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Corsicana Oilfield

Julia Cauble Smith General

Corsicana field is an elliptical-shaped oil and gas producing area located in and around Corsicana in central Navarro County. It is significant because it was the first Texas field to produce oil and gas in important quantities. American Well and Prospecting Company, a water-well contractor, discovered it accidentally on June 9, 1894, while seeking a new water source for the city of Corsicana. The field produces from a pinch-out trap in an Upper Cretaceous sandstone reservoir at an average depth of 1,050 feet. The source of its primary recovery was a combined gas-cap and water drive. Its secondary recovery is the result of a number of saltwater flood projects initiated in the 1950s. Between 1896 and January 1, 1993, the field produced nearly 44 million barrels of oil. From 1900 through 1909 gas from the early field supplied fuel for domestic and industrial uses in Corsicana and other Texas cities.

In 1893 civic leaders of Corsicana needed a dependable water supply to promote commercial development. They contracted with American Well and Prospecting Company, operated by H. G. Johnston, Elmer Akins, and Charles Rittersbacher, to drill three water wells for the city. On June 9, 1894, the drillers took the first well to a depth of 1,027 feet, where they encountered oil. Although the producing formation was cased off, oil continued to rise to the surface outside the casing. When residents learned of the oil in the water well, interest in prospecting for oil in the area grew. On September 6, Ralph Beaton and H. G. Damon, local citizens, joined with an experienced Pennsylvania oilman, John Davidson, to organize the Corsicana Oil Development Company. The company took a twelve-year mineral lease from A. and Bertha Bunert and entered an agreement with John H. Galey of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, on September 14, 1894. Galey agreed to drill five wells for the company at his own expense in exchange for an undivided one-half interest in all oil and gas leases owned by Corsicana Oil Development. The first well was staked 200 feet south of the water well drilled by American Well and Prospecting and was completed on October 15, 1895. It had an initial flow of 2½ barrels of oil a day. The second well was a dry hole. The third well was staked at Fourth and Collins streets in town and was completed in May 1896 with an initial yield of twenty-two barrels of oil a day. Three additional wells were producing by the end of 1896, when annual production of 1,450 barrels of oil was reported.

By 1897 it was evident that commercial quantities of oil could be produced in the area, and development of the field moved to the east, northeast, and southeast of the original site. Although the early wells were small producers, prospectors sank so many wells that Corsicana oil flooded an already-limited Texas market, where the demand was only for use in local field development and for shipment to Austin and Dallas for making gas. With the only refinery in Texas located at Sour Lake, Corsicana operators at times found no market for their crude. At those times, they poured surplus oil on the ground. Waste in the field resulted in the passage on March 29, 1899, of the first Texas statutory regulation of the drilling, casing, plugging, and abandoning of oil and gas wells to end irresponsible producing and dumping. By the time dumping of crude was outlawed in Texas, Corsicana had found a dependable outlet for its oil. In 1897 Mayor James E. Whitesell and town leaders invited Joseph S. Cullinan, a successful Pennsylvania oilman, to come to Corsicana to advise in the development of the field. Cullinan was so interested in the oil potential of the area that he became a participant in its development. He contracted with several operators to buy 150,000 barrels of oil for fifty cents a barrel. He agreed to lay gathering lines, construct storage tanks, build a refinery, and find a market for Corsicana oil. He began the process of fulfilling his agreement, but those who had offered financial backing in his project lost confidence in the oil-producing ability of the area and withdrew from the contract. The resourceful Cullinan then turned to out-of-state capital to fund the $150,000 project. By the end of 1897 the field had increased annual yields to 65,975 barrels of oil from forty-seven wells.

