Wheat, James Jackson, Sr. (1871–1931)

By: Julia Cauble Smith

Type: Biography

Published: December 1, 1995

J. J. Wheat, Sr., wildcatter and developer of Mentone and Loving County, was born in Prescott, Arkansas, in 1871. As a young man, Wheat migrated to Texas and became a farmer. He married Ida Mae Tatom of New Mexico. They had three sons and a daughter. When he was forty-one years old, his crops were destroyed by hail for the third consecutive year, and Wheat became a cotton buyer. He later worked as an irrigation project promoter in Grandfalls, Texas. In 1919 or 1920 Wheat came to Loving County from Ward County. Recognizing the possibilities for oil promotion in unexplored Loving County, he bought several hundred acres of land. From October 1920 to 1925, Wheat leased minerals from other Loving County landowners for division into small drilling tracts. He organized Wheat Guarantee Company, a stock enterprise, in an effort to raise enough money to drill a test well. Company shares were offered to the public at $40 each. Early in 1921 Wheat and Bladen Ramsey organized the Toyah-Bell Oil Company and leased acreage on the Russell ranch one mile east of the site of Mentone in southwestern Loving County. Toyah-Bell, later renamed Ramsey Production Company, drilled two wildcats. Both wells were productive. Although the wells were plagued with problems, they attracted the attention of larger oil exploration companies. Wheat and Ramsey sold their interests in the wildcats to Hadlock Oil Company and Lockhart and Company, which developed Wheat field. J. J. Wheat's discovery led to a long-producing field which yielded nearly 22,000,000 barrels of oil by 1989.

Wheat's oil discovery brought enough people into the area to create a need for reorganization of Loving County. On July 8, 1893, the county had been fraudulently organized and later abandoned by the crooks who had indebted it. When the Texas legislature disorganized the county May 12, 1897, it became the only Texas county to have that status. Although Wheat promoted the reorganization of the county by circulating petitions and calling meetings, reorganization came in May 1931, after his death. Among the hundreds of acres Wheat owned in Loving County was an 80-acre tract where Mentone, the proposed county seat, was laid out. Wheat promoted lots in the townsite and invited the residents of Porterville, a flood-prone town located near the river, to move there. When Porterville was abandoned, Mentone became the only town in Loving County. After reorganization of the county, Mentone became the seat of local government. Wheat died on January 19, 1931, in New Mexico.

Robert W. Dunn, The History of Loving County, Texas (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1948; condensed in West Texas Historical Association Year Book, 1948). Julia Cauble Smith, "Wheat Field, Loving County, Texas," Permian Historical Annual 29 (1989).
  • Oil and Gas Industry
  • Oil Entrepreneurs and Wildcatters
Time Periods:
  • Texas in the 1920s

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

Julia Cauble Smith, “Wheat, James Jackson, Sr.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 17, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/wheat-james-jackson-sr.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1995