And Now You Know: J.W. Griffin, Backyard Wildcatter

Published 1:49 pm Saturday, January 20, 2018

By Mike Louviere

A wildcatter is an American term for an individual who drills wildcat wells, which are exploration oil wells drilled in areas not known to be oil fields. Notable wildcatters include Glenn McCarthyThomas Baker Slick, Sr. and Mike BenedumJoe TreesClem S. Clarke, and Columbus Marion Joiner; the latter is responsible for finding the  huge East Texas Oil Field in 1930. J.W. Griffin hoped to become a wildcatter.

Griffin was living in Beaumont when the gusher blew at Spindletop, in January 1901. Like many others, he became interested in oil that may be found underneath the area’s soil. He made observations of the Spindletop area and at Sour Lake, where another large discovery was made. He watched drilling operations and talked to men that were engaged in all phases of the oil business.

Griffin sold his Beaumont property and moved to Orange.

In 1909, he began to look for surface signs that there may be oil underneath Orange. Griffin found a site he thought was promising, he staked out a 50 foot by 50 foot section of his property. The site was part of the backyard of his residence at the corner of Third and Cherry Streets, near downtown Orange.

Editor A.L. Ford of the Orange Daily Leader wrote: “An oil well being drilled in a man’s backyard is a common sight in Corsicana and some of the towns in that section, but in Orange it will be a distinctly novel sight.”

Ford went on to observe: “If arrangements are consummated and operations are successful, a desirable residential portion of the city may be transformed into a bustling oil field.”

Griffin thought that he had found enough indications of the presence of oil beneath his property to begin trying to interest other people to consider drilling on his property. He found investors and formed an organization to start drilling. He made a deal with a well-known driller to drill to a depth of 1,000 feet, if oil was not discovered at a shallower depth.

A report Griffin published stated that “an oil expert recently made an investigation on in our end of the city and claims to have located a vein of oil, not more than a score of yards wide, but well defined and on this vein my property is located. If the drilling is successful in locating oil, there will be a wonderful oil field developed in this neighborhood.”

The majority of the people in Orange were skeptical about the question of locating oil, but would have been delighted to see an oil field in the city.

Ford wished them well; “The Leader trusts that Mr. Griffin will be successful and that the drill may soon begin its journey of exploration into the bowels of the earth on his place.”

If the drilling took place, the hole must have been dry. An oil field was never established in downtown Orange. Oil was discovered and a field brought in just across the Sabine River from Orange and in 1913 the first oil was discovered west of Orange at the area that was called “Orangefield.”

If there was a vein of oil below Orange and it was only “a score (20) of yards” wide, the drill may have narrowly missed the vein, or it could be at a greater depth than the contracted 1000 feet.

“And now you know”