Wildcatters: The True Story of How Conspiracy, Greed, and the IRS Almost Destroyed a Legendary Texas Oil Family
by Charles Moncrief
” This is a true story.
It’s an examination of how life can irreversibly change. One day, you’re living in peace, and then you’re at war. Sixty-four armed agents from the Criminal Investigation Division of the Internal Revenue Service are kicking down your door. The newspaper headlines scream accusations against you and your family. And your hometown is following the lurid spectacle that your life has become.
You don’t know the reasons, much less the players, that have turned your life upside down. But if you don’t find out quickly, you may be financially devastated and possibly even headed to jail. “
One day while sitting in the waiting room while my daughter attended her guitar lesson, I was privy to a rather loud and boisterous conversation between two other parents. One of them, a middle-aged and sharply dressed man with confidence you could feel emanating from him like a rolling thundercloud, was regaling the other parent with tales from his old job. The man so full of bravado had previously been an attorney for one of the most prominent families in Fort Worth, the Moncrief family, renowned across the state of Texas for their stake in the profitable oil business. I had heard of them of course, had seen the streets name for them, and knew of their impressive building on the famed Commerce Street in downtown Fort Worth. I knew they were worth billions, and that they gave millions in charity, much like a lot of the family-owned oil businesses here in the state of Texas.
The man went on to speak of how the Moncrief family had almost lost everything when the government came after them. The scandal rocked this part of Texas like an earthquake (not one due to fracking, of course), but was a bit before my time. I listened as I sat on the fringes of their very one-sided conversation, and I took some surreptitious notes. I am currently working on a novel centered around a fictional family in Dallas, a family who struck it rich in oil and cattle, their lineage stretching back to the 1800’s and the birth of the city. I had of course, heard of the Moncrief family and they were on my list of items to research. So when the man in the Italian suit mentioned the book his boss wrote, Wildcatters, I knew I had to pick it up.
Written by Charles Moncrief, the grandson of the man who started the family business, Wildcatters spins a tale of conspiracy and greed while weaving in the history of a complicated family in tandem. I picked it up at my local bookstore and read it in about a day and a half, as it’s a very easy and fun read. My favorite part of the book was perhaps the tone of the author — he sounds like a real cowboy, and in Texas, there are few things we love more.
In the late 1920’s, in the era of the Great Depression, Monty Moncrief had a vision. Honing the knowledge and experience he picked up at his previous job at an oil company, Monty struck out on his own and with a partner, began to buy up mineral leases. Exploration via drilling on the fields eventually led to a huge find and a subsequent vast fortune when F.K. Lathrop #1 was drilled and became the extension to the East Texas Field.
As the family oil business grew and expanded all over the state of Texas and neighboring states that brimmed with beautiful black gold, so did the family proper. Monty’s children were born into the business and raised right on the oilfield; Tex and Dick received a working man’s education to fit right along side their fine one.
But as strikes were made and money was banked, enmity simmered between a few of the family members, the green eyes of jealously glared across oak dining tables and boardrooms. Deals were made and funds were exchanged, and greed sometimes took a front seat to that of the matter of right versus wrong. Strong Texas oilman personalities were at the forefront and sometimes words were spoken with a crueler tone than was needed.
On the opening day of dove season in 1994, it was a normal day at work for the employees at Moncrief Oil. At the 100% family owned business’s building in downtown Fort Worth, town-cars snaked into the parking lot and men in generic gray suits climbed out. With holstered guns providing a sense of power and the thoughts of glory pushing them ever forward, the men climbed the steps to the building and walked through the unlocked glass double doors, intent on action. They were here for computers, documents, filing cabinets, and every shred of anything they could lay their hands on.
When the IRS comes to visit, they don’t do it kindly, which can be a shock to the Southern system and all their unspoken but expected hospitalities. And when a bunch of strangers show up to your place a business, a place that is as familiar to you as your own home and holds people you would count as extended family, many a man would be hard pressed not to grab for his own nine millimeter pistol currently housed in his briefcase. This is Texas, after all. As the Moncrief employees did their best to cooperate, it was not without a sneering disposition, and little did they know that underneath all of it, a snake was hidden in their very midst.
When it was all said and done, the Moncrief family was hit with a lawsuit of epic proportions that garnered national headlines. They were being accused of criminal tax fraud in the staggering amount of $200+ million dollars. The IRS had a former Moncrief accountant singing tunes of the unimaginable like a veritable songbird, and there were multiple teams of attorneys that had their own eyes on their own prize — and not necessarily their client’s best interests at heart. As the trial unfolded, the Moncrief family discovered other betrayals, by way of embezzlements and bought-and-paid-for lies, and spent years wrapped in an expensive and debilitating battle for truth and justice. Before it was all said and done, a previously notoriously private family would begin to outwardly and publicly turn on one another, and deep scars would be gouged into the family legacy for generations to come.
Wildcatters is a non-fiction book that I give 4.5 out of 5 stars to. I found it so enjoyable and insightful. My hands-on knowledge of the oil business is next to none, and I absolutely loved learning the twists and turns of it through someone who knew what he was talking about. Charles Moncrief wrote and explained things in plain English, with tons of turns-of-phrase that had me grinning. Chronicling the life of Moncrief Oil from it’s conception and that of each member of the family helped me to truly understand their side of the lawsuit, which was something I had not previously been able to gain from the articles I pulled online.
I recommend this book to anyone who is even remotely interested in Texas oil families and their Dynasty-like drama. I promise you won’t be disappointed.