During the Memorial Day weekend we were in Kilgore, Texas. It sits 3,600 feet above the East Texas oil field, an awesome natural resource discovered in 1930 and, 6 billion barrels later, is still producing crude.
After two dry holes at Daisy Bradford’s farm a few miles from the center of Kilgore, wildcatter “Dad” Joiner struck oil in May 1930. The Daisy Bradford No. 3 was a gusher and the boom was on.
“Production of East Texas’ newest commodity increased rapidly from seven wells every other week, to seven wells daily, to more than 100 wells put into production each day,” according to the East Texas Oil Museum on the campus of Kilgore College.
Within a few months, Kilgore’s population grew from around a thousand to eleven thousand.
“Production swelled to more than 1,000,000 barrels daily . . . and in August 1931 National Guardsmen were ordered into the area to keep peace between roughnecks, lease hounds, oil speculators and camp followers.”
The rule of law was finally imposed by the Texas Rangers and legislative action — “a market-demand law, confiscation law, truck-tender law, the refinery control and felony bill, and the Connolly Hot Oil Act of 1935, which restored order and stability,” the brochure from the East Texas Oil Museum said.
In Kilgore today — population 13,000 — about sixty of the original oil derricks still stand in the middle of town. They don’t produce oil anymore — modern pump jacks do that — but are lit by spotlights and topped with stars.
They’re a reminder that East Texas wasn’t ruined by the resource curse. Instead it was saved by the rule of law.
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