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Oil Boom to Military Town
Burkburnett is a suburb of Wichita Falls, Texas at the intersection of Interstate Highway 44 and State Highway 240 in north-central Wichita County. Historic records indicate that Mabel Gilbert was one of the first to settle in the area in 1856. In the late 1870s, J. G. Hardin and J. P. Hawkins founded a small community just west which was named Nesterville. For many years, the area was dominated by the large ranch named Four Sixes Ranch owned by Samuel Burk Burnett.
By the early 1880s, the town had a small store with a population of about 130 people. The first post office was opened in 1882 that was named Gilbert after Mabel Gilbert. In 1906, Burnett sold about 17,000 acres of Four Sixes Ranch to a group of investors led by Joseph A. Kemp and Frank Kell. They bought the land to extend the Wichita Falls and Northwestern rail line from Wichita Falls through what would become Burkburnett to connect with other rail lines in the agriculturally rich areas of Oklahoma and Kansas.
Kemp and Kell formed the Red River Land Company and used the land purchased to create a townsite that was laid out along the newly extended rail line. The newly formed lots were sold at auction in mid-1907 and the newly formed post office and community were named Burkburnett. Some historians believe President Theodore Roosevelt helped with the naming of the post office after his friend and hunting partner, Samuel Burk Burnett.
The first train depot was completed in late 1907 which connected Burkburnett to Wichita Falls to the south and numerous towns in Oklahoma to the north. Seeing the economic impact of the rail line, the residents of Gilbert relocated their homes, business and their school to Burkburnett. By 1912, Burkburnett was a prosperous and growing town with a bank, a hotel, cotton gin, and a newspaper. The town of Burkburnett was officially incorporated in 1913 with a population of about 1,000.
The first successful oil well drilled in the area was the Chris Schmoker No. 1. This was followed by a wildcat well drilled by the Fowler Farm Oil Company in 1918 that revealed an oilfield at the northeastern edge of Burkburnett. The Fowler Well turned out to be a gusher that attracted oil prospectors from all over the area and by mid-1919, Burkburnett had a population of 8,000 and for miles, all you could see were oil derricks. By 1920, the Burkburnett oil wells were pumping out 7,500 barrels of oil a day and there were twenty train runs daily between Burkburnett and Wichita Falls. This oil boom brought economic prosperity to the area and inspired a Hollywood movie starring Clark Gable named Boomtown.
The oil boom died out with the arrival of the Great Depression and by the end of World War II, Burkburnett’s population declined to 2,800. The opening of nearby Sheppard Air Force Base in 1941 helped the community recover and the population increased to 4,500 by the mid-1950s. People and businesses continued to move to the community and in 1990, Burkburnett had a population of about 10,000 with over 120 businesses including several large factories.
Today, Burkburnett is a stable community with about 11,000 residents with an economy based around oil, agriculture, manufacturing, and the benefits of being a neighbor to Sheppard Air Force Base.