Researched by Billy Batton and Wyvonne Putman,
Originally published in "The
Navarro County Scroll", Vol. XXI 1987
Reprinted with permission of the Navarro
County Historical Society
On June 9, 1894, oil was discovered in Corsicana, Texas as a water well was being drilled.1
This location was on Twelfth St. on the site of the present Petroleum Park.2
Drilling for oil continued in and around Corsicana through the remainder of the
1890s and into the early 1900's.3
The discovery of shallow oil in
Corsicana in 1894 served as a curtain raiser for the opening of the
"Gasoline era" in Spindletop, near Beaumont, in 1901. It is true that
the first commercial oil west of the Mississippi River was discovered in
Corsicana, and it is also true that this discovery was purely accidental. The
city had contracted with the American Well and Prospecting Company to drill
three water wells. Fifty-eight years after Colonel Drake's discovery in
Pennsylvania, on June 9, 1894, at a depth of 1,207 feet (in the Wolfe City
Formation) the drillers were annoyed to find oil, since they had to case it off
to keep it from contaminating the Woodbine water they reached at 2,470 feet.
(This first well can be found just across the street from the west entrance to
the Wolf Brand Chili plant, in the entrance to the old city barn. It is marked
by a monument erected there in 1936). Due to a poor casing job, oil began
permeating the soil around the well, which caused a lot of excitement and the
influx of many curious spectators and greedy investors, whose carelessness
around this first well caused three derricks to be burned to the ground.4
Several investors formed the Corsicana
Oil Development Company for the purpose of leasing land. They turned half of
their holdings over to two experienced Pennsylvania oil men, J. M. Guffey and
John H. Galey, who agreed to drill and equip five wells. Their first well was
drilled 200 feet south of the city's artesian water well. At 1,030 feet it
reached gas and oil, the latter flowing at 2 1/2 barrels a day. A nitroglycerin
shot increased the flow of oil temporarily, and even compressed air was used
later; but the strike was never a commercial producer. The second well, drilled
early in 1896, was a dry hole. The third well, at Fourth & Collin, was a 22
barrel a day producer. Soon afterward, the fourth and fifth wells came in
producing 20 and 25 barrels a day.5
Soon many new companies were formed.
Derricks sprang up all over the east side of town. Many were in the front or
back yards of homes, and some wells were offset by others only a few feet.
Pennsylvania and West Virginia oil men and drilling crews flocked to Corsicana.
In 1897, 57 wells were drilled, of which 50 were producers. By the end of 1898,
316 wells had been drilled, of which 287 were producers, and the daily
production of the field rose to 2,300 barrels a day. The J. S. Cullinan Company
built a small refinery on the outskirts of Corsicana which later became the
Magnolia Petroleum Company. The old Corsicana shallow field had depleted itself
to its stripper stage by 1901, at which date a total of 663 wells had been
drilled, and the cumulative production was three million barrels.6
The early Corsicana boom served as a
proving ground for the oil industry. Here Aiken, Johnston and Rittersbacher
developed the rotary rig which was to make possible the penetration of the
heaving shales at Spindletop. Prior to this all wells had been drilled by cable
tool rigs, which used the percussion principle instead of the combined screw,
abrasive, hydraulic actions of the new rotary method. The American Well and
Prospecting Company also developed the first high pressure mud and slush pump --
Gumbo Buster.7 The Oil City Iron
Works, founded in
1886 by William Clarkson, Sr., served to supply the early Corsicana boom as well
as all of the ensuing ones. There was very little geology known or used in the
discovery and development of the early Corsicana field. Perhaps a little
sub-surface correlation was invoked to discern whether wells were "running
high and looking good" or "too low to make a show for dough."
Although most of the hard rock geologists did not connect the shallower
formations, such as the Wolfe City and the Nacatoch, with the Balcones Fault
System, they did know at an early date that it existed. The Balcones Fault
started on the south around Luling and Seguin, extending in a northeasterly
direction through Kosse, Grosbecck, Mexia, Wortham, Richland,
Tuckertown, Powell, Bazette, Flag Lake, Kaufman, and ending around Talco.
