The glory of an oil boom: Finders, Keepers

I write about Kilgore’s oil boom in my Memoir of Sorts, The Man Who Talks to Strangers.

The good and faithful of an African American church in Kilgore, Texas, listened to a preacher convict them of sin once during every week and twice on Sunday.

He had the devil on the run, he said.

The devil never ran any farther than the bars and honky tonks just outside of town.

Drink to remember.

Drink to forget.

A man’s in love.

Love’s lost.

Pray for salvation.

Whiskey’s easier to find.

Generally, it’s cheaper.

They drank because a bitter thirst hung above the town.

Throats dry.

Pockets empty.

God have mercy on our souls.

Oil derricks from the World’s Richest Acre rise above downtown Kilgore.

 

The congregation faced the pain of the Great Depression spreading its dark, foreboding storm clouds across a countryside where men, as foolish as any that the members had ever seen, were drilling for oil.

What’s down there?

Worms.

Dirt.

And a deep hole.

Oil?

The Bible didn’t say nothing about oil being way down there.

But everyone did read Revelation one more time to make sure.

The congregation had endured hard times.

Bad times.

Worse times.

There had been summers of a blistering sun.

Drought baked the land.

Crops withered.

Rain went elsewhere.

And babies cried at night because they were hungry.

Hope lingered for a spell.

Then it packed up and took the next train out of town.

The size of the congregation dwindled.

A few were coming to town.

Mostly, they were leaving.

The few who remained were saving their dimes and nickels so they, too, might one day be able to see if a better place might lie just beyond the next bend in the road.

It didn’t.

They didn’t know.

Nickels were difficult to find, dimes almost impossible.

The congregation prayed for miracles.

Few believed in them.

But what was that gurgling so deep in the ground?

Fools were drilling.

Fools were hitting dry holes.

Then a crippled old wildcatter struck oil.

If he could, maybe the good men of the church could as well.

They tore down the building.

It was almost empty anyway.

They drilled in the small plot of land where the church had stood.

Nothing but rock down beneath them.

Nothing but clay.

But what was happening down three thousand feet in Woodbine Sand?

They heard the roar.

They felt the earth tremble beneath their shoes.

They ran for cover.

They ran for their lives.

Black gold fell around them all like hundred dollar bills.

It was as close to salvation as any of them had ever seen before.

The members assembled together and made three denominational decisions, doing exactly what they thought the Good Lord would want them to do.

They built another house of worship.

They gave each member a royalty share of the oil strike.

They voted not to accept any new members in the church.

Forever and ever.

Amen.

I write about Kilgore’s oil boom in my Memoir of Sorts, The Man Who Talks to Strangers. Please click HERE to find the book on Amazon.

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  • Scott Bury

    This is a great story!

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