Tuckertown Boomtown
Navarro County, Texas


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Tuckertown Community

 

Tuckertown Boom Town
Author not noted in Scroll
Originally published in "The Navarro County Scroll", 1966 pg. 55
Reprinted with permission of the Navarro County Historical Society

In early January, 1923, the countryside just southeast of Corsicana, Texas was basking in the winter sun.  The flat farmlands were as yet unbroken for the usual spring cotton planting.  The air was quite and calm, indicative of few inhabitants and little activity.  Yet a few months later the countryside had turned into a forest of wooden derricks and tents, a maize of paths, and a continuous deafening roar of motors, drills, and shouting throngs.  What caused this "overnight" change in the quiet countryside?  What miracle brought thousands of people to these bare and inconvenient surroundings?  Oil !  Oil was the miracle worker.

The discovery of oil in the Powell field transformed the quiet countryside just southeast of Corsicana into rambunctious, rip-roaring Tuckertown.  Tuckertown was as rough, dangerous, and wildly outgoing as the field for which it was born.  A brief history of the field will indicate the frenzy of activity which Tuckertown reflected.

The Powell oil field was the greatest field along the Balcones Fault Line.  "The field itself extended from a half mile south of Navarro in a north-northeasterly direction to a mile west of Powell -- a solid eight miles of derrick (10).  The field's actual beginning came after a few months of uneventful drilling.  It was a violent and dangerous beginning that deserves special mention.   J. K. Hughes, an independent operator from Mexia brought in the first well of the new field (8).  On May 9, 1923, a spark from a hammer ignited the gushing oil as the control valve was being changed.  The explosion and subsequently fire caused eleven men to be burned  to death immediately (5).  The monstrous raging fire produced such intense heat that workers could not get close enough to remove the bodies of the dead.   The burning also caused a thunderous roar which could be heard eight miles away.   Crowds of people flocked to the burning well during its eleven day spree.   Various methods were tried in an attempt to extinguish the fire.  Steam from twelve boilers was sprayed into the blaze in an effort to sever the flame from the flow.   Dynamite was tried.  Mr. W. H. McClintock, an expert oil fire fighter, was called in.  After eleven days of continuous burning, the fire was extinguished by lowering a huge T-joint valve capping device over the hole (3).  The workmen and spectators alike went wild.  Hats were thrown into the air, steam whistles went off, guns were fired.  But the celebration was ended when the charred remains of a body were found next to the well.  Only a small portion of the trunk remained.  Thus the Powell oil field came into being with a violence and a frenzy unequalled in Texas.

The beginning did not overshadow other aspects of the Powell field.  "The development of the field was extremely rapid and its vast output created a menace to the oil market"  Powell's unprecedented production complicated matters for Humble, who controlled approximately one-third of the field's production, and for other producers in the field.  Transportation and storage facilities could not be constructed fast enough to take care of the flood of oil.   The production in the fields during 1923 "was approximately 32,000,000 barrels, reaching its peak on November 14th, the figure for that date being 319,291 barrels -- a record up to that time for any field in the United States.  To date (1929) the Powell field has produced 100,000,000 barrels of oil. (8)

The rapid development and frenzied, unprecedented production of oil caused thousands of people to flock to the field.  Tuckertown was established at the southern end of the field in what was the richest area of production.   It was the creation of a professional oil field townsite promoter, harry L. Tucker.   People literally swarmed to Tuckertown at the beginning of the boom, just as they had migrated to other fields as they were discovered.  The same type people appeared in Tuckertown that had appeared in other boom towns of the day.  People seeking employment, people seeking adventure, people seeking sudden riches, and people seeking excitement -- they all came.  Some came because it was a way of making money.   Some came to exploit others. And some came because they loved the challenge of oil.   This wild assortment of good and bad, rich and poor,  humble and proud all rushed to Tuckertown in 1923.

