Manuel “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas, Texas Ranger

Famed lawman tamed oil boom towns during the Great Depression, proclaiming “crime may expect no quarter.”


During much of the 1920s, a Texas Ranger became known for strictly enforcing the law in oilfield communities. By 1930, discovery year of the largest oilfield in the lower-48 states, he was known as “El Lobo Solo” — the lone wolf — the Ranger who brought law and order to the boom town of Kilgore.

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, Gonzaullas joined the Texas Rangers.

Manuel "Lone Wolf" Gonzaullas, Texas Ranger portrait of the lawman

“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,” reported the Dallas Morning News in 1934.

“He was a soft-spoken man and his trigger finger was slightly bent,” independent producer Watson W. Wise characterized him during a 1985 interview in Tyler, Texas. “He always told me it was geared to that .45 of his.”


Secret History of Drill Ship Glomar Explorer

Offshore technologies and how Howard Hughes and a covert CIA project raised a lost Soviet sub in the early 1970s.


The Glomar Explorer left behind two remarkable offshore exploration histories — a clandestine submarine recovery vessel and the world’s most advanced deep water drill ship for the petroleum industry. The CIA’s former “ocean mining” vessel ended its offshore career in a Chinese scrap yard in 2015. 

Considered the pioneer of modern drill ships, the Glomar Explorer was decades ahead of its time working at extreme depths for the U.S. offshore petroleum industry. Relaunched in 1998 as an offshore technological phenomenon, the original Glomar Explorer had been constructed decades earlier as a top-secret project of the Central Intelligence Agency. 

CIA Project Azorian began soon after a U.S.S.R. ballistic missile submarine K-129 mysteriously sank somewhere in the deep Pacific Ocean northeast of Hawaii on March 8, 1968.  The wreckage of the lost sub could never be found — or so it seemed.

Unknown to the Soviets, sophisticated U.S. Navy sonar technology would locate the K-129 on the seabed at a depth of 16,500 feet. But a salvage operation more than three miles deep was impossible with any known technology (see ROV – Swimming Socket Wrench).

Central Intelligence Agency's secret ship, the Hughes Glomar Explorer,

The Central Intelligence Agency’s Hughes Glomar Explorer, a custom-built “magnesium mining vessel,” in 1974 recovered part of a Soviet submarine that had sunk off Hawaii in 1968. Photo courtesy American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

The K-129 sinking presented the CIA with such an espionage opportunity that the agency convinced President Richard Nixon to approve a secret operation to attempt raising the vessel — intact — from the ocean floor.

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Secretive billionaire Howard Hughes Jr. of Hughes Tool Company joined the mission, code-named Project Azorian (mistakenly called Project Jennifer in news media accounts).

The recovery effort would involve years of deception: Deep ocean mining would be the cover story for construction of the Hughes Glomar Explorer.

Howard Hughes and Ocean Mining

Scientists and venture capitalists had long seen potential in ocean mining, but when Hughes appeared to take on the challenge, the world took notice. The well-publicized plan described harvesting magnesium nodules from record depths with a custom-built ship that would push engineering technology to new limits, typical of Hughes’ style. The story spread.

But from concept to launch, the Hughes Glomar Explorer really had only one purpose: raise the sunken Soviet Golf-II class submarine from 1968 – and any ballistic missiles. In 1972, construction began in a Delaware River dry-dock south of Philadelphia. The $350 million (about $2.37 billion in 2023), Hughes’ high-tech ship was ostensibly built to mine the sea floor.

On August 8, 1974, the “magnesium mining vessel” secretly raised part of the 2,000-ton K-129 through a hidden well opening in the hull and a “claw” of mechanically articulated fingers that used sea water as a hydraulic fluid. News about Project Azorian leaked within six months.

On February 7, 1974, the Los Angeles Times broke the story: “CIA Salvage Ship Brought Up Part Of Soviet Sub Lost In 1968, Failed To Raise Atom Missiles.” 

The L.A. Times article by Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh ended the high-tech vessel’s spying career. The government transferred Hughes Glomar Explorer to the Navy in 1976 for an extensive $2 million preparation for storage in dry dock. With its CIA days over, Hughes Glomar Explorer spent almost two decades mothballed at Suisun Bay, California.

 Los Angeles Times revealed the clandestine Glomar Explorer project on February 7, 1974.

Seymour Hersh of the Los Angeles Times revealed the clandestine project on February 7, 1974. An investigative reporter, he had won the Pulitzer Prize in 1970 for exposing the My Lai massacre.

Pioneer Drill Ship

London-based Global Marine had converted the CIA vessel for commercial use. The company hired Electronic Power Design of Houston, Texas, to work on the advanced electrical system. After almost 20 years in storage, condition of equipment inside the ship surprised Electronic Power Design CEO John Janik.

“Everything was just as the CIA had left it,” Janik explained, “down to the bowls on the counter and the knives hanging in the kitchen. Even though all the systems were intact, this was by no means an ordinary ship.”

