University of Texas Arlington

W. K. Gordon, Sr., Papers (1890-1995)

A Guide



Descriptive Summary

Creator: Gordon, W. K. (William Knox), 1862-1949
Title: W. K. Gordon, Sr., Papers
Inclusive Dates: 1890-1995
Abstract: Born in Loriella, Virginia, on January 26, 1862, W. K. Gordon, Sr., was a railroad surveyor, mine manager, civil and mining engineer, and an independent oil and gas producer. Gordon is perhaps best known as the man behind the discovery of oil in central Texas. The papers are comprised of correspondence, biographical data, memoirs, minutes, broadsides, company records and records of labor negotiations, newsletters, newspaper clippings, printed materials, a videotape, and photographs. The photographs form the bulk of the collection and depict everyday life in boomtown Thurber, and Ranger, Texas, in the early 1900s. The correspondence of Gordon and Edgar L. Marston, president of the Texas & Pacific Coal and Oil Company, provides insight into the decision of the company to re-focus its interests from coal in Thurber to oil in Ranger. Other materials reflect the tenuous relationship between miners and operators in Thurber, 1903-1921. Reports and correspondence of W.K. Gordon, Sr., are also included, 1890-1947. Materials collected by Mr. and Mrs. W. K. Gordon, Jr., include correspondence of the Thurber Historical Association, 1992-1995, that reflects the efforts of the association to chronicle and publicize Thurber’s history; information concerning the demise of the Thurber cemetery and restoration efforts; plans and details about the brick making process at the Thurber Brick Plant; biographical information on W. K. Gordon, Sr.; and memoirs and histories of early Thurber.
Identification: AR401
Extent: 2 boxes (0.5 linear ft.)
Language: Materials are in English.
Repository: Special Collections, The University of Texas at Arlington Library

Biographical Note

William Knox Gordon, Sr., was born in Spottsylvania County, Virginia, on January 26, 1862, to Cosmo and Adelaide Gordon. W. K. Gordon, Sr., married Fay Kearby in 1903, daughter of Judge Jerome C. Kearby of Dallas. The couple had three children, only one of whom, W. K. Gordon, Jr., reached adulthood. W. K. Gordon, Sr., died in Fort Worth, Texas, on March 13, 1949.

A railroad surveyor, mine manager, civil and mining engineer, and an independent oil and gas producer, W. K. Gordon, Sr., is perhaps best known as the man behind the discovery of the Ranger Oil Field in central Texas in 1917. W. K. Gordon, Sr., began his career as a railroad surveyor's helper for the Virginia and Carolina Railroad and in a short time had become not only a surveyor himself but a civil engineer as well.

W. K. Gordon, Sr., moved to Texas in 1889 after working in South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, and Mississippi to survey a proposed railroad route between Dublin and Thurber. Gordon was offered a position as civil and mining engineer in the growing boomtown of Thurber by Robert Dickie Hunter, president of the Texas and Pacific Coal Company. Gordon soon established himself as a competent mining engineer, despite his lack of previous mining experience, patenting several technical improvements which proved to be significant in the mining industry. Gordon became vice-president and manager of the T&P Coal Company in 1899 after Hunter retired and Edgar L. Marston became president. Gordon was responsible for operations in Thurber which was at the time a wholly company-owned town. He quickly gained the confidence of the miners as well as the respect of his superiors.

When the Texas & Pacific Coal Company acquired the mines in Thurber, Texas, in November 1888, the mining operations had a history of labor unrest, and frequent strikes had limited the mines' productivity. Texas & Pacific appointed Colonel R. D. Hunter as mine manager in Thurber and he quickly made his anti-union stance clear. Although a local chapter of The Knights of Labor was largely supported by the miners present in Thurber, Hunter was able to break the union's hold on the mining operation by importing miners from other states as well as from Europe. The presence of such diverse ethnic groups made organization much more difficult, and within a few years, Thurber, Texas, had become a wholly company-owned town with little in the way of labor unrest despite sporadic attempts at organization by various unions, most notably the United Mine Workers (UMW). The company built a wall around Thurber to keep these organizers at bay.

