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Section of | CORSICANA ARTESIAN WELL | Showing Oil Sand | W.M. ELLIOTT

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  • Title: Section of  | CORSICANA ARTESIAN WELL | Showing Oil Sand | W.M. ELLIOTT [And associated documents] From the estate of Joseph S. (Buckskin Joe) Cullinan
  • Author: W. M. Elliot
  • Date: No date
  • Product ID: 308214

The Birth Certificate of Texas Oil

Cyanotype cross section of cable tool rig designed to drill an artesian water well at Corsicana Texas.  Cross section drill log further depicts series of eight underlying geologic formations.  Of critical note, “Oil Sand” is indicated at 1025 to 1050 feet, and the ultimate depth of 2,490 feet is shown. 

As the first oil field with flush production, Corsicana was the stage where the curtain rose on the Age of Texas Oil.  While oil springs and tar pits were known and used by Native Texans, its first recorded instance occurred in 1543 when de Soto’s expedition washed ashore near High Island and discovered a black sticky substance they used to caulk their boats.  Corsicana sets the stage for what was to become the world’s greatest oil boom, as earlier efforts in Texas to explore for and drill oil had led to inconsequential plays. 

Before the year of the Corsicana discovery, the maximum annual production of oil in Texas had not exceeded 60 barrels. Subsequently, the Corsicana field yielded almost the total production of the State from 1896 until the discovery of the Spindletop at Beaumont, in 1901.

In the spring of 1894, a group of businessmen attempted to revitalize Corsicana’s oscillating fortunes with a ready supply of water.  To that end, they hired the American Well and Pros-pecting Company to drill three deep artesian wells within the city limits. 

Drilling of the first well began in the Spring of 1894.  On June 9, when the well reached a depth of 1035 feet,  crewmen noticed crude oil filling the shaft and rising to the surface. Efforts to seal off the crude failed, and it saturated the ground around the drilling site. The water well was eventually completed at a depth of 2,470 feet.  Initial reaction to the discovery of oil ranged from apathy to irritation. Few among the local citizenry comprehended the significance of the discovery, and the workmen were upset because of the delay which the oil caused in completing the water well. The drilling company indicated that they had no plans for utilizing the oil - after all, their business was to drill water wells.

Others, not associated with the water project, had more imagination.  H.G. Damon and Ralph Beaton organized the Corsicana Oil Development Company and began making extensive leases near the well at very attractive terms (a one-tenth royalty).  The pair attracted expertise and investment from noted wildcat drillers John H. Galey and James M. Guffey, but things really got rolling when Joseph S. (Buckskin Joe) Cullinan arrived on the scene, at the invitation of Corsicana’s leading citizens.  From 1897 until the discovery at Beaumont in 1901, Cullinan led the development of Corsicana’s oil industry through the J.S. Cullinan And Company.

By the end of 1899, 642 wells had been drilled in Corsicana, of which 511 were oil wells, 13 gas wells, and 118 dry holes. The oil from this field was first marketed in 1897, and a refinery was built near Corsicana in the spring of 1898 by J. S. Cullinan. At that time there were 62 wells in the field, producing an average reported yield of 14 barrels a day. The production of this pool, which furnishes the light oil. of the Corsicana field, increased until the maximum yearly output of 763,424 barrels was reached in 1901. 

Although it is less familiar to the public than the later, larger fields in Texas, such as the Spindletop Field, East Texas Oil Field, and the Permian Basin Field, the Corsicana Oil Field was the first flush field west of the Mississippi River and provided the technology which made later fields possible.

If Corsicana was the epicenter of the Texas oil boom, this blueprint diagram of the cable tool rig used to drill the artesian well for the town of Corsicana that struck oil, is Texas Oil’s Birth Certificate.  

With the following:

  • List of [Fuel and Gas] Contracts, [Corsicana Petroleum Company] December 1st, 1898
  • Statement of Salaries Paid by J.S. Cullinan Company, with Cover letter signed H.G. Folger, Jr. Dated January 3, 1901
  • Four letters related to Oil Stock, Refined Products, Storage and Production, to wit:
  • One (1) Typewritten Letter Signed, J.S. Cullinan July 18, 1899
  • One (1) Typewritten Letter unsigned, J.S. Cullinan, July 17, 1899
  • Two (2) Typewritten Letters, Signed E.R. Brown, July 17, 1899
  • CORSICANA PETROLEUM COMPANY | December 31st, 1901. Report dated December 31, 1901, showing assets and liabilities with a net positive balance of 251,832.47

The likely draftsman of this historic document is William Merrill Elliott (1869 – 1945).   A native of New Orleans, La., Elliott moved to Corsicana in 1890, and was a noted Navarro county surveyor and civil engineer.  Indeed, a map made by Elliott was adopted by the city council of Corsicana as the official map of the city on July 4th, 1893.  It is in his role as surveyor and engineer that Elliott would have been at the center of the historic happenings in Corsicana in the mid 1890’s.  His professional career included roles as Corsicana’s City Surveyor, Navarro County surveyor, and Vice President of the Navarro County Abstract Company.  Recognized as one of the foremost authorities on surveys and land and city records in Corsicana, Elliott compiled and prepared the maps of Corsicana, Navarro County and other county towns that were used extensively in land deals and legal proceedings.

Joseph S. Cullinan was one of the most influential Texas oilmen in the early days of the first boom.  He entered the Pennsylvania oil fields at the age of 14 and earned the nickname “Buckskin Joe” for the toughness of his hands and character.  The legendary founder of the Texaco company moved from his native Pennsylvania to Corsicana Texas, and when Spindletop came in on January 10, 1901, immediately grasped the magnitude of the opportunity.  He worked tirelessly to obtain financing for a substantial oil business when others were easily making millions with fast lease buying and selling and faster talk.  He  insisted the only way to operate was to create a vertically integrated business, and his epic vision and effort gave birth to The Texas Oil Company “Texaco”.  His strength of character and contributions to the greater good far exceed the scope of this document.  Suffice it to say, he was a giant among men.

E.R. Brown was hired by J.S. Cullinan to build the first refinery in Texas, at Corsicana, in 1898.  The 136 acre tract housed four stills and two vertical agitator tanks.  It operated continuously until 1941, when J.S. Cullinan company successor, Magnolia Petroleum Company consolidated refining at its Beaumont plant, shutting down the Corsicana refinery the same year.



Only known copy? Not in OCLC.


THE CORSICANA OIL AND GAS FIELD, TEXAS; Matson and Hopkins, U.S. Geological Survey, Publication 611F; 1918. 

The American Well and Prospecting Company, Tommy Stringer, East Texas Historical Journal, Vol. 22, Issue 2, Article 8; 1984. 

Early Texas Oil, A Photographic History, Walter Rundell, Jr., 1977

For W.M. Elliott biography;




All accessed on 1-09-2023