Janik noted in 2015 for The Maritime Executive that his company’s retrofit was “a tough job because the ship’s wiring was unlike anything we had ever seen before,” although preservation had been helped by nitrogen pumped into the ship’s interior for two decades.

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Conversion work later included a Mobile, Alabama, shipyard adding a derrick, drilling equipment, and 11 positioning thrusters capable of a combined 35,200 horsepower.

Completed in 1998 as the world’s largest drillship, Glomar Explorer began a long-term lease from the U.S. Navy to Global Marine Drilling for $1 million per year.

The advanced drilling ship spent the next 17 years working in deep-water sites around the globe, including Africa’s Nigerian delta, the Black Sea, offshore Angola, Indonesia, Malta, Singapore, and Malaysia.

Following a series of corporate mergers, Glomar Explorer became part of the largest offshore drilling contractor, the Swiss company Transocean Ltd. When it entered that company’s fleet, the ship was renamed GSF Explorer, and in 2013 was re-flagged from Houston to the South Pacific’s Port Vila in Vanuatu.

Glomar Explorer, former CIA vessel, began a record-setting career in 1998

The formerly top secret CIA vessel Glomar Explorer began a record-setting career in 1998 as a technologically advanced deep water drill ship. Photo courtesy American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

When GSF Explorer arrived at the Chinese ship breaker’s yard in 2015, many offshore industry trade publications took notice of the ship’s demise after years of exceptional deep drilling service. The ship was “decades ahead of its time and the pioneer of all modern drill ships,” declared the Electronic Power Design CEO in The Maritime Executive article.

“It broke all the records for working at unimaginable depths and should be remembered as a technological phenomenon,”  Janik concluded.

Soon after the former Glomar Explorer was sold for scrap, Tom Speight of the engineering firm O’Reilly, Talbot & Okun, reflected in a company post, “This is a shame, not only because of the ship’s nearly unbelievable history, but also because in 2006 the American Society of Mechanical Engineers designated this technologically remarkable ship a historic mechanical engineering landmark.”

The ASME award ceremony, which took place on July 20, 2006, in Houston, included members of the original engineering team and ship’s crew among the attendees. Past President Keith Thayer noted the important contributions the ship made to the development of mechanical engineering and innovations in offshore drilling technology.

The historic ship’s name will be forever be linked to the ship’s CIA brief service during the Cold War. For many veteran journalists, the agency’s chronic response to inquiries, “We can neither confirm nor deny,” is still known as the “Glomar response.”


Recommended Reading: The CIA’s Greatest Covert Operation: Inside the Daring Mission to Recover a Nuclear-Armed Soviet Sub (2012); Project Azorian: The CIA and the Raising of the K-129 (2012). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.


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

Citation Information – Article Title: “Secret Offshore History of Drill Ship Glomar Explorer.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: Last Updated: January 30, 2023. Original Published Date: February 8, 2020.


Buffalo Bill Shoshone Oil Company

Col. William F. Cody searched for Wyoming black gold.


Col. William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s legacy extends beyond his famous Wild West show. A Wyoming town named for him preserves his Big Horn Basin heritage. Lesser known is his adventure into the oil business.

In his day, “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World” made W.F. Cody the most recognized man in the world. His fanciful Indian attacks on wagon trains, the marksmanship by Annie Oakley, and other attractions drew audiences in America and Europe. (more…)

End of Oil Exchanges

Curbing unruly speculators trading oil and pipeline certificates.


In a sign of the growing  power of John D. Rockefeller at the end of the 19th century, Standard Oil Company brought a decisive end to Pennsylvania’s highly speculative  — and often confusing — trading markets at oil exchanges.

On January 23, 1895, the Standard Oil Company’s purchasing agency in Oil City, Pennsylvania, notified independent oil producers it would only buy their oil at a price “as high as the markets of the world will justify” — and not necessarily “the price bid on the oil exchange for certificate oil.”

Standard Oil’s drastic action would bring an end to a popular “paper oil” market of brokers and buyers.


Oil Riches of Merriman Baptist Church

The North Texas church once declared the richest in America.


In the fall of 1917, the Eastland County cotton-farming town of Merriman was inhabited by “ranchers, farmers, and businessmen struggling to survive an economic slump brought on by severe drought and boll weevil-ravaged cotton fields.”

Everything changed on October 17, when a Texas & Pacific Coal Company wildcat well struck oil near Ranger, four miles from Merriman. The J.H. McCleskey No. 1 well produced 1,600 barrels of oil a day.

The rush to acquire leases and drill became legendary among oil booms, even for Texas, home of the 1901 “Lucas Gusher” at Spindletop Hill near Beaumont.

As drilling continued in Eastland County, yield of the Ranger oilfield led to peak production reaching more than 14 million barrels in 1919. Production from “Roaring Ranger” and its giant North Texas oilfield helped win World War I.

