Be it ponies or petroleum, Clifford Mooers knew there was no sure bet. However, Lady Luck smiled down on the Longview oilman when it came to thoroughbreds and black gold. His horses won 291 races, including the 1949 Santa Anita Derby, and several raced in the Kentucky Derby.

At his death in November 1956, The New York Times called him “one of the best-known men in horse-racing.”

Mooers, a California native, was a free spirit. As a young man he was a gold prospector and owned a trading post in the wilds of Alaska. During World War I he was an Army Air Corps pilot. He trained in Texas, deciding to settle in the Lone Star State when the war ended.

He founded the Shasta Oil Co. in Longview in 1925 with offices on North Sixth Street. He made a fortune, thanks in part to discovery of the great East Texas Oil Field in 1930-31.

Dime a barrel

In the spring of 1931, Mooers was one many wildcatters alarmed about overproduction of the new field. By May, the huge field was producing 300,000 barrels of oil a day. The overproduction had caused the price of oil to drop to 10 cents a barrel.

The Longview oilman fired off a telegram to Texas Gov. Ross Sterling:

“Am reliably informed certain bootleg oil operators are negotiating large contracts (in) this area for future deliveries at very cheap prices … Believe you are making mistake in not announcing call of special (legislative) session as many good people who want to prorate are becoming both financially distressed and discouraged.”

Mooers and other independents wanted the state of Texas to “prorate,” or fix by law, the maximum production rate of oil in the field. The situation in the East Texas Oil Field got so bad that in August 1931, Sterling declared martial law. The field was shut down and 1,300 National Guardsmen were sent to the field. The Guard’s headquarters near Kilgore came to be called “Proration Hill.”

Eventually, order was restored. The oil field brought prosperity to East Texas and helped make folks like Mooers very rich.

However, by the time World War II came along, unfavorable taxes, low-cost imported oil and high labor costs forced many wildcatters like Mooers to get out of the oil business.

Mooers sold Shasta Oil in 1943, noting that “The present trend of bureaucratic control will result in the elimination of the independent (oil) operator.”

He relocated to Kendall County in the Texas Hill Country, establishing a deer sanctuary and a horse ranch near Boerne. The property had been the home of George Wilkins Kendall, for whom Kendall County is named.

Kendall was an author and a founder of the New Orleans Picayune newspaper.

Mooers then turned his attention to breeding thoroughbred horses. For that enterprise he developed a thoroughbred ranch near Lexington, Kentucky.

Profitable ponies

As with the petroleum industry, Mooers struck it rich in the race business. Old Rockport, one of Mooers’ horses, captured the 1949 Santa Anita Derby and finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby that year. Another pony, Traffic Judge, won the 1955 Belmont.

Mooers’ Kentucky stable earned a total $1.8 million in the ’40s and ’50s. His thoroughbreds were regular entries at Churchill Downs and other major tracks around the nation.

In November 1956, the one-time East Texas wildcatter died unexpectedly while changing airplanes at New York’s LaGuardia Airport. Mooers, 67, was on his way to Rhode Island to see one of his horses run.

Sportswriters loved the outgoing Mooers. United Press writer Oscar Fraley called Mooers “a fabulous personality.”

At his death, sportswriter “Red” Smith wrote that Clifford Mooers liked to wager bets so much that once he “bet his tonsil on a horse.”

- Van “Giddy-Up” Craddock’s latest book is “East Texas Tales, Book 2,” available at Barron’s, Gregg County Historical Museum and East Texas Oil Museum. His column runs Sunday. Email .