Some of these romantic geologists, as
far back as the 1890's were envisioning the possibilities of deeper oil along
the Balcones Fault, but these dreams had to be held in abeyance, because the
drilling rigs were already in a strain at the 1,000 foot depth. Then, after the
development of bigger and better oil field equipment, in 1921, the Mexia
Woodbine oil field was discovered by Colonel A. E. Humphrey. It was a
"blower and a goer".8
The expansion of the automobile industry
and World War I created a major need for oil. By 1919 oil drillers had drilled
wells to the east of Corsicana near the town of Powell. In early 1923 some
highly producing wells were discovered near Chambers Creek southwest of Powell.9
Soon after the Mexia discovery, some
Corsicana businessmen organized a stock holding company and sold shares to
finance the drilling of the Warren-Blackshear #1, J. Harrison Burke fee,
approximately two miles southeast of Powell. On January 8, 1923, this well was
completed for a 200 barrel per day producer from the Woodbine sand at a depth of
approximately 2,900 feet. It is difficult to imagine the odds, but the
Warren-Blackshear was the northernmost producer in the large Powell field, which
was soon to swell to 600 producing wells. This discovery well was offset on the
west, north, and east by dry holes. The Hugh McKie Ranch, which is bordered on
the north by Chambers Creek, was evaluated by Julius Fohs, geologist for the
ubiquitous oil finder, Colonel Humphrey, the discoverer of Mexia. Fohs drew a
northeast - southwest diagonal line, indicating the Balcones Fault, which split
the McKie Ranch.10
Colonel Humphrey later sold his
production of the Pure Oil Company for forty (40) million dollars, and the McKie
Ranch was a very substantial portion of his holdings. Frank Buttram, an Oklahoma
City Operator, drilled an important outpost of the Ike Cerf lease.11
Garland Kent made Ray Fleming rich, and eventually himself unhappy, by finding
oil on the 50 acre tract Mr. Fleming had bought from his father-in-law. Anytime
one makes money swiftly, he can lose it just as rapidly. All of the oil stories
are not ones of success. Garland Kent was an example of a man who made
approximately five (5) million dollars in the Corsicana-Powell field and lost
it.12 Oil was discovered on his land and he received
fabulous royalty checks. Kent's first venture was to buy a lease on the Raz
Fleming farm close to his own land at the east end of the field. Fleming came to
town bragging about the deal he had put over on Kent by leasing his land to him
for $25.00 an acre. As it turned out, this was one of the best parts of the
field, and this where Mr. Kent made most of his money. He assumed that since
there was oil under his original farm, that all he had to do was buy land, drill
for oil on his own, and become immensely wealthy. He plied this theory many,
too many times.13 His extravagance, lack of
knowledge of the "Oil Games", and his poor judgment led to his
J. K. Hughes, "the world's most
successful "wildcatter", accompanied by B. B. Simmonds,
secretary-treasurer of the noted Hughes Company, came to Corsicana in January,
In May, 1923, the Thompson #1, struck
oil. This was a 1,200 barrel per day producer. The most cautious oil speculator
was now convinced of the potential value of the field.16
The rush was on. Some of the companies that rushed into the Powell field were:
Humphrey's, Atlantic, Simms, Roxanna, Humble, Blake and Smith, Sanders and
Wheelock, Fred M. Allison, Texas Oil, Corsicana Oil and Development, Corsicana
Oil and Refinery, Cranfill Brothers and Penn, Buttram-Tidal, Smith Oil, Gulf and
Lone Star Gas. Oil developers, lease hounds, rough necks, businessmen,
bootleggers, prostitutes, gamblers, adventurers and curious onlookers rushed
into the area.17
The enormous yields of high gravity oil
from wells in the Powell Field that penetrated only a few feet of sand attracted
world-wide attention at the onset and resulted in drilling companies that
quickly surpassed all previous records for rapid, intensive development of a
production area.18 Corsicana received many of the
people, but some moved directly into the field.