The town itself was a series of wooden buildings with sheet iron or tar paper roofs.  The buildings extended for approximately half a mile on either side of a dirt road.  There were several grocery  stores and cafes, a hotel, a dry goods store, two drugstores, a filling station, a garage, a movie theater, a machine shop, a boiler works, a show repair shop, and several other establishments, most of which had questionable reputations.  The sidewalks, when they existed at all, were made of wood.  The buildings were one-story affairs with the exception of the movie theater and the hotel.  These were two-story buildings.   In 1923, Tuckertown had a population of approximately 6,000 people (1).  These 6,000 people lived in hurriedly pitched tents with dirt floors or in ill-built shantys and shacks scattered in and around the town.  A family was considered lucky if their shack contained two rooms, because most families had only one-room shanties to shelter as many as eight people.  Single men were glad to pay one dollar a night to sleep in a room already crowded with men.

The crowded and cramped housing conditions were not the only inconvenience in Tuckertown.  Lack of water was a constant problem.   The water was brought into town on tank wagons drawn by teams of horses.  A twelve quart bucketful of water cost ten cents.  A fifty gallon barrel could be filled for a dollar (1).  The water that was sold was never guaranteed to be pure.   And the taste was such that a little would go a long way toward quenching thirst.   The neighboring town of Corsicana took every opportunity to poke fun at the boom town's inconvenience.  Signs in the public rest rooms in Corsicana at this time read, "Pull the string and flush the toilet; Tuckertown needs the water" (7).

Any lack of anything in Tuckertown was made up by an extreme overabundance of mud.  Mud was everywhere.  Traffic through Tuckertown was halted regularly because of mud.  Teams of horses were the only sure means of reaching a destination in the boom town.  In fact, all hauling of pipes, boilers, tanks, rigs, and such was done with teams of mules or horses.  However, the horses only worsened the road conditions with each trip.  Pedestrians floundered in the sticky muck when trying to cross the street.  The sloppy, sticky mud was an almost unbearable plague on the town.

Tuckertown exemplified the rough, free-wheeling, high pitched way of day and night life that was the oil boom.  Respectable women were never seen on the streets of the town at night, and they proceeded in the daylight hours with caution.  Tuckertown was a town created by men for men.  And the men lived their life to the fullest.  The wild and reckless life of an oil field hand was well illustrated by this roust-about's daily schedule in The Dicky Bird Was Singing:

11:00 a.m.  Get up
11:00 - 11:30 Sober Up
11:30 - Noon Eat
Noon - Midnight Work like hell
Midnight - 3:00 Get Drunk
3:00 - 3:30 Bel hell out of them that's got it coming
3:30 Go to bed

This seemed to be the typical day for a man in Tuckertown.

Lawlessness and crime went hand in hand with the rough and overcrowded way of life in Tuckertown.  Bootlegging was a major enterprise in the town.  Corn whiskey was the main beverage, selling at one to two dollars a pint (1).  Mr. A. D. Thomas, a veteran of Tuckertown, remembered especially two certain bootleggers in the town.  These bootleggers made a deal with each other to sell on opposite ends of the town.  Then they worked out a time schedule.  The first bootlegger would tell the Constable to go to the other end of town because "Someone down there is selling whiskey like mad."  The Constable would start to the opposite end of town hunting the specified bootlegger.  Meanwhile, the first bootlegger would make a sizeable profit without having to worry about the Constable's interfering.  Later in the day it would be the second bootlegger's turn.  He would tell the same story, get rid of the Constable for awhile, and make his profit without interference.

Killings and robberies were not uncommon in Tuckertown.  The small force of local police could seldom handle the law work of the police.  Mr. Moese Levy recalls a roving jail designed to help accommodate lawbreakers.  The jail was driven by Deputy Sheriff Harmon Chandler and was quickly named "Harmon's Hoodlum Wagon" and later "The Black Mariah."  The traveling jail consisted of a large, conspicious cage mounted on the back of a truck.  Chandler roamed the field and the town looking for prospective occupants.  He could accommodate eight or ten before it became necessary to take them to permanent lodgings in Corsicana.

