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Mud, cow led to sale of refinery acreage

By W. T. Block

Reprinted from Beaumont Enterprise, Saturday June 19, 1999.

NEDERLAND—During the early twentieth century, most everyone in Jefferson County knew of an instance or two wherein a landowner, seeking to realize an exorbitant profit on prairie land, drove a major industry to the Houston area. In one case the swish of a cow’s tail saved the old Pure Oil (later Unocal) refinery at Smith’s Bluff.

The site of Smith’s Bluff, located north of Nederland between Highway 366 and Neches River, was issued by the county’s Board of Land Commissioners to John Kutcher and G. W. Smyth about 1840.

About 1921, Pure Oil Company, which owned major oil production in East Texas and Oklahoma, needed a location with a deep-sea outlet for a gasoline refinery. And Smith’s Bluff was the ideal site, with plenty of land and a deep-water channel to the Gulf of Mexico.

In 1922 two company land agents visited Flora Block Staffen there and offered her $250 an acre for her 350 acres of land. Mrs. Staffen refused, however, not out of greed, but because it was the only home she and her husband had ever known, both having been born at that location during the 1850’s.

The agents visited her twice more, offering $350 an acre and eventually $500 an acre. On their final visit the land agents thought Mrs. Staffen had agreed to sell.

In the meantime a Beaumont car salesman visited Mrs. Staffen, convincing her that if Pure Oil Company really wanted her land, the agents should offer her a new Buick as a "bonus." But the land agents refused, believing that their final offer of $500 had been sufficiently generous.

At that time, A. L. Brooks, a Port Neches bank president, and Rev. W. E. Hassler, a Methodist minister, realized that a major industry was about to slip away from Midcounty if they did not act immediately. They canvassed the business district and raised $1,000 to buy Mrs. Staffen a new Ford. Mrs. Staffen, however, wanted only a Buick, which cost $2,000 additional. Later Rev. Hassler explained:

"...Brooks and I visited her during a cold, drizzling rain, and we found her milking a cow in a muddy pen. She told us that she had decided not to sell at any price since she did not need the money. I then assured her that we would raise the $2,000 additional needed to buy her a Buick..."

"...We then reminded her that if she sold out and relocated, she could buy her milk in bottles and never again would need to milk a cow out in the rain. About that time the old cow swung her tail and rapped Mrs. Staffen across the head, leaving her and her bonnet sprawled in the mud. As we helped her to rise out of the mud, she exclaimed, "This place is now sold to Pure Oil Company...!"

For the next seventy years, Smith’s Bluff remained a major refining plant, which produced aviation gasoline during World War II and employed at its peak about 1,000 persons. In 1965 Pure Oil was merged with Union Oil of California, and since 1990, the latter has dismantled all of the outdated distilling units. Today the location is used principally as an offloading and storage facility.

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W. T. Block of Nederland is a historian and author. His website is This database is very large (350 articles) and is intended as an area history source for students.

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Copyright 1998-2023 by W. T. Block. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, the material published on this site is copyrighted by William T. Block.
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