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Comment & Story

Recently I was playing around on the Gazette website in the Search section & I did a search on Syria, the country, just on a lark. The following story came up on that search. It ran in this paper in 2007, in a Wood County History story! W.C.

Discoverer of oil in Wood County was

Syrian-born, Arkansas-reared

The life story of Bobby Manziel is filled with adventure as thrilling as a Diamond Dick or Buffalo Bill novel.

For years, citizens of Wood County and residents of other sections of East Texas had believed there was oil "underneath them thar yellow hills" but it was left to Bobby Manziel, a former lightweight boxer and football star, to bring oil out of the ground with a producer.

A large number of wells had been drilled in various sections of the county and the oil scare had almost become a disease, but the story was about the same in each instance. A derrick would be erected, drilling would begin and continue for several weeks, then the job would be abandoned and word would go out that it was a dry hole.

Early in 1940, the oil leasing play in Wood County began in a big way. This was especially true in the Hawkins area where unheard-of prices were being paid for wildcat leases and wildcat royalties. Word went out that Humble Oil & Refining Company, one of the largest in the country, was buying more acreage in the Hawkins area where it was believed they had already assembled some 10,000 acres.

The month of September 1940 came and an announcement was made that Bobby Manziel of Gladewater and Tyler was going to drill on the Frank M. Morrison farm in the Pollock Survey. This news created some excitement, but not enough for far-off folks to write home about. Former Wood County citizens had become used to oil well tests being drilled in the county. They joined in with the home folks in feeling sorry for a fellow would throw his money away drilling an oil well in old Wood County. Others had tried it and all had failed.

Early in October, Manziel made a core test and announced that he had a saturated oil sand. Oil scouts and citizens from every section of the state began to flock to Hawkins and the "boom" was on. The play for leases was perhaps one of the biggest in the games history before oil was actually brought out of the ground. Both leases and royalties jumped sky high and trading was brisk on the announcement that Manziel had pay sand. Anxious Moments.

Days passed and thousands waited anxiously for Bobby to make the test. Everybody was on pins and needles to know if there was really oil in the county. On Sunday, October 27th, 1940, with hundreds of people as near the well as they were permitted, a test was made and on the third swab, a showing of oil was made. However, there was quite a bit of water mixed with the oil which had a brackish taste, a thing uncommon in oil wells, according to the experts.

Rumors flew over the county quick and fast that the well was in. But with the coming of another day, a rumor was printed in a large daily paper that the well was "salt water." This rumor, plus hard luck at the well almost put a damper on trading in the area. But the little man who came to this country at an early age from far off Asia Minor was determined, so he stayed on the job. He labored day and night until he finally made the well a producer on December 5th, after changing pumps.

Born in the town of Bayrouth, Syria, Asia Minor, the baby Bobby Manziel was brought to America at the age of nine months by his parents, Joseph and Mary Manziel. The family settled in the city of Fort Smith, Arkansas, where Bobby was reared and received his education. He played football on the Forth Smith high school team. He later graduated from Arkansas University at Fayetteville.

Although small in stature, he was solid as a rock physically. He was taught boxing by Battling Nelson, a former lightweight champion of the world. He also sparred on many occasions with Jess Willard, a former heavyweight champion and other world famous boxers.

In 1924, he met Jack Dempsey, who was heavyweight champion at the time. The two became fast friends and, in 1932, they were partners in a business at Gladewater.

In November 1927, Manziel was married to Miss Dorothy Nolan of Baton Rouge, who had graduated two years before from Louisiana State University.

When Manziel discovered the Hawkins field, his operations in Wood County had only begun. Later he discovered a field north of Quitman in the Cartwright community which was names the Manziel Field. Following this, he discovered two fields east of Quitman. One was named in honor of his daughter and the other for one of his sons, Norman Paul. After this, he made a fifth discovery in Wood County near Mineola, when he discovered the Nolan Edwards well, named for another son.

He now had fields named for himself, his daughter and three sons. Folks wondered what he would do to find names for new discoveries as no one thought he would want to quit discovering oil fields any time soon.

(Ed. Note: At the time of this writing, Manziel was obviously still alive and active. Also, if he was born in Beirut, that would make him a native of Lebanon, although he may have been Syrian in his heritage.)

Some further research by The Gazette brings to light some other aspects of Manziel's life. He had ambitious plans to build The Oil Palace in Tyler. Original designs called for a 20,000 seat complex for sporting events, rodeos, livestock expositions and so on. The plans in 1955 even included closed circuit TV, grass flooring and a translucent roof. He died the following year and construction stopped following his death.

His son, Bobby Manziel Jr. completed his father's dream and the new center made it's debut in 1983. It featured 60,000 plus square feet of floor space, seating for 8,300, and 160 luxury box seats.

His interests and enterprises were broad. Some reports say he played a notable role in the development of various strains of game fowl.

His friendship with Jack Dempsey apparently went quite deep if some reports are accurate. One states that the money to fund the very well near Hawkins was $700 which came from Dempsey. Another report says that Manziel later repaid his friend with a half-interest in a field he discovered near Gladewater.

The author of the above article didn't overstate it. Manziel led a fascinating, colorful and productive life. He played a pivotal role in the economic history of Wood County and the East Texas region.

 

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