Gordon, William Knox (1862–1949)

By: James C. Maroney

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: October 19, 2020

William Knox Gordon, engineer and oilman, son of Cosmo and Adelaide (Lorimer) Gordon, was born in Spottsylvania County, Virginia, on January 26, 1862. He was a self-made railroad surveyor, civil and mining engineer, mine manager, and independent oil and gas producer. In 1881 he took a position as a surveyor's helper for the Virginia and Carolina railroad; he learned his trade well and within a few years had become a competent surveyor and civil engineer. After working in South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, and Mississippi, he moved to Texas in 1889 to survey a route for a proposed railroad between Dublin and Thurber. Robert Dickie Hunter, president of the Texas and Pacific Coal Company and manager of the Thurber coal mines, offered Gordon a position as civil and mining engineer in Thurber. Although he had no previous mining experience, Gordon soon mastered the work, and made and patented several significant technical improvements for the mines. After Hunter retired in 1899, Gordon became vice president and manager of the T&P Coal Company, responsible for operation of the company-owned town of Thurber. Under Gordon and the new T&P president, Edgar L. Marston of New York, the company abandoned Hunter's antiunion policy and came to terms with the United Mine Workers in 1903. Despite occasional strikes, labor-management harmony prevailed in Thurber for many years. The miners and other Thurber residents respected Gordon as an honest, fair, and concerned employer; many were genuinely fond of him.

Gordon realized that the Thurber mines could not compete indefinitely with eastern coal mines, which had richer deposits. In the course of his continual prospecting for coal and other mineral deposits, he acquired considerable geological knowledge and became convinced of the existence of oil and gas deposits west of Thurber. After a number of disheartening failures, the discovery of oil a few miles northwest of Thurber near Strawn in January 1915 won for Gordon the company's approval to continue his exploration over the objections of trained geologists. Gordon's persistence led to the discovery of the vast Ranger oilfield in October 1917 (see RANGER, DESDEMONA, AND BRECKINRIDGE OILFIELDS). The resulting supply of oil and subsequent conversion of railroad locomotives from coal to oil led to the demise of Thurber in the 1920s. Gordon retired from T&P in the early 1920s and became a highly successful independent oil and gas producer. He had been a director of T&P since 1892 and served as chairman of the company's board of directors from 1934 until his death. In 1903 he married Fay Kearby, daughter of Judge Jerome C. Kearby of Dallas. The marriage produced three children, only one of whom survived childhood. Gordon died in Fort Worth on March 13, 1949.

Mary Jane Gentry, Thurber: The Life and Death of a Texas Town (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1946). Boyce House, Were You in Ranger? (Dallas: Tardy, 1935). James C. Maroney, "The Unionization of Thurber, 1903," Red River Valley Historical Review 4 (Spring 1979). Buckley B. Paddock, History of Texas: Fort Worth and the Texas Northwest Edition (4 vols., Chicago: Lewis, 1922).

  • Oil and Gas Industry
  • Oil Entrepreneurs and Wildcatters
  • Petroleum Engineers
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Fort Worth

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

James C. Maroney, “Gordon, William Knox,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 19, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/gordon-william-knox.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

October 19, 2020

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