Tuckertown
Navarro County Texas


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Tuckertown Community || Oil Industry

 

Tuckertown
Researched by Billy Batton and Wyvonne Putman,
Originally published in "The Navarro County Scroll", Vol. XXI 1987
Reprinted with permission of the Navarro County Historical Society

On June 9, 1894, oil was discovered in Corsicana, Texas as a water well was being drilled.1 This location was on Twelfth St. on the site of the present Petroleum Park.2 Drilling for oil continued in and around Corsicana through the remainder of the 1890s and into the early 1900's.3

The discovery of shallow oil in Corsicana in 1894 served as a curtain raiser for the opening of the "Gasoline era" in Spindletop, near Beaumont, in 1901. It is true that the first commercial oil west of the Mississippi River was discovered in Corsicana, and it is also true that this discovery was purely accidental. The city had contracted with the American Well and Prospecting Company to drill three water wells. Fifty-eight years after Colonel Drake's discovery in Pennsylvania, on June 9, 1894, at a depth of 1,207 feet (in the Wolfe City Formation) the drillers were annoyed to find oil, since they had to case it off to keep it from contaminating the Woodbine water they reached at 2,470 feet. (This first well can be found just across the street from the west entrance to the Wolf Brand Chili plant, in the entrance to the old city barn. It is marked by a monument erected there in 1936). Due to a poor casing job, oil began permeating the soil around the well, which caused a lot of excitement and the influx of many curious spectators and greedy investors, whose carelessness around this first well caused three derricks to be burned to the ground.4

Several investors formed the Corsicana Oil Development Company for the purpose of leasing land. They turned half of their holdings over to two experienced Pennsylvania oil men, J. M. Guffey and John H. Galey, who agreed to drill and equip five wells. Their first well was drilled 200 feet south of the city's artesian water well. At 1,030 feet it reached gas and oil, the latter flowing at 2 1/2 barrels a day. A nitroglycerin shot increased the flow of oil temporarily, and even compressed air was used later; but the strike was never a commercial producer. The second well, drilled early in 1896, was a dry hole. The third well, at Fourth & Collin, was a 22 barrel a day producer. Soon afterward, the fourth and fifth wells came in producing 20 and 25 barrels a day.5

Soon many new companies were formed. Derricks sprang up all over the east side of town. Many were in the front or back yards of homes, and some wells were offset by others only a few feet. Pennsylvania and West Virginia oil men and drilling crews flocked to Corsicana. In 1897, 57 wells were drilled, of which 50 were producers. By the end of 1898, 316 wells had been drilled, of which 287 were producers, and the daily production of the field rose to 2,300 barrels a day. The J. S. Cullinan Company built a small refinery on the outskirts of Corsicana which later became the Magnolia Petroleum Company. The old Corsicana shallow field had depleted itself to its stripper stage by 1901, at which date a total of 663 wells had been drilled, and the cumulative production was three million barrels.6

The early Corsicana boom served as a proving ground for the oil industry. Here Aiken, Johnston and Rittersbacher developed the rotary rig which was to make possible the penetration of the heaving shales at Spindletop. Prior to this all wells had been drilled by cable tool rigs, which used the percussion principle instead of the combined screw, abrasive, hydraulic actions of the new rotary method. The American Well and Prospecting Company also developed the first high pressure mud and slush pump -- Gumbo Buster.7 The Oil City Iron Works, founded in 1886 by William Clarkson, Sr., served to supply the early Corsicana boom as well as all of the ensuing ones. There was very little geology known or used in the discovery and development of the early Corsicana field. Perhaps a little sub-surface correlation was invoked to discern whether wells were "running high and looking good" or "too low to make a show for dough." Although most of the hard rock geologists did not connect the shallower formations, such as the Wolfe City and the Nacatoch, with the Balcones Fault System, they did know at an early date that it existed. The Balcones Fault started on the south around Luling and Seguin, extending in a northeasterly direction through Kosse, Grosbecck, Mexia, Wortham, Richland, Navarro, Mildred, Tuckertown, Powell, Bazette, Flag Lake, Kaufman, and ending around Talco.

