Huey Patton was a pioneer HellfighterH.L. “Huey” Patton was a charter member of a unique and dangerous club—oil well firefighters. Patton cheated death many times but paid a heavy price in his involvement in the early years of that harrowing business. His right arm was blown off at the shoulder in one fire and he lost his brother, W.H., in another.
Patton and Myron Kinley were pioneers in fighting oil well blowout fires. Kinley was perhaps better known in that he trained Red Adair who later hired and taught Boots Hansen and Coots Matthews. The latter pair formed Boots and Coots, Inc. Matthews’ recent death prompted the memories of Patton.
Huey Patton made his name in 1932 in a Conroe Field fire in which he used a makeshift manifold to stifle a fire that had been burning for two weeks.
Born in 1889, he lived to the ripe old age of 100. Patton left the oil well firefighting business in the late 1950s and went back into his original business, land development on family land just south of Splendora on U.S. Highway 59 between Cleveland and Houston.
All of those big names in oil well firefighting were larger than life and some were pretty rowdy as well. None was a bigger character than Patton.
He developed several hundred acres between Splendora and New Caney on U.S. 59 that was later incorporated and carried his name, Patton Village. Well into his 80s, Patton was the mayor and wore a badge that proclaimed that fact.
In January 1968, Patton and an assistant walked into the offices of The Cleveland Advocate to place a political advertisement against a candidate for justice of the peace.
Patton, a bald-headed man, had a photo to run in the ad. The photo was a profile of him showing a stitched-up laceration on the side of his head. The headline proclaimed the JP candidate had done this to Patton and didn’t deserve to be elected.
As publisher, I had to approve the ad. My editor, Roy Bolin, had been at the newspaper for years before me and knew Patton’s history. He came into my office with the ad and told me he knew of the incident and said the ad would be true.
Bolin also said Patton was used to getting his way. I went out and introduced myself to the sternlooking Patton, who said, “ Send me a bill.” I replied that he would have to pay in advance.
Patton said, “Do you know who I am?” I told him yes but it didn’t matter, that all political advertising must be paid in advance. He broke into a smile, turned to his assistant and said, “Write the SOB a check,” and laughed heartily.
Patton couldn’t help but make headlines. About a year later, he offered the Splendora Independent School District a producing oil well if they would agree to never again have a bond issue. It was a heck of an idea but it was illegal, so the district turned down the well.
A couple of years later, I was editing the Conroe Daily Courier, and saw a story in a Houston newspaper that Patton had disowned and disinherited his only child.
I bumped into Patton at a restaurant where he’d had a table for about a dozen set up. He was sitting at the head of the then-empty table. We spoke and I asked the occasion. He told me he was waiting on the county judge, the commissioners and some other elected officials and that he was feeding them lunch and was going to tell them to ease up on taxes.
Since I’d gotten to know him well in the preceding four or so years, I said, “Huey, I see where you disowned your son. You need someone to leave all that money to, so why don’t you adopt me.” Patton burst out laughing, “Hell, I don’t have all that much money. Why, I’d be hard-pressed to come up with $750,000 cash today.”
I would have been satisfied with a producing oil well. Huey Patton was as much a Hellfighter as Kinley, Adair, Hansen and Matthews.
Willis Webb is a retired community editor publisher of more than 50 years. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.