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Shutting Down Bloody Borger

“A dastardly crime of a low-life assassin”

. . .  said Texas Governor Dan Moody in describing the murder of District Attorney John Holmes, who was shot dead in his front yard. The DA had committed his life to fight crime in Borger, Texas, a community in the middle of the Texas Panhandle, which boomed to around 30,000 people in one month because of the discovery of oil. The term “oil patch” came from the young workers who provided the man power to develop the discovery wells. These hard-workers were primarily from the “cotton patch”, local farm boys enthralled with an opportunity to make real cash money and live in a town that never went to sleep. 

But, something had to be done about Borger.

Asa Borger’s town grew in population with those who were drawn to the 800 producing wells pumping 165,000 barrels a day. Also known as “Booger Town” the area struggled with lawlessness and violence.

Governor Moody’s instructions to Brigadier General Jacob F. Wolters were, “Keep your preparations secret, and tell your men to do the same.” The primary task at hand was to infiltrate the town of Borger and declare martial law.

General Wolters was no stranger to boom towns. He had a reputation for success with strikes, race riots, and handling lawless conditions, particularly in new oil areas.

Under Wolters’ orders, commanding officers of the 112th and 124th Cavalry were told to select twelve officers and eighty enlisted men. Wolters specifically asked for men “who were unmarried, who had no dependents and who were dependable young men both in military and civil life.”

Troop commanders and the chosen officers selected their enlisted men. A Dallas detachment were bused to the 112th Calvary Armory at Fort Worth. Eight days after the death of D.A. Holmes, General Wolters requested two automobiles, two trucks and two ambulances to be delivered to Fort Worth under the cover of night. “M Day” was set for 9 AM, Sunday, September 29, 1929.

After boarding the train in Fort Worth, the soldiers made a stop in Waco where members of the press had gathered. Despite the efforts to keep the operation under wraps, word had leaked. When asked where they were headed, soldiers replied, “We don’t know.”

In the pre-dawn hours of Monday, September 30, a train of baggage cars, three Pullmans, and freighters pulled into Amarillo. Breakfast was served at the Santa Fe Station, after which the men put on their uniforms. The train arrived in Borger at 8:30 a.m. where ten Texas Rangers were already in place.

General Wolters wrote, “In every situation where military authority is used to aid the civil power things occur that have either a good or a bad psychological effect. They are, in common parlance, the ‘breaks’ of the game. We had just such a break at Borger. Within one minute after the troops had detrained, a drunk man approached one of the guards. He was promptly put under arrest. This occurrence, in the presence of spectators, had a good psychological effect, however minor the incident was.”

Detachments of officers and men were sent to city hall and MPs were stationed at all city street intersections. Another group of soldiers and Texas Rangers drove to Stinnett to disarm all sheriffs’ department personnel. Patrols were sent throughout the city. Members of the police force and constables were disarmed, their uniforms and badges were taken away. City offices, and all records, books and papers of the city of Borger fell under the authority of Provost Marshal, Colonel Louis S. Davidson.

Illegal stills were closed, bootleg whiskey and beer were confiscated, and soldiers began searching for weapons. Raids were conducted twenty-four hours a day, with some businesses being targeted within hours of the first raid. “Sundown” orders were issued to every undesirable, man and woman alike; be out of town before sundown or else.

Due to the deplorable conditions for the law-abiding, the reaction was certainly applauded. Hard-working citizens could get back to the business of developing much needed oil and gas.

Even the criminals realized the potential of Borger. The ousted mayor, Glenn A. Pace, offered this prophesy: “Borger is another Pittsburgh, Pa., in the making…With the fuel and water found at Borger, there is no influence in the world that can retard her growth or keep her from making the leading manufacturing city in the Southwest.”

The area around Borger later became one of the largest petrochemical producers in the state.


To learn more about town builder Asa Borger and his oil field town, give a listen to the Wise About Texas podcast by Judge Wise.

For more about the oil boom town of Borger, I highly recommend  Black Gold & Red Lights by Jerry Sinise.

Or visit the Hutchinson County Museum, 618 N. Main Street, Borger, Texas.

Val Sandlin Collection,

Natalie Bright is the author of the upcoming book, KEEP ‘EM FULL AND KEEP ‘EM ROLLIN’: The All-American Chuck Wagon Cookbook. With over 100 recipes, cattle drive history, archival photos, and her own Texas ranch photography, you can bring a taste of the old West to your kitchen! Available now for preorder at all online bookstores. She is also the author of the Trouble in Texas series for middle grade readers.