraulic drill collapsed upon reaching a depth of approximately 900 feet. Not able to deal with the technical difficulties, and short on money, Lucas asked for help from John D. Rockefeller of Standard Oil. Rockefeller passed but not before persuading John H. Galey and James M. Guffey, associates of the Mellon family from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to join the project. After reaching the depth of 1,210 feet, at 10:30 AM on January 10, 1901, natural gas erupted followed by a stream of crude oil reaching 200 feet. The eruption lasted nine days, spewing out approximately 100,000 barrels of oil a day, and was finally stopped by one of Lucas's devices.
At the time of this discovery, the average oil well with a good yield produced about 50 barrels a day, or approximately 18,000 barrels a year. The Spindletop field produced 3 million barrels in its first year and 17 million the next; more than all other oil wells in the world combined. The discovery broke John D. Rockefeller’s oil monopoly and made America the world's number one oil producer.
This map is the culmination of Pattillo Higgins’ efforts to invest in Jefferson County and to convince someone to help him drill for oil there. The map was published on the eve of what would become the most significant Texas oil discovery of all time.
Pattillo Higgins (1863 – 1955) was a hugely controversial firebrand of Texas oil and the single most instrumental figure in the dawn of the Texas oil boom. With Anthony Francis Lucas, he discovered and led the exploitation of Spindletop, the oil field in Jefferson County that would propel Texas, and the United States, to the role of top oil producer in the world.
Higgins was born on December 5, 1863 in Sabine Pass, Texas. By the age of six his family relocated to Beaumont, where after completing fourth grade, Pattillo apprenticed as a gunsmith with his father.
When Higgins was 17, he was caught harassing an African American Baptist church by a sheriff’s deputy. The deputy shot at Higgins, who returned fire, hitting the deputy, who would eventually die of his wounds. Pattillo suffered a gunshot wound to his left arm that required amputation below his elbow. Pattillo claimed self-defense and was found not guilty by a jury. After a stint as a “one-armed logger” on the Texas-Lousiana border, Pattillo became a Christian thanks to Baptist revival meeting he attended in 1885.
Higgins’ entrepreneurial spirit led him to real estate and brick manufacturing (Higgins Manufacturing Company) and later on sparked his interest in oil and gas. He travelled to Pennsylvania to learn about geological features indicating underground repositories of oil and dedicated himself to study of US Geological Surveys and reports that led him to the realization that many of the signs pointed to Sour Hill Mound (“sour” due to sulphur odor) near Beaumont, that he often visited with his Sunday school students. At this period in time the universal agreement was that there are no significant oil reserves to be found along the Gulf coast, but Pattillo became convinced that this salt dome mound had oil below it and despite public attacks on his credibility, he partnered with George O'Brien, George Carroll, Emma John, and J.F. Lanier to form the Gladys City Oil, Gas, and Manufacturing Company in 1892. This venture proved unsuccessful due to the shifting sands and unstable clay under the hill. Higgins resigned from the company, while retaining lease to the site.
After placing numerous adds in industrial magazines, Higgins partnered with the only man that answered – Croatian-America Anthony Francis Lucas. Lucas leased land at Spindletop Hill from Higgins and after years of arduous drilling discovered oil at what would become known as the Lucas Gusher. The relationship between Higgins and Lucas was quickly strained, but all made money. Higgins would enter into numerous oil ventures afterward, however, most of the time he backed out, leaving the majority of the profits to his partners.
Higgins remained a bachelor until the age of 45. In 1905, he adopted a young woman named Annie Jahn, who at the time was fifteen. Three years later Higgins married her, and despite the scandal, they later had three children. Higgins died in San Antonio on June 5, 1955.