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Featured Story: Remembering the Oklahoma Oil Fields 1927-1930
In 1927 my family lived on a farm outside Howe, Texas, a small town in the northeast part of the state near the Oklahoma border. We raised cotton and we also had a big vegetable garden.
Every Sunday our aunt, uncle, and cousins came over for lunch after church. Mother made hot rolls, fried chicken, and lots of vegetables, plus dessert. After lunch all the kids would play games—dodge ball, Red Rover come over, tag—while the adults sat around and talked.
My brother was born in 1927 and had to have surgery at six weeks old to correct a growth that was blocking his stomach and preventing him from getting enough milk. Surgery back then was very dangerous for anyone, but especially a child that young. He almost died before they discovered the problem and fixed it. They did not have antibiotics to prevent infection or all the specialized equipment for operating on children that they have now.
Farming was not very profitable, so in November of 1927 my dad, two uncles, and a neighbor all gave up farming and went north to Seminole, Oklahoma, to find work in the oil fields. They went to work for Gypsy Oil, which later became the Gulf Oil Company.
Mother could not run the farm by herself, so she and the six kids moved to a little white two-room house in Howe until Dad could afford to bring us all to Seminole. The house didn’t have running water or electricity. At night we used coal-oil lamps to see.
The town of Howe itself was very small. There were a few churches and a grocery/feed store. Mother sold eggs to the store to make extra money. Every Saturday, Mother and us kids would clean our church so that it would be ready for Sunday.
When Dad came home for Christmas of 1927, he discovered a rat in the house. He took a baseball bat and was trying to kill it, and Mother was screaming. The landlady heard her screams and came over to see what was happening. She thought Dad was beating my mother. My dad was so disgusted with that house that he went back to Seminole and put up a tent for us to live in because there were no houses available.
At that time Seminole was an oil boomtown. People were flocking there to work in the newly-discovered oil fields. There were so many people coming in that there was not enough housing for everyone. The town still had dirt roads. Because of the housing shortage, a lot of people, including my father, uncles, and neighbor put up tents in an area called “Tent City” about a mile east of Seminole itself.
Early in January 1928, my Uncle John drove Mother and all six kids up to Seminole in a Model T Ford. We left Howe early in the morning and got to Seminole late that same evening. Mother fixed plenty of sandwiches for the trip, and for lunch and dinner we stopped by the side of the road and ate under the trees.
We lived in the tent outside Seminole while Dad built us a house near the Gulf Oil camp. My sister was born in that tent in 1929. Daddy did most of the work on the house himself, but did hire some help. The house had a living room, kitchen, two bedrooms, and a screened-in porch at the back. He built a washhouse for Mother and put a shower in it.
We moved out of the tent when the house was finished. The big bedroom had three beds where all the children slept. Every Saturday night we bathed in the shower Dad had built in the washhouse. Dad also built a tree house and swings for us to play on.
We lived in that house near the Gulf Oil camp for about five years. Then Dad bought ten acres of land a mile or so north of Seminole. He moved the entire house to the new piece of land, and added another bedroom. We stayed there for another eight years.