THE HISTORY OF FORSAN, TEXAS
This paper was written in 1970 by Joyce Baggett
Forsan, a small town with a population of about four hundred, is located in the extreme southern part of Howard county. It is at the southern edge of the Llano Estacado in West Texas and is about twelve miles south of Big Spring. The altitude in Howard county is 2,397 feet, rainfall averages nineteen inches, and the mean annual temperature is sixty-four degrees.
The town of Forsan has an interesting connection with the discovery of oil in the area. C. V. Wash recalls that in 1917, at the age of sixteen, when he made a trip from Brady to Big Spring with his father, there were two or three wells being drilled in the area. He traveled in a T-Model Ford over a dirt ranch road to state highway number nine (now eighty-seven), also a dirt road that crooked it's way to Big Spring.
In 1919, a well was drilled on the Douthit Ranch about fifteen miles south of the present town of Forsan. This well had a good showing of oil and land began to be leased for a reasonable price.
With the discovery and production of the first oil well on November 9, 1925, oil companies began to buy leases in the area. The Otis Chalk, number one, came in on June 26, 1926, and the search for oil was on the boom.
It was announced on May 25, 1928, that the town-site of Forsan was being placed on the market. The town-site was located on the ranch of Clayton Stewart. An office was set up and lots ware sold fast and furiously for twenty-five dollars each, on a first come, first served basis. Merle Stewart, son of the late Clayton Stewart, still owns some of the lots in Forsan. Today, lots may be purchased for as little as ten dollars or the payment of the back taxes against the lots.
By December, 1928, the fast growing town had been officially named Forsan. The name was derived from the fact that four paying oil sands were believed to be present in the area.
Forsan became a most progressive boom town and attracted people, seeking a fortune, from various section of the country. Hundreds of people sought employment and tried to purchase oil leases; however, the major companies such as Continental, Humble, Sun, Shell, Cosden, and Magnolia secured most of the leases.
As the town began to flourish, cafes sprang up like mushroom's to accommodate the needs of the hundreds of laboring oil field workers. Large tents, which offered sleeping facilities for fifty cents a night, were quickly erected. Many families built their own tents and heated them with kerosene stoves. The tents had dirt floors and were about fourteen feet by fourteen feet in size. Later, a wooden floor and half walls were added for more warmth.
From the very beginning, Forsan had a good supply of water that was secured from a deep water well located just behind the Baptist Church. It supplied enough water to meet the needs of all the people.
Most of the women did the usual work around the house. They cooked on kerosene stoves or wood stoves, using mesquite wood for fuel. Later, the more convenient oil stove was substituted. The family laundry was done with the old-fashioned wash pot and rub board. The men often rigged up a washing machine on the oil well pumps to wash their oily clothes.
By 1929, people began to settle down more and built one and two room shacks for their dwellings. Buildings wore erected by the dozens. By 1930, the oil companies began to build houses on their leases for their workmen and their families. The tent hotels or cot houses gave way to the more elaborate hotels. Those were two-story frame buildings with about twenty or thirty rooms. Each small room was equipped with a double bed, a table which held a water pitcher and. wash basin, and a chair. One bathroom, with bathing facilities only, cared for all the hotel's occupants. At first, small kerosene heaters provided the heat, but later natural gas was piped into the buildings. Rates were one dollar a day. The four hotels in Forsan were the Conger Hotel, Texas Hotel, Botelion Hotel, and the Honeymoon Hotel, where all the newly weds lived. After the boom was over, these hotels were torn down and the lumber was used to build houses.
In 1929, there were eight cafes in town, with each doing a mammoth business. Frenchy’ cafe was considered the "Stork Club" of the oil field. This building was later purchased by the Baptist Church for an education building.
Mr. and Mrs. Alexander opened the first grocery store in 1927. Later two more grocery stores were built. Mr. and Mrs. Charley Coulson also opened a drug store in 1927. A second one was built by Jim Howard in 1928. The Hall Drug Store also helped to meet the needs of the people.