Early in 1898, with a refinery under construction and storage tanks in place to handle production, operators continued to add producing wells to the field. Early operators in the field besides the J. S. Cullinan Company and Corsicana Oil Development Company included Consumers Petroleum Oil Company, Lone Star Petroleum Company, Corsicana Cotton Oil Company, Co-operative Oil Company, Navarro Oil Company, Southern Oil Company, Southern Development Company, and Verna Petroleum Oil Company. By midsummer of 1898, rotary drilling replaced cable tools in the field. Rotary rigs worked well in the soft formations of the field and were quick and economical. At the end of 1898, when 342 additional wells were completed and yearly yields had sharply increased to 544,620 barrels of oil, the stills at the new Cullinan refinery were fired. After the first shipment left the refinery on February 24, 1899, the price of Corsicana crude rose from $.50 a barrel to $.98 and to $1.10 by May 1900. In response to the higher price for crude in 1899, producers increased their annual production to 668,483 barrels.

By July 1900, when the field covered an area of twelve to fifteen square miles around Corsicana, the Cullinan refinery was processing 1,500 barrels of crude a day. Half of the crude was made into gasoline and kerosene and half into illuminating oil. The field reached its peak primary annual production of oil in 1900, when 839,554 barrels were brought to the surface, along with natural gas valued at $20,000. Most of the gas sold in Texas for domestic and industrial purposes was produced in Corsicana until 1909, when other areas developed gas reserves. Oil drilling and yields for 1901 and 1902 declined under the pressure of newly discovered gusher production in coastal salt-dome reservoirs at the Spindletop and Sour Lake oilfields. In 1903 a second crude-processing plant, Central Oil Refinery, was built at Corsicana. Production continued a general decline from 1903 through 1918, though some years showed increases and a modest number of new well completions. In 1919 shallow production at Powell was added to Corsicana annual yields, boosting them to 305,335 barrels of oil in 1921. By 1923, when Powell shallow outputs were separated from those of Corsicana, production totals from the old field slid to 292,000 barrels of oil annually, and by 1929 the annual yield was 225,000 barrels. After 1930 and throughout the 1940s production in the mature field settled into yearly yields of less than 170,000 barrels of oil.

Beginning in December 1949, field production was revitalized by mergers with two old fields and by the beginning of secondary recovery projects. In 1950 Rice field, a nearby pool that was discovered in 1909, was consolidated with Corsicana, and in 1953 Angus field, a pool found before 1915, was combined with it. In 1950, when all the original wells had been abandoned for fifteen years, a water-flood project began in the field. Other floods that injected salt water into oil-bearing horizons were initiated in 1952, 1954, and 1956. These secondary recoveries brought annual production in the seventy-year-old field to a remarkable 1,611,055 barrels of oil and 17,859,000 cubic feet of gas in 1965. By 1975, when the field had been giving up oil for eighty years, production dropped to 328,901 barrels of oil, a figure that exceeded the 1905 production. In 1985 continued secondary recoveries forced up 378,474 barrels of oil and 4,981,000 cubic feet of casinghead gas. On January 1, 1993, the first commercial Texas field reported annual production of 196,645 barrels of oil and 3,091,000 cubic feet of casinghead gas. Cumulative production for the field reached 43,965,138 barrels of oil by that time, after ninety-nine years of operation.

William E. Galloway et al., Atlas of Major Texas Oil Reservoirs (Austin: University of Texas Bureau of Economic Geology, 1983). Frank A. Herald, ed., Occurrence of Oil and Gas in Northeast Texas (University of Texas Bureau of Economic Geology Publication 5116, Austin, August 15, 1951). Henry A. Ley, ed., Geology of Natural Gas (Tulsa: American Association of Petroleum Geologists, 1935). George C. Matson and Oliver B. Hopkins, The Corsicana Oil and Gas Field, Texas, in Contributions to Economic Geology, 1917 (Washington: GPO, 1917; U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 661-F). Edgar Wesley Owen, Trek of the Oil Finders: A History of Exploration for Petroleum (Tulsa: American Association for Petroleum Geologists, 1975). John S. Spratt, The Road to Spindletop (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1955; rpt., Austin: University of Texas Press, 1970). Charles Albert Warner, Texas Oil and Gas Since 1543 (Houston: Gulf, 1939). Daniel Yergin, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1991).


  • Oil and Gas Industry
  • Oil Fields and Wells

Time Periods:

  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Julia Cauble Smith, “Corsicana Oilfield,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 01, 2020,

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