Loose Chickens & Oil Derricks: Longview in 1933

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I spent a summer morning hiding out in the library, looking at 1933 microfilms of the Longview newspaper, trying to get a sense of this town 85 years ago when in the midst of the oil boom.

When I have a few hours to spare, I dive into microfilms, no specific purpose in mind just yet. Here’s a sampling of what I found the other day:

  • The paper reported in January 1933 that the newly sworn-in district clerk, Dozier Skipper, Jr., while organizing old court files discovered that the first legal action filed in Greg County was by a woman seeking a divorce. Mrs. Samantha Harty sought a divorce from Edward Harty. She claimed that her husband “disregarded his solemn marriage vows and obligations, was drunk upon more than one occasion, and had violent fits of ungovernable passion.”

The divorce was granted.

  • Police Chief Sid Henderson warned chicken owners to keep their chickens at home. Other homeowners complained of their neighbors’ chickens tearing up flower beds. He warned the free-ranging chickens were running “fowl” of a city ordinance.

OK, I take the blame for the bad pun.

  • City residents were reminded they had to pay their $1 poll tax or be ineligible to vote in the spring municipal elections. Apparently many were under the mistaken impression the county poll tax covered the city elections as well.
  • A café owner in Pine Tree, noted then as being seven miles north of Longview, was recovering from a wound to the neck. A mischievous boy had placed a bullet in the hot skillet in the café. The bullet exploded, of course. What type of punishment was meted out to the boy was not reported.
  • The Great Depression was in full sway in 1933, and “knights of the road,” aka hobos, were not uncommon. Several had built a fire to stay warm in a boxcar at the Junction, located where the train depot sits now. The fire ended up burning half the boxcar before the fire department could quell the blaze.
  • Prohibition was still in effect in January 1933, when Texas Rangers arrested three folks at an East Cotton Street grocery store and seized two gallons and five pints of whiskey intended for sale. By year’s end, the Eighteenth Amendment had been repealed by ratification of the Twenty-First Amendment, and the taps flowed legally.
  • A related editorial on the front page titled “The Leak” decried the apparent tipping off of proprietors selling bootleg booze before the place could be raided, the editor writing, “the leak at the courthouse menaces a community — our community if you please.”
  • Oil was flowing freely in the East Texas oil field, two years after the boom began. Tests conducted by the Texas Railroad Commission, which had set up an office in Kilgore, indicated the first wells tested were flowing at the impressive rate of 1,000 barrels an hour.
  • Another front-page editorial decried the operation of illegal slot machines in drug stores, cafés and other establishments, and praised police for seizing them. The machines bore labels that a portion of the proceeds would be donated to the Community Chest — a precursor to the United Way. The editor proclaimed that, “Filthy lucre is unwanted.”
  • The oversupply of oil being pulled out of the ground and subsequent steep drop in the price to just 10 cents a barrel was of concern. The editor called for stabilization of production at a lower level than the new allowable of 750,000 barrels daily set in April 1933 by the railroad commission.
  • An elderly businessman, as he was called in the paper, said he was robbed of $150 while staying at a local hotel. The accused claimed the victim lost the money in a poker game, but was still charged and held in jail since he couldn’t make the $5,000 bond.
  • Finally, the paper reported the predictions of a writer in the Texas Conservationist called for conservation of the state’s oil resources. He wrote, “There will come a day when Texas will pass from the picture as the predominant factor in the world’s production of oil — when the derricks will be taken down and the machinery moved elsewhere.” He predicted the oil field would dry up in a few years.

Eighty-five years later, derricks are gone but pump jacks still dot East Texas.

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