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    Contracts and other documents from the first Texas oil boom

    Spindletop Oilfield Archive containing an early hand-drawn map of a 25 acre tract near Spindletop, along with over eighty documents - contracts, letters, stock certificates, deeds, tax documents, and more - all dated between 1886 and 1929 and related to the first Texas oil boom at Spindletop. Included are several contracts dated 1901 and 1902 for Robert L. Cox's company to sell land and flowing oil wells on Spindletop, some stipulating that oil was to be guaranteed at three cents per barrel.

    On January 10, 1901, a geyser of oil exploded from a lone southeast Texas well on a hill southwest of Beaumont, Texas, known as Spindletop, ushering in the Texas oil boom and the modern petroleum age. For the next few years, Spindletop was the sight of the largest speculation rush since California's Gold Rush.

    Soon after that first gusher, property values on Spindletop exploded, too, prompted by an intractable influx of speculators who arrived in droves, transforming Beaumont from a sleepy town of 10,000 to a frenzied 50,000. Eventually, eastern oil men, more experienced in the business, moved in and took control of much of the flowing oil, but the first blessings of the hill were bestowed on local Texans who produced numerous hasty legal contracts, such as those in this archive.

    The Hogg-Swayne Syndicate was one of the earliest Spindletop land investors. Comprised of former Texas Governor James S. Hogg, Judge James W. Swayne, and William T. Campbell, the syndicate was an early incarnation of Texaco whose likely earliest investment came in April 1901 when it purchased a fifteen acre tract in the northeast corner of Spindletop for $180,000. (That same tract was bought four years earlier for $450.) The syndicate, however, couldn't pay the entire price, so they sold small blocks of their fifteen-acre tract to various investors such as Robert L. Cox of Beaumont, who, according to one contract in this archive, bought land from Hogg-Swayne as early as July 20, 1901. Like other buyers, Cox formed his own company - R. L. Cox & Company - and subdivided his land even further, selling many tracts as small as 1/64th of an acre with mineral rights. The buyers of those small, subdivided tracts drilled wells and built derricks so closely together that the Hogg-Swayne district became known as the "onion patch," a moniker first coined by Patillo Higgins to describe the peculiar sight. (Most of the well-known photographs of Spindletop from this time show the Hogg-Swayne "onion patch.") As a result of the excess wells, the price of oil fell precipitously to three cents a barrel.

    R. L. Cox & Co., known as an oil producing and selling company, sold much of the land to those "onion patch" speculators and wildcatters. This archive contains nearly a dozen contracts from those hasty deals, all dated 1901 and 1902 and signed by the involved parties. The earliest is a land contract between Cox & Co. and Dod. G. Gibson of St. Louis dated November 1901 in which Cox, "the owner in fee simple of a certain tract of land in Block Thirty-eight (38) of the Hogg-Swayne syndicate Land Company, more particularly described as the one sixty-fourth of an acre in said Block Thirty-eight (38) of the subdivisions 36, 37 and 38 on what is known as Spindle Top Heights," agreed to sell to Gibson "the said one sixty-fourth of an acre in said Block Thirty-eight (38) together with all oil and mineral thereon" for $11,500. The contract held the stipulation that Cox "bore or sink or cause to be bored or sunk an oil well" on the tract with a guaranteed yield "not less than twenty thousand (20,000) barrels of oil in every twenty-four (24) hours."

    Similar contracts included were made between R. L. Cox & Company and E. T. Gibbons of Des Moines (December 11, 1901); B. E. Moore (January 13, 1902); the Volcano Oil Co. of St. Louis (March 5, 1902); Mervin Milton Chesrown of Chicago (March 20, 1902); William H. Garland (February 28, 1902, and March 15, 1902); J. R. Snively (May 15, 1902); the Six Wells Oil Co. (March 10, 1902); the American Union Oil & Refining Company (May 9, 1902); and H. E. Ferree of Quincy, Illinois (April 17, 1902), whose contract guaranteed that the well on his 1/64th of an acre "shall have a gushing capacity of thirty thousand (30,000) barrels per day forty two (42) gallons to the barrel." Many of the tracts that Cox sold were in Block 38, which was the site of at least two devastating fires, one in October 1902 and the other in April 1903.

    Two other contracts are of special interest. One is signed "R. L. Cox for W. T. Campbell." William T. Campbell was a member of the Hogg-Swayne Syndicate, who, along with Swayne, managed most of the syndicate's Spindletop investments (Hogg stayed away from most of the management duties). According to the terms of this contract signed on February 1, 1902, Campbell agreed to pay John O'Neil $5500 to drill oil wells on "ten certain tracts of land." In the other, dated May 14, 1902, Cox & Co. contracted Patillo Higgins' company, Higgins Oil & Fuel Company, "to pipe and load into tank cars the oil they sell." (Higgins was known as the "Prophet of Spindletop" for predicting that oil would be found there.) Other Cox contracts are also included which deal with the drilling, managing, and leasing of oil wells.

    Other items of interest in the archive:
    (1) An undated (ca. 1900) map showing the boundaries of a 25.51 acre tract, located northwest of Beaumont, Texas. The northeast corner of the tract abuts the Sabine and East Texas Railroad, which would continue to the southeast through Beaumont and Spindletop. The surveyor's name is illegibly written in the lower right corner. On linen, 7.5" x 19.5".
    (2) Notes from a meeting of the board of directors of the Volcano Oil Company of St. Louis in which they voted to buy from R. L. Cox & Co. "1/32 of an acre of land in the Hogg-Swayne Tract with a complete 8-inch Gusher if possible, and if not, a 6-inch Gusher for the sum of . . . $14,000."
    (3) A typed letter from Mervin Chesrown of Chicago (March 1902) stating that in accordance to a contract entered into with R. L. Cox & Company, certificates of stock in the Good Luck Oil Co. were being sent to the Citizens National Bank of Beaumont. According to the letter, "the certificates and the figures have been made out very hurriedly and there may be some slight errors."
    (4) A typed memorandum from "a special meeting of the Board of Directors of the Six Wells Oil Company" stating that the board had approved a contract with Cox & Co. "for the drilling of well No. 2" (March 14, 1902).
    (5) A contract signed by Marcus L. Lockwood stipulating the purchase of oil. Twelve years before the Spindletop gusher, Lockwood, along with others, organized the Pure Oil Company of Pennsylvania in 1888, which merged with Union Oil Company of California (Unocal) in 1965. Unocal merged with Chevron in 2005.

    Over sixty additional items are also in this archive, including more contracts, stock certificates, early warranty deeds (dated 1886 and 1891); tax receipts and documents (many dated from the 1890s and 1900s); a territorial deed (dated 1890s); letters written "in confidence" concerning oil deals; promissory notes to various Beaumont banks (dated 1906 through 1917); various letters; and bank documents. All items have been well cared for.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    March, 2011
    12th Saturday
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