It was on this day, 82 years ago, that the future of Rusk County was irrevocably changed.
On Oct. 3, 1930 Columbus Marion Joiner’s visions of oil in East Texas paid off. After two unsuccessful attempts, his third well, the Daisy Bradford No. 3, came in and opened up the largest oilfield in the world.
As father of the East Texas oilfield, Joiner was affectionately dubbed “Dad” by local residents and industry leaders.
In the midst of the Great Depression, the oilfield brought people from other areas of the country to seek employment. The field that came to be known as the “Great East Texas Oil Field” eventually included Rusk, Gregg, Smith, Cherokee and Upshur counties and was the largest oil field in the world at the time.
Nicknamed the “black giant,” it changed the destinies of the numerous small agrarian communities that dotted the Rusk County and East Texas landscape, transforming them into boomtowns virtually overnight. Henderson’s population increased from around 2,000 to more than 10,000 in a few months. The towns of Overton and New London exploded from a few hundred to nearly 5,000 in the same span of time. The farming community of “Cyril” changed its name to Joinerville, in honor of Dad Joiner.
Several early attempts were made to produce oil in the area, beginning in 1911, with the failed Millville Oil Co., but drilling technology had not progressed sufficiently to reach oil at the depths at which it is found there, which are mainly below 3,500 feet. Most early wells ended in broken bits, dry holes and bankrupt operators.
Dad Joiner had been born in Alabama, had less than two months of formal education, and had once been a practicing attorney in Tennessee. But the lust for oil had almost ruined his life. He found some wells alright, but he usually lost them as quickly as he drilled them. He was near seventy years old when he ran into a bit of bad luck drilling for oil in Galveston.
Virtually broke and even contemplating suicide, Joiner was extremely depressed until he dreamed one night that he was destined to find the biggest oilfield the world had ever seen. The vision was so vivid that the next morning he sketched out what the area looked like on a piece of paper – rolling hills and trees. Joiner sketched a region that looked a lot like Miss Daisy Bradford’s property in rural East Texas, a place where people only dug holes for fence posts, crops, and graves.
Columbus Marion Joiner wandered through the pineywoods, wearing a white shirt frayed from too many washings, wingtip shoes, and a straw boater. His stature had been whittled down from a childhood bout with rheumatic fever, and some swore he could smell oil in the ground, no matter how deep it lay. Joiner was crippled and looked far older than his seventy years, a silver-tongued scoundrel with an unquenchable thirst for black gold.
Arriving in the bustling agrarian community of Overton by train, quoting the Bible as passionately as any brush arbor evangelist, sprinkling his language with a verse or two of poetry, searching for oil and vowing that he would tap a “treasure trove that all the kings of the earth might covet.”
With forty-five dollars in his pocket, Joiner began quietly buying up oil leases from hungry farmers and homesteaders who thought that a dollar an acre was big money. After all, a dollar an acre separated the poor from the dirt poor, and maybe a tired old man with slumped shoulders actually did have the ability to find enough oil to lighten their load and wash away the harsh times. None ever expected to be rich.
Some believed in the poet, the dreamer, the oil speculator they called Dad. He’s a good man, they said, a just man. He doesn’t smoke, curse, or let the evil curses of alcohol pass his lips. His was the only chance they dared possess. If he failed, they were no worse off.
Dad Joiner quoted from a voluminous memory of Classic poetry to the ladies and from an inexhaustible knowledge of Scriptures to the men. With steely gunslinger’s eyes and a firm handshake, he gradually put together leases on three hundred and twenty acres. It was enough land for him to get a precarious foothold in the soil of East Texas. Now all he had to do was dig… but digging took a lot more money than he had.
Daily reading the obituaries in local newspapers, as well as those from Dallas society section, Joiner would pay his respects to rich and grieving widows who just might have a few dollars to invest in his next oil scheme. Cutting a handsome and yet pious posture, with a Bible tucked reverently under his arm and speaking with a sonorous baritone drawl, Joiner was hard to resist. He once boasted among his close circle of friends, “Every woman has a certain place on her neck, and when I touch it, she automatically starts writing me checks. I may be the only man on earth who knows how to locate that spot.” Fantastic, to be sure, but Joiner’s life proves that spot was much easier and quicker to find than oil.
His whole life, he said, had been dictated by a scripture hidden away in the forty-ninth chapter of Jeremiah: “Let the widows trust in me.”
Not long after the Daisy Bradford find another well was drilled on the Crim family farm near Kilgore, producing a gusher with a spectacular initial daily flow of 22,000 barrels.
It was the enormous quantities of oil from the East Texas Oil Field, and their importance to the Allied effort in World War II, that led to the creation of the world’s largest pipeline until that time. The “Big Inch,” as it was called, was a 24-inch 1,400-mile pipeline which transported crude to refineries in the Philadelphia area. Prior to building the pipeline, oil could only be transported by ship, and many such ships were sunk by German submarines during the early part of the war, especially in 1942 and early 1943.
Construction of the pipeline commenced in August 1942, and on March 2, 1944 it was done. By the end of the war, over 350 million barrels of crude flowed from East Texas to the northeast states through the Big Inch.
Since its discovery, the East Texas Oil Field has produced more than 5.2 billion barrels of oil, and originally is believed to have contained more than 7 billion barrels.