Let’s Make a Deal

If Dad Joiner had said no in 1930 he could have been H.L. Hunt.

Pick up a history of the Texas oil industry, or of the big figures in oil, and chances are it will include a photograph taken one day in October 1930 showing a group of men in front of an oil rig. Sometimes the photograph is cropped to show only two of the men: Columbus Marion Joiner (called Dad), the man who promoted the well, and A.D. Lloyd (called Doc), a self-taught geologist who provided the “scientific” support for Joiner. Usually they are the only two people identified in the captions. But there is another man in the picture, a tall, heavy man with a boater straw hat on his head, a big cigar in his mouth, wearing a white shirt with a tie blowing in the breeze. That man is H. L. Hunt, who had come over from Arkansas to see what Joiner was up to. Hunt had heard about the Joiner promotion from some people he knew in

El Dorado who had developed a tool for testing oil wells that they were going to use in Joiner’s well. He came over to Rusk County, where Joiner was drilling, took a room in a hotel in nearby Henderson, the county seat, and watched and waited. When the well test showed oil in the well, Hunt bought some cheap leases near Joiner’s well. They had to be cheap, because he was just about broke. Then on a humid Sunday in early October, before an audience of local farmers and sightseers, Joiner’s crew got the well to erupt over the top of the slapdash wooden derrick, and another boom was on, the one that H.L. Hunt had been waiting for.

It wasn’t much of a well, despite its initial roar, but it was enough to start the usual hysterical rush for leases, beds, food, booze, and money. The Joiner well—known as Daisy Bradford No. 3, after the woman on whose land Joiner had drilled three times in three years—had tapped the largest pool of oil ever found in the United States. But the boom began before anybody knew that, for reasons that had little to do with what was under the ground. That part of East Texas always had been a poor country of small farmers trying to make a living from patches of corn and cotton. It was the Texas equivalent to Appalachia, out of the mainstream and going nowhere. There had been oil in the region before, in Van Zandt and Navarro counties and elsewhere. And oil people had taken a look at Rusk and Gregg counties over the years, even drilling some wells sometimes. But nobody authoritative figured there was anything there, though the Humble company held onto some leases because they were cheap.

Aside from that, there was no major oil company interest in what Joiner was doing. That part of East Texas just didn’t look like serious oil country.

For Joiner, that didn’t mean anything. In fact, the absence of any major company interest probably even made the place more appealing to him, because he was the classic promoter for whom the raising of money and the search were the game. Joiner had leased up about 10,000 acres in the Twenties and raised money by selling off pieces of his leases. He had been an oil promoter for 30 years or so, and he had even drilled in a couple of places where oil later was found by others.

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