CLINE, WALTER DEARING
CLINE, WALTER DEARING (1883–1960). Walter Dearing Cline, wildcatter, city official, and civic leader, was born in a dirt floor shack built by his father on March 26, 1883, in St. Helena Parish, Louisiana. He was the son of Orville Hilton Cline and Mary Cornelia (Dearing) Cline. His father, a carpenter and builder, was constructing a sawmill in the area. The family moved to Jackson, Louisiana, in 1892–93. Walter Cline attended Millwood Institute, a school for girls that also allowed boys until age fourteen. He later attended Centenary College and worked his way through with carpentry and kitchen skills he learned from his parents. He left Centenary College prior to graduation to help with the education of his two younger brothers.
Cline worked manual labor on the rice canals near Crowley, Louisiana. Later, he was placed in charge of carpentry and built flumes and bridges. In 1902, when oil was found near Jennings, Louisiana, Cline took a job in the oilfield and earned $1.75 a day, an increase over his previous canal job of $1.50 a day. Cline went from working as a roustabout laying pipelines to pulling sucker rods and later pumping wells. He then secured a job as a roughneck on a drilling rig. Rotary drilling was new, and Cline learned many rough lessons while running the rotary through floor boards and crown blocks. At this time, oil was selling for five cents a barrel.
After working in the Evangeline, Batson, and Sour Lake fields, Cline moved to Humble, Texas, where he worked as derrick man, pumper, and finally night driller for several years. He then went out on his own and first drilled wells near Laredo.
A true “wildcatter,” Cline followed the oil strikes across Texas and New Mexico. In 1913 he and his family moved to Wichita Falls and then to Burkburnett, where Cline was involved in the oil activity west of that town. Cline, with investors including John G. Hardin, Joe Staley, Bob Moore, and Will Daniel, drilled the Fowler discovery well just north of Burkburnett, which ushered in the area boom of 1918. Over the forty years before he retired, Cline had drilled wells for major and independent operators. He also served as the first president of the Texas-Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association.
During his residence in Burkburnett, Cline was elected mayor, served on the school board and as director of a bank, and donated land for a high school. In 1917 Cline moved back to Wichita Falls where he was elected mayor in 1920. He inherited a city wholly unprepared for the massive population growth due to the oil boom. During Cline’s term, the city acquired a municipal water system and a new city charter. During the battle over the bond election to provide water and sewer systems to the city, Cline and a partner, Clint Wood, offered to “buy” every piece of land in the city at twice its newly-assessed value. Ultimately, no one took them up on their offer.
Cline continued his civic work in Wichita Falls. During World War I, he commanded the city’s war emergency drives and Liberty Loan campaign. He founded the first Community Chest in the South and was a field director of the American Red Cross during the flu epidemic of 1918. He helped organize the West Texas Chamber of Commerce and in 1921 helped organize the Wichita Falls Chamber of Commerce.
During the Great Depression, Cline led distribution of relief funds from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. He was one of the directors of the Texas National Recovery Administration and regional director of the Federal Housing Administration. During this time Cline coordinated the Wichita Falls Golden Jubilee Celebration, held in September 1932. He later helped organize and provide preliminary management for the Texas Centennial celebration in Dallas.
Cline was active in the Wichita Falls Rotary Club and served as president. He later became a board of director of Rotary International and coordinated a convention held in Belgium in 1927. Cline was made a Knight Commander of the Order of Leopold II by King Albert of Belgium, and he and his wife were presented to King George V in London. Upon his retirement from business, Cline was made an honorary life member of the Wichita Falls Rotary. He had also served as vice president of Texoma Broadcasting Company. He was active in the Boy Scouts and the Young Men’s Christian Association, which later awarded him a gold life membership card. Cline received an honorary doctor of law degree from Centenary College.
Cline joined the Masonic Lodge in 1908 in Galveston. He assisted in getting a charter for a temple in Wichita Falls in 1921. He held many offices in Masonry, including receiving the Imperial Potentate of the Ancient Order of Nobles of the Mystic Shrine in 1939. During the following year, Cline traveled throughout the United States (including Hawaii) and Canada and spoke to local temples.
Cline married Ella Lilly Pipes in Laredo on August 22, 1910, and together they had five children. They were members of the First Methodist Church in Wichita Falls, and the Cline home served as the first clubhouse of the Wichita Falls Country Club. Walter Dearing Cline died at age seventy-seven on June 23, 1960, and was buried in Crestview Memorial Park in Wichita Falls, Texas.
Walter Cline, Interview by Mody C. Boatright, August 13, 1952, Wichita Falls, Texas, Oral History of the Texas Oil Industry Collection, 1952–1960, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Wichita Falls Times, September 27, 1959; Jun 24, 1960. Wichita Falls Times Record News, June 24, 1960.
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