Gambling was rife in Tuckertown.  One drugstore next to a grocery store was a front for gambling dive.  It contained faro tables, roulette wheels, dice tables, and other gambling devices (1).  The gambling equipment was located in a large back room behind the drugstore part of the building.  Widespread gambling was also common on the streets of the town and in the field.  Thousands of dollars changed hands over bets on oil wells, production, depth of the mud in the streets, when so-and-so would be sober again, and other equally controversial issues.

Lawlessness and violence became so extreme at one time that local law enforcement officers were unable to handle the situation.  The Texas Rangers were called in to raid the town.  Mr. Brashear recalls that the Rangers rounded up about two hundred men on this raid.  They held the lawbreakers in the street much like the cowboys round up cattle.  Several "paddy wagons" were used to transport the men to the jail in Corsicana.  This was a slow process since the paddy wagons wold only hold ten men each.  Two of the lawbreakers tried to get away and were shot in the back by the Rangers.

Although Tuckertown was a wild and rough place in which to live, there were people in the town who had heart.  Mr. Brashear remembers this story. "There was a widow of a roughneck who had been killed in a drilling rig accident.  The widow moved into Tuckertown and opened a little hamburger joint to try to earn enough money to support herself and her three small children.  She struggled in the town for a couple of months, barely existing on her small profits.  She was unable to save enough money to return to her parent's home in Colorade.  Two brothers in the town could not bear to see her struggle, mixed with the rough element that came into the town.  They gave her money for train fare to her parent's home in Colorado.

Tuckertown burned to the ground twice; one in later 1923, and once in 1924.   After the first fire, the town was rebuild exactly as it was originally.  But after the second fire, a number of business establishments did not choose to reopen.   Therefore, the town was somewhat smaller.  In late 1924 and early 1925, drilling was completed in the field.  Oil production decreased and other large fields were opening up elsewhere.  Therefore, many people left Tuckertown to try their luck in other places.  By 1926, there were only a few stores left in the town.  And by 1934, the last store closed and most of the townspeople had moved away.  The big oil boom was over.  Without oil, Tuckertown could not exist.

There is something about the smell of oil.  It swiftly takes over a land, it sweeps a community, and it is sweet to the nostrils.  It carries with it its own magnetism.  It is hypnotic.  It can take a man and make him, or ruin him.   Oil can make a community.  It can make a town.  It made Tuckertown.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

1.    Brashear, S. L., Tape recorded interview, January and April 1966.

2.    Duncan, Bob.  The Dicky Bird Was Singing.   New York: Rinehart and Company, Inc. 1952, p. 5

3.    "Fire Extinguished," The Corsicana Daily Sun, May 9, 1923, p. 1.

4.    Hill, H. B. and Chase Sutton.  Production and Development Problems in the Powell Oil Field.  Department of Commerce, Bulletin 284.   Washington D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1928.

5.    "Hughes Well on Fire," Corsicana Daily Sun, May 9, 1923, p. 1.

6.    Larson, Henrietta, and Kenneth Porter.  History of Humble Oil and Refining Company.  New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1959.

7.    Levy, Moese, Personal interview, March 1966.

8.    MacIntosh, P. J. R., "The Wonder Story of Texas Oil", Texas Monthly, Volume III, January 1929.

9.    Murchison, Bill,  "fabulous Powell Field," The Corsicana Daily Sun, Friday, January 21, 1966.

10.    Murchison, Bill, "Special Quality Life for Oil Field Workers," The Corsicana Daily Sun, Friday, Jan 21, 1966.

11.    Thomas, A. D., Personal interview, April 1966.

12,    Thomas, J. N., Personal interview, April 1966.

 


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Edward L. Williams & Barbara Knox