After a strike by the United Mine Workers in early 1903 brought dramatic changes in mining operations in the east, the UMW looked westward and began redoubling its efforts to organize the miners in Thurber. The union's method of including blacks in the strikes and particular appeals to the individual ethnic groups enabled the UMW to gain the support needed to bring the Texas & Pacific Coal Company to a meeting at the Hotel Worth in Fort Worth, Texas, in September of 1903. W. K. Gordon, Sr., by this time manager of the Thurber operation, and Edgar L. Marston recognized the strength of the UMW in Thurber, and came to terms with the striking miners. Despite occasional strikes, the Thurber mining operation was widely known for its harmonious labor-management relationship with Gordon himself receiving the majority of the credit for the strength of the ties between the miners and the operators. The transition of Thurber from a wholly company-owned town to a unionized mining operation is only one aspect of its wide appeal to the researcher and historian.

The richer deposits found in coal mines in the eastern United States led Gordon to believe that Thurber would not be able to compete indefinitely in the often turbulent coal market. Having developed a keen eye for the geological landscapes of mineral rich areas, Gordon became convinced of the presence of oil and gas deposits west of Thurber. Eventually convincing his superiors in New York, Gordon drilled several test wells in nearby Ranger. The discovery of oil on the McCleskey farm in 1917 led to the birth of the Ranger Oil Field and the subsequent death of Thurber and its coal mines. The Texas & Pacific Coal Company became the Texas & Pacific Coal and Oil Company soon after this discovery and Gordon retired from the company in the 1920's, becoming a successful independent oil and gas producer. He served as a director of T&P from 1892 and as chairman of the company's board of directors from 1934 until his death in 1949.

Sources:


  • Powers, William Preston, Jr. "The Subversion of Gordon's Kingdom: The Unionization of the Texas and Pacific Coal Mines at Thurber, Texas, 1888-1903." The University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, Texas: 1989.
  • The New Handbook of Texas, . Volume 3. Texas State Historical Association, Austin, Texas: 1996. pg. 249.

Scope and Contents

Series I, Texas & Pacific Coal and Oil Company, 1890-1987, consists of photocopies of reports and correspondence from the office files of W. K. Gordon, Sr., 1911-1947, as well as photocopies of correspondence dated 1917-1918 of Edgar L. Marston, president of Texas & Pacific Coal and Oil Company. The correspondence provides insight into the tumultuous coal market in the early part of the twentieth century and the role its instability played in the eventual investment in oil by T&P. The series also includes minutes, legislation, telegrams, broadsides and notices which reflect the tenuous relationship between miners and operators in Thurber between 1903 and 1921 as well as copies of T&P publications and biographical information on W. K. Gordon, Sr.

Series II, Thurber & Ranger, 1898-1995, consists of news clippings and published articles relating to Thurber and Ranger, Texas, and their history. Various correspondence is also included which reflects the efforts of the Thurber Historical Association to chronicle and publicize the history of Thurber, Texas. This series also includes an original copy of the Texas Mining Trade Journal dated October 1, 1898, and photocopies of plans and details of the Thurber Brick Plant. There is a personal memoir as well which provides a unique insight into the everyday life of a Texas boomtown.

Series III, Photographs, 1900-1920, consists of photographs and photocopies of photographs held at the Nita Haley Memorial Library which depict life in Thurber and Ranger, Texas, during each town's heyday. The Thurber mining operation and brick plant are depicted as well as streets throughout Texas that are paved with Thurber brick. The series also includes photographs of W. K. Gordon, Sr., and life in Ranger, Texas, which include many photographs of the men and equipment used in the Ranger Oil Field. Efforts were made by W. K. Gordon, Jr., to identify as many of the people in the photographs as possible.


 

Organization

The W. K. Gordon, Sr., Papers are organized in three series:
Series I. Texas & Pacific Coal and Oil Company, 1890-1987 ((0.25 linear ft. (10 folders))
Series II. Thurber & Ranger, 1898-1995 (0.175 linear ft. (10 folders))
Series III. Photographs, 1900-1920 (0.3125 linear ft. (12 folders and 1 videotape))

Restrictions

Access

Open for research.

Literary Rights Statement

Permission to publish, reproduce, distribute, or use by any and all other current or future developed methods or procedures must be obtained in writing from Special Collections, The University of Texas at Arlington Library. All rights are reserved and retained regardless of current or future development or laws that may apply to fair use standards.


