Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Oil mystery from the Hotel Brazos

Here's a page from an undated letter, written on a Houston hotel's letterhead circa 1910 (judging by the letterhead image). Page 6 is all I have here, plus the unnumbered backside (so page 7, too). But it's enough to generate a mystery and shift one's imagination into high gear.

Something's going on here with an oil discovery near the Houston area I would assume. Here's what transpires after the missing first five pages:
But somehow they are afraid of something, and therefore will all be dead by the time oil is discovered--and, even further, if they sold an option outright at a good figure which would make them rich, they would at least have the benefit of money whether there is oil or not. It's very hard to make. Some people see this.

Now, if after a few more days, I know where I'll be, I will telegraph again, so you can send mail once more. Then, you all may have something to tell me that I do not think of now.

Love to dad and all the family,

Your loving son,

Do with this letter as you wish.

Who's writing this letter? A young man is writing to his mother, obviously frustrated over a failed business deal. Perhaps he's a landman for an oil company trying to secure drilling rights.

Who's the property owner who will die before oil is discovered on his property?

And why does the mystery writer instruct his mother to do with the letter as she sees fit? Some reason to destroy it? Show it to someone else? Hide it?

A bit of intrigue and mystery here, but the answers lie in the first five pages lost to eternity. The oil fields around Houston those first few decades of the twentieth century were ripe for discoveries. Some property owners evidently were not impressed with what they'd seen or heard and wanted nothing to do with oil companies and drillers on their land or anyone connected with them, such as the frustrated writer of this letter, or the company he represented.

Maybe that had something to do with the downside of such speculative ventures, as outlined in these paragraphs from the Texas State Historical Association's Texas Almanac:
Spindletop, which was also the first salt-dome oil discovery, triggered a flood of speculation in the area, resulting in several other significant discoveries. The boom included an influx of hundreds of eager wildcatters – including former Governor James Stephen Hogg – lusting after a piece of the action, as well as thousands of workers looking for jobs. Right behind them came a tidal wave of related service, supply and manufacturing firms, such as refineries, pipelines and oil-field equipment manufacturers and dealers. It was California's fabled Gold Rush of 50 years earlier repeated on the Texas Gulf Coast with rotary drill bits and derricks instead of pick axes and gold pans.

The boom turned into a feeding frenzy of human sharks: scores of speculators sniffing out a quick buck; scam artists peddling worthless leases; and prostitutes, gamblers and liquor dealers, all looking for a chunk of the workers' paychecks.

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