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Duval  County TX
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Twice an Oil Boom Town

Duval County, South Texas

27°52'45"N 98°36'58"W (27.879156, -98.616237)

US 59, Hwy 16 and Hwy 44
25 miles W of San Diego the county seat
35 miles W of Alice
68 miles SW of Beeville
111 miles S of San Antonio
77 miles W of Corpus Christi
59 miles NE of Laredo
92 miles NE of Zapata
47 miles E of Encinal
ZIP code 78357
Area code 361
Population: 2,666 Est. (2019 )
2,818 (2010) 3,241 (2000) 3,271 (1990)

Freer, Texas Area Hotels › Corpus Christi Hotels | Alice Hotels

Freer TX - Church, 1940s
Church in Freer, 1940s
Click on image to enlarge
Old Photo courtesy Dan Whatley Collection


by Mike Cox

J. Frank Dobie had an opinion on just about anything.

In 1941, the noted Texas storyteller and University of Texas faculty member pondered the literature of two distinctly Texan industries – cattle and oil. “Compared with the literature and art reflective of cattle, cowboys, trail driving, horses and other factors of life on the range,” Dobie wrote in his weekly newspaper column, “the literature and art reflective of the oil business…are slender.”

For the most part, that’s held up, at least in terms of fiction. The trail driving era has Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Lonesome Dove,” but the Texas oil patch has yet to be the setting for any novel likely to become a classic.

Not that writers have not recognized the romantic in the muddy, greasy, stinky world of oil production. Three years before Dobie lamented the literary dry hole of the energy industry, a weekly newspaper in South Texas was peddling a little book of oil field verse called “Bell-Bottoms to Boots” by a sailor-turned-roughneck named Joe “Blackie” Wilson.

Dobie liked poetry, but likely would have dismissed Wilson’s effort as so much doggerel. Still, the poems have a ring of truth.

In rhyme, Wilson tried to distill life in and around the Duval County town of Freer, the state’s last truly wild and wooly oil boom town. The first boom came in the late 1920s, but a second boom that began in 1932 for all practical purposes suspended the Great Depression in that part of the state.

C.L. Day started a weekly newspaper, the Freer Enterprise, as the second boom gathered momentum in 1933. At some point, “Blackie” Wilson came to the area to work in the fields. Soon he began submitting poems to the newspaper.

The poems proved to be a popular and Day decided to capitalize on that.

“Hundreds of subscribers,” he wrote, “have been so well pleased with ‘Rod Tailin’ Blackie’s’ poems that they have preserved them in scrap books. In order to gratify your desire for a book of poems by your favorite author, we have gone to considerable trouble and expense to publish Bell-Bottoms to Boots so that you may be able to secure your favorite poems bound in a beautiful book, without extra cost.”

Of course, a person did have to pay $2 for a subscription to the Enterprise to obtain a “free” copy.

From this distant perspective, it’s hard to imagine that the oil patch workers spent much time pondering poetry. But they couldn’t work and raise hell all the time. Nor could the boom that lured them to South Texas last.

Freer is still on the map, but the boom finally played out. As Wilson wrote:

“Well, boys, the boom is over—they’re throwing drunks in jail
“The dealers and the dolls are on the lam.
“If you do any serious drinking be sure to arrange for bail.
“Or you’ll face the morning after in a jam.
“Freer is on her good behavior and will never be the same.
“Remember Borger and Mexia before the rangers came?

“O somewhere surely there’s another rag town booming
“Where it’s no crime for roughnecks to throw a jag.”

The Freer Enterprise went out of business in 1972 and these days Wilson’s book of poetry is as scarce as sissies on a drilling rig.

So what was Wilson’s story? As the title of his book suggests, Wilson had been a sailor. One of his poems offers strong evidence he was born and raised around Normangee in Leon County.

“There is something about an oilfield that always calls you back,
And you can say the same thing of the sea,” he wrote.
“I guess I should be sorry that I listened to their calls,
For the two of them have made a tramp of me.”

The book contains no author’s blurb, but the author hints at further autobiography in “The Chronic Urge.”

Wilson wrote: “Life gave me a sledge [hammer] when I wanted a pen
And rock when I looked for a rose.
I slaved a while, got drunk on gin
And wrote verses of my woes.”

The booze overrode the muse until, “I begged of Life for a place in the shade
That I might write.
—And she put me to work with a pick and spade
And gave me a Baptist wife.”

That apparently cured Blackie’s boozing as sure as big-hatted rangers tamed Freer and the other boom towns.

© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales"
- May 1, 2005 column

Freer, Texas Landmarks

Book Hotel Here ›
Alice Hotels | Laredo Hotels | More Hotels

Freer TX - mileage sign, 62 miles to Laredo
1 mile to Freer, 62 miles to Laredo
Photo courtesy Gerald Massey, 2010

Freer TX - Pump jack
Pump Jack, and plaque in memory of Hap Holcomb
Photo courtesy Gerald Massey, 2010

Freer TX - St. Mary's Catholic Church
St. Mary's Catholic Church
Photo courtesy Gerald Massey, 2010

Freer TX - United Methodist Church

United Methodist Church
Photo courtesy Gerald Massey, 2010
More Texas Churches

Freer TX Fire Dept
Freer Fire Dept.
Photo courtesy Gerald Massey, 2010

Freer TX Old Bldg
Old building in Freer
Photo courtesy Gerald Massey, 2010

Freer TX Closed Store
Closed Store
Photo courtesy Gerald Massey, 2010

Freer TX Rattlesnake Round Up
Freer - "Home of Texas' Official Rattlesnake Round Up"
Photo courtesy Gerald Massey, 2010

Freer TX - Hap Holcomb Memorial Plaque
Hap Holcomb Memorial Plaque
Photo courtesy Gerald Massey, 2010

Freer, Texas Forum:

  • Subject: Drilling in South Texas
    I started working in the oil field in 1972 & did work around Freer. There used to be a store there that we stopped in after work going back to Alice. There were pictures hung on the wall of tents lined up in rows. After several years of stopping there I asked the owner about the pictures. His answer was that those pictures were of the oil boom there In Freer. This reminds me of today, still working in the oil field around Yorktown, Kenedy & Three Rivers. The RV parks & motels are loaded. I once saw a bumper sticker which said “God give me another boom and I won’t piss it away”, so I say our prayer has been answered. I hope someone has kept the pictures from that store, they should be put in a Freer Museum. Have a good day - Bill Mettlach, September 04, 2014

  • Take a road trip

    South Texas

    Freer, Texas Nearby Towns:
    San Diego the county seat
    Corpus Christi
    See Duval County

    Book Hotel Here:
    Alice Hotels | Corpus Christi Hotels | More Hotels

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