Raisins & Almonds and Texas Oil A Book by Jan
Excerpts from the book used by permission.
When three discovery wells opened the vast East
Texas Oilfield in the winter of 1929 and spring
of 1930, the Piney Woods bloomed with the black
treasure that would change East Texas forever.
It was oil, Black Gold.
The drought of l929 had ruined the cotton crop.
fall undermined the stability of banks in the
Gregg County seat of Longview. Still reeling
from cotton and banking failures, that city saw
the Texas and Pacific Railroad move its terminal
to Mineola, taking their employees, their
payroll, and the city's prosperity with them.
Businesses failed. Homes and farms were lost.
Poverty and unemployment were everywhere -And
then the Great Depression hit!
Desperate people, eagerly searching for a ray of
hope focused on the dream of oil. Oil had been
discovered in Ranger, Cisco, Breckenridge,
Burkburnett, Eldorado, Amarillo and towns, why
not in East Texas? Even that slim hope was
dashed when petroleum engineers and geologists
of the nation's major oil companies declared
there was absolutely no oil whatsoever anywhere
in the area.
In spite of those declarations, legendary
wildcatter C.M. "Dad" Joiner succeeded in
finding oil on Sunday, Oct. 5, 1930 when his
discovery well, the Daisy Bradford No.3 blew in
a gusher at Turnertown, near Henderson in Rusk
County, producing at an unbelievable rate.
"Everybody in town broke their necks to get out
there to see the well come in," "Mike" Marwil
described the scene. "First you felt the earth
tremble and shake, then you saw black oil
shooting as high as the derrick. People were
beside themselves! They wallowed in the oil!
Just swam in it! They rubbed it all over
themselves. They had to be told to put out their
cigarettes for fear they would blow us all up."
Two months later, on Christmas Day, l930, Ed
Lou Della Crim No. 3. came in on the Crim Farm
outside Kilgore in Gregg County, producing three
times the volume of the Daisy Bradford No. 3.
The Lou Della Crim well was followed on January
26, l931 by the equally lucrative F.K. Lathrop
No. 1, eleven miles to the north and east in
Pine Tree, near Longview, also in Gregg County.
The three successful "discovery" wells outlined
the boundaries of the Great East Texas Oilfield.
The "Black Giant" was forty-two miles long and
eight miles wide. The sound of the "Boom" was
heard around the world.
Engineers and geologists of the major oil
companies realized they had made a major
mistake. The sudden oil prosperity prompted
Judge Erskine Bramlette to declare, "At last,
the waters have opened up to let the Children of
Israel out of the land of bondage. The boom is
here, and it looks good."
Judge Bramlette did not realize how prophetic
his words would be. As America reeled under the
shock of the global depression, many Jewish
people were among those who found their way to
the sleepy towns of East Texas. They came
seeking hope in a nation where there was no
hope, jobs in a nation where there was no work,
opportunity in a nation where there were only
"hard times when you're down and out."
"We all came C.O.D," Celia Bergman explained,
Cash-on-Delivery. We didn't have any money, but
we had youth, and strength. We were determined
to survive the Depression. -And we made it!"
Some went to work in the oilfield itself. Some
went into services supplying the oilfields,
trading scrap metal, pipe, oil well equipment
and supplies. Some opened pipe yards and scrap
yards. Others opened small shops to provide
necessities to make the lives of oilfield
workers and their families bearable.
Some became actively involved in the business of
oil. Joe Gerson managed, and was engineer of
H.L. Hunt's Parade Refining Company near
Turnertown. At a time when oilfield workers
worked around the clock, seven days a week, the
Travis and Livingston families, Orthodox Jews,
shut their cable tool drilling rigs down from
Friday evening to Saturday evening in observance
of the Sabbath, and allowed their workers a day
Others worked day and night, forcing their small
businesses to succeed by the remarkable effort
of their will.
Celia and Dave Bergman came to Longview at
night. "The mud was eighteen inches deep and the
lights of the drilling rigs were just a-going
like fire," Celia said, "They were diamonds in
the sky! I was brought up in the oilfield towns
of Oklahoma so this looked like home to me. I
loved it and we stayed."
Those who could put a few coins together wanted
to "get into the action," to buy into a well
that would make their dreams come true.
