Former Marland Oil executive confounded geologists, launched career as independent producer.

 

When a Fort Worth independent producer drilled a January 1931 wildcat well in East Texas, he revealed the true extent of an oilfield discovered months earlier miles away.

W.A. “Monty” Moncrief and two partners completed the Lathrop No. 1 well on January 26, 1931. The Gregg County well produced 320 barrels of oil per hour (7,680 barrels a day) from a depth of 3,587 feet.

As the Great Depression worsened and East Texas farmers struggled to survive, this third well — far from two earlier discoveries — revealed what proved to be a giant oilfield, extending dozens of miles.

Moncrief, who had worked for Marland Oil Company in Fort Worth after returning from World War I, drilled in an area few geologists thought petroleum production a possibility. He and fellow independent operators John Ferrell and Eddie Showers thought otherwise.

W.A. "Monty" Moncrief and his son "Tex" in Fort Worth's Moncrief Building.

A circa 1960 photograph of W.A. “Monty” Moncrief and his son “Tex” in Fort Worth’s Moncrief Building.

The third East Texas well was completed 25 miles north of Rusk County’s already famous October 1930 Daisy Bradford No. 3 well drilled by Columbus Marion “Dad” Joiner northwest of Henderson (and southeast New London, site of a tragic 1937 school explosion).

Moncrief’s oil discovery came 15 miles north of the Lou Della Crim No. 1 well, drilled three days after Christmas, on “Mama” Crim’s farm about nine miles from the Joiner well.

At first, the distances between these “wildcat” discoveries convinced geologists, petroleum engineers (and experts at the large oil companies) the wells were small, separate oilfields. They were wrong.

Three Wells, One Giant Oilfield

However, to the delight of other independent producers and many small, struggling  farmers, Moncrief’s Lathrop discovery showed that the three wells were part of  a single petroleum-producing field — the largest ever found.

As a drilling boom exploded, further development revealed the “Black Giant” East Texas oilfield stretching 42 miles long and four to eight miles wide.

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The region’s unique history is exhibited at the East Texas Oil Museum, which opened in 1980 at Kilgore College.  Joe White, the founding director who retired in 2014,  created a museum that houses the “authentic recreation of the oil discoveries and production in the early 1930s in the largest oilfield inside U.S. boundaries.”

After more than half a century of major discoveries, William Alvin “Monty” Moncrief died in 1986. His legacy has extended beyond his good fortune in East Texas.

The family exploration business established by “Monty” Moncrief  in 1929 would be led by sons W.A. “Tex” Moncrief Jr. and C.B. “Charlie” Moncrief, who grew up in the exploration business. In 2010, Forbes reported that 94-year-old “Tex” made “perhaps the biggest find of his life” by discovering an offshore field of about six trillion cubic feet of gas.

Moncrief Philanthropy

Hospitals in communities near the senior Moncrief’s nationwide discoveries, including a giant oilfield in Jay, Florida, revealed in 1970, and another in Louisiana, have benefited from his drilling acumen.

Map of 30,000-acre East Texas oilfield.

The 130,000-acre East Texas oilfield became the largest in the contiguous United States in 1930.

Moncrief and his wife established the William A. and Elizabeth B. Moncrief Foundation and the Moncrief Radiation Center in Fort Worth, as well as the Moncrief Annex of the All Saints hospital. Buildings in their honor have been erected at Texas Christian University, All Saints School, and Fort Worth Country Day School.

Dr. Daniel Podolsky in 2013 presents W.A. “Tex” Moncrief Jr. with a framed image of the new Moncrief Cancer Institute.

Dr. Daniel Podolsky in 2013 presented W.A. “Tex” Moncrief Jr. with a framed image of the new Moncrief Cancer Institute at the Fort Worth facility’s dedication ceremony.

Supported throughout the 1960s and 1970s by the Moncrief family, Fort Worth’s original Cancer Center, known as the Radiation Center, was founded in 1958 as one of the nation’s first community radiation facilities. 

In 2013, the $22 million Moncrief Cancer Institute was dedicated during a ceremony attended by “Tex” Moncrief Jr. “One man’s vision for a place that would make life better for cancer survivors is now a reality in Fort Worth,” noted one reporter at the dedication of the 3.4-acre facility at 400 W. Magnolia Avenue.

Images and map of Kilgore, Texas, with oil derricks lighted and neon lights.

Small investments from hopeful Texas farmers will bring historic results — and make Kilgore, Longview and Tyler boom towns during the Great Depression. Kilgore today celebrates its petroleum heritage.

Early Days

Born in Sulphur Springs, Texas, on August 25, 1895, Moncrief grew up in Checotah, Oklahoma, where his family moved when he was five. Checotah was the town where Moncrief attended high school, taking typing and shorthand — and excelling to the point that he became a court reporter in Eufaula, Oklahoma.

To get an education, Moncrief saved $150 to enroll at the University of Oklahoma at Norman, where he worked in the registrar’s office. He became “Monty” Moncrief after initiation into the Sigma Chi fraternity.

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During World War I, Moncrief volunteered and joined the U.S. Cavalry. He was sent to officer training camp in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he met, and six months later married, Mary Elizabeth Bright on May 28, 1918.

Although sent to France, Moncrief saw no combat. The Armistice was signed before his battalion got to the front.

After the war, Moncrief returned to Oklahoma where he found work at Marland Oil, first in its accounting department and later in its land office. When Marland opened offices in Fort Worth in the late 1920s, Moncrief was promoted to vice president for the new division. 

In 1929, Moncrief would strike out on his own as an independent operator. He teamed up with John Ferrell and Eddie Showers, and they bought leases where they ultimately drilled the successful F.K. Lathrop No. 1 well, which turned out to be the northernmost extension of the 130,000-acre East Texas field, largest ever in the lower-48 states.

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Recommended Reading: The Black Giant: A History of the East Texas Oil Field and Oil Industry Skulduggery & Trivia (2003); Early Texas Oil: A Photographic History, 1866-1936 (2000); Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2023 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Moncrief makes East Texas History.” Authors: B.A. and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/moncrief-oil. Last Updated: January 23, 2023. Original Published Date: January 25, 2015.

 

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