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Spindletop Scam

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Date: [unknown] [unknown]
Location: Texasmap
Surnames/tags: Humphries Meador Meadows
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Spindletop Oil

On January 10, 1901, prospectors struck oil at Spindletop, in what is now Jefferson County, Texas. The frenzy of oil exploration and the economic development it generated in the state became known as the Texas oil boom.[1]

It didn't take long for another rush to begin, of people who claimed that, somehow, they had a right to some of the profits from the Spindletop oil. And following that, yet another boom, of entrepreneurs who recognized that oil was not the only source of money. It could also be made from would-be claimants, claimants who would pay to have their claims processed. And even more money could be made if people who didn't know otherwise could be convinced that they, too, had a claim through a link to an ancestor they weren't previously aware of. All they had to do was pay money to process that claim, and they would become instant millionaires.

In the process, family stories and family histories were created. Like many successful scams--or frauds--the stories and genealogies often contained a mix of fact, rumor, and fantasy.[2]

Spindletop Scam

Although claims against the Spindletop revenues began shortly after the well came in,[3] the scam probably began about 20 or 30 years later, and has reappeared in force about every twenty years since.[2]

Frequently Seen Family Names

Probably the name most commonly associated with the Spindletop Scam is that of Pelham Humphries, also known as William Pelham Humphries, among other variants.

Other names commonly found, in one form or another, are those of the Meador family[4] (also known as Meadors, Meadows, or Medders), particularly Reuben Meadors,[5][6] William Meadors,[7][8] and James Meadors.[7][9][8]

Typical Approaches

By the 1940s, "operators", as they were sometimes called, travelled thoughout the southern states, seeking individuals they could talk into pressing claims -- for a fee.[10]

In the 1960s, newspaper ads appeared through the south calling for people named Meadows to contact a lawyer. They could be entitled to millions of dollars, and he could help them make a claim.[5]

In the 1980s, newspapers throughout the American South heralded claims based on descent from Pelham Humphries or a supposed relative.[2] Organizations dedicated to proving descent from a relative of Pelham Humpries were organized in east Tennessee, west Tennesse, North Carolina, Alabama, and Georgia[2][11]

Evaluation of the Claims

None of the claims have ever been successful, nor are any likely to be.[12] Genealogists and lawyers who have investigated the claims seriously all offer the same advice.

  • "The Pelham Humphries Oil Estate is a scam; a fraud perpetuated on thousands of people. It is a genealogical lie of epic proportions." . . . "Millions of dollars have come out of the Humphries claims, but they've come out of the pockets of people claiming to be heirs."[2]
  • It's a wild goose chase, with no concrete evidence. "I suspect that, over the years, many people have fabricated a lot of information."[7]

But dreams don't die, and the claims, the organizations, and the solicitation for potential claimants continue.[7][13][4][14]


  1. Spindletop, Wikipedia, accessed 30 July 2017
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Petty, James W. "Striking It Rich The Pelham Humphries Story." Heritage Quest, July/August 2002, pp. 22-32. pp. 24, 32. accessed 30 July 2017
  3. Cuthertson, Gilbert M., "The Mystery of Pelham Humphries." East Texas Historical Journal, Vol. 34 (1996), Issue 1, Article 10, accessed 30 July 2017
  4. 4.0 4.1 Young, Charla. "Spindletop fortune scam continues to lure victims" wave3News, Louisville, Kentucky, accessed 3 Aug 2017
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Madness in Muenster", by Steve McVicker, 16 May 2012. Fort Worth Weekly, Fort Worth, Texas
  6. Which Reuben Meadors seems to matter less than that there be someone of that name. At least two possibilities are Reuben Meadors Jr and his father, also Reuben Meadors
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 "Would-be heirs keep alive pursuit of 'meritless' oil riches." PG News (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania : Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 5 March 2000), accessed 3 Aug 2017
  8. 8.0 8.1 Re: Spindletop Oil Field by Marion Graham 29 Aug 2002, Meadors Surname Forum,, accessed 3 Aug 2017
  9. "James a. Meadors/ Spindle Top oil" by j poynter , 30 July 2000. Meadors Surname Forum,, accessed 3 August 2017
  10. "Descendants of William Harrison Meadows/ Sworn Statement of Stella Centers Mullins", typescript from the files of Rev. Rockne Fay Stewart. Attached to William Harrison Meadows, Garrett Family Tree, by garrett324, Public Member Trees. accessed 30 July 2017
  11. "Tapping Oil at the Roots of a Family Tree" by Dave Tabler, Appalachian History; Stories, quotes and anecdotes. accessed 30 July2017
    Note: There are no source citations for this article.
  12. "Judge Rejects Heirs' Claims to an Oil Fortune" The New York Times. 21 June 1990. accessed 3 Aug 2017
  13. "Billionaire's heirs fight for a piece of the pie" Bristol Herold Courier (Bristol, Virgnina : 10 February 2010, accessed 30 July 2017
  14. "Pelham Humphries (Humphreys) ", from PaFae (Paula Mason), 2 Sep 1997. Message 0873242256, HUMPHREYS-L Archives 1997-09, RootsWeb's Archiver, accessed 30 July 2017


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Categories: Spindletop Fraud