The town even had a bakery and three dry goods store's. Sam Schmerman, owner of one of the dry goods stores, did banking for the people. He would cash checks for a nominal fee and also accept deposits. The main banking, however, was done in Big Spring.
Two dairies delivered raw milk to the customer's door every day. There were also two tailor shops for cleaning and pressing of clothes and five gasoline stations. Two machine shops, the Southwest Machine Shop and the Texas Machine Shop, and several oil well supply houses were in operation. Mr. Willbur Dunn ran the only hardware store from 1928 to 1950.
The American Torpedo Company was located at the present site of the Forsan Post Office. A one cell jail cared for the less fortunate who could not be taken to the county jail in Big Spring.
With the ever increasing population came the demand for medical care and attention. Dr. Hall built the first hospital that was located directly east of the present post office. Dr. J. D. Singleton, a young, unmarried surgeon just out of intern duty, was the supervisor and manager. He had the assistance of one nurse, a Mrs. Brown. There were eight rooms, including an emergency room and living quarters for the personnel.
Dr. Langworth's hospital was located on the east side of town about three blocks down the street. Most of the patients were oil field accidents requiring first aid or someone suffering from "Jake-leg". This was a term applied to those who were victims of drinking too much ginger extract, which had a very high alcoholic content, or boot-leg whiskey. The sale of alcoholic beverages was not legal at that time. The town also had a dentist by the name of Dr. Jenkins.
The Forsan Post Office was approved in February, 1929, and opened for business on March 5, 1929. The first postmaster was Mrs. Jack Arnold. The post office had one window and no boxes. Mail time was an important time with men and women standing in line and waiting for their turn to ask, "Any mail for John Doe?"
When Mrs. Arnold resigned in l933, Mrs. Vera Harris was appointed as postmaster. She served for thirty-five years until her retirement on January 31, 1968. At the present time the office is operating with a clerk in charge, pending the appointment of another postmaster. A new building for the post office has been approved and will be built one block west of the present location.
As the town grew, there was more demand for entertainment. A picture show, that held approximately one hundred people, was built in the main part of town on Rex street, that ran north and south. At one time the businessmen of Forsan paid Jimmy Rogers, an old singing star, two hundred dollars to give two performances in the theatre. Regardless of the movie showing, there was always a large crowd waiting to gain admittance.
There were two dance clubs or halls, with string band music beating out the Charleston or two-step. Domino halls were always busy, with poker playing and gambling being enjoyed in the more secluded quarters. Cock fighting was another of those entertainments that was held in secrecy, but which took many oil field worker's weekly pay.
Miller Nichols, a faithful lawmen and now a retired farmer of Knott, Texas, had to be called to stop many of the brawls that led to fightings and shootings. Many old timers recall the mysterious murders that left no clues. Was it no wonder, then, that the more conservative citizen was happy to remain in his one-room oil shack away from the boom town frolic.
Many afternoons the company baseball teams played to enthusiastic crowds. The rivalry sometimes became rather heated, but the games went on until championship was decided. Merrick-Bristow Company and the Magnolia Oil Company seemed to be the most frequent winners.
During the early depression years of 1929 and 1930, the going was not always easy for Forsan, but it slowly inched forward. At this time oil sold for as little as ten cents a barrel and wages for a roustabout were as low as fifty cents a day. Humble Oil Company, one of the largest oil companies in Texas at that time, paid one hundred and twenty-five dollars a month. Their working days were three days one week and four days the next week. This was about the best salary an oil field laborer could receive.
With the people placing their values on cars instead of homes or other things, transportation was important to them. Cars, mainly Model T and Model A, crowded up and down the dirt main street. One had to drive slowly because of the numerous holes in the street. The main road leading out of Forsan was a dirt ranch road in a north west direction toward Big Spring. This connected with the dirt state highway number nine (now eighty-seven) that was paved in 1934 or 1935. In the 1950's, a three-mile stretch of road was paved from Forsan due west to highway eighty-seven. Another farm road exits to the south east from the town and goes to Ross City, Otis Chalk, and on to Coahoma and Colorado City.