McCleskey No. 1 cable-tool oil well, the "Roaring Ranger" gusher of 1917.

McCleskey No. 1 cable-tool oil well, the “Roaring Ranger” gusher of 1917, brought an oil boom to Eastland County, Texas, about 100 miles west of Dallas.

Texas & Pacific Coal Company had taken a great risk by leasing acreage around Ranger, but the risk paid off when lease values soared. The company quickly added “oil” to its name, becoming the Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company.

The price of the oil company stock jumped from $30 a share to $1,250 a share as a host of landmen, “scanned the landscape to discover any fractions in these holdings. A little school and church, before too small to be seen, now looked like a sky scraper.”

Oil wells at Merriman Merriman Baptist Church near Ranger, Texas, circa 1920.

“So as we could not worship God on the former acre of ground, we decided to lease it and honor God with the product,” explained Merriman Baptist Church Deacon J.T. Falls. Photo courtesy Robert Vann, “Lone Star Bonanza, the Ranger Oil Boom of 1917-1923.”

Warren Wagner, driller of the McCleskey discovery well, leased the local school lot and in August 1918 completed a well producing 2,500 barrels of oil a day. Merriman Baptist Church was a different kind of challenge.

Deacon J.T. Falls complained in February 1919 that the drilling boom’s oil wells, “ran us out, as all of the land around our acre was leased, producing wells being brought in so near the house we were compelled to abandon the church because of the gas fumes and noisy machinery.”


Deacon J.T. Falls and congregation of Merriman Baptist Church in 1919.

Deacon J.T. Falls (second from left) was not amused when the Associated Press reported in 1919 that his church had refused a million dollars for the lease of the cemetery.

Falls added that, “So as we could not worship God on the former acre of ground, we decided to lease it and honor God with the product.”

A Texas State Historical Society marker erected in 1999 records when the well on the church’s lease struck oil, earning the congregation a royalty of between $300 and $400 a day. Merriman Baptist Church, “kept a small amount for operating expenses and gave the rest to various Baptist organizations and charities.”

However, drilling in the church graveyard was a different matter.

Respecting the Dead

At the cemetery, a second, less seen Texas Historical Society marker notes the oil boom’s fierce competition to find property without a well already drilling on it: “Oil speculators reportedly offered members of the Merriman Baptist Church a large sum of money to lease the cemetery grounds for drilling.”

When local newspapers reported the church had refused an offer of $1 million, the Associated Press picked it up and newspapers from New York to San Francisco ran the story. Literary Digest even featured, “the Texas Mammon of Righteousness” with a photograph of the “The Congregation That Refuses A Million.”

A 1999 Texas State Historical Society marker for Merriman Baptist Church oil royalties.

A 1999 Texas State Historical Society marker explains how members of the Merriman Baptist Church generously shared oil royalties.

Deacon J.T. Falls was not amused. “A great many clippings have been sent to us from many secular papers to the effect that we as a church have refused a million dollars for the lease of the cemetery. We do not know how such a statement started,” the deacon opined.

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“The cemetery does not belong to the church. It was here long before the church was. We could not lease it if we would and we would not if we could,” the cleric added.

 “If any person’s or company’s heart has become so congealed as to want to drill for oil in this cemetery, they could not – for the dead could not sign a lease and no living person has any right to do so,” Falls proclaimed.

The church deacon concluded with an ominous admonition to potential drillers, “Those that have friends buried here have the right and the will to protect the graves and any person attempting to trespass will assume a great risk.”

Merriman Baptist Church oil well featured in trade journal of 1918.

A 1918 article noted a “Merriman school house” oil well drilled to 3,200 feet in record time for North Central Texas.

Roaring Ranger’s oil production dropped precipitously because of dwindling reservoir pressures brought on by unconstrained drilling. Many exploration and production companies failed (including fraudulent ones like Hog Creek Carruth Oil Company).

In the decades since the McCleskey No. 1 well, advancements in horizontal drilling technology have presented more legal challenges to mineral rights of the interred, according to Zack Callarman of Texas Wesleyan School of Law.

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Callarman wrote an award-winning analysis of laws concerning drilling to extract oil and natural gas underneath cemeteries. “Seven Thousand Feet Under: Does Drilling Disturb the Dead? Or Does Drilling Underneath the Dead Disturb the Living?” was published in the Real Estate Law Journal in 2014.

Despite yet another North Texas oilfield discovery at Desdemona, by 1920 the Eastland County drilling boom was over. The faithful still gather at Merriman Baptist Church every Sunday.


Recommended Reading: Early Texas Oil: A Photographic History, 1866-1936 (2000); Texas Oil and Gas, Postcard History (2013) Wildcatters: Texas Independent Oilmen (1984). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.


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

Citation Information – Article Title: “Oil Riches of Merriman Baptist Church.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: Last Updated: January 12, 2023. Original Published Date: January 18, 2019.


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