While our physical offices are closed until further notice in accordance with Austin's COVID-19 "stay home-work safe" order, the Handbook of Texas will remain available at no-cost for you, your fellow history enthusiasts, and all Texas students currently mandated to study from home. If you have the capacity to help us maintain our online Texas history resources during these uncertain times, please consider making a 100% tax-deductible contribution today. Thank you for your support of TSHA and Texas history. Donate Today »


Larry G. Bowman

BURNETT, RICHARD WESLEY (1898–1955). Richard Wesley Burnett, oilman and baseball entrepreneur, was born on January 13, 1898, in McLennan County, Texas. When he was two years old the family moved to Gladewater, and the small East Texas town became his lifelong home. After he graduated from high school, Burnett joined the United States Navy and served during World War I. Afterward he returned to Gladewater, where he pursued several business ventures and jobs. He married Dale Jeter on January 6, 1924, and alternately operated a hardware store, a sawmill, an ice cream plant, and other ventures with only modest success; but when the East Texas oil boom occurred, Burnett found his niche in the business world. He began buying and trading oil leases and in 1932 drilled a well, struck oil, and soon became moderately wealthy. After his successes in East Texas, he became involved in a risky oil-exploration program in Illinois and suffered a ruinous financial setback. Then, in 1944, he discovered the Wesson field in Ouichita County, Arkansas, where he struck oil and gas.

Burnett was an ardent baseball fan. In 1935, shortly after his first success in the East Texas oilfield, he bought the Shreveport, Louisiana, franchise in the Class C East Texas League and moved it to his hometown. The Gladewater Bears won a pennant in 1936 and whetted Burnett's appetite for further baseball adventures. Between 1935 and 1948, in a addition to the Gladewater team, he owned minor-league franchises in Gainesville and Texarkana, Texas, and Monroe, Louisiana. He enjoyed his association with professional baseball in the low minor leagues, but he had greater ambitions.

In 1948 he drew national attention when he purchased the Texas Rebels of the AA Texas League for $550,000. A few weeks later, Burnett also purchased the Oakcliff ballpark, where the Rebels played their home games, for another $265,000. He promptly renamed the Rebels the Eagles and the park Burnett Field. Burnett intended to make the Eagles a pennant contender in the Texas League, and he hoped to attract a major-league franchise to Dallas. In 1952 the Eagles won the Texas League pennant for the first time since 1936; they won the league the next year and defeated the Nashville team of the Southern Association in the Dixie Series. Between 1948 and 1953 Burnett turned a lackluster franchise into a powerful force while he pioneered changes in the league. In 1952 he brought David Hoskins to the Eagles and integrated the Texas League five years after the major leagues had ended segregation. He became a noted baseball owner, as he constantly labored to improve his team, his ballpark, and the entertainment value of an evening at Burnett Field.

In 1953 Burnett funded a conference of minor-league owners and operators to discuss the decline of minor-league baseball. Attendance was dwindling in minor-league parks, leagues were collapsing, and the major leagues were uprooting established leagues with their emerging franchise-relocation program and expanded broadcast policies. Burnett, who realized he might negatively affect his chances to acquire a major-league franchise in the future, wanted to reform the business practices in which the interests of minor-league baseball were nearly always considered as secondary to those of the major leagues. But his reform movement failed to make headway against a united and intransigent coterie of major-league owners and executives. Nevertheless, because of his successes as owner of the Eagles and his efforts to improve the conditions of minor league baseball, the Sporting News declared him the Minor League Executive of the Year in 1954. On June 1, 1955, Burnett, who was in Shreveport, Louisiana, to see his Eagles play a weekend series against Shreveport, suffered a heart attack and died. He was buried in Hillcrest Cemetery, Dallas.

Bill O'Neal, The Texas League, 1888–1987: A Century of Baseball (Austin: Eakin Press, 1987). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

Image Use Disclaimer

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


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

Handbook of Texas Online, Larry G. Bowman, "BURNETT, RICHARD WESLEY," accessed June 02, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fbuws.

Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
visit the mytsha forums to participate

View these posts and more when you register your free MyTSHA account.

Call for Papers: Texas Center for Working-Class Studies Events, Symposia, and Workshops
Hi all! You may be interested in this call for papers I received from the Texas Center for Working-Class Studies at Collin College...

Katy Jennings' Ride Scholarly Research Request
I'm doing research on Catherine Jennings Lockwood, specifically the incident known as "Katy Jennings' Ride." Her father was Gordon C. Jennings, the oldest man to die at the Alamo...

Texas Constitution of 1836 Co-Author- Elisha Pease? Ask a Historian
The TSHA profile of Elisha Marshall Pease states that he wrote part of the Texas Constitution although he was only a 24 year-old assistant secretary (not elected). I cannot find any other mention of this authorship work by Pease in other credible research about the credited Constution authors...