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Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"


One of Texas'
least-known ghost towns

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

One of Texas' least-known ghost towns, Grube had a short, wild history capped by what some say was literally an explosive end.

A West Texas oil boom town, in the 1920's it sprouted faster than a sage brush bloom after a good rain, no matter that it lay a hard, dusty drive from nowhere. Soon Grube became noted as a place where an off-duty oil patch worker could obtain bootleg booze and temporary feminine affection.

When the discovery well of what would become one of the richest oil fields in the world came in on Oct. 29, 1926 on Ira Yates' ranch in Pecos County, word quickly spread that the 67-year-old Yates was suddenly worth millions. That was back when folks having only a few thousand dollars in the bank were considered nicely well-to-do.

Soon, Model T's coming from McCamey, Rankin, Fort Stockton and San Angelo caravanned along unpaved roads toward the new field to see the amazingly prolific discovery well and hopefully cash in on the coming boom.

"In a little while," Yates later recalled, "you could see the clouds of dust set up by motor cars as the people came to the well to see what had really taken place. Excitement was pretty high."

A kind-hearted man even when he had been poor, Yates the millionaire extended hospitality to all comers. The rancher-turned-mogul converted his large barn into a makeshift guest house, partitioning it with fiberboard. He even threw on a new coat of red paint. Packed with oil scouts, camp followers and newspaper reporters, the barn soon became known as the Red Barn.

As the field began to develop other structures went up around the barn. The Red Barn soon grew into a new town, Red Barn, Texas.

Just across the Pecos River from Red Barn another town rapidly developed. They called it Grube (pronounced Groo-bee). As had been the case in other oil field boom towns, prostitutes, bootleggers and gamblers made up most of the community's new arrivals.

By November 1927 the owners of the Grube Townsite Company were placing large ads in newspapers operating in other oil towns, hoping to attract lot buyers and businessmen. "Grube, Texas/The New Oil Town/"In the Heart of the Yates Pool"/ was "The Seminole of West Texas," the ad shouted in substantial bold type. In Crockett County only three-quarters of a mile from the flourishing Yates Field and adjoining Red Barn, the new town lay on the Thompson Ranch, 32 miles south of Rankin and "92 miles due south of Midland." Grube was so new it didn't have a post office, but the ad said correspondence from prospective buyers could be addressed "Grubie [sic] Townsite Co., Rankin, Texas."

Pecos County TX 1940s Map
Pecos County 1940s Map showing Red Barn
W of Pecos River, N of Terrell County line

Courtesy Texas General Land Office

While Grube had no shortage of bad types, it did want for good water. Since Red Barn did have a rudimentary water system, thanks to a well on the Yates ranch, the working girls and other denizens of Grube's dives went to Red Barn for baths.

"We never had any trouble with them," recalled one old-timer who had run a business on the more proper Red Barn side of the river.

Well, there was the time a man armed with a shotgun showed up at one of Red Barn's accommodations, intent on murder.

"He said he was waiting for so-and-so who was inside taking a bath," the oldster remembered nearly 60 years later when a writer for the Marathon Oil Co. interviewed him for a corporate history they were about to publish. "'You can't come in here and shoot people,' I says to him."

The man with the scattergun hastened to explain himself. He had no intention of entering the building and alarming anyone else.

"I'm going to shoot him out here," he said, seemingly a little offended that someone would think he'd kill a man in a place of business.

The proprietor went inside and warned the intended victim, who promptly left by a back door to attend to urgent business elsewhere.

Production numbers depended on the flow of crude. The extent of liveliness in Grube waxed and waned with the flow of money. Oil workers got paid twice a month, in cash. Accordingly, every two weeks things perked up considerably in Grube.

"On payday," Corky Huddleston later recalled, "the girls from Grube would get into big cars and cruise [Red Barn and the nearby newer and larger oil town of Iraan] with megaphones calling, 'Come on over and see me tonight.'"

Most oil boom towns dried up or went into decline when a discovery field slowed down and new play erupted somewhere else. But Grube, the Sodom and Gomorrah of the Pecos, came to a sudden end.

Though no official paperwork has been found to document the claim, the persistent legend is that not only did Texas Rangers, at the behest of the governor, shut down the wide-open town, they dynamited all its corrugated metal buildings and any other structure capable of accommodating a bar or brothel.

© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" March 9, 2017 column

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