Though drilling began as early as 1866, the Texas oil boom really began with the gusher at Spindletop in 1901 and continued into the 1940s, when the Texas Railroad Commission was finally able to stabilize production. Natural resource booms tend to bring bad behavior in their wake, and oil was no exception. For years swindlers made a mint fleecing faraway investors with promises of oil riches, often backed up by a flood of maps, pamphlets, broadsides and letters, all promising gushers of liquid gold just around the corner.
Offered here is a striking map related to one such swindle, in Wichita Falls, North Texas, along the Red River border with Oklahoma. Promoter H. A. Langford seems to have been one Hosea Andrew Langford (1874-1926), a native of Georgia who headed west to find his fortune in the Oklahoma and Texas oilfields (References to him in Ranger, Texas and Muskogeee, Oklahoma both refer to him as an oil worker.) He should not be confused with W. S. Langford, a legitimate operator responsible for much of Wichita Falls’ oil boom.
Around 1918 or 1919 H. A. Langford established the Langford Oil & Development Company in Wichita Falls, enlisting among others C. H., E. M. and James W. Davidson as officers. All appear in local directories as living in rooming houses; for example James W. Davidson lived at 901 ½ 7th Street, which a helpful researcher in Wichita Falls recently described to me as “a flop-house.” The firm itself appears in the city directory for 1920 only, with its address given at the Oil Exchange Building at 721A Ohio Street, the “roughest street in Wichita Falls,” “where small-time operators could rent offices.”
The full range of the Company’s activities are unclear, but one of Langford’s tactics was to engage dupes as investors and agents for the sale of stock subscriptions. I recently handled an archive of material owned by one A. C. Harris in the small southwestern Virginia town of Pennington Gap. Those letters, reports, brochures, letters and other material traced a sad arc, beginning with breathless “news” about the Company’s ongoing drilling efforts and ending with a 1921 letter from the Texas Railroad Commission stating that there is no record of the Company having engaged in drilling activities in Texas.
Offered here is an undated blueprint map, also from the A. C. Harris archive, promoting the Langford Company and its holdings, also from the A. C. Harris material. Really four maps in one, it is a striking piece of persuasive cartography. Occupying the entire left half is a small-scale map of several dozen counties along the Red River border between Oklahoma and Texas. The map depicts county boundaries and towns, with oil fields indicated by clusters of white dots, including the Kemp-Munger-Allen, Burk Burnett, Electra and Park Fields in Wichita County. Derricks indicating wells being drilled, one of which—the Kemp-Munger-Allen—is shown gushing oil. Wells owned, or at least said to be owned, by Langford are highlighted with white circles, each connected to the title cartouche by dramatic white “swooshes” reminiscent of octopus legs.
At lower right is a larger-scale, circular map of the Wichita Falls area, and just to the left and above that are two other larger scale maps of areas along the Red River. Property boundaries and landowners are indicated, again with derricks depicting wells and Langford parcels circled. The map at upper right features two dozen gushing wells, though on closer inspection it becomes clear that none are on land owned by the Langford Company!
Printed material related to Langford’s oil fraud appears to be extremely rare: as of October 2018 I find nothing listed in OCLC. This map is entirely unrecorded, though the aforementioned A. C. Harris archive included a slightly variant state, lacking the “2487 ACRES” notation in the title.
References and acknowledgment
Not in OCLC (as of Oct. 2018), Antique Map Price Record, or RareBookHub. Thanks to Bill E. Steward, Archivist for the Wichita County Archives for help tracking down H.A. Langford.