Durham, Joseph Idelbert (ca. 1854–1941)

By: Jerrell Dean Palmer

Type: Biography

Published: August 1, 1995

Updated: September 18, 2018

Joseph Idelbert Durham, known as A. D. Lloyd, "geologist" for the oil well Daisy Bradford No. 3., the discovery well for the East Texas oilfield, was probably born in 1854. He left studying medicine and clerking in a drugstore in Cincinnati to take a job as a chemist in the Idaho gold rush, where he analyzed ore for the government. Through work in the field and self-study, mostly from books from the United States Bureau of Mines, he became a mining engineer. After that he went to the Yukon and Mexico to hunt for gold. Then he peddled medicines he had made from oil and patented, in "Dr. Alonzo Durham's Great Medicine Show," which he took around the country. Around 1906 he appeared as A. D. Lloyd, a geologist who advised Columbus Marion Joiner on locations to drill in Oklahoma. The location Lloyd advised Joiner to drill later became the Seminole and Cement fields in Oklahoma-the oil was deeper than Joiner could afford to go. In 1927 Joiner and Durham moved to Rusk County to join Walter and Leota Tucker, who planned for them to find an oil well. Durham spent considerable time studying the Rusk County area. He mapped it out and on June 15, 1927, prepared a report, "Geological, Topographical and Petroliferous Survey, Portion of Rusk County, Texas, Made for C. M. Joiner by A. D. Lloyd, Geologist And Petroleum Engineer." The report described in scientific terms all the geologic features that supported the conclusion that oil would be found. It suggested that major companies had been buying in the area. It estimated the depth at which oil would be struck (3,500 feet). But nothing in the promotional study was true. None of the structures Durham described existed, and no companies were buying in the area. As it turned out, however, Durham's assertion that the field would be "of unusual importance" was true, and Daisy Bradford No. 3 did come in at 3,500 feet. Durham had tried to get Joiner to drill two miles to the west, which would have put the well in the thickest part of the area that became the great East Texas oilfield. Durham confessed to a few that he wasn't a geologist, "in that I didn't study prescribed courses in a recognized school to acquire a degree in geology. But I've studied the earth more, and know more about it, than any professional geologist now alive will ever know." Durham and two of his sons "spudded in" a well of their own with the accompaniment of a brass band for about 1,000 witnesses. But Durham soon disappeared. Apparently his picture in the papers had brought a number of women with children who were looking for him. In 1934, he and a partner, Jimmy Cox, were convincted of mail fraud in the U.S. Western District Court of Western Texas and received sentences of three and five years in federal prison. He died in a hotel in Chicago in 1941.

James Anthony Clark and Michel T. Halbouty, The Last Boom (New York: Random House, 1972).


  • Oil and Gas Industry
  • Charlatans/Frauds

Time Periods:

  • Great Depression

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

Jerrell Dean Palmer, “Durham, Joseph Idelbert,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 18, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/durham-joseph-idelbert.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

August 1, 1995
September 18, 2018