We recently passed through the town of Ranger, its population sign showing that in 2010 slightly under 2,500 citizens made their home in the little town, and yet I was reminded that in my grandfather’s 19th year, the town of Ranger grew from about 800 to 30,000 in population as a direct result of the oil boom created when the McClesky well “blew in.” But no one knew that was going to happen, not at all.
By 1917, Ranger, like everything else around it was hurting. Where once as many as 12,000 bales of cotton a year were ginned in Ranger, the boll weevil had pretty well put the cotton farmer out of business. Of course, that really didn’t matter in 1917 because it had been a year without rain anyway. Not only was the farmer about finished, so was the rancher as entire herds died right along with the grasses and watering holes.
According to Granddad, M.F. “Buck” Davis, “Poor people were about to starve to death,” and women (who often set the table for the next meal as soon as they finished washing the dishes because of lack of cabinet space) had to set it by turning everything upside down since the fine dust sifted inside so easily.
Added to all of the above, it was also in 1917 that Congress voted that the U.S. would join its allies on the battlefield across the ocean, thus taking the country into the war that would become WW I. Of course, Granddad and his crippled hands would not be a part of that war, and I suppose the Davis family was thankful; however, over in Ranger, there wasn’t just a whole lot to celebrate in 1917.
And then someone had an idea. It wasn’t exactly novel since the “sharks” were already beginning to buy up land in preparation to begin drilling for oil in the various counties around the area, but no one was talking about the Ranger area, and Ranger needed the shot in the arm that oil would bring.
John M. Gholson and Cull Moorman decided to take matters into their own hands, making the trip to Thurber in order to visit to W.K. Gordon about the possibility of drilling in and around Ranger, Texas. Gordon agreed that if the town would guarantee him 30,000 acres, he would promise to drill four wells and invest $200,000 on the chance that there was oil in Ranger.
If you’ve ever suffered through a Texas drought; if you’ve ever been involved in agriculture and been forced to stand by and watch all of your hard work turn into nothing but debt, you will understand exactly what it meant to be given even this little chance at hope.
Gordon was as good as is word, and within the month supplies began coming into the Ranger area for the first test wells. Six months later, the first well, the Nannie Walker, hit gas, roaring gas, but no oil so it was considered a failure and left to burn…what a disappointment to everyone who had dared to hope.
And then the second tester, the McCleskey, also hit gas, not as much, but gas just the same; however, drilling continued on this one, but as they went deeper without finding oil and as the costs for the two wells hit the $100,000 mark, it was suggested to Gordon that it was time to walk away from what was surely another dry hole.
Thankfully, for Ranger, Texas, W.K. Gordon wasn’t ready to throw in the towel and more importantly, his investor must have had supreme confidence in his judgment and continued funneling money into the project. On October 22, 1917, only eight months after John M. Gholson and Cull Moorman made the trip to Thurber to beg the help of Gordon, the McCleskey “blew in,” and Ranger, Texas was back in the black, quite literally!
Believe it or not, the almost forgotten Nannie Walker must have been the jealous woman because about the time the McCleskey gained all the attention by becoming an oil well, old Nannie herself decided to “blow in” as well!
Isn’t that a great story?