Warne Gates, a native of Winfield, Illinois, became associated with
three of Texas’ most important items: barbed
Gates’ education at Northwest College prepared him for a career in
business that seemed to go nowhere at first, then resulted in a massive
fortune. After deciding that his hardware store would not produce
the income he wished, Gates accepted a salesman’s job with the Washburn-Moen
Company, a producer of barbed wire. Texas was his assigned territory.
Gates arrived in San Antonio
in 1876, when cattle raising by the open-range method dominated the
Texas economy everywhere cotton
did not grow, which also meant places where natural fencing materials
such as timber was in short supply. To advertise his product, Gates
staged a show on San Antonio’s
principal plaza. He built a pen of barbed wire and successfully kept
a small herd of longhorns
inside — something skeptics said could not be done. He then sold more
wire than Washburn-Moen could provide. Later, Gates built his own
Southern Wire Company into the largest manufacturer of barbed wire
in the nation.
Gates’ real fortune came not from wire but from oil, and his story
is a classic one for the Texas oil patch. When Gates and others built
the Kansas City Southern rail line south from Kansas City to Port
Arthur, Texas, he learned of Patillo Higgins’ search for oil in
the area between Beaumont
and Port Arthur
named Gladys Hill by Higgins. Later the oil field there would become
world famous as Spindletop
when the discovery well gushed in on January 10, 1901.
Part of the financing came from Gates, who organized the Texas Company
to get into the oil business. The world knows that company now as
TEXACO. Gates built pipelines, refineries, and other oil-industry
businesses in Port
Arthur, and became a patron of the town.
Gates’ nickname —
grew from his indulgence in gambling.
Known for his high bets, it was alleged that he once bet $1 million
on a horse race and won $2 million. Actually, the bet was $70,000
and the stakes were "only" $600,000, but that is close enough.
February 6-12, 2005 column
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
This column is provided as a public service by the East Texas Historical
Association. Archie P. McDonald is the author of more than 20 books