Lee Allen McLemore (1903-1965)

Lee Allen McLemore was the son of a oil strike wild-catter and the father of a multi-national corporation executive. His life bridged the wildest years of the oil boom, it’s crash during the Depression and then the economic surge after the Second World War.

His father was Jacob Mac McLemore and his son was Charlie McLemore.

Lee Allen might be seen as having been over-shadowed by both of these other men but he was a capable and resilient individual who made it possible for both his father and his son to realize their dreams.

His life was cut short by a oil rig accident, he died at the age of 62 when a over-pressurized well exploded.

“Oil City”

Charlie McLemore, Jake’s father, talks about growing up in his hometown of Oil City, Louisiana. During the first decades of the 20th century oil was discovered in Texas and Louisiana and until the Depression forced the speculation to pause, fortunes were made and lost. Oil City and the McLemore family were a small part of that history.

Oil City
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Oil City is my home
Ain’ pretty but I belong
Grey and gritty, right or wrong
Oil City is my home

Aught-five oil came from the ground
Oil City was a wildcat town
Wooden sidewalks and hitching posts
Boom towns ain’ got no ghosts

Aught-six grandpa McLemore
Had a little money but wanted more
Oil City was where grandpa came
Gamblin’ on the big oil game

Oil City is my home …

Few years pass and the fever died
Were other towns, other strikes
1917 it almost burned down
The whores all left town

Dad went to work at J.M Guffey
We stayed in Oil City
Grandpa went broke in the Depression
Kept chasin’ oil, died in Odessa

Oil City is my home …

© 2018 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP)

Charles Taylor “Charlie” McLemore (1921-2001)

Jake McLemore’s father was Charles Taylor “Charlie” McLemore.

Charlie grew up during the depression, traveling with his father, Lee Allen, on trains, with other hobos, with the putative goal of finding work. When the crash hit the oil industry, it took longer than for most other industries, but eventually the bottom fell out of the oil business in 1932. The wells were capped and the rigs hauled away, leaving the men who had depended upon the work stranded in small oil patch towns with no other opportunities for work. Many of them joined the large numbers of itinerant men riding the rails. Some looked for work but many had given up and made do as best they could.

But when we think of hobos riding in boxcars we don’t usually think of children doing the same thing. But when families had no money, little food and nothing on the horizon, they simply sent their children away to fend for themselves, as best they could.

“At the height of the Depression, as many as a million teenagers traveled the rails looking for work and community, moving in vagabond packs and living in hobo jungles, finding both charity and brutality in the broken-back cities of America. They crowded the cars and hid down in the tenders where the coal and water were stored; they squeezed between cars and clung atop their bucking roofs. In 1932, about 75 percent of the nearly six hundred thousand transients on the Southern Pacific line through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona were under the age of twenty-five.”

“Fathers, and sometimes sons, stayed in the network of “jungles” along the route, tucked amid the timber and hidden from view. Each camp had its own division of labor—one person went into town to find a potato for soup while another brought salt or an extra spoon. Pots and pans hung from tree branches; crude shelters were made from cardboard or tin scrap and sometimes built up in the trees. Pocketknives were like gold in the jungles. Blades were “hired out” in exchange for soap or a bowl of stew. In a pinch, a knife could be traded for a pair of shoes or sold for cash. Men cooked possums and jackrabbits caught in snares along the brush lines and traded their hides for food.” (Mealer, Bryan. The Kings of Big Spring: God, Oil, and One Family’s Search for the American Dream. 2018.)

This was the kind of life Charlie McLemore lived during his childhood.

Charlie and his father worked picking cotton in California for a few weeks and also fruit when they could. They managed to work just enough to feed themselves, as well as, put a little aside. Eventually they got back to Oil City just as things were starting to come back.

By the time World War II started, and a need for oil exploded, Charlie was in his late teens. His father got work immediately at a refinery and from then on, the Lee McLemore family did okay.

Charlie went into the oil business as well, but oil was not the only resource product that supported the Oil City economy. Natural gas was even more abundant and Charlie got a job at United Gas Corporation, headquartered in Shreveport, Louisiana, and moved his family there in 1960 a year after Jake was born.

Charlie worked at United Gas and survived the hostile takeover by Pennzoil in 1968, and became part of the management of Pennzoil United, Inc. He did pretty well, well enough to send his son Jake to Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

Retiring at the age of 70 in 1991, Charlie lived long enough to see Jake get married and have children.  Charles Taylor McLemore died in 2001 at the age of 80 from a heart attack a few months before 9/11, and several years before his grandson Lee’s death in 2004 in Iraq.

Despite surviving the Great Depression by riding the rails with his father, he was among the generation that experienced the economic boom after WWII.  Charlie McLemore saw nothing in his lifetime that undermined his faith in the American Dream.  A dream he lived out to the fullest.

Jacob Mac McLemore (1879-1977)

Jacob Mac McLemore made and lost more money than any of the McLemore men. When he was fifteen he heard about the 1894 oil strike in East Texas. He started at the bottom working any job he could get, eventually learning enough to strike out on his own.

 

Jacob Mac McLemore never knew his father, who had been an outlaw-gunslinger who died a few months before he was born.  Sam Summers McLemore (1852-1878) never even knew the 16-year old whore, Sally McCune, he was living with was pregnant when he went out in the street to face a younger and what turned out to be faster boy.  Jacob was raised by Sally, who eventually was able to quit the life and lived out her days running a boarding house in Fort Worth.   There’s some who say it was more than a boarding house, but others deny those rumors.

Indians found oil seeping from the soils of Texas long before the first Europeans arrived. They told explorers that the fluid had medicinal values. The first record of Europeans using crude oil, however, was for the caulking of boats in 1543 by survivors of the DeSoto expedition near Sabine Pass.

Melrose, in Nacogdoches County, was the site in 1866 of the first drilled well to produce oil in Texas. Other oil was found in crudely dug wells in Bexar County in 1889 and in Hardin County in 1893. But it was not until June 9, 1894, that Texas had a major discovery. This occurred in the drilling of a water well for the city of Corsicana. Oil caused that well to be abandoned, but a company formed in 1895 drilled several producing oil wells.

Jacob Mac was 15 when the Corsicana oil came in, and for the next sixty years he chased strikes all over Texas and Louisiana. He might make some money here, then invest it somewhere else only to see his investment evaporate in the dusty Texas wind.

 

Jacob was married and divorced four times, the last near the end of his life and the one which really broke him. Of the four marriages, only the first produced any children, one boy, Lee Allen (1903-1989), and a girl, Aurelia.  Lee Allen was Jake McLemore’s grandfather.

If you were to ask those who knew him, what they would tell you about Jacob Mac McLemore was that, first and foremost, he was a decent man whose word was his bond. No one ever knew him to brag or lie and that he never made a deal that he did not keep, and usually made his partners money.

He died at the age of 98, dying peacefully in his sleep in an Odessa, Texas hospital room with his great-grandson, Jake, by his side. You might say that Jacob Mac lived an interesting life, but despite not enjoying consistent good luck he was always in good humor and very good company.