A steady stream of trucks and wagons
moving in derricks, rotary rigs, camp houses, and miscellaneous equipment from
Mexia and elsewhere choked the roads at all hours of the day and night. Field
men from Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas flooded into Corsicana seeking
Beginning in July, 1923, a number of
small boom towns sprang up in the Powell Field, which was described by Carl Coke
"The production area extended from
a point about one-half mile north of the village of Navarro in the
north-northeasterly direction to a point approximately one mile west of the
small town of Powell, from which the field got its name."20
Hill and Sutton described the field as
follows: "The field is of special interest in that the production sand is
penetrated at an average depth of 3,000 feet, a composite narrow strip
approximately seven and three-fourths miles long and one-half mile wide."21
Some towns already existed in or near
the field including Navarro, Providence, Eureka, Old Mildred, Powell and
Corsicana. The influx of people created a need for towns within the field for
the benefit of the people who would live and work there. Also, a lack of
transportation made the town necessary.22 The new
towns created were Juarez, Three-Way Filling Station, New Mildred, Whitney, and
Tuckertown. The largest of these was Tuckertown. This little boom town began
life in July of 1923. It was the brainchild of Harry L. Tucker, and located
along the Mildred-Rural Shade Road near the old-McKie Ranch home place.23
Prior to the oil boom, P. T. Fullwood
had leased the McKie property in what was to become the northern part of the
Powell Field, for ranching and farming operations. Fullwood had a small grocery
store in the southern corner of the leased acreage. The town site was laid off
around the grocery. The township was the creation of Fullwood and Tucker.
"Tucker was a town site promoter who had helped develop new boom town in
the Ranger and Eastland Fields."24 Tucker and
Fullwood formed a partnership to develop the town.
Lots were quickly sold by Tucker and
Fullwood and Tuckertown grew rapidly. Within two months the population had
mushroomed to 3,000 and in another month Tuckertown was a little city of 6,000.25
The Corsicana Daily Sun stated:
"Never in the history of oil field
development has any town sprung up into such a thriving little village as
Tuckertown. Now less than four months old, Tuckertown has a daily population of
3,000. When oil operations came across Chambers Creek with Humphrey's
and McKie #2 in June, a little soft drink and confectionery shack was built at
the crossroads entrance to the McKie farm. Tuckertown got in the middle of the
big pay. Business came from all sides of the big fields and made it one of the
most prosperous oil field towns in the entire country."26
Tuckertown was located approximately six
miles southeast of Corsicana. A gravel road ran south from Corsicana to
Beaumont. This road is now U.S. Highway 287. The gravel road ran parallel to the
Trinity-Brazos Valley Railroad which extended to the town of Navarro and beyond.
Approximately four miles south of Corsicana, a road ran eastward from the
southbound road from Corsicana. Tuckertown was located approximately four miles
eastward on this road, which is not F/M #637.
It its day, Tuckertown exemplified for
Navarro County the free-wheeling, high-pitched way of life that was the oil
Powell, Mildred and Navarro, towns that
had been small farming communities before the oil boom, grew with tremendous
speed. The business expansion at Powell included a new brick bank building. The
LaRue and Barton, wholesale grain and grocery concern, set up a new warehouse
near the Cotton Belt RR tracks.27
Tuckertown followed the pattern of many
boom towns. It grew rapidly in six months to a population of 6,000 and declined
when drilling moved south westward. Tuckertown was laid out on each side of the
road and was approximately one-half mile long. Alleys ran between some buildings
to provide passageways to the rear areas. The buildings were both permanent and
temporary. The were build of wood, sheetmetal, tar-paper, canvas and cardboard.
Tents, shacks, showers and outdoor toilets were scattered behind the main row of
At the height of its population the town
consisted of five grocery stores, three small hotels, two large hotels (of
fifteen and forty rooms), a large clothing store, barber shops, bit and rig
repair shops, cafes, sandwich shops and blacksmith shops.
