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Clay Coppedge

Texas | Columns | "Letters from Central Texas"

The Long Gone
Texon Oilers

by Clay Coppedge

In 1923 a former scout and lease man for the Standard Oil Company named Levi Smith became president of the newly formed Big Lake Oil Company and helped oversee development of the Big Lake oilfield in west Texas, which included the Santa Rita No. 1 well owned by the University of Texas. Big Lake blossomed into a going enterprise with some 1,200 employees, enough for Smith to build his own town and name it Texon in honor of the Texon Oil and Land Company, driller of the fabled Santa Rita No. 1.

Smith was a veteran of the oilfields who had seen firsthand the debauchery and depravity of typical oilfield towns and wanted no part of it in his town. In lieu of saloons, bordellos and gambling halls, Texon offered a grade school, a church, a hospital, theaters, a golf course, tennis courts, an icehouse, a swimming pool and other amenities uncommon to normally rough and rowdy oilfield towns. The oil industry touted Texon as a sterling example of a well-ordered community and offered it as an example of the benevolent nature of oil companies toward their employees.

Levi Smith was quite a baseball fan too, and he sponsored a semi-pro team composed of company employees. The Texon Oilers consisted of company employees along with college and semi-pro players who needed a job. Smith hired them to work for his oil company and play for his baseball team against other West Texas teams from Big Lake, San Angelo, Alpine, Fort Stockton, and Santa Rita. You could call it semipro ball or you could call it pro ball and you could make a case either way.

Then, as now, the teams that spent the most money on acquiring good players could usually be counted on to win the most games. The Oilers won a lot of games, including a 16-state championship sponsored by a Denver newspaper.

The Oilers also played well-known Texas teams like the Fort Worth Cats and touring teams like the House of David, comprised of long-haired and bearded members of the Israelite House of David commune in Benton Harbor, Michigan. The House of David teams won a lot more games than converts but they lost to the Texon Oilers in 1934, their first loss in two years. Notorious spitballer Snipe Conley, who won more than 200 games in 12 years in the Texas League, managed the Texon Oilers from 1929 through 1932.

Texon won the All-West Texas pennant from 1933 through 1935 and the Permian Basin League championship in 1939. The team disbanded during World War II and never quite made it back to the diamond. Snipe Conley tried to revive the team in the mid-1950s to no avail, but the team would be reborn, at least in spirit, with the Plymouth Oilers.

The Plymouth Oil Company was a sister company of Big Lake and operated in South Texas on the Walder Ranch north of Sinton in San Patrico County. Several former Texon Oilers working for Plymouth formed the Sinton Eagles and competed in the Coastal Bend Semi-Pro League.

Mike Griffin, an executive with Plymouth Oil and a former business manager of the Texon Oilers, bought the Sinton team, built a ballpark at the Farm Labor Center south of town, and changed the name of the team to the Plymouth Oilers. He installed 100-foot towers, each with 24 lights, and opened the 1950 season "under the lights" against the Houston Buffs of the Texas League. Night games weren't unheard of in those days but were still a novelty. A regular season major league game wouldn't be played under the lights for another five years.

In 1958 the Plymouth Oil Company, citing economic reason, discontinued its support of the Oilers and the team disbanded. The Marathon Oil Company eventually bought Plymouth but the ball game was over. The oilfield wasn't what it used to be, and the old semipro ball fields and boom towns were abandoned.

The Marathon Oil Company purchased the property where the once booming town of Texon was located and where fewer than 100 people still hung on. Marathon closed the town in 1962. All that remains of the once thriving town are a few abandoned structures, crumbling foundations, and the well—preserved remains of Santa Rita No. 1. The crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd, and the Texon Oilers are long gone.

Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas" October 12, 2022 column

Clay Coppedge's "Letters from Central Texas"

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  • El Diablo gets his due 8-10-22
  • Those Desolate Icarians 7-8-22
  • Boy With X-Ray Eyes 6-8-22
  • Woody Guthrie and the End of the World 5-15-22

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