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A Boom Town Ghost Town

Eastland County, Texas Panhandle / Central Texas North

32° 16' 13" N, 98° 33' 1" W (32.270278, -98.550278)

Hwy 16, FM 8 and FM 2214
8 miles NE of Gorman
20 miles SE of Eastland the county seat
20 miles W of Stephenville
Population: 180 Est. (1980 - 2000)

Desdemona, Texas Area Hotels › Eastland Hotels

Desdemona TX business district old phtos

Desdemona Newest Business district only 60 days old
Click on image to enlarge

Courtesy Dan Whatley Collection

Desdemona, Texas Topics:

History in a Pecan Shell
Desdemona Landmarks
Desdemona Chronicles
Desdemona Vintage Photos › next page
Desdemona Forum

"even from my boyish days…
…wherein I spake of most disastrous chances,
Of moving accidents by flood and field,
of hair-breadth escapes in the imminent deadly breach.."

Othello - The Wooing of Desdemona

History in a Pecan Shell

Settlement of Desdemona began around 1857, making one of the earliest communities west of the Brazos River. Settlers built a small fort to protect themselves from Indian attack and in 1875 the Funderburg brothers acquired the land that had once been old fort and began to develop.

Originally the town had been called Hogtown, for it's location on Hog Creek. A post office was granted in 1877 under the name Desdemona (not the heroine of Othello, but for the daughter of the community's JP. The town has been shown on maps and on records as Desdemonia or Desdimonia, but the unusual name spared the town confusion with other post offices.

Peanut farming became an important part of the economy early on and Desdemona's population went from 100 in 1892 to over 300 by 1904. In September 1918, a driller named Tom Dees, struck oil and Desdemona was catapulted (for better or worse) into a bona-fide Texas boomtown. Population estimates of the period suggest that there may have been as many as 16,000 citizens, speculators, workers and camp followers during the zenith of the 1919-1922 boom.

Those smart enough to have invested in Tom Dee's Hog Creek Oil Company were able to sell $100 shares for over $10,000, but aside from these new fortunes, Desdemona had some huge problems. Rains flooded the town and overflowed pools of standing oil. Influenza and typhoid fever broke out. Sanitation and public health were enough to strain the town to its breaking point, but on top of this they also had to combat the lawless element.

Citizens banded into a group called The Law and Order League. But when one of their leaders (Pastor J. A. Kidd of the Rockdale Baptist Church) became too vocal - the church was set afire on the night of November 27, 1920. The blaze was soon extinguished, but now all Desdemonites were united in outrage. The church was a beloved landmark and even the non-Baptists were furious at the act and especially the perpetrators. Texas Rangers who had been conducting roving patrols of the boomtowns of Eastland, Ranger and Cisco now descended on Desdemona, arresting 125 men and expelling at least that many prostitutes.

Oil production fell from over seven million barrels of oil in 1919 to less than three million in 1921. By 1922 the boom was over and Desdemona had experienced one of the most drastic population fluctuations in Texas boomtown history. Fires in 1920 and 1921 destroyed entire blocks, leaving the town today where it may have naturally evolved had oil not been discovered. In 1936 Desdemona dissolved their city government.

Brownson Malsch, "Lone Wolf" Gonzaullas, Texas Ranger, 1998, U. of Oklahoma Press
T. Linday Baker, More Ghost Towns of Texas, 2003, University of Oklahoma Press
The Handbook of Texas Online
Interview with Desdemona native Joe Grimshaw, February 2004

Desdemona, Texas Landmarks

Post Office in Desdemona Texas
US Post Office Desdemona TX 76445
Photo by John Troesser, 2004
More Texas Post Offices

Desdemona, Texas jail

The well-used Desdemona Jail - built of Thurber Brick
Photo by John Troesser, 2004
More Texas Jails

Desdemona Texas schoolhouse
The Desdemona School (grades 1-12) was built in 1922 and expanded as a WPA project completed in 1937. It finally closed in 1969.
Photo by John Troesser, 2004

Desdemona Texas lodge cornerstone
The school's cornerstone now lies horizontal in the school yard
Photo by John Troesser, 2004
More Texas Schoolhouses

Old store in Desdemona, Texas
A former business from boom times?
Photo by John Troesser, 2004

Desdemona, Texas - Desdemona sign

Desdemona Sign
Photo courtesy Kim Carter April 2007
More Texas Signs

Desdemona Vintage Photos

Joe Duke on Desdemona farm, Texas
"My grandfather Joe Duke was at one time known as Texas' youngest millionaire. A few years later he had no money left and was a pauper at the time of his death." - John Keith
Desdemona Vintage Photos

Desdemona TX - Gas Wells

Desdemona Gas Wells near Gorman
Photo courtesy City of Gorman

Desdemona, Texas Chronicles

Bombing of Desdemona by Clay Coppedge

In November of 1944, in the waning days of World War II, the Japanese military began arming more than 9,000 hot air balloons with bombs and releasing them in the general direction of the United States. Only about 30 of the balloons made it across the Pacific Ocean but at least three of them got to Texas just as fast as they could... more

Desdemona by Clay Coppedge

"Of all the nastiness that might be found in Texas oil boom towns during the era of discovery in the early 20th Century, Desdemona was reported to be the nastiest." more

Native Son

James Brown, Desdemona's Celebrity Actor by Linda Ruhl
Lt. Rip Masters of "Rin Tin Tin"

Desdemona, Texas Forum

  • Subject: Desdemona and Gorman, 1920s.
    Ran across your website looking for info on my father and grandfather. My father was listed as born in Gorman Texas in 1925. Bruce Whitney Towsley. His Brother 2 yrs older I assume was born same place. My Grandfather Phillip Towsley was some sort of field or site manager for the Desdemona Oil Fields.

