The Days after Christmas: The Man Who Drilled for Hope

The big oil strike that forever transformed the face of Kilgore and East Texas happened during those cold wet days following Christmas of 1930. But in reality, it all began a few years earlier when Columbus Marion Joiner slipped iinto the pine thickets before anyone realized he was coming or knew his name.

oil strike
Dad Joiner, left, shakes hands with his geologist Doc Lloyd

He had been born in Alabama, had less than two months of formal education, and had once been a practicing attorney in Tennessee. But the lust for oil had almost ruined his life. He found some wells all right, but he usually lost them as quickly as he drilled them. He was near seventy years old when he ran into a bit of bad luck drilling for oil in Galveston, and everyone called him Dad.

He was virtually broke and was even contemplating suicide.  Joiner was extremely depressed until he dreamed one night that he was destined to find the biggest oilfield the world had ever seen.  The vision was so vivid in his dream that the next morning he sketched out what the area looked like on a piece of paper – rolling hills and trees.” He had sketched a region that looked a lot like East Texas, a place where people only dug holes for fence posts, crops, and graves.

Columbus Marion Joiner wandered ithrough the piney woods, wearing a white shirt, frayed from too many washings, wingtip shoes, and a straw boater. His stature had been whittled down from a childhood bout with rheumatic fever, and some swore he could smell oil in the ground, no matter how deep it lay.  He was crippled and looked far older than his seventy years, a silver-tongued scoundrel with an unquenchable thirst for black gold.

Columbus Marion Joiner arrived in East Texas by train, quoting the Bible as passionately as any brush arbor evangelist, sprinkling his language with a verse or two of poetry, searching for oil and vowing that he would tap a ‘treasure trove that all the kings of the earth might covet.”

He had forty-five dollars in his pocket, and he was quietly buying up oil leases from hungry farmers and homesteaders who thought that a dollar an acre was big money. After all, a dollar an acre separated the poor from the dirt poor, and maybe a tired old man with slumped shoulders actually did have the ability to find enough oil to lighten their load and wash away the harsh times.  None ever expected to be rich.

Some believed in the poet, the dreamer, the oil speculator they called him Dad.  He’s a good man, they said, a just man.  He doesn’t smoke, curse, or let the evil curses of alcohol pass his lips. His was the only chance they dared possess.  If he failed, they were no worse off.

Dad Joiner quoted poetry to the ladies and scriptures to the men, and slowly he put together leases on three hundred and twenty acres, enough land for him to get a precarious foothold in the soil of East Texas. Now all he had to do was dig, but digging took a lot more money than he had

Daily, Joiner checked the obituaries in Texas newspapers, primarily in Dallas, then, with a Bible tucked reverently under his arm, he would pay his respects to rich and grieving widows who just might have a few dollars to invest in his next oil scheme. He once admitted confidentially,  “Every woman has a certain place on her neck, and when I touch it, she automatically starts writing me checks.  I may be the only man on earth who knows how to locate that spot,” which, he knew, was much easier and quicker to find than oil.

His whole life, Joiner once said, had been dictated by a scripture hidden away in the forty-ninth chapter of Jeremiah: “Let the widows trust in me.”

To be continued.





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