Monday, November 4, 2013

Texas Oil Boom of the 1930s and Texas Ranger "Lone Wolf" Gonzaullas

In 2011, my book, A Way Back, was released. It's a time travel set in the 1930s oil field of Kilgore. To gather information, my husband and I visited the East Texas Oil Museum in Kilgore, Texas, a area with the World's Richest Acre. At one time there were more than 1,000 wells in downtown Kilgore.

In the early 1930s, Kilgore's main commodity was cotton. The people were not rich by any means, but they were making ends meet and putting food on the table. During this time the population of Kilgore was around 400.

Several oil wells in nearby Rusk County drilled  by C. M. (Dad) Joiner came it, but production died down and the wells proved to be "dusters." Then on September 3, 1930, Joiner's third attempt, the Daisy Bradford No. 3 came in and caused quite a stir. As news traveled, thousands of people gathered at the well site. Hamburgers sold for a dime and cheese sandwiches for $.15 cents. (In the picture, cars are double parked for the celebration.)

Though the Daisy Bradford No. 3 caused quite a stir, it was the Lou Della Grimm No. 1 that proclaimed to the world that there was oil in the piney woods of east Texas—one of the greatest finds the world had seen during that time. Ed Bateman and his partner, Bill Cain, had been drilling along and on December 28, 1930 their well blew and began pumping 22,000 barrels of oil a day.

On December 29, 1930, the people of Kilgore woke to chaos. People were camped on their lawns, churches were taken over by squatters, and families including children slept in cardboard boxes and packing crates. Some made do with a quilt stretched tent-like over a barbed wire fence. Landowners had difficulty controlling the mass of humanity that descended on them. Ditches, or a ditch between tents, were used for disposal of garbage and offal. Kilgore had no city government at the time and was helpless with the arrival of the teeming mass of unemployed men, during the great economic depression of the 1930s, looking for a way to make enough money to feed their families. Along with these honest men seeking work also came undesirables.

The city of Kilgore had few paved streets and wooden sidewalks and due to frequent rains the streets were muddy. Businesses set up shop with amazing speed. Within 4 days of the Lou Della Grimm No. 1, Tom Foster moved his newspaper business in from Center City and began printing THE KILGORE DAILY NEWS. Large oil companies rushed in to buy up leases on properties in the area. May set up camps on their leases with bunkhouses, bath houses,  boarding houses for meals, and latrines. They also had areas for tents, and rag-houses. And national oil field supply houses were buying up property along Commerce street to set up their businesses.

We don't have time here to go into all of the economic ramifications of this rapid rate of oil production, so if you have time, google the issue and read. The Texas Railroad Commission issued a conservation order, but when it couldn't be enforced, Gov. Ross Sterling had to stepped and sent 12the Calvary of the Texas National Guard under the command of Gen. Walters in to enforce martial law.

At the beginning of the oil boom, Kilgore had one marshall and members of the Gregg County Sheriff's department. Lawlessness was rife and hard to curtail with the small crew. Rumor has it that it wasn't uncommon for a criminal to be given a get out of town notice and if seen in town again he was shot on site. Though harsh, it lessened the load on the already over burdened jails and court system.

The Mayor of Kilgore called the Rangers and the stage was set for a super-hero. The first to step into this hot bed of crime was Texas Ranger M. T. Gonzaullas, also known as "El Lobo Solo" or "Lone Wolf" The monikers came from his ability to get in and out of scrapes by himself. Gonzaullas arrived in town in the dark of night and met with the mayor secretly. He then went "underground," disguised, and mingled with he riff raft to discover the whereabouts of the dangerous criminals in the area.

(To the above right is a picture of "Lone Wolf" with his car. Note: The right front window will open where a machine gun is mounted. He could fire while driving.)

A deeply religious man, Gonzaullas admitted that his survival didn't depend on his pistols and rifles alone. He admitted himself, "It was more than that, much, much more. Sure, some luck was involved, but you can't make it just on luck at all times. The good Lord has to have His arm around you and has to help you in a situation like that. You can't count on judgement or luck alone. I know that He had His arm around me many, many times."

Two weeks later, Gonzaullas's partner, Robert "Bob" Goss, who had been recovering from a gunshot wound in the hospital, joined him February 28, 1931. Gonzaullas came out of his disguise and led a raid of other rangers and the Kilgore police and arrested 300 criminals. They marched them down the main street of town and into the Baptist church as Kilgore's jail was unfinished. He hooked them to a long, heavy chain. At intervals smaller chains were attached which was looped around the prisoner's neck and secured with a padlock. A bucket was passed down the line for restroom facilities.Those who were wanted for other crimes were held for transfer. Some were given four hours to leave town and most left instantly.

For almost a month, Gonzaullas averaged 100 arrests a day. The people in town called the chain, "Lone Wolf's trot-line," but though the Rangers kept the town from falling completely under the control of the criminal element, they still couldn't completely eliminate lawlessness.

In protest against military occupation, fires broke out on August 23, 1931. The Presbyterian and Methodist churches were destroyed as were the gin and seed house and a grocery store. Flammable materials were found. Gen. Wolters ordered his men to fire at the waist in hopes of curbing the fires and eliminating the arsonists. Trials were short and to the point. Usually individuals were told to leave town. If they didn't, they were shot. During this time, the rangers were given leeway in whatever methods they used to "restore order and preserve the peace," methods we might question as legal in this day and time.