On March 25, 1961, Forsan elected the first mayor and city council in the history of the town. In a previous election, the town had voted for incorporation. C. J. Lamb, a long-time resident and an employee of the Continental Oil Company, was elected mayor. J. B. Anderson, C. B. Long, A. P. Oglesby, Bob Wash, and Woodrow Scudday were elected to the city council to serve with the mayor, and Leland Camp became the first city marshal.
Even before Forsan became a town, ranching was very important in the area. John Roberts, owner of a twenty-nine section ranch, just each of Forsan, was one of the pioneer cattlemen of Western Texas. His success in business and his extensive dealings and large ownership of lands gave him much prominence throughout the state.
Born in 1849 in Lamar County, Texas, Mr. Roberts resided in West Texas from 1877, when he went to Mitchell county, until his death on September 23, 1909. The cattle business assumed importance with him at an early age. His ranch was one of the best equipped and improved in the area and he converted a part of. it to farming land, orchards, and grain fields.
Mr. Roberts’ son, also named John, married Mrs. Dora (Nunn) Griffin, whose two children by her former marriage, Dochia and Mittie, were now a part of the Roberts household. With the marriage of their daughters, the ranch has, in later years, become known as the Garrett Ranch. The beautiful two-story ranch home is still maintained as it was in earlier years. Even though Mrs. Garrett lives in Big Spring, the family enjoys frequent visits to the ranch for a nice swim in the pool and a change of mood from the city life.
The Otis Chalk Ranch was begun when Mr. Chalk purchased one section of land upon his arrival in this country in the very early 1900's. With good management and hard work on the part of he and his wife, Mary, a sister of Mrs. Dora Roberts, they had acquired quite a sizable twenty-one section ranch by 1925. In about 1927, Mr. Chalk erected a nice sized building to be used as a school and a community church. Quite a little boom town, first called Chalkton, had sprung up as a result of much oil activity. It was not until 1939 that a post office was established with Miss Helen Splain (later Mrs. D. A. Oglesby), as the first postmaster. After five years, Mrs. H. H. Story was appointed as postmaster and has served the twenty-four years since that time.
By the time of World War II, the community had begun to dwindle and because of scarcity of teachers, the children were transferred to Forsan.
Several other ranches are still maintained in the Forsan area. Sheep ranching is the primary concern because the terrain is rocky and buffalo grass grows well in the area. Beef cattle, however, are of much importance to the rancher.
The first efforts to improve the moral and spiritual standards of the people of Forsan was made by the First Baptist Church in 1929. The Reverend B. G. Richburg of Big Spring went to Forsan to preach in the little two-room school house and saw the need for a Baptist Church. In the spring of 1929, the church was organized with less than ten members; however, within a very short time the membership more than doubled. A large cafe building was soon purchased and remodeled for the church building.
Brother J. 0. Heath of Garden City, Texas, was called as the first pastor and accepted as a fourth-time preacher. Reverend Horace Goodman served during the year of 1931 and then Reverend A. E. Travis began service as a fourth-time pastor in 1932. It was under his leadership that the church became a full-time church and Mrs. Travis was instrumental in beginning the Womer’s Missionary Union in 1933.
In 1934, Brother Walter Dever accepted the call of the church and successfully began the men's Brotherhood organization. The tall preacher, Brother Aubrey Short, was called as a half-time preacher in 1936 and later became full-time.
The present church building was built under the leadership of Reverend A. T. Willis in 1939. Other pastors to serve during the years were the Reverends Marvin Leach, H. G. Wiens, Julius M. Stagner, Darrell Robinson, Mac Robinson, a Reverend Byrd and a Reverend Lee. The present pastor is Reverend Virgil Drewery.
The Church of Christ first began meeting in the school building in the summer of 193l. There were about eight families to attend in the beginning. In the fall or early winter of that year, the church purchased the building that is now the city hall.
About five years later, the church had increased in membership so much that it became evident that the place of worship was becoming inadequate. The present building was then erected, with additions being added two years later. In the history of the Church of Christ, it has never missed a Sunday for worship.
