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
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
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
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
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 - 11:30
|11:30 - Noon
|Noon - Midnight
||Work like hell
|Midnight - 3:00
|3:00 - 3:30
||Bel hell out of them that's got it coming
||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
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.
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
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.