Some of these romantic geologists, as far back as the 1890's were envisioning the possibilities of deeper oil along the Balcones Fault, but these dreams had to be held in abeyance, because the drilling rigs were already in a strain at the 1,000 foot depth. Then, after the development of bigger and better oil field equipment, in 1921, the Mexia Woodbine oil field was discovered by Colonel A. E. Humphrey. It was a "blower and a goer".8

The expansion of the automobile industry and World War I created a major need for oil. By 1919 oil drillers had drilled wells to the east of Corsicana near the town of Powell. In early 1923 some highly producing wells were discovered near Chambers Creek southwest of Powell.9

Soon after the Mexia discovery, some Corsicana businessmen organized a stock holding company and sold shares to finance the drilling of the Warren-Blackshear #1, J. Harrison Burke fee, approximately two miles southeast of Powell. On January 8, 1923, this well was completed for a 200 barrel per day producer from the Woodbine sand at a depth of approximately 2,900 feet. It is difficult to imagine the odds, but the Warren-Blackshear was the northernmost producer in the large Powell field, which was soon to swell to 600 producing wells. This discovery well was offset on the west, north, and east by dry holes. The Hugh McKie Ranch, which is bordered on the north by Chambers Creek, was evaluated by Julius Fohs, geologist for the ubiquitous oil finder, Colonel Humphrey, the discoverer of Mexia. Fohs drew a northeast - southwest diagonal line, indicating the Balcones Fault, which split the McKie Ranch.10

Colonel Humphrey later sold his production of the Pure Oil Company for forty (40) million dollars, and the McKie Ranch was a very substantial portion of his holdings. Frank Buttram, an Oklahoma City Operator, drilled an important outpost of the Ike Cerf lease.11 Garland Kent made Ray Fleming rich, and eventually himself unhappy, by finding oil on the 50 acre tract Mr. Fleming had bought from his father-in-law. Anytime one makes money swiftly, he can lose it just as rapidly. All of the oil stories are not ones of success. Garland Kent was an example of a man who made approximately five (5) million dollars in the Corsicana-Powell field and lost it.12 Oil was discovered on his land and he received fabulous royalty checks. Kent's first venture was to buy a lease on the Raz Fleming farm close to his own land at the east end of the field. Fleming came to town bragging about the deal he had put over on Kent by leasing his land to him for $25.00 an acre. As it turned out, this was one of the best parts of the field, and this where Mr. Kent made most of his money. He assumed that since there was oil under his original farm, that all he had to do was buy land, drill for oil on his own, and become immensely wealthy. He plied this theory many, too many times.13 His extravagance, lack of knowledge of the "Oil Games", and his poor judgment led to his financial ruin.14

J. K. Hughes, "the world's most successful "wildcatter", accompanied by B. B. Simmonds, secretary-treasurer of the noted Hughes Company, came to Corsicana in January, 1923.15

In May, 1923, the Thompson #1, struck oil. This was a 1,200 barrel per day producer. The most cautious oil speculator was now convinced of the potential value of the field.16 The rush was on. Some of the companies that rushed into the Powell field were: Humphrey's, Atlantic, Simms, Roxanna, Humble, Blake and Smith, Sanders and Wheelock, Fred M. Allison, Texas Oil, Corsicana Oil and Development, Corsicana Oil and Refinery, Cranfill Brothers and Penn, Buttram-Tidal, Smith Oil, Gulf and Lone Star Gas. Oil developers, lease hounds, rough necks, businessmen, bootleggers, prostitutes, gamblers, adventurers and curious onlookers rushed into the area.17

The enormous yields of high gravity oil from wells in the Powell Field that penetrated only a few feet of sand attracted world-wide attention at the onset and resulted in drilling companies that quickly surpassed all previous records for rapid, intensive development of a production area.18 Corsicana received many of the people, but some moved directly into the field.