The Forsan Methodist Church was organized in November, 1950, with thirty-nine charter members. The church building is the original building that Mr. Chalk had built for the school and church at Otis Chalk. Mrs. Chalk gave the building to the church after the death of Mr. Chalk.
The first pastor of the Forsan Methodist Church was the Reverend R. L. Bowman, now retired. Charter members were: George O'Barr, Mr. and Mrs. C. A. Ballard, Mr. And Mrs. B. D. Caldwell, Mrs. R. R. Young, Vernon Lee Gandy, Doris McElrath, Mark Nasworthy, Mr. and Mrs. Ott King, Patsy King, Mr. and Mrs. Howard Story, Nancy Lou Story, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Houstis, 0. D. Smith, Jr., Mrs. V. W. Hedgepath, Mr. and Mrs. L. W. Jones, Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Jones, Mrs. Ozro Allison, Mary Lou McElrath, Mr. and Mrs. L. B. McElrath, Mrs. Frank Andrews, Mrs. W. B. Dunn, Mr. and Mrs. Glen Wittenberg, Mrs. M. J. Bearden, Ramsey Bearden, Mrs. A. P. Oglesby, Mr. and Mrs. Hamlin Elrod, Mr. and Mrs. E. J. Maxwell, and Mrs. G. L. Monroney.
Forsan school first opened it's doors in 1928 with two rooms, which was sufficient space to take care of the beginners only. Two young sisters, Martha and Daisey Ross from Houston, Texas, braved the dangers to begin the first school. The enrollment grew so rapidly that a third teacher, Miss Constance Gushing, Big Spring, and another room were added before the term was over.
The following summer three more rooms were added to the original structure, and the beginners were moved to another building which had been erected on the north side of the present school ground. The second year began with Mr. J. B. Bolin as superintendent and five teachers. The teachers were Mrs. Bolin, Mr. and Mrs. Hatten, Mrs. Charlie Seale, also a Camp Fire Girl leader, and Miss Rainwater. Each year the school became larger and a high school was added.
The first graduating class was in 1933, with Mr. L. L. Martin as superintendent. Members of the graduating class were; Lillian Thames; Roland Howard, present address, Big Spring; O. W. Scudday, present address, Forsan; Illa Young, now Mrs. Bud Smith, Stephenville; and Earlene Fielder, present address, Big Spring.
It was also in the year of 1933 that the citizens of Forsan and the oil companies donated enough money to build a gymnasium, one of the first in the area. The trustees of the school at that time were J. I. McCasslin, President, R. M. Brown, T. M. Hammer, J. E. Hall, and Frank Seale. A sketch of the school at that time may be found in the appendix.
A band was organized and both boys and girls basketball were enjoyed. Students also competed with other schools in the county in the declamation and softball events. With the onset of World War II, many of the activities came to an end, including the band.
It was during the year of 1946, that the Otis Chalk school consolidated with Forsan. This gave Forsan school it's first major growth in it's history.
The Forsan Common School District as it was called in 1949, covered an area of one hundred and thirty square miles. It was the top common school property in the county. The school plant included a new brick school building that was constructed in 1948 at a cost of approximately $l75,000. The new gymnasium was built in 1949 at a cost of about $80,000.
There were eight teacherages (still in use today) and the school operated four school busses. Sixteen teachers made up the faculty and conducted classed through the high school level. High school pupils from Elbow attended classes at Forsan. The sportsminded citizens of Forsan even provided a lighted and sodded playing field for the high school football team.
The second major growth of the school was in 1960, when the Elbow Common School consolidated with Forsan Independent School District to create a new school by the name of Forsan County Line Independent School District. At the time of consolidation, Elbow had eight grades with four classrooms, a gymnasium and auditorium combination, a school lunchroom, and four teacherages that are still in use.
In order that both school plants could be used, the Elbow plant housed the elementary grades from one to four and the Forsan plant housed grades five through twelve. Transportation to the school has been the main complication in having two schools that are eleven miles apart. The school was accredited by the Texas Education Agency in 1961. The present school boundaries are best described with the use of a county school district map, located in the appendix.
