Gusher signals start of U.S. oil industry On this day in 1901, a drilling derrick at Hill near Beaumont, Texas, produces an enormous gusher of crude oil, coating the landscape for hundreds of feet and signaling the advent of the American oil industry. The geyser was discovered at a depth of over 1,000 feet, flowed at an initial rate of approximately 100,000 barrels a day and took nine days to cap. Following the discovery, petroleum, which until that time had been used in the U.S. primarily as a lubricant and in kerosene for lamps, would become the main fuel source for new inventions such as cars and airplanes; coal-powered forms of transportation including ships and trains would also convert to the liquid fuel. Crude oil, which became the world’s first trillion-dollar industry, is a natural mix of hundreds of different hydrocarbon compounds trapped in underground rock. The hydrocarbons were formed millions of years ago when tiny aquatic plants and animals died and settled on the bottoms of ancient waterways, creating a thick layer of organic material. Sediment later covered this material, putting heat and pressure on it and transforming it into the petroleum that comes out of the ground today. In the early 1890s, Texas businessman and amateur geologist Patillo Higgins became convinced there was a large pool of oil under a salt-dome formation south of Beaumont. He and several partners established the Gladys City Oil, Gas and Manufacturing Company and made several unsuccessful drilling attempts before Higgins left the company. In 1899, Higgins leased a tract of land at Spindletop to mining engineer Anthony Lucas. The Lucas gusher blew on January 10, 1901, and ushered in the liquid fuel age. Unfortunately for Higgins, he’d lost his ownership stake by that point. Beaumont became a “black gold” boomtown, its population tripling in three months. The town filled up with oil workers, investors, merchants and con men (leading some people to dub it “Swindletop”). Within a year, there were more than 285 actives wells at Spindletop and an estimated 500 oil and land companies operating in the area, including some that are major players today: Humble (now Exxon), the Texas Company (Texaco) and Magnolia Petroleum Company (Mobil). Spindletop experienced a second boom starting in the mid-1920s when more oil was discovered at deeper depths. In the 1950s, Spindletop was mined for sulphur. Today, only a few oil wells still operate in the area. 1843 Outlaw Frank James born in Missouri Franklin James, the lesser-known older brother of Jesse, is born in Clay County, Missouri. Frank and Jesse James were both legends in their own time, though Jesse is better remembered today because of his more dramatically violent death. The two Missouri brothers drifted into a life of crime after serving in Confederate guerilla forces during the Civil War. They began robbing banks in 1866, and their bold and impudent style won them a good measure of popular admiration. Once Jesse stopped to tell a crowd of townspeople gathered for a political speech that he thought something might be wrong at the bank he and Frank had just robbed. On another occasion, they staged an audacious hold-up of a Kansas City fair box office in the middle of a crowd of 10,000 people. In an era of lingering sectional hatred and increasing public dislike for large corporate railroads and banks, some Americans began to see the James brothers as heroes, modern-day Robin Hoods who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. Newspapers, eager to increase their readership, contributed to this mythic view of the brothers. In reality, the James brothers were brutal criminals who willingly killed innocent victims in their pursuit of money, but misguided public sympathy for the men was so great that the Missouri state legislature at one point nearly approved a measure granting amnesty to the entire James gang. After the brothers murdered two innocent men during an 1881 train robbery, though, the state of Missouri came to its senses and offered a reward of $5,000 each for the capture of Jesse and Frank. Shot down for reward money in 1882 by one of his own gang members, Jesse achieved a false but enduring reputation as a martyr in the cause of the common people against powerful interests. One Kansas City newspaper mournfully reported his death in a story headlined, “GOODBYE JESSE.” Had Frank suffered the same fate, no doubt he too would have achieved martyrdom and been the subject of popular songs like the “Ballad of Jesse James.” However, Frank wisely preferred long life to martyrdom, and he turned himself in a few months after his brother was murdered. Prosecutors were unable to convince juries that Frank was a criminal, and he was declared a free man after avoiding conviction at three separate trials in Missouri and Alabama. Entering middle age and having grown weary of the criminal life, Frank James was not so foolish as to tempt fate and the watchful eyes of Missouri law officers by resuming his old ways. For the next 30 years, he lived an honest and peaceful existence, working as a race starter at county fairs, a theater doorman, and a star attraction in traveling theater companies. In 1903, he joined forces with his old criminal partner Cole Younger to form the James-Younger Wild West Show. Frank retired to his family’s old farm in Missouri, where he died at the age of 72 in 1915. 1962 Avalanche kills thousands in Peru On this day in 1962, an avalanche on the slopes of an extinct volcano kills more than 4,000 people in Peru. Nine towns and seven smaller villages were destroyed. Mount Huascaran rises 22,000 feet above sea level in the Andes Mountains. Beneath it laid many small Peruvian communities, the inhabitants of which farmed in the Rio Santa Valley. On the evening of January 10, as most of the region’s people gathered in their homes for dinner, the edge of a giant glacier suddenly broke apart and thundered down the mountain. The block of ice was the size of two skyscrapers and weighed approximately 6 million tons, and it made a loud noise as it fell, which was heard in the towns below. As avalanches were not unusual in the area, it was common knowledge that there was usually a 20 to 30 minute gap between the sound of the ice cracking off and an avalanche, which gave people time to seek higher ground. However, this time, the avalanche traveled nine-and-a-half miles in only seven minutes, wiping away several communities. The towns of Ranrahirca and Huarascucho were buried under 40 feet of ice, mud, trees, boulders and other debris. Only a handful of people in each town survived. The avalanche finally ended at the Santa River, where it stopped the water flow, causing flooding in nearby areas. Overall, approximately 4,000 people lost their lives in the avalanche. Some bodies were carried all the way to the Pacific Ocean near Chimbote, 100 miles away. Others were buried under so much debris that their bodies were never recovered. An additional 10,000 farm animals were killed and millions of dollars in crops were destroyed. Eight years later, an earthquake set off another terrible avalanche in the same area.