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Pre-boom Spindletop gave hints of its riches

By W. T. Block

Reprinted from Beaumont Enterprise, Saturday May 8, 1999.

NEDERLAND—On Sundays afternoons in 1884, a 12-year-old Beaumont boy named F. Wyche Greer would sometimes stick his head out of the water of the Spindletop wells and yell: "Got bottom that time, Bill!" The proof of Greer’s feat would always be a glass full of yellow (sulphuric) or blue mud from the bottom of the wells.

In that year Wyche Greer and his companion were shingle bundlers, who earned 50 cents for a 12-hour work day at the Long shingle mill. By 1900 Greer was one of Beaumont’s most prominent attorneys.

In 1866 an itinerant preacher-physician named Dr. B. T. Kavanaugh lived at Spindletop for a few months while he dug and curbed the five wells to a depth of 20 feet. The water in each well was of some shade of yellow, cloudy, or blue, and there was a constant bubbling in the water from escaping gas. Kavanaugh soon moved on to Sour Lake and disappeared from Spindletop history.

The best record of the Spindletop wells was published in Galveston Daily News of March 9, 1878 as a result of three men who visited there. One was N. A. Taylor, the News’ roving reporter, who wrote many long and delightful articles about Beaumont in 1878-1879. His companions were John Swope, publisher of Beaumont Lumberman, and E. L. Wilson, owner of Telegraph Hotel and a Beaumont hardware dealer. Taylor wrote first about one well that he called the "Milky Well," as follows:

"...The water is not far from the color of milk. It smells of gunpowder and the infernal regions, but is entirely pleasant to the taste. I drank about a quart of it... It makes a fellow belch most furiously..."

Taylor wrote the following about the second well: "...The next well is clearer and tastes like citric acid. They call it the "Lemonade Well..."

He wrote about one spring that he call the "Copperas Well," as well as another that he called the "Iron Well." He added that splotches of waxy petroleum sometimes floated on the water’s surface. He noted that a person could stick a hollow tube into the ground, light a match, and the escaping gas would burn brilliantly with a blue hue.

Despite his curiosity, Taylor strangely made no prediction about what might lie buried beneath the soil, although he was aware of the oil wells near Nacogdoches that were already flowing minute quantities of oil and gas.

The reporter also wrote about Beaumont’s "Lovers Retreat" or lane (Spindletop Park), located two miles east of the wells near the Neches River marsh. "Lovers Retreat" was the place where the local swains took their fiancées in buggies to picnic on Sunday afternoons.

Years later, it would take the proper admixture of inquisitiveness, finance, and the expertise of the Hamlin rotary rig drillers to bring Spindletop’s black gold to the surface.

Unknown to the world of 1900, the crest of Spindletop Hill was soon to become the richest square mile on earth, second only to the Klondyke gold fields and the Kimberley diamond mines.

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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 © 1998-2024 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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