Reported in the Corsicana Daily Sun,
September 22, 1923, included "a boiler works, one filling station, a
garage, a movie house, a machine shop, two drugstores, a dancehall, a shooting
gallery, and a shoe and boot repair shop completed the makeup of Tuckertown. A
few shacks and tents were located behind and at each end of the main road in
Tuckertown. There were some homes of the married workers near the town.28
Lee Brashear, who worked in Dad's
Grocery in Tuckertown, said of the town:
"Tuckertown was created in a very
short time. It was a temporary town because of its rapid construction and
because of the temporary existence of the field. In spite of this, Tuckertown
served its purpose of residence and supply well enough to meet the basic needs
of its residents."29
In October, 1923, a fire occurred in
Tuckertown. It was thought to have been caused by a drunk smoker in a hotel and
it burned most of the north side of Tuckertown, leaving a few scattered places
on the east end. Most of the area burned was rebuilt. Four months later another
fire on the north side of the street destroyed some structures. This time no
rebuilding was done.
As time passed, drilling to the
southwest end decreased production in the Powell Field caused the decline of
This rosy picture was quickly changed
when, on May 8, 1923 the J. K. Hughes-McKie #1, on the east bank of Chambers
Creek, blew in as the first prime producer at 2,850 feet, spewing 8,000 barrels
per day high over the crown block, located one mile and a quarter southeast of
the discovery well. Tragedy struck in less than 24 hours after the McKie well
came in. The men were attempting to cap the well and it was time to change
shifts. Somehow a spark from a tool or rock ignited the flowing well and
thirteen men were burned to death. Three of the men lived a few hours and died
in the old P&S Hospital.
Hughes purchased a lot in Oakwood
Cemetery and the remains of six of the men were buried there. According to
Robert Cason, Hughes sent 13 wreaths, one for each man killed, to the cemetery.
It is the intention of the Navarro
County Historical Society to have the remaining names of the men who were buried
elsewhere put on the large monument, so that it will be a memorial to all 13 who
lost their lives in that huge oil fire. This work will be done under the
direction of Hubert Farmer and Central Monument Company.
The men who died that day were: Emmett
Byrd, Travis Owen, L.C. Cook, M.O. Turner, S.P. Allen, W.A. Hicks, Jack Cooper,
E.E. Cooper, Dan Phillips, James Phillips, Fred Craig, L.P. Sheek, and Charles
Each spring Corsicana celebrates an
event called "Derrick Days". During this time the citizens relive the
oil boom days when Corsicana could boast of being the "First Oil Field West
of the Mississippi River". Stories of the early days are retold and
The Texas State Historical Marker to
honor Tuckertown was made possible by donations from Bill and Ben McKie, R.L..
Wheelock Jr., C.L. Brown, H.R. Stroube Jr. and George Weinschel.
The Texas Almanac lists
production in these years:30
1925 ...... 17,528,055 barrels
1926 ...... 10,562,000 barrels
1930 ...... 2,126,000 barrels
1931 ..... 1,401,000 barrels
1932 ..... 953,000 barrels
By November, 1923, the Powell Field had
been "drilled up" - the limits of the field had been reached. By
January, 1924, there were 591 oil wells in the Powell Field with 303 producing
56,000 barrels of oil per day, as workers left the field or moved southwestward
following the drilling direction.31
By 1931 most of the structures of
Tuckertown had been torn down. Some of the few remaining buildings in Tuckertown
were a grocery store, which occupied what had been a house in Tuckertown. This
grocery existed until 1935, when it was converted to a barn.32
Today there is no physical evidence of the existence of Tuckertown. Pastures
cover the site.
Tuckertown was, and is, an important
economic and historical site. It was the center of the earliest and largest
production of oil in the Powell Field which produced approximately 186,000,000
barrels of oil, helping to make Texas the leader in production of oil in the
United States. Wasteful practices in this field helped to inspire oil field
regulatory laws to protect and regulate oil exploration and production in later
Tuckertown was home to a special breed
of people who brought a different way of live to Navarro County. The town was
the residence, business, economic, and recreation center to 6,000 residents and
the people residing in Navarro County, and the surrounding area.
