Heritage, Volume 12, Number 3, Summer 1994 Page: 7
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Captain George Washington O'Brien
and the Gladys City Company at Spindletop
By Christine Moor Sanders
In 1892, The Gladys City
Oil, Gas & Manufacturing Company
was formed in Beaumont,
Texas- nine years before the
famous Lucas Gusher roared in on
Spindletop Hill, changing the
world forever. This is the untold
story, based on careful research
and new information gathered
through examination of corporate
files and courthouse records,
of the formation of that historic
oil company and the role Capt.
George Washington O'Brien
played in the development of the
company. The Gladys City Company
celebrated its 100th year of
continuous operation at Spindletop
in 1992. This historic oil
company was one of the first to be
incorporated in Texas and the
first to drill on Spindletop Hill.
Capt. George Washington
O'Brien followed his father to
Texas in 1849 from Louisiana and
became interested in producing
oil in 1865 when A.B. Trowell, a
comrade in arms, wrote and asked
him to buy all the land he could
like the "Ingall's Tract" having
"sour water" and "sour tar" so they
could make "a few millions in coins".
Another early player in the beginning
of the oil industry in Texas, B.T.
Kavanaugh, came to Beaumont in 1866.
He had purchased one of the first oil leases
in Texas from Matthew Cartwright of San
Augustine for the express purpose "of mining
for petroleum or rock oil". This was the
J.W. Bullock survey on Spindletop Hill.
He and Captain O'Brien had frequent conversations
at the W.H. Rigsby home in
Beaumont. B.T. Kavanaugh's report of 1866
included his findings of "veins" of sulphur
and oil both at Spindletop and Sour Lake.
Above, Capt. George Washington O'Brien; opposite
page, the spectacular Lucas Gusher at Spindletop
Hill, which blew in on January 10, 1901. Photograph
S.W. Pipkin said Kavanaugh used "divining
rods" or "witching" to ascertain the
presence of these veins. His predictions
proved to be 100 percent correct 35 years
later. Kavanaugh's activities in the Beaumont
area were limited to the gathering of
this information. Actual drilling to produce
oil did not take place at that time.
Captain O'Brien was greatly influenced
by these events and by his personal knowledge
of the hill acquired when his Civil
War troops were camped on the salt dome.
An affidavit of Captain O'Brien states that
he saw the oil oozing from the ground at
Spindletop after a heavy rain in 1865 and
conceived the idea of purchasing all or part
of the John Allen Veatch Survey at that
time. Although Pattillo Higgins of Beaumont
has been given credit for much of the
discovery of oil at Spindletop for more than
100 years, O'Brien, far more
than Higgins, knew the possible
potential for making
"millions in coins" through oil
production. Captain O'Brien's
own words show that he
reached this conclusion when
Higgins was two years old.
According to the affidavit,
O'Brien immediately began to
try to acquire the Veatch Survey.
Captain O'Brien was not
able to act upon A.B. Trowell's
letter and his own intuition
until he was successful in contracting
with the heirs of John
Allen Veatch. O'Brien and his
son-in-law, Alfred Scott John,
were hired to litigate the title
confusion of the John Allen
Veatch lands at Spindletop
Hill and Sour Lake. Their legal
fee was paid by receiving
1,350 acres on the Spindletop
dome in the John Allen Veatch
Survey in 1888.
Meanwhile the young
Beaumonter Pattillo Higgins
became interested in making
brick in 1886 and formed the
Higgins Manufacturing Company.
In 1889 Pattillo Higgins toured the
east and learned of the cheaper and more
evenly burning fuel of oil and gas used in
these factories. In 1890 or somewhat later,
he began an earnest study of oil and gas
production with the intent of building a
revolutionary industrial city complete with
glass and brick factories using the cheaper
oil and gas for fuel. It was around this time
that he became convinced oil and gas could
be found at Spindletop. His focus was clearly
on the use of this oil and gas to fuel industry
located near the production. Higgins' interest
was not in making money from the
production itself. Captain O'Brien's interest
was just as singularly focused on acquiring
revenue from the production itself.
Higgins talked his friend George W.
Carroll into financing the purchase of 1,077
acres of land in the John Allen Veatch
HERITAGE * SUMMER 1994 7
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 12, Number 3, Summer 1994, periodical, Summer 1994; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45412/m1/7/: accessed May 25, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.