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Boom Days

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The Oil Boom
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IN the twinkling of an eye, Beaumont, the slow-moving, quiet little sawmill town of 9000 people was converted into a seething, fighting, shouting mob of 15,000 money-mad adventurers, each striving for a share in the hitherto undreamed-of wealth that lay beneath the uninviting, barren surface of Spindletop. The bringing in of the Lucas gusher on January 10, 1901, was responsible, raising the curtain upon one of the greatest commercial and speculative dramas in the history of the development of the country.

On the morning of January 11, the metropolitan papers of the nation carried the news of the gusher that flowed 75,000 barrels of oil a day. It was as if some tremendous, unseen force, moving irresistably and with a speed immeasurable, drew every thought and resource of the nation toward the vortex that was Spindletop. All the commonplace sources of mere livelihood and legitimate profit were forgotten, while every mind centered its thoughts by day and dreams by night upon the dark column spouting through the derrick and roaring its message of treasures ready to flow into the hands of men.

The merchant left his desk, the clerk his counter, the lawyer his books, and the laborer laid down his tools. Every man saw the opportunity of making a million without the slow, tedious efforts of ordinary calling. Every acre became a potential oil field, every town lot a site for a derrick. The toil-bent farmer who owned a few acres of truck land anywhere near the discovery well became over-night an opulent owner of "oil land" and the center of interest of a raving throng of promoters, investors and speculators, under whose competition his little farm took on a new coating of gold almost with every passing minute. Day by day the streets became more crowded with strangers, and day by day the fever grew, until the little city roared like a hive, and train came in crowded with impatient men, who leaped off before the station was reached. The oil boom was on.

Fortunes were made and lost in such ever-increasing rapidity that it bewildered one. Trades were made on the streets, in hotel lobbies, brokers stood on corners crying out their trades, and land swapped hands with only a pencil-written memoranda, On such slender evidence of ownership even the title of oil-producing wells, it is said, often depended.

One instance is told of a broker standing on a soap box calling out: "I have an acre of ground in the Bullock survey for $1000." "It's a trade", answered a man from the crowd, and later that same land sold for $ 20,000, and oil has yet to be struck on it. All the madness, the nerve-racking, brain-reeling frenzy of all the stock exchanges of the nation loosed upon the community could not have approximated the bedlam that roared about the little town during those first days of the oil boom, and, leaving no vestige of the old order, transformed the little town overnight into a young metropolis, with the ways and manners and wealth of a great city,

There was no possible way of taking care of the enormous crowds that poured into the little city, and speculators and schemers who could not find a place to sleep, opened offices on street corners or on the hotel verandas. Every cot and bed in Beaumont was put to use, and many of them did day service for the fellow who had to spend the night on the streets.

At restaurants men stood in line and waited their turn at the tables, and on many a vacant lot enterprising caterers who could not get a location placed long tables and with small cooking stoves served thousands of hungry men every day and night.

Property-holders reaped a golden harvest, every available space was rented to as many tenants as could be crowded into it, and still hundreds of oil company brokers and real estate men were without a domicile. The easiest thing to put one's hand on in Beaumont was money. Land would bring money, but money would not bring land always. The demand for clerks, bookkeepers, and stenographers was far beyond the supply. A typewriter rented for fabulous prices, and most of the time could not be had for twice its value. A common laborer earned enough in two days to provide for his family for a week. Thus demand was out of all proportion to supply, and money was obtainable almost for the asking. Because of the heavy purchase of oil stocks and the sending of many hundreds of thousands of dollars to Beaumont, the two local banks were taking in so much money each and every day that they were experiencing the greatest difficulty in keeping things straight.

They had neatly printed signs posted on the doors reading: "Please do not try to get into the bank before nor after banking hours. We have more work than we can do before twelve o'clock each night." The cashier of one of the banks in those days tells of going to work before 6 o'clock in the morning and working until midnight. Food was sent to him there, but sometimes he was too busy to eat it. He was one of the men who were sick of the oil boom.

During these first days of the momentous period the little community underwent many hardships and faced tremendous problems. The makeshifts necessary on account of the sudden increase in population brought about unhealthful sanitary conditions. The enormous increase in traffic over its streets destroyed them, and within a year its schools were overcrowded with children of the newcomers. Homes for the increased population had to be provided, and the supply of common and mechanical labor was insufficient, and for several years living conditions in the town were deplorable.

But gradually, the community for months in a nebulous state, without form and void, began to take shave. The leaven of good morals and sober sense brought order out of chaos, and the town began the healthy growth that has brought it to its present stable prosperity and unexcelled cultural attainments, and while now the oil industry may be said to be but one of the many sources of Beaumont's income and growing wealth, the city owes its first long stride toward its present metropolitan proportions to the frenzied days of the oil boom.

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