“Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas, Texas Ranger
By September 3, 1930, when the Daisy Bradford No. 3 well near Kilgore first tapped the great East Texas oilfield, he was already known as “El Lobo Solo.” Gonzaullas brought his own methods for enforcing law and order.
Manuel Trazazas Gonzaullas was born in 1891 in Cádiz, Spain, to a Spanish father and Canadian mother who were naturalized U.S. citizens. At age 15 he witnessed the murder of his only two brothers and the wounding of his parents when bandits raided their home. Fourteen years later, he joined the Texas Rangers.
“He was a soft-spoken man and his trigger finger was slightly bent,” independent oilman and philanthropist Watson W. Wise characterized him during a 1985 interview in his office in Tyler, Texas. “He always told me it was geared to that .45 of his.”
When Kilgore became “the most lawless town in Texas” after the October 1930 oil boom started, Manuel “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas was the Texas Ranger sent out to tame it, according to Wise, himself a distinguished oilman and philanthropist who moved to Texas in 1925.
Gonzaullas – five feet, nine inches tall, with a scarred face, and no sense of humor – was “a very serious type fella,” Wise noted.
“He was sent out to Pecos one time to stop a riot out there, added Wise. “When he got off the train there was a great posse waiting to greet him, and when they saw he was alone, they said, ‘Where’s all your help Mr. Gonzaullas?’ and he said, ‘There’s only one riot isn’t there?’”
He rode a black stallion named Tony and often sported two pearl-handled, silver-mounted .45 pistols. On his chest was a shining Texas Ranger star, recalled Wise, who moved to Texas in 1925 and founded several successful independent oil companies.
Wise said news about the wiry Texas Ranger spread; everyone in Kilgore soon knew Gonzaullas was in town.
“He came down there, one man, and shot about three people and cleaned the place out. He used to show me that finger and say that it gets itchy,” said Wise.
Wise added, “He’d give you a warning and if you didn’t heed it, he’d shoot you. Sometimes he would just shoot for your leg.”
According to another veteran of the East Texas field, Herman A. Engel, who at the time was taking turns with another oilman sleeping on a two-dollar-a day cot in Kilgore, Lone Wolf acted as judge, jury and jailer.
The 1930s East Texas oil boom brought all kinds of people to Kilgore as the town’s streets sprouted oil derricks. Buildings were shortened to accommodate new wells – even the bank was torn down for one, recalled Engel in 1985. A petroleum engineer, Engel headed the East Texas Salt Water Disposal Company in Tyler beginning in 1976. He remained active with the company even after his retirement in 1989.
As Depression-era oil discoveries multiplied, Kilgore’s population increased from 700 to 10,000 in two weeks. The nearby communities of Tyler and Longview also grew – located about an oilfield 43 miles long and 12.5 miles wide. The East Texas field remains the largest and most prolific oil reservoir ever discovered in the contiguous United States. See H.L. Hunt and the East Texas Oilfield.
“Crime may expect No Quarter in Kilgore”
According to Herman Engel, the lawman was highly suspicious of anyone without callused hands. To make his presence known, Gonzaullas paraded his suspects down Kilgore’s muddy, crowded streets on a “trotline.”
One evening, after two weeks of investigation and raids, Gonzaullas triumphantly marched more than 300 men before the town’s law-abiding citizens.
“He chained them to a long steel cable,” Engle said. “Their identities were checked. They were told they could go free – if they left town in four hours; most left in ten minutes.”
The Ranger gave potential criminals and ne’er-do-wells what he considered fair warning.
“Crime may expect no quarter in Kilgore,” Gonzaullas proclaimed. “Gambling houses, slot machines, whiskey rings and dope peddlers might as well save the trouble of opening, because they will not be tolerated in any degree. Drifters and transients have their choice of three things: engaging in a legitimate business, getting out of town or going to jail!”
As derricks proliferated, the oil boom kept Kilgore’s streets in crowded chaos, even when dry. With the frequent rains, streets and roads became virtually impassable. Cars, trucks and wagons became hopelessly mired, most stuck in place until dry weather returned.
The clamor of drilling went on around the clock as Gonzaullas relentlessly practiced his craft, showing neither patience nor indulgence for the host of criminal opportunists that inevitably followed sudden oil money. Local story tellers claimed he shot 75 men in his career, but Lone Wolf himself said, “That is a gross exaggeration.”
He never admitted exactly how many men had seen the business end of his “working guns” including customized revolvers and semiautomatic guns of all kinds. He reportedly had hundreds in a collection taken from those he caught and convicted.
East Texan Evans Smith wrote in the Dallas Morning News in 1934, “Give Texas more Rangers of the caliber of ‘Lone Wolf’ Gonzaullas, and the crime wave we are going through will not be of long duration.”
The Van Free State Press echoed, “‘Lone Wolf’ is one of the best known and most respected peace officers in the south. He’s quick on the trigger and all bad gun men know that, so seldom frequent his quarters.”
Lone Wolf Gonzaullas’ reputation followed him after his retirement from the Texas Rangers in 1951. He served as a technical consultant for radio, motion pictures, and television shows such as the long-running and popular “Tales of the Texas Rangers.”
According to Brownson Malsch in his updated 1998 book “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas, Texas Ranger, the lawman had a personal collection of 580 guns plus knives, clubs and other weapons when he retired.
“Many stories went untold as to the criminals he had acquired them from,” Malsch writes. Lone Wolf simply said: “Some have real stories behind them, but it’s nobody’s business where they came from.”
He was a gentleman, Malsch confirms, “courteous to men and women alike, except when it came to criminals, where Gonzaullas’ utter fearlessness and his deadly accuracy with pistols and rifles are credited with allowing him to survive.”
The Ranger also was “an intensely religious man,” Malsch explains. “He was a keen student of the Bible and later in life carried a copy of the New Testament in his pocket and copies in his car. He handed these out to errant men whom he thought might be remolded into useful citizens.”
He also underlined certain passages on sinning and forgiveness.
Captain Manuel “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas died in Dallas on February 13, 1977, at age 85, leaving his scrapbooks and personal papers to the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum.
Visit the East Texas Oil Museum in Kilgore.
The legacy of oilman Watson W. Wise quoted at the beginning of this article extended beyond his success in East Texas. Wise, who died at age 89 in 1989, was a philanthropist who once served as a delegate to the United Nations.
A native of Ohio, he graduated from Yale University and moved in 1925 to Texas, where he started Wise Operating Inc., Wise Drilling Inc. and Watburn Oil Company. A trustee of Tyler Junior College from 1950 until 1970, Wise funded the Watson and Emma Wise Cultural Arts Center and Wise Auditorium on that campus. His alma mater, Yale University, also benefitted from his generosity when he funded a wing at the library, according to the Watson W. Wise Foundation.
In 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Wise a delegate to the United Nations’ 13th General Assembly. Wise died on September 8, 1989, in Tyler.
Herman A. Engel of Tyler passed away in 2002 at age 85. U.S. Rep. Palph Hall honored his memory with a tribute in the Congressional Record, noting Engel “was a war hero, pioneering oil man, and beloved community activist and father…he was an integral part of the community and played a major part in helping to make East Texas a better place for everyone.”
Engel served as a vice president and director of the Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce. He was a long-time director of East-Texas Lighthouse for the Blind, and was an active supporter of several local organizations and foundations. Among those were Louisiana State University, Tyler Junior College, and the Tyler Independent School District. He was also a devoted trustee of the Watson W. Wise Foundation.