Located seven miles west of Henderson, Texas, in western Rusk County, the unincorporated community of Joinerville, Texas, was the beneficiary of one of the largest oil booms in the US history. And this boom was largely thanks to the zeal and admittedly unorthodox methods employed by the city's namesake, Columbus Marion 'Dad' Joiner, whose efforts yielded the largest oilfield discovery of the time.
Joinerville, Texas, at the time of the 1930s East Texas oil boom
From Politics to Real Estate to Wildcatting
Joiner was born in 1860 near Center Star in Lauderdale County, Alabama. He later relocated to Tennessee, where he was elected to the state legislature, serving until 1891.
He subsequently moved to Armore, Oklahoma in 1897 in search of cheap land, and by 1906 he had bought 12,000 acres of farmland. But in 1907 he lost his land as a consequence of an economic panic. He vigorously pursued a career as a wildcatter in an effort to reverse his fortunes.
But Joiner's luck was not good. With antiquated and battered equipment, he had drilled more than 100 wells in the Sooner state. Ironically, he almost discovered both the Seminole and Cement oilfields but stopped drilling 200 feet short.
Already in his late sixties, Columbus Marion Joiner exemplified a go-getter attitude which often trounced on the feet of his fellows. Keeping his head held high, he left Oklahoma for Texas in 1926 to begin his search anew for crude gold.
An Alabaman Bull in an East Texas China Closet
Joiner stubbornly insisted that there was oil to be found in the East Texas region of Rusk County, even though geologists there believed otherwise.
Still using antiquated equipment, and regarded with skepticism and downright cynicism by "professional" oilmen and geologists, he leased over 4,000 acres in Rusk County in 1927 and began drilling with hardly any money in his pocket.
Columbus Marion Joiner
Joiner took these mineral leases with the intention of selling certificates of interest in a syndicate. The 67-year-old presented a kind and gentle appearance, but, as is frequently the case with controversial history-makers, looks can be deceptive.
Joiner was shrewd. He was one of those pioneers who was adeptly (and admittedly at times unethically) used the labor, property, and money of others in his ventures.
Two Failed Attempts
One of these leases was a 975-acre farm near Henderson, Texas, that belonged to a widow named Daisy Bradford, where Joiner spent the next four years searching for oil.
His first two wells were unsuccessful, and he and the reluctant partners he enlisted in his quest went further into debt.
Joiner and driller Tom M. Jones spudded the Bradford No. 1 well on an 80-acre tract owned by Daisy Bradford in the Juan Ximines Survey of Rusk County. After drilling six months without discovering oil, the hole was lost to a stuck pipe.
A second well, the Bradford No. 2, was spudded by Joiner and driller Bill Osborne at a location 100 feet northwest of the original well. Following eleven months of intermittent drilling, the well reached a depth of 2,518 feet, where the drill pipe twisted off and blocked the hole. Prior to abandoning the site, Osborne returned to test a shallower horizon at 1,437-1,460 feet where gas had reportedly been found. When no evidence of production was found, the well was abandoned.
But Joiner's persistence did not wane. For it was the third well which yielded the discovery of the largest oilfield in the world up to that time, the East Texas Oilfield. Joiner was 70 years old.
Third Time's a Charm: Daisy Bradford No. 3
On May 8, 1929, driller Ed Laster moved Joiner's old rig to a new location, 375 feet from the second site, and spudded Bradford No. 3. After two days of drilling, the well reached a depth of 1,200 feet and showed oil.
Joiner and his partners were pleased with the discovery. But what they did not realize at the time is that they had only accessed one part of a contiguous reservoir that covers 140,000 acres and parts of five counties in East Texas. Overall, the field is approximately 45 miles long on the north-south axis and five miles across.
Joiner had not drilled Daisy Bradford No. 3 in the center of the field but on the eastern edge, because that was where his beaten-up pine rig had broken down.
In late August, Laster and a farm rig hand (whom Joiner regularly recruited for help) were seriously burned when the boiler of the rig exploded. The well was shut down until Laster recovered.