Sometimes they did. More often, they did not.
Marshall merchant Louis Kariel was involved in a
number of leases, which he said, "Helped define
the edge of the field."
The old red brick Gregg County Courthouse was
overrun by oilmen, wildcatters, speculators and
lease hounds. The County Clerk was suddenly the
busiest man in town. He was so busy it became
necessary for him to form "reading groups" to
work in shifts around the clock, researching
land titles stored in old record books streaked
with dust, faded by time and stuffed into the
cobwebbed corners of the old courthouse.
Tent cities grew up overnight. Kilgore swelled
from a farming community of 500 to a crowded
Boom Town of more than 10,000. Sam Krasner and
his brother Barney rode into Kilgore on a
truckload of seven-inch pipe. "Kilgore was a
booming shack town," he said, "Although some of
the town's original buildings could still be
seen, most of the buildings were hastily
constructed of tin, or sheet iron."
Wells grew up in rose gardens and in door yards.
Oil was discovered beneath a bank in downtown
Kilgore. A twenty-four foot section was sliced
off the rear of six downtown businesses and six
wells were sunk into the ground with the legs of
their derricks touching. They formed the richest
half-acre in the world.
enough food to feed the hungry "boomers." There
enough room to house them. Strangers slept in
chicken coops, on parlor floors, in attic lofts,
and outdoors under the open sky.
"When I came home from college that spring, I
still had my bedroom," Sarah Richkie Whitehurst
said, "Many of my friends could not say as much.
People rented rooms and parts of rooms. Some
even rented cot space on the parlor floor. Some
rented beds for so many hours and when that time
was up, someone else came in to sleep."
Those who could find no shelter slept on the
courthouse lawn. Joe Riff was fortunate enough
to rent a room located diagonally across the
Courthouse Square from his store. He said,
"Every morning when I walked across the
courthouse lawn to go to work, I was obliged to
step over the reclining bodies of men and women
who were sleeping out in the weather, covering
themselves as best they could with old
newspapers and shreds of blankets.
Derricks popped up like mushrooms after a spring
rain. And the rains came down in torrents! It
rained forty days and forty nights. Worn by the
constant rains and the weight of heavy oil field
machinery, the meager country roads turned into
narrow ribbons of mud. Old settlers sat on their
fretwork front porches and watched their way of
life change before their eyes. Some kept their
distance from the noisy goings on...and some
became wealthy in spite of themselves.
Working as a "lease hound" or land man, Ben
Balter attempted to buy the mineral rights to a
small farm, but the farmer's widow insisted that
he buy the entire farm. "All I want to do is to
get away from this crazy place," she told him.
-And she did.
The growing need for oilfield law attracted
young attorneys. Phillip Brin’s
first paycheck was $l5 for a week's
work. "In those Depression days you were so
happy to have a job you didn't demand to know
what you were going to be paid," he explained,
cost much to live if you could manage to come by
the few pennies. We saw many a starving person
riding on the railroad boxcars as they came
Doctors were needed. Pediatrician Ben Andres
said, "The practice of medicine was a much more
personal thing in that day and time. You knew
your patient's families, you knew what they did
and who they were."
Smiley Rabicoff made a lot of money
manufacturing and selling whiskey during
Prohibition, but he was out of business when
Prohibition was repealed. His father-in-law,
Harry Sobol told him, "There's a good
opportunity to make a living down here in the
Texas oilfield. You buy something. You find
somebody to buy it from you. You sell it and you
make the difference."
Eighteen year old Adele Daiches was dismayed by
her first sight of Kilgore. "When I got off that
train at the Kilgore Depot I found the streets
were filled with mud. I later learned it was
dust, when it was not mud. You had a choice that
Spring, dust or mud."
Seventeen year old Milton Galoob drove his old
Ford truck from Oklahoma to Longview on two
tires and two rims. "I was out of work and
hungry. I didn't
have money for tires but I knew that if I could
manage to get here, my sister Celia Bergman,
would find a way to feed me."
Another eighteen year old, Irving Falk, came to
the oilfield straight from his family’s New
Jersey dairy farm. "I didn't
know whether to look up, look down, look
sideways, or to just look out for traffic," he
said, "Kilgore was a dense forest of oil
derricks. There were approximately one thousand
oil wells being drilled. There were twenty-five
or thirty thousand oil wells in the field.