Index Terms

These materials are indexed under the following headings in the catalog of The University of Texas at Arlington Library. Researchers desiring materials about related topics, persons or places should search the catalog using these headings.
Persons
Gordon, W. K. (William Knox), 1862-1949--Archives.
Gordon, W. K., Jr.
Organizations
Texas and Pacific Coal Company--Records and correspondence.
Subjects
Industrial relations--Texas--Thurber.
Places
Thurber (Tex.)--Pictorial works.
Thurber (Tex.)--History.
Alternate Titles
Historical Manuscripts Collection

Related Material

AR399: Thurber Historical Association Records,1888-1992

Researchers should be aware of the extensive amount of material pertaining to the history of Thurber and the oil industry in Texas available in the Southwest Collection at Texas Tech University. The Nita Haley Memorial Library in Midland, Texas, is also a point of interest to the researcher interested in the history of Thurber, Texas, and the W. K. Gordon, Sr., family. There are also a number of photographs of Thurber, Texas, at the Tarleton State University Library as well as related collections in Special Collections at The University of Texas at Arlington Library, in particular the Thurber Historical Association Papers, AR399. The Thurber Historical Association is primarily made up of descendants of the original miners who worked the Thurber mines and continue to play an active role in the preservation of Thurber, Texas.


Separated Material

AR421: W. K. Gordon, Sr., Papers,1888-1986


Administrative Information

Provenance

The materials included in the W. K. Gordon, Sr., Papers were in the possession of Mr. and Mrs. W. K. Gordon, Jr., until they were officially deeded to The University of Texas at Arlington. The W. K. Gordon, Sr., Papers were transferred to The University of Texas at Arlington Library, Special Collections Division, on July 10, 1987. The donation of the materials was negotiated by Jane Boley, Special Collections archivist, and accessioned by Sandi Ramos. The collection was acknowledged by Dr. Gerald D. Saxon.

Gift, 1987.

Citation

The W. K. Gordon, Sr., Papers, AR401, Box Number, Folder Number, The University of Texas at Arlington Library Special Collections.

Processing Information

Finding aid prepared by Sandi Ramos, July 1997.


 Note to the Researcher 

The material is primarily photocopy.

One of the most interesting aspects of Thurber history is its quick demise brought on by the discovery of oil in nearby Ranger, Texas. The role the discovery of oil at the McCleskey farm in Ranger on October 17, 1921, had in the sudden death of what was then the thriving boomtown of Thurber should not be overlooked.


Container List

 

Series I. Texas & Pacific Coal and Oil Company, 1890-1987
0.25 linear ft. (10 folders)

Arranged alphabetically and thereunder chronologically. Material includes photocopies of correspondence from 1911-1947 pertaining to the business interests of Texas & Pacific; minutes and documents relating to the negotiations between miners and operators during the strike of 1921; telegrams and company notices relating to the Thurber miners' strike of 1921; various company publications, and biographical information on W. K. Gordon, Sr. The material in this series relates to both the Texas & Pacific Coal Company and the Texas & Pacific Coal and Oil Company.
Box Folder
1 1 Broadsides, 1921
Three Texas & Pacific Coal Company broadsides posted in Thurber, Texas, by the Texas & Pacific Coal Co.
2 Gordon Office Files, 1890-1947
Photocopies of reports and correspondence from the office files of W. K. Gordon, Sr.
3 Marston Correspondence, 1917
Photocopies of correspondence written by Edgar L. Marston from January 17, 1917, to November 16, 1917.
4 Marston Correspondence, 1917-1918
Photocopies of correspondence written by Edgar L. Marston from November 16, 1917, to September 9, 1918.
5 Meeting, Hotel Worth, 1917
"Verbatim Minutes of Meeting of Committee on Coal Production of Texas. National Council of Defense, Hotel Worth, Fort Worth, Texas August 20, 1917."
6 Miners and Operators, 1903-14
Handwritten note of 1903 meeting date and location.
Agreement Between Miners and Operators In the Bituminous Mines of Texas, September 26, 1903.
Texas State Mining Bill, April 12, 1907.
Joint Conference Between Texas Miners and Operators, Thurber, Texas, May 28-29, 1910.
Report of Joint Conference, Texas Miners and Operators, Fort Worth, Texas, March 3rd, 1914.
Box Folder
1 7 Telegrams, 1921
Seven telegrams sent to and from W. K. Gordon, Sr., regarding the miners' strike of 1921.
8 Texas & Pacific Coal and Oil Co. Publications, 1966-1968
Photocopies of various company newsletters focusing on the history of Texas & Pacific Coal and Oil Co. in particular, its involvement in the discovery of oil in Ranger, Texas, in 1917.
9 Thurber Miners' Strike, 1919-1921
"Notice to Mine Employees." (manuscript copy)
"Proposition Submitted to Miners By Coal Operators."
Notice of the postponement of mine re-opening.
Notice of the re-opening of one of the mines.
Notice of possible utility termination.
Box Folder
1 10 W. K. Gordon, Sr., 1922-1987
Biographical information.