A steady stream of trucks and wagons moving in derricks, rotary rigs, camp houses, and miscellaneous equipment from Mexia and elsewhere choked the roads at all hours of the day and night. Field men from Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas flooded into Corsicana seeking employment.19

Beginning in July, 1923, a number of small boom towns sprang up in the Powell Field, which was described by Carl Coke Restor:

"The production area extended from a point about one-half mile north of the village of Navarro in the north-northeasterly direction to a point approximately one mile west of the small town of Powell, from which the field got its name."20

Hill and Sutton described the field as follows: "The field is of special interest in that the production sand is penetrated at an average depth of 3,000 feet, a composite narrow strip approximately seven and three-fourths miles long and one-half mile wide."21

Some towns already existed in or near the field including Navarro, Providence, Eureka, Old Mildred, Powell and Corsicana. The influx of people created a need for towns within the field for the benefit of the people who would live and work there. Also, a lack of transportation made the town necessary.22 The new towns created were Juarez, Three-Way Filling Station, New Mildred, Whitney, and Tuckertown. The largest of these was Tuckertown. This little boom town began life in July of 1923. It was the brainchild of Harry L. Tucker, and located along the Mildred-Rural Shade Road near the old-McKie Ranch home place.23

Prior to the oil boom, P. T. Fullwood had leased the McKie property in what was to become the northern part of the Powell Field, for ranching and farming operations. Fullwood had a small grocery store in the southern corner of the leased acreage. The town site was laid off around the grocery. The township was the creation of Fullwood and Tucker. "Tucker was a town site promoter who had helped develop new boom town in the Ranger and Eastland Fields."24 Tucker and Fullwood formed a partnership to develop the town.

Lots were quickly sold by Tucker and Fullwood and Tuckertown grew rapidly. Within two months the population had mushroomed to 3,000 and in another month Tuckertown was a little city of 6,000.25 The Corsicana Daily Sun stated:

"Never in the history of oil field development has any town sprung up into such a thriving little village as Tuckertown. Now less than four months old, Tuckertown has a daily population of 3,000. When oil operations came across Chambers Creek with Humphrey's McKie #1 and McKie #2 in June, a little soft drink and confectionery shack was built at the crossroads entrance to the McKie farm. Tuckertown got in the middle of the big pay. Business came from all sides of the big fields and made it one of the most prosperous oil field towns in the entire country."26

Tuckertown was located approximately six miles southeast of Corsicana. A gravel road ran south from Corsicana to Beaumont. This road is now U.S. Highway 287. The gravel road ran parallel to the Trinity-Brazos Valley Railroad which extended to the town of Navarro and beyond. Approximately four miles south of Corsicana, a road ran eastward from the southbound road from Corsicana. Tuckertown was located approximately four miles eastward on this road, which is not F/M #637.

It its day, Tuckertown exemplified for Navarro County the free-wheeling, high-pitched way of life that was the oil boom.

Powell, Mildred and Navarro, towns that had been small farming communities before the oil boom, grew with tremendous speed. The business expansion at Powell included a new brick bank building. The LaRue and Barton, wholesale grain and grocery concern, set up a new warehouse near the Cotton Belt RR tracks.27

Tuckertown followed the pattern of many boom towns. It grew rapidly in six months to a population of 6,000 and declined when drilling moved south westward. Tuckertown was laid out on each side of the road and was approximately one-half mile long. Alleys ran between some buildings to provide passageways to the rear areas. The buildings were both permanent and temporary. The were build of wood, sheetmetal, tar-paper, canvas and cardboard. Tents, shacks, showers and outdoor toilets were scattered behind the main row of buildings.

At the height of its population the town consisted of five grocery stores, three small hotels, two large hotels (of fifteen and forty rooms), a large clothing store, barber shops, bit and rig repair shops, cafes, sandwich shops and blacksmith shops.

