Spindletop, Take Two

Alternate Version of Trost’s Iconic Photo

“Oil is black & can be used as fuel only.”

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[LUCAS GUSHER]. TROST, Francis John (photographer). View of Lucas Gusher with men standing below. Gelatin silver print mounted on card with photographer’s imprint below image: Trost Port Arthur, Texas. Image: 20.3 x 12.9 cm; Card: 27.4 x 19.9 cm. Lettered in white at bottom: Trost. Port Arthur: Trost, [1901]. Image and card moderately rubbed and soiled, image with a few small chips and spots, otherwise good. Contemporary inscription in pencil on verso: “Beaumont, Texas. | Estimates as flowing 25,000 barrels per da.| Oil is black & can be used as fuel only. | RJ[or S] Lemon | Beaumont Tex 2/9/01.” This photograph is a variant of Trost’s iconic image of the January 10, 1901, Lucas Gusher, apparently taken from the same position within a few moments of the other photograph, with the men at the base of the image in slightly different positions and the gushing oil more dispersed in the wind. According to Washington, D.C. photography appraiser Will Stapp, who has researched this print, the only currently known publication of this second, much scarcer version of Trost’s image is in Scientific American 84:5 (February 2, 1901), p. 74. An exceedingly rare image of the 1901 gusher that heralded the Texas Oil Boom and the modern petroleum industry, with an apt and compelling, albeit brief, contemporary inscription by the unidentified Mr. Lemon.

KERR’S STUDIO (photographer). View of fourteen unidentified men posed on and around a partially-constructed wooden oil derrick, large building in background. Gelatin silver print mounted on card with photographer’s blind-embossed imprint below image: Kerr’s Studio. N.p.: Kerr’s Studio, n.d. (ca. 1900-1910). Image: 18.2 x 23.3 cm; Card: 27.9 x 34 cm. Image and card moderately rubbed and soiled, scratches to right margin of image, card heavily chipped with large voids (not affecting image). Despite wear, image is crisp and clear, with details of the workmen’s faces visible under magnification. Although unidentified, this image represents valuable and scarce visual documentation of early Texas oilfield construction.

     The extraordinarily productive Spindletop oilfield, located near Beaumont, Texas, was identified primarily through the efforts of Anthony F. Lucas, an Austrian engineer who was convinced that the salt dome formations of the Texas Gulf Coast contained oil. After abortive initial efforts on the Spindletop site, Lucas and his business associates struck an unprecedented geyser of oil at a depth of 1,139 feet, through the efforts of drillers Al and Curt Hammill using a newer, heavier rotary bit. Handbook of Texas Online: Spindletop Oilfield:

The discovery of the Spindletop oilfield had an almost incalculable effect on world history, as well as Texas history. Eager to find similar deposits, investors spent billions of dollars throughout the Lone Star state in search of oil and natural gas. The cheap fuel they found helped to revolutionize American transportation and industry. Storage facilities, pipelines, and major refining units were built in the Beaumont, Port Arthur, Sabine Pass, and Orange areas around Spindletop. By 1902 there were more than 500 Texas corporations doing business in Beaumont. Many of the major oil companies were born at Spindletop or grew to major corporate size as a result of their involvement at Spindletop.

     Francis John (Frank) Trost (1868-1944) owned and operated a photography studio in Port Arthur. Like many others in the area, Trost came to the Spindletop site upon hearing news of the gusher, and the primary image he recorded was an immediate success, selling as fast as they could be printed and appearing in newspapers throughout the United States. Aside from his efforts in photography, Frank Trost was also the fire chief of Port Arthur from 1899-1919 (see [link]).

     The photographer represented by Kerr’s Studio in the second photo has not been identified. At some point in the late nineteenth and/or early twentieth centuries, a “Kerr’s studio” was present in Fort Worth, Texas (see [link]), and Haynes, in Catching Shadows, places an M.T. Kerr, born ca. 1854 in Texas, in Erath County in 1876 and in Weatherford in 1880. M.T. Kerr, photographer, advertised in the Jack County Rural Citizen in 1880 [link]. There also appears to have been a “Kerr’s Studio” in Natchitoches, Louisiana (see

     Provenence: These photographs were found together in a house in West Virginia formerly occupied by William Francis Kyle Sr., son of O.M. Kyle, and William Francis Kyle Jr. It is possible that these men were related to Obadiah Kyle (d. 1879), a prominent Beaumont citizen who was a business partner of William Perry Herring McFaddin and his father, William M. McFaddin. It was on land leased from the McFaddens that the Lucas Gusher was drilled (Handbook of Texas Online: McFaddin, William Perry Herring).


Sold. Hammer: $5,000.00; Price Realized: $6,125.00.

Auction 23 Abstracts

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