A Fort Worth wildcatter named W.A. “Monty” Moncrief drilling in East Texas in January 1931 will help reveal what turns out to be the largest U.S. oilfield.

As the Great Depression worsened and East Texas farmers struggled to survive, a third wildcat well miles from the earlier discoveries ultimately revealed a massive oilfield, which remains the largest in the lower-48 states.

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

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

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The East Texas oilfield has produced more than five billion barrels of oil.

Their well was 25 miles north of Rusk County’s already famous October 1930 Daisy Bradford No. 3 well drilled by Columbus Marion “Dad” Joiner. It was 15 miles north of the Lou Della Crim No. 1 well drilled near Kilgore three days after Christmas.

Also see Lou Della Crim Revealed.

At first, the great distance between these discoveries convinced geologists, petroleum engineers (and experts at the large oil companies) that the wildcat wells were small, separate oilfields.

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 massive oil-producing field – the largest ever at the time.

As a drilling boom exploded, further development revealed the 130,000-acre East Texas oilfield stretching 42 miles long and four to eight miles wide.

The region’s unique history is exhibited at the East Texas Oil Museum, which opened in 1980. 

Founding director Joe White, who retired in 2014, notes museum at Kilgore College “houses the authentic recreation of oil discovery and production in the early 1930s in the largest oilfield inside U.S. boundaries.”

W.A. “Monty” Moncrief

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

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

The family exploration business established by “Monty” Moncrief  in 1929 was later led led by sons W. A. “Tex” Moncrief Jr. and C. B. “Charlie” Moncrief.

According to Forbes magazine, in January 2010, “Tex” Moncrief Jr.  -at age 94 – made “perhaps the biggest find of his life” by discovering an offshore field containing about six trillion cubic feet of gas.

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.

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 were erected in their honor at Texas Christian University, All Saints School, and Fort Worth Country Day School.

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. A 1979 donation of $2.5 million by Mr. and Mrs. Moncrief led to another major expansion.

In November 2013, a new $22 million Moncrief Cancer Institute was dedicated during a ceremony attended by W.A. “Tex” Moncrief Jr. It’s located on a 3.4-acre site at 400 W. Magnolia Ave.

“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 facility.

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

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.

“Determined to get an education, he saved $150 which was enough money to enroll at the University of Oklahoma at Norman,” a company historian notes. “To continue covering expenses, he worked in the registrar’s office. He became ‘Monty’ Moncrief when he was initiated into the Sigma Chi fraternity,” he adds.

World War I interrupted Moncrief’s college education and like many others, he volunteered. He joined the U.S. Cavalry and 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 a job with Marland Oil Company, 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. He struck out on his own as an independent in 1929.

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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.

Moncrief soon teamed up with independent oilmen John Ferrell and Eddie Showers. They bought leases where they ultimately drilled the F.K. Lathrop No. 1 well, which turned out to be the northernmost extension of the giant East Texas field.

Learn more at H.L. Hunt and the East Texas Oilfield.

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