Desdemona Texas is located in eastern Eastland County near the Erath county line at the intersection of FM 8 and State Highway 16, and about 20 miles south of I-20. Hog Creek runs through the town and in the early days the town bore the same name. To the older locals and residents it is still known as Hog Town to this day. It is also known as Boomtown to the locals, and we will get to that in a bit.
Desdemona was first settled in the late 1850’s making it one of the first settlements west of the Brazos in north Texas. A fort was built to protect against raiding Indians. In 1877 a post office was established and the name was officially declared to be Desdemona. But many locals refused to stop calling it Hogtown.
Farming and ranching was the main occupation. The soil in the area is very sandy and peanuts became the main crop. Cotton and watermelon was also regularly grown. The population grew slowly to about 300 in 1900. The small town was quite peaceful until the boom.
An oil driller named Tom Dees struck oil in the area in September of 1918. I am not exactly sure what drew Dees to drill for oil in the area, but there were two other towns in Eastland County that also had oil exploration at that time. Desdemona was launched into stereotypical boomtown immediately. Roughnecks and businessmen quickly outnumbered the locals. A $100 share in Tom Dees’ Hog Creek Oil Company skyrocketed to in value to $10,000 in just a few years. Tents and rudimentary bunkhouses littered the area. The buildings and oil derricks were scattered about with very little concern for organization. It was much like a gold rush. Everyone wanted to get their piece of the black gold pie. By 1921, there were an estimated 16,000 people living in the area. The name Boomtown was adapted by many in the area.
Oil wells were drilled so fast the oil could not be hauled away. The oil storage tanks available were over flowing. So someone decided it would be a good idea to dig large open pits and fill them with the excess oil. This was thought to be a great idea for temporary storage until the rains came. The pools over flowed and oil ran in the streets and into Hog Creek. Drilling derricks stood haphazardly just yards from the main street businesses and houses. Drilling techniques were nowhere near perfected in those days and oil spills were quite common. “Blowouts”, where a well uncontrollably spouts oil into the sky were common. Occasionally, the blowouts would catch fire making an already disastrous situation extremely dangerous and even life ending.
As always, along with the population explosion came the bad element of society. Many saloons and whore houses opened. Gamblers and thieves also came to take advantage of the hard working men that were following the boom. With the absence of law enforcement the law abiding citizens formed “The Law and Order League” in an attempt to keep the peace. However, this was not particularly successful and the Texas Rangers had to come restore order. The Rangers arrested 125 men and expelled that many prostitutes after someone lit the Baptist Church on fire and pandemonium broke out between The Law and Order League and the ruffians.
As quickly as the boom started, it began to wane. By 1922, the oil production dropped by half and the population dropped along with it. The city government was disbanded in 1936. The school, where my grandmother taught during WWII, graduated its last class in 1969. Boomtown returned to farming and ranching. There are still a few oil wells in production to this day in the area, but most of the wells have been capped due to the operating costs being more costly than the production profits.
Over time the population dwindled to about 200. Until recently a restaurant called Boomtown was still in business that was only open on the weekends and would fill with locals. A gas station, utility company, and gun store recently closed up shop. About the only businesses in town now are the post office, a little boutique, an antique store, and a newer gas station. There is a community center that holds a few events a year including the occasional country dance. There are also two small churches and an active volunteer fire department.
My great grandparents Rupert and Pearl Miles moved to the area in 1928. They built a beautiful house on the west side of Hog Creek which no longer stands. Some people have said that it was the nicest house in town. Rupert was a land speculator. He purchased farms and ranches, improved them, and resold them for a profit. During Prohibition Rupert was also the Justice of the Peace. He also served on the school board in the late 30’s and early 40’s. Rupert and Pearl are buried in Stephenville, which is about 20 miles east.
I recently learned of another little-known fact about the town. In the fall of 1944, during WWII the Japanese military began launching hydrogen filled balloons called Fu-Go. Fu-Go balloons were about 33 feet in diameter. They carried several different types of bombs ranging from 11 to 33 pounds. The balloons were a retaliatory response to Doolittle’s Raid over Japan and an attempt to demoralize the American public. The intention was to kill as many Americans as possible and start forest fires in California. Between November of 1944 and April of 1945 more than 9,300 balloons were produced and launched into the jest stream at 30,000 feet elevation. One such balloon landed just outside Desdamona on March 23, 1945. As he was getting off the school bus, 15-year-old C.M. Guthery saw what looked like a giant basketball descending. He began to chase the object and after two miles found where it had landed. Another bus had already arrived, and several children were examining what turned out to be a bomb. Thankfully, the bomb did not detonate, and no one was injured. Those present cut pieces off the balloon as souvenirs. Government officials arrived the next day to collect the remnants of the balloon and stopped by the school to retrieve the souvenirs from the children. In total 360 balloons were found on land in 19 different States and Canada. The only casualties from the bombs were a minister’s wife and 5 children in Oregon while they were on a picnic. The Fu-Go balloons were not widely publicized in the press because the U.S. Government did not want the Japanese to know the balloons were reaching their target so they would cease the program. However, the Japanese propaganda radio broadcasts declared the balloons had incited wide-spread panic, many wildfires, and casualties in the thousands. While the Japanese military had the ability to arm the Fu-Go with biological weapons that could have caused mass casualties, thankfully none were known to be armed in such a manner.
Desdemona was for all accounts and purposes the quintessential boomtown from 1919 to 1922. You would never know to drive through it today. There are still some old timers in the area that refer to the sleepy little town as Hog Town, and others refer to it as Boomtown. Most of the younger generation call it Desdemona. Whatever you decide to remember it by matters not because the history of this little Texas town will never be forgotten.