Tuckertown was also a unique experience
to some few people still living in Navarro County. It was the main and largest
boom town in the first continually producing oil field west of the Mississippi
River. It was an untamed boom town like other oil and gold strike towns of the
In June 1923, as the boom gathered
steam, Judge Hawkins Scarborough told the Rotary Club: "As long as I am
District Judge of Navarro County, there will be no open gambling houses
A Grand Jury was impaneled the first
week in July to consider infractions of the law. Judge Scarborough declared,
"We welcome all honest people coming to Navarro County and Corsicana, but
the bootleggers, gamblers, hi-jackers and other crooks and criminals are not
wanted and we do not intend to have them".
In his charge he stated that an abnormal
condition existed, especially referring to the oil field.35
"Saloons, gambling dens and
disorderly houses with all their attendant evils are present in the oil
Yet law and order found their way into
the oil field. Perhaps their symbol was the roving jail driven by Deputy Sheriff
Harmon Chandler. On the back of his car Chandler installed a capacious cage, and
with it he roamed the field looking for prospective occupants. He could
accommodate eight eight or ten before it became necessary to take them to
permanent lodgings.36 [see
Hoodlum Wagon at the Pioneer Village ]
around the fields was ceaseless, and remained so until County Attorney Ballard
George ordered work to stop on Sunday. The law prohibited the opening of any
store not classified as an emergency. It allowed certain stores, such as meat
markets, to stay open until 9:00 A.M. Sunday mornings. The only work permitted
in the oil field was the running of a rig where the expected the will in that
day. Signs on the stores said, "Closed, by George!"37
On one year
.... the effect of the boom on Corsicana was enormous. Even if not engaged in
drilling, many citizens, by December, 1923, had already profited from the
average price of oil field land, bringing about $500.00 an acre; from the
$3,750,000 in royalties paid; from the $2,000,000 spent in laying several
hundred miles of pipelines; from the $100,000 spent for campsites, stores, and
about $20,000 to buy a rotary drilling rig and an additional $18,000 to drill a
well. From all this, people made money.38
Oscar C. B. Nau,
manager of the Corsicana Chamber of Commerce, said that before the Corsicana
field, the city had a population of 15,000 which swelled to 25,000 by 1923. This
number did not include the 8,000 workers employed in the oil fields.
government profited the most. The previous year's $28,000,000 in tax rendition
nearly doubled to $53,000,000 in 1923.39
of Corsicana achieved a balanced budget as the result of a deal to sell the oil
companies 2,000,000 gallons of water a day from the brand new Lake Halbert. The
sale of this water brought the city $2,000 a day in revenue and made it possible
the paying off of an $18,000 water deficit, the establishment of $12,500
permanent improvement fund for the new lake, and the purchase of a new fire
engine. With this money, Corsicana also built a new city hall.40
owner affected by the oil boom was William J. McKie. During the early years of
his professional career as a lawyer, Mr. McKie began to accumulate property
around Corsicana, his interests finally aggregating more than 1,500 acres of
land. In the 1890's shallow oil was discovered on his property. He strongly
believed in the prospects for oil in paying quantities. The Powell boom put him
in the middle of the proven field. He had over 100 wells on his land. Among the
large oil companies to operate on land owned by Mr. McKie were J. K. Hughes Oil
Company, Roxana, Humble Oil and Refining Company, Humphry's Company, Pure Oil
Company, Texaco, Gulf, and Sims Oil Company. Production totaled over 8,000,000
barrels of oil in the Powell boom and brought him one of the largest individual
fortunes of any land owner in the field.41
interest in oil led him to rise to the top of the legal profession as an expert
in oil and petroleum matters. He skillfully handled great corporation business,
particularly the the legal aspects of the railroad and petroleum industries. The
Texas Company (Texaco) appointed him their general attorney and he wrote the
original charter for that company. When the Standard Oil Company began
operations in the Texas oil fields, they retained Mr. McKie as their attorney.
