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
as a sterling example of a well-ordered community and offered it as
an example of the benevolent nature of oil companies toward their
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
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 wellpreserved
remains of Santa Rita No. 1. The crack of the bat, the roar of the
crowd, and the Texon Oilers are long gone.