By January 1930, the well reached a depth of 1,530 feet, and drilling was halted until the Spring.
Laster resumed drilling operations in late March and drilling proceeded through the summer and into the fall.
An East Texas Oil Boom is Born
On September 5, 1930, after reaching a depth of 3,592 feet, the well flowed oil and gas on a drill stem test. Its initial production was 300 bpd. The well was completed on October 5, 1930.
After two unsuccessful attempts, Joiner's Bradford No. 3 well yielded a discovery
Major company representatives and independent oil men rushed to Rusk County to take leases in the month between the drill stem test and the completion of the well.
It was the independents who drilled the first wells and spearheaded the early development of the field. The first of these independents to discover oil was Deep Rock Oil Company when it completed the second well in the field, situated one mile to the west of Bradford No. 3. It started production on December 4, 1930, flowing 3,000 bpd.
The Rusk County oil boom- and as it turned out, the East Texas boom- had begun.
By the early Spring of 1931, the widely-spaced discoveries revealed the vastness of the East Texas oilfield, as hundreds of independents began its development.
Unlike many previous discoveries, the East Texas Field had no coordinated plan and no one with whom the buck definitively "stopped."
Many property owners divided their holdings into small mineral leases that could be measured in feet, and offered them to the highest bidder. By so doing, they were able to gain from $1,800 to $3,000 per acre.
As the leasing frenzy beset the five counties that were discovered to sit atop the enormous field, Kilgore, Texas, became the center of the boom. There, wells were drilled in the yards of homes and derrick legs abutted those of the neighboring drilling unit.
Send it North: The "Big Inch" Pipeline
As drillers rushed to East Texas to exploit reserves from the newly discovered field, a glut emerged that contributed to the destabilization of the US oil market in the 1930s and also negatively impacted the global economy, thus worsening the Great Depression.
During the Second World War, the large quantities of oil from the East Texas Field significantly benefited the war effort. The success of the field also led to the creation of the "Big Inch" pipeline, which at the time was the world's largest pipeline.
The "Big Inch" pipeline transported oil from the East Texas oilfield to refineries around Philadelphia
It transported crude to refineries in the Philadelphia area. Construction of the pipeline began in 1942 and it was completed in 1944. By the conclusion of the war, more than 350 million barrels of crude flowed from East Texas to the northeast states via the "Big Inch" pipeline.
Legal Trouble and a Mixed Legacy
Joiner himself was soon in a serious legal quandary for grossly overselling shares in his venture. Only two months after reaping the discovery of the largest oilfield at that time, he went into receivership and was forced to sell his holdings to independent oil man H.L. Hunt for $1 million.
Joiner then retired to Dallas. Sadly, Joiner was not among those to profit from this own discovery. At his death in 1947, his assets were listed as "of nominal value."
Joiner's persistence and devil-may-care approach had opened up a billion-barrel oil reserve. Eventually, about 14,000 wells were drilled in the East Texas Oilfield.
What a Difference 80 Years Makes: From Oil to Shale Gas
Today, the five counties on which the East Texas Field was discovered- Gregg, Rusk, Smith, and Cherokee counties- are on the western edge of the Haynesville Shale Play, which underlies large parts of southwestern Arkansas, northwest Louisiana, and East Texas.
To demonstrate how times have changed, as of Spring 2014 there are 10 rigs operating across these counties- and all but one are natural gas rigs drilling horizontal wells. And you can be sure the lone oil rig drilling a vertical well in Smith County is far better equipped than the rig Dad Joiner used to drill Bradford No. 3 nearby 85 years ago.
Acknowledging a Man and His Discovery
Although it is indisputable that Columbus Marion (Dad) Joiner's legacy is a mixed one, facts are facts. With all the controversy surrounding his wildcatting career, posterity has remembered him as "Dad" Joiner, thereby acknowledging his patrimony of what at the time was the world's largest oilfield.