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BORGER, ASA PHILLIP

BORGER, ASA PHILLIP (1888–1934). Asa Phillip (Ace) Borger, town builder, was born to Phillip and Minnie Ann (West) Borger on April 12, 1888, on the family farm near Carthage, Missouri. His father, a veterinarian, died when Ace was six, and the Borger children were raised by their mother and two grandmothers. Borger attended school in Carthage and graduated from business college. Around 1907 he married a classmate, Elizabeth Willoughby. The couple spent their first years in a rented farmhouse near Carthage, where Borger opened a lumberyard; they had three children.

Borger began his career as a town promoter when World War I broke out in Europe. In 1915 he and his younger brother Lester Andrew (Pete) sold real estate in the mining town of Picher, Oklahoma, in the center of valuable lead and zinc deposits. Much lead was produced from Picher for the war effort. In 1917 the Borgers, in company with the noted wildcatter Tom Slick, laid out the oil town of Slick near Bristow, Oklahoma. At each town the Borgers and their associates built hotels, filling stations, and lumberyards, sold real estate, and pushed for the building of railroad lines to the sites. In 1922 they successfully launched Cromwell, Oklahoma, as a boomtown. Though Borger and his family maintained a home for a time in each of these towns, he continued to use Carthage as his main base.

Borger became interested in the discovery of the Panhandle oilfield. Early in 1926, after personally checking out the reports, he purchased 240 acres from rancher John Frank Weatherly at fifty dollars an acre. He next obtained a grant from Texas secretary of state Emma Grigsby Meharg to organize the Borger Townsite Company, with capital stock of $10,000 divided into 100 shares of $100 each. In addition to Borger himself, the company's stockholders included C. C. Horton of the Gulf Oil Company and John R. Miller, an old friend from Oklahoma boom days who became the new town's first mayor. The company proceeded to lay out the town and opened the sale of lots on March 8, 1926. By the end of that first day, it had grossed between $60,000 and $100,000, and after six months Borger sold out completely, for more than a million dollars.

He established a lumberyard in the town named for him and opened its first bank. Often he took out full-page ads in area papers promoting settlement in Borger and other oil-rich sites throughout West Texas and eastern New Mexico in which he had bought an interest. He also owned a string of Panhandle wheat elevators and 19,000 acres of farmland in Hansford County. In 1927 Ace and Pete Borger, in association with Albert S. Stinnett, established the towns of Stinnett and Gruver and were influential in making Stinnett the Hutchinson county seat. In 1929 Borger built a spacious two-story family home, the first brick residence in Borger. From the start he had set aside building sites for churches and schools. His wife, Elizabeth, became active in community affairs; her love for beauty and culture was reflected in the antiques with which she decorated their home. Visiting dignitaries were lavishly entertained there.

Borger's overt generosity with friends and acquaintances caused hard feelings among certain of the town's populace, however, particularly Arthur Huey, the Hutchinson county treasurer. Huey's dislike for Borger intensified after the Borger State Bank, which Borger had established in June 1930 with himself as president and his son Phillip as vice president, failed, causing a minor panic among local businessmen and small depositors. The elder Borger was later convicted of receiving deposits in the insolvent bank and assessed a two-year prison term, a judgment that he appealed. Meanwhile, Huey was jailed for embezzlement and reportedly asked Borger to help bail him out. When Borger refused, Huey made threats against his life. On August 31, 1934, Borger was getting his mail at the city post office when, according to witnesses, Huey walked in with a Colt .45, shouted obscenities, and shot him five times. Huey then took Borger's own .44 and fired four more shots with it. Lloyd Duncan, farm boss for the Magnolia Petroleum Company, was severely wounded by the shots and died five days later. At his trial, which was held in Canadian, Huey claimed that he had shot in self-defense, arguing that Borger was gunning for him. The jury believed him and acquitted him. Three years later, however, he was sent to the state penitentiary for theft of county funds. Funeral services for Ace Borger were held in Borger, and his body was shipped back to Missouri for burial in the family plot at Carthage.

Borger's sons, Phillip and Jack, left the area soon after their father's death. However, their sister, Helen, remained and occupied the brick house with her husband, Fritz Thompson. Ace Borger's dream house, now a Texas historical landmark, has remained a family treasure.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Hutchinson County Historical Commission, History of Hutchinson County, Texas (Dallas: Taylor, 1980). Jerry Sinise, Black Gold and Red Lights (Burnet, Texas: Eakin Press, 1982).

H. Allen Anderson

Citation

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

H. Allen Anderson, "BORGER, ASA PHILLIP," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fbo85), accessed April 18, 2014. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

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