Reported in the Corsicana Daily Sun, September 22, 1923, included "a boiler works, one filling station, a garage, a movie house, a machine shop, two drugstores, a dancehall, a shooting gallery, and a shoe and boot repair shop completed the makeup of Tuckertown. A few shacks and tents were located behind and at each end of the main road in Tuckertown. There were some homes of the married workers near the town.28

Lee Brashear, who worked in Dad's Grocery in Tuckertown, said of the town:

"Tuckertown was created in a very short time. It was a temporary town because of its rapid construction and because of the temporary existence of the field. In spite of this, Tuckertown served its purpose of residence and supply well enough to meet the basic needs of its residents."29

In October, 1923, a fire occurred in Tuckertown. It was thought to have been caused by a drunk smoker in a hotel and it burned most of the north side of Tuckertown, leaving a few scattered places on the east end. Most of the area burned was rebuilt. Four months later another fire on the north side of the street destroyed some structures. This time no rebuilding was done.

As time passed, drilling to the southwest end decreased production in the Powell Field caused the decline of Tuckertown.

This rosy picture was quickly changed when, on May 8, 1923 the J. K. Hughes-McKie #1, on the east bank of Chambers Creek, blew in as the first prime producer at 2,850 feet, spewing 8,000 barrels per day high over the crown block, located one mile and a quarter southeast of the discovery well. Tragedy struck in less than 24 hours after the McKie well came in. The men were attempting to cap the well and it was time to change shifts. Somehow a spark from a tool or rock ignited the flowing well and thirteen men were burned to death. Three of the men lived a few hours and died in the old P&S Hospital.

Hughes purchased a lot in Oakwood Cemetery and the remains of six of the men were buried there. According to Robert Cason, Hughes sent 13 wreaths, one for each man killed, to the cemetery.

It is the intention of the Navarro County Historical Society to have the remaining names of the men who were buried elsewhere put on the large monument, so that it will be a memorial to all 13 who lost their lives in that huge oil fire. This work will be done under the direction of Hubert Farmer and Central Monument Company.

The men who died that day were: Emmett Byrd, Travis Owen, L.C. Cook, M.O. Turner, S.P. Allen, W.A. Hicks, Jack Cooper, E.E. Cooper, Dan Phillips, James Phillips, Fred Craig, L.P. Sheek, and Charles Walker.

Each spring Corsicana celebrates an event called "Derrick Days". During this time the citizens relive the oil boom days when Corsicana could boast of being the "First Oil Field West of the Mississippi River". Stories of the early days are retold and enjoyed.

The Texas State Historical Marker to honor Tuckertown was made possible by donations from Bill and Ben McKie, R.L.. Wheelock Jr., C.L. Brown, H.R. Stroube Jr. and George Weinschel.

The Texas Almanac lists production in these years:30

1925 ...... 17,528,055 barrels
1926 ...... 10,562,000 barrels
1930 ...... 2,126,000 barrels
1931 ..... 1,401,000 barrels
1932 ..... 953,000 barrels

By November, 1923, the Powell Field had been "drilled up" - the limits of the field had been reached. By January, 1924, there were 591 oil wells in the Powell Field with 303 producing 56,000 barrels of oil per day, as workers left the field or moved southwestward following the drilling direction.31

By 1931 most of the structures of Tuckertown had been torn down. Some of the few remaining buildings in Tuckertown were a grocery store, which occupied what had been a house in Tuckertown. This grocery existed until 1935, when it was converted to a barn.32 Today there is no physical evidence of the existence of Tuckertown. Pastures cover the site.

Tuckertown was, and is, an important economic and historical site. It was the center of the earliest and largest production of oil in the Powell Field which produced approximately 186,000,000 barrels of oil, helping to make Texas the leader in production of oil in the United States. Wasteful practices in this field helped to inspire oil field regulatory laws to protect and regulate oil exploration and production in later years.

Tuckertown was home to a special breed of people who brought a different way of live to Navarro County. The town was the residence, business, economic, and recreation center to 6,000 residents and the people residing in Navarro County, and the surrounding area.

Tuckertown was also a unique experience to some few people still living in Navarro County. It was the main and largest boom town in the first continually producing oil field west of the Mississippi River. It was an untamed boom town like other oil and gold strike towns of the Old West.33

In June 1923, as the boom gathered steam, Judge Hawkins Scarborough told the Rotary Club: "As long as I am District Judge of Navarro County, there will be no open gambling houses here."