    Many stories associated with that, and I sure wish I could ask more about it, but they are all passed away. I have a small book called Desdemona Texas and kind of a promotional book, full of photos of the Oil wells, reservoir ponds, and families and workers living there. I know they said it was a very hard life. My Grandfather said it was tough to manage the men, Many were rough, hard drinkers and fighters, as well as irresponsible at times. Talked about many would lose their pay gambling and drinking only to have the wives come to them desperate to feed their children. He also said frequently he favored Marijuana over alcohol as he never had problems with those smoking vs drinking, although he did not care for pot. This alarmed my Dad every time it was mentioned but Grandpa felt cannabis was the lessor of 2 evils.

    Ironically, My Grandfather became friends with William Wilson, AKA Bill W of AA fame while serving in WWI, my GF did not think Bill was an alcoholic and said compared to most of those oil workers, he knew what a real alcoholic really was and it was not Bill Wilson. This sparked a controversy as my GF spoke at Bills funeral in 1971 and refused to toe the line with the AA folks. I have documentation of this as well as some letters between them. Apparently Bill Wilson had depression and what we now know is PTSD from WWI and they had different names for it back then.

    Anyway, I am unclear of the exact years GF was fired, but an often repeated story that the Oil workers were looking to form some sort of Union organizing. My GF despite being mgmt, was viewed as fair and so they approached him. He neither advocated nor discouraged it but by virtue of even talking to the union organizers, he was fired and "Blackballed" and was unable to find ANY work in any way shape or form. This led to hard times and he left the family behind and even riding the rails on freight trains, migrated North and worked in Lumber camps and logging, saved some money and returned and moved from Texas in what was described as an epic journey in a broken down Ford to Vermont where the family settled, about this time the Depression hit. In the mid 1930s the family again moved to Northern Washington and settled near Ferndale Washington where he worked as a pipe fitter helping build the Alcoa Aluminum plant. - Doug and Linda Towsley, March 30, 2020

  • Subject: Desdemona
    I came across your page about Desdemona Texas and read the story written by John Keith about his great grandfather Joe Duke (Texas first millionaire) and when I saw his picture of Joe Duke I almost passes out because it looked exactly like my grandfather Melvin Keith... more - Jordan Keith, September 11, 2013

  • Subject: Desdemona
    Dear TE, I recently drove to Desdemona after visiting a friend who attends Baylor. I had once played a character named "Desdemona" in a play, so when I saw signs for a town of the same name, I jumped at it! I saw no businesses, but I saw some cute little houses, and I took a picture of the town marker sign. I really enjoyed the detour! Cute Little Town! - Kim Carter, April 19, 2007

  • Subject: Desdemona Oil Boom
    My Grandfather, John Robert Palmer was a farmer and teaching school in Hogtown prior to the discovery of the Duke Well in 1918 and was instrumental in organizing the mineral leases prior to the well. My father (John Derwin Palmer) wrote a Thesis for a Master of Arts Degree from Hardin-Simmons University, August 1938, entitled "The History of the Desdemona Oil Boom". I assume copies are available from the University. There is a stone marker just outside of town for the location of the first school building in Hog Creek where my grandfather taught school. As I recall my maternal grandfather Charles Thomas Moorman and family also lived in the area and was instrumental in establishing the first school. - CR Palmer, November 17, 2005

  • I've enjoyed reading about Desdemona on the TexasEscapes website. My Great-Great-Grandfather, Christian Bowman (originally Bohrman or Borman) was one of the 42 Army Dragoons that Captain Ripley Arnold brought to the Clear Fork of the Trinity in 1849 to build the fort that later became the City of Fort Worth. Christian pre-empted land in Denton County after leaving the Army and settled his family in Little Elm. In about 1865, Christian was killed in an explosion near Desdemona, referred to as Hogtown in our family, while digging a well. We have no documentation of the date or the event, but it has been passed down as fact by several of his children. How would I research this? Would there have been a newspaper publishing in any of the nearby towns? Or any surviving records from the town? - Thank you, Linda Culbertson, StormCnter@aol.com , Pound Colleyville, Texas, October 21, 2005

  • Subject: Japanese Ballopn Bombs landed in Desdemona
    I am writing an article about an event that occurred in May, 1945 in Desdemona where one or perhaps two Japanese Balloon Bombs landed harmlessly. Thousands of these balloon bombs were launched from mainland Japan in the closing months of the war as a desperate effort to achieve victory. Two of them landed in Desdemona or that vicinity. Do you know about this event and perhaps you could steer me to someone who could. What is the name of the local newspaper in that area if you know? I would like to place an ad for people who may have remembered the event. Thanks. - Michael Phillips, September 02, 2004
    Editor: See Bombing of Desdemona by Clay Coppedge

  • Subject: WW II Japanese balloon bombs
    In regards to the inquiry about two Japanese balloon bombs landing in Desdemona in May 1945, I can provide the following. Two balloon bombs landed at Desdemona on March 23, 1945. Another balloon bomb landed in Woodson, Texas (approx. 75 miles NNW of Desdemona) the next day. None caused any damage. - Steve Allen Goen, Wichita Falls, December 23, 2007

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