Echoes from Forgotten StreetsCaleb Pirtle III
The communities and towns of East Texas were caught in the death grip of the Great Depression. Times were difficult and often unbearable, but those who settled the piney woods didn’t shutter their windows and move away. Times, they knew, were hard all over.
Then came Dad Joiner, a crippled old wildcatter, who some believed was either a con man or a fraud. He was promising to drill in Woodbine Sand and find “the well of the world.” Few believed him. Most didn’t trust him. His pockets were as empty as theirs, but Dad Joiner brought with him a curious geological report prepared by an unorthodox geologist, Doc Lloyd. Both were mavericks and far too old to be drilling for oil in land that big oil companies swore was dry and barren.
Dad Joiner bought leases with IOUs and oil certificates, promises, and hope. Above all, Dad Joiner offered hope. Big oil laughed at him, and all of East Texas prayed he might indeed find, as he said, “a treasure trove that all the kings of the earth might covet.”
When oil spilled out of the earth around the Daisy Bradford No. 3 well, big oil stopped laughing. And when Kilgore’s Malcolm Crim hit a gusher on his mother’s farm, a gigantic oil boom washed away the hard times and replaced them with a prosperous, unpredictable, and turbulent period. Crim had always wanted to drill on the farm because a West Texas fortune teller once told him that oil lay deep beneath the cotton rows.
The streets were crowded with oilmen, speculators, lease hounds, roustabouts, and men from every corner of the country, searching for jobs. They slept in alleyways, in cardboard shacks, beneath the trees of Happy Hollow, in empty churches, in shifts at old walkup hotels.
Along the way, Oilfield Willie ran for governor, Uncle Billy wore suits but seldom shoes to church, Lightnin’ sold ice cream and tamales down almost every street in town, and Sam Andrews bought a Buick in Dallas, drove it home because he didn’t want to ride the bus, then never drove it again.
Texas Rangers Lone Wolf Gonzaullas and Bob Goss rode into town to handle the pickpockets, card sharks, scam artists, and bandits. They handcuffed scoundrels to chains stretched through the smothering confines of the Trotline Baptist Church.
In time, the National Guard marched into East Texas and declared martial law in an attempt to shut down hot oil smugglers.
East Texas was in a war. And it was a fight for oil.
Through it all, Kilgore endured and prevailed. More than 25,000 oil wells were drilled in the East Texas field, and more than 1,100 steel derricks hovered over the downtown Kilgore skyline. It was a sight to behold.
There may never be another quite like it.
Echoes from Forgotten Streets is the story of the way it was.
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