A Grand Jury was impaneled the first week in July to consider infractions of the law. Judge Scarborough declared, "We welcome all honest people coming to Navarro County and Corsicana, but the bootleggers, gamblers, hi-jackers and other crooks and criminals are not wanted and we do not intend to have them".

In his charge he stated that an abnormal condition existed, especially referring to the oil field.35

"Saloons, gambling dens and disorderly houses with all their attendant evils are present in the oil field."

Yet law and order found their way into the oil field. Perhaps their symbol was the roving jail driven by Deputy Sheriff Harmon Chandler. On the back of his car Chandler installed a capacious cage, and with it he roamed the field looking for prospective occupants. He could accommodate eight eight or ten before it became necessary to take them to permanent lodgings.36 [see Harmon's Hoodlum Wagon at the Pioneer Village ]

Activity around the fields was ceaseless, and remained so until County Attorney Ballard George ordered work to stop on Sunday. The law prohibited the opening of any store not classified as an emergency. It allowed certain stores, such as meat markets, to stay open until 9:00 A.M. Sunday mornings. The only work permitted in the oil field was the running of a rig where the expected the will in that day. Signs on the stores said, "Closed, by George!"37

On one year .... the effect of the boom on Corsicana was enormous. Even if not engaged in drilling, many citizens, by December, 1923, had already profited from the average price of oil field land, bringing about $500.00 an acre; from the $3,750,000 in royalties paid; from the $2,000,000 spent in laying several hundred miles of pipelines; from the $100,000 spent for campsites, stores, and railway facilities.

It cost about $20,000 to buy a rotary drilling rig and an additional $18,000 to drill a well. From all this, people made money.38

Oscar C. B. Nau, manager of the Corsicana Chamber of Commerce, said that before the Corsicana field, the city had a population of 15,000 which swelled to 25,000 by 1923. This number did not include the 8,000 workers employed in the oil fields.

County government profited the most. The previous year's $28,000,000 in tax rendition nearly doubled to $53,000,000 in 1923.39

The city of Corsicana achieved a balanced budget as the result of a deal to sell the oil companies 2,000,000 gallons of water a day from the brand new Lake Halbert. The sale of this water brought the city $2,000 a day in revenue and made it possible the paying off of an $18,000 water deficit, the establishment of $12,500 permanent improvement fund for the new lake, and the purchase of a new fire engine. With this money, Corsicana also built a new city hall.40

One land owner affected by the oil boom was William J. McKie. During the early years of his professional career as a lawyer, Mr. McKie began to accumulate property around Corsicana, his interests finally aggregating more than 1,500 acres of land. In the 1890's shallow oil was discovered on his property. He strongly believed in the prospects for oil in paying quantities. The Powell boom put him in the middle of the proven field. He had over 100 wells on his land. Among the large oil companies to operate on land owned by Mr. McKie were J. K. Hughes Oil Company, Roxana, Humble Oil and Refining Company, Humphry's Company, Pure Oil Company, Texaco, Gulf, and Sims Oil Company. Production totaled over 8,000,000 barrels of oil in the Powell boom and brought him one of the largest individual fortunes of any land owner in the field.41

His interest in oil led him to rise to the top of the legal profession as an expert in oil and petroleum matters. He skillfully handled great corporation business, particularly the the legal aspects of the railroad and petroleum industries. The Texas Company (Texaco) appointed him their general attorney and he wrote the original charter for that company. When the Standard Oil Company began operations in the Texas oil fields, they retained Mr. McKie as their attorney. Lone Star Gas Company and Magnolia both employed him to represent them. McKie was also a partner of Harry Tucker.42

Texas ranks first in the oil industry in the nation. The history of this industry is important. During the 1890's oil as an industry in Texas was established. Technology developed a firm foundation for the future growth of the entire industry.

Several "firsts" make the Navarro County oil discovery significant. It gave Texas its first sustained commercial production, its first efficient and complete refinery, and the rotary rig. Here oil was first used for paving streets and roads, as well as for locomotive fuel consumption.