 

Series II. Thurber and Ranger, 1898-1995
0.175 linear ft. (10 folders)

Arranged alphabetically and thereunder chronologically. Material includes articles and news clippings noting the events in Thurber and Ranger, Texas; correspondence regarding various activities of the Thurber and Historical Association; and personal memoirs of life in Thurber, Texas, at the time of its prominence.
Box Folder
1 11 News Clippings, 1901
Photocopies of articles from Thurber oriented papers.
12 News Clippings, 1907, n.d.
Photocopies of articles from Thurber oriented papers.
13 Ranger Articles, 1988-90, n.d.
Articles regarding Ranger, Texas, and its history.
14 St. Barbara's, 1990-93
Correspondence regarding the attempts of the Thurber Historical Association to relocate St. Barbara's Catholic Church.
15 Texas Mining Trade Journal, 1898
The original and a photocopy of Vol. III., No. II. of the Texas Mining Trade Journal dated Saturday, October 1, 1898.
Box
OS148B United Mine Workers Journal, January 23, 1908
Report of 19th Annual Convention
Box Folder
1 16 Thurber Brick Plant, n.d.
Photocopies of plans and details of the Thurber brick making process.
17 Thurber Cemetery, 1987-1993
Correspondence and one article concerning the demise of the Thurber cemetery and restoration efforts.
18 Thurber Historical Association, 1992-1995
Correspondence concerning the activities of the Thurber Historical Association. Includes a publication of the Thurber Historical Association.
19 Thurber Histories, 1986
A memoir and one essay describing life in Thurber, Texas, around the turn of the twentieth century.
20 Wallis Warfield, 1918, n.d.
Two articles and a handwritten memoir of a childhood visit to Thurber, Texas, by Wallis Warfield, Duchess of Windsor.



 


Series III. Photographs, 1900-1920
0.3125 linear ft. (12 folders and 1 videotape)

Arranged alphabetically and thereunder chronologically. Material includes original photographs of Thurber and Ranger, Texas, in the early 1900's as well as photocopies of photographs taken at that time; and photocopies of photographs depicting roads paved with Thurber brick.
Box Folder
1 21 Hotel Worth Photograph, 1917
One photograph of the participants of the meeting between the miners and operators at the Hotel Worth, August 20, 1917.
22 Nita Haley Memorial Library Photographs, ca. 1918
Photographs of Thurber, Texas, at the height of its mining operation.
23 Photocopies, 1917-1919
Photocopies of 3×5's in next folder with many of the people photographed identified.
24 Ranger Photographs, ca. 1920
Photocopies of photographs of Ranger, Texas. Originals are at the Nita Haley Memorial Library.
Box Folder
2 1 Ranger, Texas, 1917-1919
3×5 photographs depicting life in Ranger, Texas.
2 Ranger, Texas, 1917-1919
8×10 photographs depicting life in Ranger, Texas, and negatives of photos in this file and the one preceding it.
3 Thurber Brick Photographs, ca. 1910
Photocopies of photographs of streets paved with Thurber Brick. Original photographs are at the Nita Haley Memorial Library.
4 Thurber Brick Plant Photographs, ca. 1900
Photocopies of photographs of the Thurber Brick Plant around the turn of the twentieth century. Original photographs are at the Nita Haley Memorial Library.
5 Thurber Coal Mine Photographs, ca. 1910
Photocopies of photographs of the Thurber Coal Mines at the height of their operation. Original photographs are at the Nita Haley Memorial Library.
6 Thurber Photographs, ca. 1910
Photocopies of photographs of Thurber, Texas, in its heyday. Original photographs are at the Nita Haley Memorial Library.
7 Thurber Photographs, n.d.
Two photographs of the building that at one time housed the Texas & Pacific Coal Company Store and offices. Photographs were taken after a fire had gutted the building.
8 W. K. Gordon and Ranger, ca. 1918
Photographs of W. K. Gordon, Sr., and Ranger, Texas.
Thurber Views, n.d.
Videotape of an early work of cinematography highlighting the successful coal operation in Thurber, Texas. The step-by-step process of brick making in the plant at Thurber is also shown. This silent film appears to be an early public relations effort to attract new business and residents to Thurber.