When the Office of School Surveys and Studies of the University of Texas made a survey of the Howard county schools in 1961, the following statement concerning Forsan school was most important: "It is impossible to conceive a modern secondary school without a full time library, amply stocked with books''. The goal of a full time library was achieved during the 1963-69 school year; however, acquisition of books is a never ending process.
Forsan school enjoys sufficient space for a good learning situation to exist. During the summer of 1967, a new auditorium, homemaking department, language laboratory, graphics laboratory, and an industrial arts department were completed as additions to the school. Six new classrooms were added to the elementary school building. The library was remodeled, as well as the other classrooms.
A bond was passed in the spring of 1969 for additions to the school. These will include a new gymnasium and eight to ten new brick teacherages at the Forsan campus and two or three new teacherages and additional classrooms at the Elbow campus. The school board is considering building the new gymnasium over the existing swimming pool so it may be utilized during the school year. A section in the appendix entitled Forsan and Elbow Schools; Their Future has been included to show the present school campus and the proposed additions.
At the present time, the school employs twenty-seven teachers and three administrators. There are approximately four hundred students from grades one through twelve, and the average daily attendance for 1968-69 was three hundred and eighty-eight. There are two teachers with more than thirty years of experience with the Forsan Schools. With a record such as this, the author feels that special recognition should be given them. They are Mrs. Clarie B. Conger and Mrs. Thetus Dunagan, both elementary school teachers.
The curriculum of the schools is heavy on college prepatory courses. Science, math, and English are stressed more than any others; however, the students still find a place for the electives of their choice from industrial education, homemaking, Spanish, band, geography, typing, shorthand, bookkeeping, advanced science and math courses, speech and journalism.
Extra-curricula activities play an important, part at Forsan. Sports, mainly football and basketball, take precedence over the clubs such as Future Homemakers of America, Future Teachers of America, Spanish Club, Math Club, and Coin and Stamp Club. The school mascot, Buffaloes, was very appropriately selected as buffalo herds grazed in the Forsan area many years ago. The school colors are black and white.
Because Forsan would probably have never been in existance without the activity of oil in the area, the author feels a special story should be devoted to the oil development.
Many oil tests drilled in Howard county in. the 1920’s were unsuccessful. Like the "South Sea Bubble", many booms came in with a bang and soon faded out, leaving the participants wiser and poorer. In practically all wildcatting in the area, sufficient evidence of oil was found to induce others to continue the quest for oil. The Fred Hyer number one Clay well, which came in first in the county, with an initial production of twenty-five barrels daily, offered the first real hope. This well is located four miles south east of Forsan.
When Mr. Hyer was asked why he picked that particular location for the well, he replied: "We all know that this was along a geological ridge. General Oil Company had drilled a well to the north on the Bud Roberts' Ranch and had got crape (a tar-like shale). The same thing happened in the Cushing Development well on the Cushing Ranch to the south. I figured this was just about in-between.”
Mr. Hyer had a lot of experience in the oil industry in Indiana, California, and Oklahoma. After acquiring some production in Texas, he opened an office in Fort Worth. H. R. Clay, who had ranch holdings in Howard and Glasscock counties, was located just across the hall. With his encouragement, Mr. Hyer decided to drill a well on the property.
He dismantled a rig at Breckenridge and shipped it to the location. A crew from the Westbrook, Texas, field put the timber and rig iron together and built a cook shack, crew bunkhouse, and the dog house for the rig. A one-lung Franklin diesel engine was set up for the power.
Materials for the well were hauled by team by George (Booger) Willcox over an old ranch road which went out through the Silver Heels addition of Big Spring and merged with the Roberts' Ranch and down through a draw to the location. The country was lonesome and it took about three months to set up the rig and drill.
Mr. Hyer also told the story about when he tried to borrow water from a nearby ranch, but the rancher threatened to shoot him. He was saved by a two and one-half inch September downpour that turned a dry creek bed into a lake.