Many of the men who came to Navarro County during the early boom days, became the founders and leaders of the oil industry in Texas. Out of the use of natural gas for commercial heating and lighting, first used in Corsicana, Texas, another separate industry has grown.

Navarro County has experienced one of the most colorful and varied histories in oil, agriculture and industry, and has reflected these conditions in schools, politics and public service.

From a placid agricultural background seeking industry and railroad development, the pioneers were thrust into the limelight when oil was discovered. Soon Corsicana was a prosperous country seat, served by four railroads and the interurban line to Dallas. The first refinery west of the Mississippi River was in Corsicana, Texas.

Footnotes:

1. Carl Mirus, A Short History of the Corsicana Shallow Oil Field, The Navarro County Historical Society Scroll, 1956.

2. United States Geological Survey 1897-1898 (Washington, D.C. Government Printing Office, 1898, p. 104.

3. Dallas Morning News, Jan 10, 1894.

4. Morrison and Fourmy's General Directory of the City of Corsicana, 1894-1895.

5. Founders of the Oil Industry, James A. Clark, p. 39.

6. Founders of the Oil Industry, James A. Clark, p. 7.

7. J. S. Cullinan, by Tommy Stringer, found in Navarro County History, Volume V, p. 293.

8. C. C. Rister, p. 40.

9. Corsicana Daily Sun, June 29, 1976, Bicentennial Issue, p. 10-13.

10. Corsicana Daily Sun, Jan 6, 1919, p. 7.

11. C. C. Rister, p. 140.

12. History of the Oil Industry in Navarro County, 1967, Jane G. Dunn, p. 77.

13. History of the Oil Industry in Navarro County, Jane G. Dunn, p. 78.

14. History of the Oil Industry in Navarro County, Jane G. Dunn, p. 78.

15. Corsicana Daily Sun, April 14, 1923, p. 1.

16. Production and Development - Problems in the Powell Oil Field, Hill and Sutton, p. 1.

17. Corsicana Daily Sun, June 29, 1976, Bicentennial Issue, p. 10.

18. Production and Development - Problems in the Powell Oil Field, Hill and Sutton, p. 1.

19. C. C. Rister, Oil Titan of the Southwest, p. 177.

20. Ibid, p. 177.

21. Production and Development - Problems in the Powell Oil Field, Hill and Sutton, p. 1.

22. Ibid, p. 1.

23. C. C. Rister, p. 177.

24. P. T. Fullwood Papers.

25. Ibid.

26. Corsicana Daily Sun, July 7, 1923, p. 1.

27. Ibid, September 22, 1923.

28. Ibid.

29. Interview with Lee Brashear.

30. Texas Almanac, 1925, pp. 26, 30, 31, 32.

31. Mrs. W. S. Guthrie - Personal Interview.

32. Ibid.

33. History of the Oil Industry in Navarro County, Jane G. Dunn.

34. Navarro County Historical Society Scroll, 1964 Issue.

35. Corsicana Daily Sun, July 2, 1923, p. 1.

36. Ibid, September 27, 1923, p. 1.

37. Ibid, July 2, 1923, p. 1.

38. Ibid, July 24, 1923, p. 1.

39. Ibid. July 24, 1923, p. 1.

40. Ibid, July 31, 1923.

41. History of the Oil Industry in Navarro County, Jane G. Dunn, p. 75.

42. Ibid, p. 76.

Bibliography

Corsicana Daily Sun, 1923, 1976

Dallas Morning News, 1894

Founders of the Oil Industry, James A. Clark

Hill and Sutton, Production and Development - Problems in the Powell Oil Field

History of the Oil Industry in Navarro County, Jane G. Dunn, 1967

J. S. Cullinan, Tommy Stringer, Navarro County History, Volume V, p. 293.

Morrison and Fourmy's Directory of the City of Corsicana, 1894-1895

Ristor, C. C., Oil: Titan of the Southwest

United States Geological Survey, 1897-1898

Texas Almanac, 1925

Private Interviews


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