Spanish explorers for the first time documented petroleum in the New World after a Gulf of Mexico storm forced their brigs to land west of the Sabine River in modern-day Texas.
“The vessels came together in a creek where lay the two brigantines that preceded them, finding a scum the sea cast up, called Copee, which is like pitch and used instead on shipping where that is not to be had, they paved the bottoms of their vessels with it,” noted an account published in 1557.
Don Luis de Moscoso led the expedition after succeeding Hernando de Soto, who had died of fever after crossing the Mississippi River two years earlier. Oil seeps in the region continued as late as 1903. Learn more about the natural seeps in Discovering the La Brea “Tar Pits.”