Kilgore alone had a thousand wells. Some wells
were producing as much as five thousand barrels
a day. Back home in New Jersey, people weren’t
able to feed their children, but here in East
Texas they were dressed up with gold belt
buckles and fancy cowboy boots with silver tips
that cost $l50. That was a fortune in those
Oilfield workers didn’t
trust their money to banks but they trusted the
honest Jewish merchants. On payday, the
merchants would cash the oilfield workers
checks. This meant the merchants would keep a
lot of cash on hand on payday, and the crooks
knew exactly when payday rolled around.
parents, Joe and Clara Waldman, were robbed at
gunpoint. "The robbers marched my parents to the
back of the store and told them to sit down," he
said, "My mother's
diamond wedding ring was exposed and dad kept
trying to call her attention to it, trying to
warn her to turn the ring around or try to hide
it. His frantic warnings became so obvious that
the robbers finally said, "Don't
worry, mister. We wouldn't
take the lady's
wedding ring away from her. All we want is your
Thieves, prostitutes, and gamblers swarmed into
the towns. Decent citizens were outraged. Help
was summoned, and help arrived. One quiet
afternoon, four shabbily dressed, strangers
stepped from a train outside Kilgore. They drew
little attention. Scruffy-looking strangers were
hardly uncommon in the oilfield. There was
something different about these men though. It
was in their proud bearing and clear eyes.
Legendary Texas Rangers had come upon the scene.
On a sunny day in early March, the leader of the
group, Texas Ranger Sgt. Manuel T. "Lone Wolf"
Gonzaullas, shed his drifter's disguise. He
mounted his spirited black stallion for his
famed ride down Kilgore's
Main Street. His tanned face was clean-shaven,
his boots and spurs gleamed in the morning
light. An automatic rifle rested in his saddle
holster. His pearl-handled six-shooters were
ready at his hip.
The cry went up, "It's
"Lone Wolf" Gonzaullas! He's hard, but he's
fair!" Gonzaullas declared Martial Law and gave
the criminals twenty-four hours to get out of
town. Many criminals abandoned their belongings
in their rush to leave. The Texas Rangers began
a series of lightening raids. Three hundred
arrests were made that day.
Kilgore had never needed a jail so there was no
proper place to hold the prisoners. "Lone Wolf"
had trace chains and padlocks secured to a heavy
length of chain and run the full length of the
Baptist Church. When his prisoners were tethered
to it, it was promptly labeled "Lone Wolf's Trot
"Lone Wolf" often determined a man's
guilt or innocence by simply looking at his
hands. Oilfield workers had rough, work-worn,
hands. Crooks and gamblers had soft hands with
manicured fingernails. "Lone Wolf's"
soft-hand test did not bode well for Hyman
Hurwitz, a soft-handed young haberdasher who
worked late one night after curfew. "Hyman
thought the Rangers wouldn't bother him," his
brother, Phillip Hurwitz explained, "No sooner
did he step through the door of his shop than
"Lone Wolf" picked him up. The Ranger handcuffed
Hyman to the "Trot Line," and he remained there
until other Jewish merchants came to rescue
Hyman Laufer joined the National Guard as a
college student during the summer of l93l and
was sent to Gladewater where law and order had
completely broken down.
"Every thief, every thug, every lawbreaker had
found his way into East Texas," he said, "More
than that, there was a flood of oil coming out
of this field. The governor declared the
oilfield off-limits and shut the free production
down. Many oilmen resented this and began
running "hot oil," that is, illegal oil. The
National Guard was expected to patrol the
oilfield, but we were often misled.
We would go up to a well and we would see that
the valve on the well was operating, so we would
turn it off, or we thought we had. Oilmen
installed valves that worked in reverse. We
would actually be turning it on! There were many
other such subterfuges and clever devices to
keep the hot oil running."
The discovery of oil meant a return to former
prosperity for some East Texans. Vera Remer's
family, the Brachfields, lived in Henderson
since l874. Her uncle, Charles Brachfield, was a
distinguished Rusk County Judge and State
Senator. Her father, Mose Marwil, was Mayor of
"During the Boom, the streets were filled with
people, but they weren't
the sort of people you would want to associate
with," she said, "Old-timers considered oilfield
workers to be roughnecks and riff-raff."