I'd love to include more about this man's personal beliefs and character, but that's another story all together. Google him and/or visit the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame in Waco, Texas.

Kilgore has a wonderful museum and a number of historical sites to explore. Thought most of the derricks have been removed from downtown, visitors can still see their footprint. Plus, a few are still working. It's interesting to note that in the early days an oil well was drilled in the floor of the bank. No space went unused.

Al Eason, Boom Town: Kilgore, Texas. 2005.
Bownson Malsch, "Lone Wolf" Gonzaullas, Texas Ranger.

A Way Back 
A Way Back – blurb and excerpt   

In the 1930s oil fields of Texas, a woman from the future finds new purpose as she helps a banker rebuild his financial empire.

Amber Mathis, a Wall Street investment banker, returns to her office after burying her mother. Distraught, tired of the rat race, she's determined to make a career change. In the elevator she falls and rises to find herself in a vintage lift.  The date is February 25, 1930, and a man stands on the window ledge in her office ready to jump.

Wellman Hathaway, owner and CEO of Hathaway Bank in New York struggles to pay his depositors half their losses. A woman claiming to be from the future appears in his office and involves him in a scheme that forces them into marriage. With Amber's knowledge of the financial history of the 1930s, they travel to the oil fields of Texas to recoup Wellman's funds.

Two people from different centuries are thrown together to survive a difficult time. Will they find more than A Way Back to prosperity?


Do it her mind screamed. In one swift move she locked her arms around his waist, pulled, and dropped to the floor. She cringed at the loud crack when his head hit the window sash as he fell back landing on top of her.
They both remained still for a moment. The air knocked out of her, she managed to gasp out, “Could you move? You’re squashing me.”
He rolled and her head bounced on the floor as she changed positions from trying to rise to flat on her back. Long arms held hers above her head and muscled legs kept her body from moving. Striking gray eyes pierced hers, examining every inch of her. Her face flushed at the intrusion and she struggled to get him off. He applied more pressure and she stilled.
A lock of blonde hair fell over his forehead, a patrician nose flared in anger, as his square jaw tightened. He ground out, “Who the hell are you and why’d you try to knock my head off?”

Thanks you for stopping by today!

Linda LaRoque


  1. Wow, Linda, you really did your research. Thanks for sharing with us. Your book sounds terrific!

  2. You chose a great topic. Just today, I finished a 73,000 word novel titled Texas Dreamer, about a cattle rancher NW of Fort Worth near Wichita Falls. It's set in 1915, and while I don't mention the town, I took the information about the oil field in Ranger, Texas, one of the first big ones in that part of the state.
    During the early 40s, my daddy worked in the oilfields all around, where he built fences, doghouses, shops, and painted the tanks...everything silver. He worked a lot in Ranger, building company houses for the workers and their families.
    Texas has had several oil booms--first in 1915, then, the 30's, and especially the 40s all the way to the 80s, when the "boom" went "bust."
    Oh, don't you love it?
    I've worn out books in the library, written in the fifties, with old photos of the oilfields all around...Kilgore, much of east Texas, then Bowie and Ranger, and all the way out west--Odessa, Levelland, Lubbock, etc.
    We love oil stories--and mine includes a cattle ranch, too.
    Much luck with your release--it sounds wonderful.

  3. Great post, Linda. I have heard of a Lone Wolf Texas Ranger, but didn't know there was a specific man with that title. What a great post. Thanks for sharing.

  4. It was so much fun, Lyn. I do enjoy research. The book was fun to write also, partly because it was a different historical period for a time travel.

  5. Celia, I remember us talking about the Texas oil fields when I was writing this book. And about your father working in the oil fields. You got first hand experience. I can see you would be interested.

    My book has been out awhile but it has generated some interest.

    Your book sounds interesting. Best of luck with it. Gotta love those ranchers too!

  6. Thank you, Caroline. I think we all remember Lone Wolf from the television show—Walker, Texas Ranger. Wasn't he called Lone Wolf? I'm not sure.

  7. Thanks for the informative and intriguing post - sounds like a wonderful story! Best wishes for a successful release.

  8. Really interesting post, Linda. I was not familiar with the history of Kilgore, or the rampant violence it experienced in the 30s. Sounds like a movie. I also enjoyed the excerpt from your book,A Way Back. Can't wait to read it asap. :)

  9. Thank you, Ashantay. Actually, the book came out several years ago, but this is the research I used. I love that era.

    Glad you enjoyed the post, Ashley. Actually, all of the boom towns got rather rowdy but may not have been quite as bad as Kilgore's. Kilgore's problems were in part due to its rapid growth and small police department.

  10. I loved that amazing bit of history your researched. I am wrapping up my WIP that takes place in 1933 and I loved researching the Great Depression. What an exciting, yet tragic, time in our history.
    I really like how you started off the story in the present and then at the point where people who have lost their wealth are leaping from buildings. I am a time travel enthusiast. I look forward to reading this one.
    All the best to you.


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