Lone Star Gas Company and Magnolia both employed him to represent them. McKie
was also a partner of Harry Tucker.42
first in the oil industry in the nation. The history of this industry is
important. During the 1890's oil as an industry in Texas was established.
Technology developed a firm foundation for the future growth of the entire
"firsts" make the Navarro County oil discovery significant. It gave
Texas its first sustained commercial production, its first efficient and
complete refinery, and the rotary rig. Here oil was first used for paving
streets and roads, as well as for locomotive fuel consumption.
Many of the men
who came to Navarro County during the early boom days, became the founders and
leaders of the oil industry in Texas. Out of the use of natural gas for
commercial heating and lighting, first used in Corsicana, Texas, another
separate industry has grown.
has experienced one of the most colorful and varied histories in oil,
agriculture and industry, and has reflected these conditions in schools,
politics and public service.
From a placid
agricultural background seeking industry and railroad development, the pioneers
were thrust into the limelight when oil was discovered. Soon Corsicana was a
prosperous country seat, served by four railroads and the interurban line to
Dallas. The first refinery west of the Mississippi River was in Corsicana,
1. Carl Mirus,
A Short History of the Corsicana Shallow Oil Field, The Navarro County
Historical Society Scroll, 1956.
States Geological Survey 1897-1898 (Washington, D.C. Government Printing Office,
1898, p. 104.
Morning News, Jan 10, 1894.
4. Morrison and
Fourmy's General Directory of the City of Corsicana, 1894-1895.
5. Founders of
the Oil Industry, James A. Clark, p. 39.
6. Founders of
the Oil Industry, James A. Clark, p. 7.
7. J. S.
Cullinan, by Tommy Stringer, found in Navarro County History, Volume V, p. 293.
8. C. C. Rister,
Daily Sun, June 29, 1976, Bicentennial Issue, p. 10-13.
Daily Sun, Jan 6, 1919, p. 7.
11. C. C.
Rister, p. 140.
12. History of
the Oil Industry in Navarro County, 1967, Jane G. Dunn, p. 77.
13. History of
the Oil Industry in Navarro County, Jane G. Dunn, p. 78.
14. History of
the Oil Industry in Navarro County, Jane G. Dunn, p. 78.
Daily Sun, April 14, 1923, p. 1.
and Development - Problems in the Powell Oil Field, Hill and Sutton, p. 1.
Daily Sun, June 29, 1976, Bicentennial Issue, p. 10.
and Development - Problems in the Powell Oil Field, Hill and Sutton, p. 1.
19. C. C.
Rister, Oil Titan of the Southwest, p. 177.
20. Ibid, p.
and Development - Problems in the Powell Oil Field, Hill and Sutton, p. 1.
22. Ibid, p. 1.
23. C. C.
Rister, p. 177.
24. P. T.
Daily Sun, July 7, 1923, p. 1.
September 22, 1923.
with Lee Brashear.
Almanac, 1925, pp. 26, 30, 31, 32.
31. Mrs. W. S.
Guthrie - Personal Interview.
33. History of
the Oil Industry in Navarro County, Jane G. Dunn.
County Historical Society Scroll, 1964 Issue.
Daily Sun, July 2, 1923, p. 1.
September 27, 1923, p. 1.
37. Ibid, July
2, 1923, p. 1.
38. Ibid, July
24, 1923, p. 1.
39. Ibid. July
24, 1923, p. 1.
40. Ibid, July
41. History of
the Oil Industry in Navarro County, Jane G. Dunn, p. 75.
42. Ibid, p.
Sun, 1923, 1976
Founders of the
Oil Industry, James A. Clark
Sutton, Production and Development - Problems in the Powell Oil Field
History of the
Oil Industry in Navarro County, Jane G. Dunn, 1967
J. S. Cullinan,
Tommy Stringer, Navarro County History, Volume V, p. 293.
Fourmy's Directory of the City of Corsicana, 1894-1895
Ristor, C. C.,
Oil: Titan of the Southwest
Geological Survey, 1897-1898