I suppose the persona of the West Texas wildcatter is almost as much a part of Texas’ rich heritage as the more common stereotypical cowboy figure. Both were/are rugged individuals, oft times living on the edge. The cowboy was often dog-tired, dead broke, and lonely. In contrast, the wildcatter could also be filthy rich. Every condition of his being was measured in extremes. Texas, with its vast petroleum reserves, was a fertile ground from which sprang these “boom or bust” entrepreneurs.
To my knowledge, the first introduction of wildcatters and oil well drillers to the Pore Farm occurred during the 1930s, slightly before my time. I heard Grandpa Jones and my dad talk about it extensively. They drilled a well about 300 yards due north of where I currently live. They were looking for oil, and Grandpa was hoping to get rich. Following on the heels of the Ranger Oil Boom which began in 1917, everyone was desperately hoping this would be the ticket out of the grueling poverty of the Great Depression. Obviously, it never happened. What they did find was huge amounts of natural gas — enough to blow the drill bit completely out of the well. In those days, natural gas was considered a nuisance. It was something to be “flared” or burned off as a toxic waste while producing the much more valuable oil. I recall travelling across the West Texas oil patch as a youngster in the mid-1950s while visiting relatives there. I saw hundreds, if not thousands, of burning flares throughout the region. Nights were turned into day as a result of this mindless waste of such a valuable resource. It was all part of the wildcatter mentality — grab the money and run.
I suppose everyone has the innate personality trait of wanting to strike it rich and to live on Easy Street. Wildcatters are little different from the gold miners of the Klondike, lottery players, compulsive gamblers, or stock market speculators. All are looking to get rich quick. They are “plungers,” willing to risk it all on a single venture.
Grandpa Jones’ final dream of the big oil strike occurred in 1951 when a wildcatter by the name of Thomas W. Doswell began leasing up land in the area for drilling. He started his final well on Grandpa’s land in the summer of 1951. Only 7 years old at the time, I was enthralled with the enormity and grandeur of this fascinating drilling process. Twenty-four hours a day they pounded away at the stubborn subterranean strata below with the huge drill bits of the old “spudder” drilling rig. Just before the well was to reach completion depth, Grandpa’s dream of riches ended with a bang.
Late in the afternoon of Aug. 20, 1951, Thomas W. Doswell was shot and killed by a single bullet from a snub-nosed revolver while sitting with his wife in their Cadillac parked outside the fashionable Melrose Hotel in Dallas. His wife, Rebecca Morgan Doswell, pulled the trigger. On May 2, 1952 she was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.
True to the wildcatter lifestyle, Thomas Doswell lived and died on the edge. Grandpa Jones’ dream of striking it rich also died that same afternoon in Dallas. Not Dealey Plaza, but equally as devastating to him.
Larry M. Jones is a retired Navy Commander and aviator who raises cattle and hay in the Brock/Lazy Bend part of Parker County. Comments may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.