Oilman Johnny-on-the-spot at Spindletop

Texas History

“Buckskin Joe” Cullinan arrived at Spindletop on Jan. 11, 1901, less than 24 hours after the eruption of the Lucas gusher, ready to bet his bottom dollar that the bonanza would spark the biggest oil boom ever.

The son of Irish immigrants was born in Pennsylvania on New Year’s Eve 1860 just a few miles from the first producing well on the North American continent. Going to work for Standard Oil as a 22 year old roughneck, he climbed to the top rung of the corporate ladder in a fast-paced 15 years.

Cullinan received an unusual letter in 1897 from the mayor of Corsicana, Texas. A fortune in black gold lay beneath his sleepy community, the civic leader claimed, but no one had the money or the know-how to retrieve the fossil fuel. Could the oil executive come take a look?

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