[Mirando City, Tx. 1923]. Thirty-five photographs and four maps on sixteen leaves. Photographs 4 x 4 inches, plus one panorama 2.5 x 7.5 inches. Oblong octavo album. Original black cloth with black paper leaves. Light wear, minor soiling. Annotated throughout. Very good. Item #1563
A wonderful, bespoke Texas oil promotional, comprising a charming and extensively captioned vernacular photograph album. The work was designed and compiled in 1923 for a Mr. C.V. Mills of Fillmore, New York, by Claudel Cavanaugh, and depicts the property and oil wells of the Rio Grande Petroleum Company in the area of Mirando City, Texas, near Laredo. This piece was clearly intended as an advertisement and progress report for the oil fields, and we surmise that Mills was either a committed or potential investor in the project (we locate records of him as a breeder of Guernsey cows in western New York).
The album is thoroughly captioned throughout and takes the reader on a tour of the oil fields and the operations of the company. It opens with a lengthy manuscript title page addressed to Mills, stating that, "These pictures were taken in August, 1923, on the 80 acre lease of the Rio Grande Petroleum Corporation (of Houston, Texas), Aviators Pool, Mirando City, Webb County, Texas (which lease it controls and is developing on a 50-50 basis with the Aviation Oil Company)." The photographs then follow the journey to the oil field, with first two images captioned, "Get off at Mirando City and / follow the two pipe lines for six miles" with accompanying photographs of the turns to take. This leads the reader to a panoramic photograph that depicts a vast spread of oil derricks, each labeled and numbered on the image. There is then a photographic tour of the land before clearing and after, which includes images of Mexican laborers and their accommodations, numerous images of oil wells each of which is identified by its number and said to be "Pumping oil 24 hours every day." The following two-page spread claims, "We have the most completely equipped lease in the Aviators Field" and shows a warehouse, equipment, bunk houses, and homes built on the land. Images of the power house, pumping equipment, and storage tanks are also included, as are several images of the workforce. Four blue line maps highlight the location of the wells, the outbuildings, and further proven locations yet to be drilled on the eighty-acre property.
The oil boom arrived in the southernmost part of Texas in the early 1920s, including "small commercial discoveries in the Mirando City and Aviator fields beginning in 1921" (Handbook of Texas Online), and the towns of Mirando City and nearby Oilton were at their apogee during the decade. Today, Mirando City boasts a population of approximately 150 and is home to Lala's, one of the best Tex-Mex joints in the state. The Rio Grande Petroleum Company itself received only cursory mention in contemporary Texas newspapers, but the Aviation Oil Company, headquartered in San Antonio during the 1920s, seems to have been somewhat more prominent, with material relating to its operations scattered through several collections in the Texas State Archives. An outstanding and aesthetically sophisticated photo document of the oil business in deep South Texas during the 1920s.