To others it meant a swift ride to unheard-of
wealth. East Texas towns saw more than an
adequate supply of ostentation. Schoolgirls
appeared in classrooms dressed in ball gowns and
tiaras. Diamond rings sold like crackerjacks.
Before long, the well-known Dallas retail
establishments such as Neiman-Marcus and the
A.Harris Co. were dressing the beautiful women
of East Texas in the latest fashions. Ladies
took the Southern Pacific train to Dallas, ate
breakfast on the train, shopped, dined in the
luxurious dining car and were home before 8:40
in the evening.
"People wanted to dress well," DeeDee Gans
was a front runner of fashion, and having
Neiman's nearby set the pace for us. A group of
us would go into Dallas to shop and have lunch
and we would really make a day of it."
"A lot of people will tell you that the Oil Boom
was exciting." Celia Bergman remembered. "But
for us the exciting part was that we'd
open the store at nine o'clock in the morning
and we wouldn't leave until l0 o'clock at
"We opened the store at 6:30 in the morning,"
Phil Hurwitz agreed, "Drillers and roughnecks
would be going to work at that hour. We'd
close the store at nine, ten, eleven o'clock,
whenever the last man was off the street. Then
we'd go to Mattie's
Ballroom and dance all night, take a shower, lie
down for an hour, get up and go back to work at
6:30 in the morning. It was an exciting
experience for a sixteen year old boy!"
The new East Texans were determined to maintain
their Jewish identity in the oilpatch. "At first
they met at the different stores," Nathan
Waldman explained, "They held Sunday School for
the children at Sam Goldman's
store, or at Smiley Rabicoff's
store. Much of the time it was so hot that they
would open the doors, but because of the Blue
Laws, the police would make them shut the doors
again. Sunday School became really "hot stuff"."
Reform Jews attended High Holy Day Services at
Temple Moses Montifiore in Marshall. Orthodox
and Conservative Jews held informal High Holy
Day Services in the hall above McCarley's
Jewelry store in Longview or above the Fire
Station in Kilgore. Services were interrupted
when the fire alarm sounded, and it sounded
often in the oilfield town. The congregation
would rush to the windows to see what was on
fire and if their help was needed to put the
The women of Kilgore convinced the men they
needed a synagogue. The men said, "Fine, you
raise a thousand dollars and we'll raise the
The women took up the challenge. They held a
"well baby" contest to determine who was the
healthiest baby in town. Doctors examined the
babies and selected the winners. Children of
many oilfield workers received health check-ups
they would otherwise have lacked. The women
raised their share and the men came through with
their part of the bargain.
Kilgore's Beth Sholom Synagogue was organized in
l936. "It was not a very big building," Mendy
Rabicoff remembered, "When the congregation
outgrew the little building. Hyman Hurwitz
located an old wood frame honkeytonk, which was
moved to the location and "reformed" to serve as
the community's social hall.
The young congregation had some interesting
rabbis including the poker playing rabbi, the
rabbi with the eccentric wife and the rabbi who
was chased by the horse.
"There was a pasture behind the synagogue,"
Nathan Waldman said. "Our Christian neighbor
kept his horse pastured there. The rabbi was
dreadfully afraid of the horse and the horse was
not too fond of the rabbi either. One Friday
evening, the Rabbi decided to take a short cut
across the pasture. The horse took offense and
ran toward the rabbi. The rabbi ran toward the
synagogue. The horse ran faster. The rabbi ran
even faster, proving that when properly
motivated, an Orthodox rabbi can outrun a
"We had members from Kilgore, Longview,
Henderson, Gladewater, Overton and other towns.
We clung together like ducks on a pond," Hyman
Laufer said, "We had Sunday School picnics and
barbecues, dances and parties. We had a lot of
fun and a lot of love. After all, this was our
Three discovery wells transformed the region's
economy. An economic map of the time described
the economically troubled nation with white
marks for depressed areas and gray for less
troubled areas, but East Texas was inked with
solid black. It was the black gold of
The Jewish community gathered from many exotic
corners of the world, only to find themselves in
the most exotic place of all. -East Texas in the
Author: Jan Statman