No one ever got very excited about his work until he went to Houston for a meeting with the Humble Oil and Refining Company. He was successful in selling two offsetting quarters for twelve dollars and fifty cents an acre. Word spread quickly by this time and oil companies even went to the well location to try to secure leases.
It was at 1,508 feet that the formation changed and within four feet, oil came up on the night of November 9, 1925. By noon the next day, there were one hundred wagons and cars parked around the rig. The pay zone was called the Hyer sand in honor of the discoverer, but was a stringer off the Queen pay zone.
The next spring, April 19, 1926, S. S. Owen and S. S. Sloan spudded in their number one Otis Chalk well. Also in the Queen section, pay was hit at 1,577 feet and it began to produce on June 26, 1926. This well triggered the development of oil to a boom.
Near the remnants of old Ross City, which at one time was a "rip-roarin" oil settlement, is the location of the third well in the area on the Lamb lease. The well was so good that it flowed. After that the wells came so fast that no one was able to keep up with the number.
In 1949, there were forty-three wells rated at over one thousand barrels per day and of these, six had a potential of two thousand barrels per day. The highest producing well on record at that time was Continental’s S. T. Eason, number three, which was rated at 3,125 barrels per day. In 1949, the Howard-Glasscock field had a total of nine hundred and seventy producing wells with a potential of 159,490 barrels per day and a daily allowable of 14,860.
With the boom, many oil companies came into the area. The major companies built camps on their leases that provided housing accommodations for eight to twenty-five families. These were all taken by the superintendents, farm bosses and clerks. There were also "poor-boy" rows where other employees could build their own two-room shack for about $230.00 each.
Continental had the largest oil camp and it was located near Ross City. Bob Cowley recalls riding the old wooden school bus called ''Old Misery" from the Cosden camp to school at Forsan in 1928.
It would be impossible to list all of the oil companies located in the oil field; however, some of the major ones are: Continental, Mobil, Humble, Gulf, Shell, Sun, Sunray DX, Union, American Petro-Fina, and City Services.
The main paying oil sands in the Howard-Glasscock field are the Yates at approximately 1,300 feet, the Queen at approximately 1,900 feet, the San Andres at approximately 2,600 feet, and the Clear Fork at approximately 3,000 feet.
One might ask the question--just what is the future of oil in the Howard-Glasscock field? The size of the field is significant, as it is about thirty-five miles long and one mile wide at the widest part. It extends about ten miles to the west of Forsan and about twenty-five miles to the north east of town. Many people feel that the greatest oil boom there has ever been in the area is going on right now.
The Clear Fork is believed to be almost depleted because it was the largest producer during the boom. Yates is approximately seventy-five percent depleted. The San Andres is the largest section left, but the oil is difficult to obtain from this pay sand.
With the invention of waterflooding, where water is pumped into the well and the oil floats on top, the oil is easier to obtain. Nevertheless, millions of barrels of oil still remain below the surface of the earth in this area. A new technique called fire flooding is still in the research stage and may prove effective in the future.
Today, there are two main businesses in Forsan that are connected with the oil industry. The Forsan Oil Well Service, Inc. employs approximately forty-five people and has three employers. They maintain ten rigs for oil well service. Their main work involves completing the wells after the drilling rigs move off and general maintenance of oil wells.
The Forsan Roustabouts and Construction, Inc. has approximately forty-eight employees and three employers. The corporation began in 1962 with one truck and $150.00. Ten roustabout gangs are operated each day, four pulling units, as well as a hot oiler, a vacuum truck, and dirt go equipment of all kinds.
Forsan of today is a rather quiet town as compared with it in the beginning. Two gasoline stations, three churches, a post office, a welding shop, a cafe, and two oil well servicing businesses make up the business section of town. The city hall is also located across the street from the post office. Most shopping is done in Big Spring, just a twenty minute drive from Forsan. Were it not for the school, activities would be very few in the town.
Even though the town may not be as popular and prosperous today as it once was, the people of Forsan make it a pleasant place in which to live. In fact, they are of the caliber which made America great.
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