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March 2, 2023 -- Winona To Kilgore To Karnack To Uncertain To Jefferson (Part 1)

Courtyard By Marriott


March 29, 2023

Kilgore is a city in Gregg and Rusk counties in the eastern part of Texas. Over three-fourths of the city limits is located in Gregg County, the remainder in Rusk County. The population was 12,975 at the 2010 census and 13,376 at the 2020 census.

From the age of six, Van Cliburn lived in Kilgore; he became an internationally known classical pianist. He is the namesake for Van Cliburn Auditorium on the Kilgore College campus.


Kilgore was founded in 1872 when the International–Great Northern Railroad completed the initial phase of rail line between Palestine and Longview. The rail company chose to bypass New Danville, a small community about 10 miles (16 km) southeast of Longview, in lieu of a new townsite platted on 174 acres (0.70 km2) sold to the railroad by Constantine Buckley Kilgore, the town's namesake. That way the railroad gained the profits from sale and development of these lands.

The new town received a post office in 1873 and, with a station and transportation for getting commodity crops to market, soon began to draw residents and businesses away from New Danville. By 1885, the population had reached 250, and the community had two cotton gins, a church, and a school (for white children only). The racially segregated Kilgore Independent School District was organized in 1910. By 1914 the town had two banks, several businesses, and a reported population of 700. The 1920s showed continued steady growth, and by 1929 Kilgore was home to an estimated 1,000 residents.

Prosperity came to a halt, however, when Kilgore was dealt severe blows by a steep decline in cotton prices (on which most of the town's economy was still based), and the effects of the Great Depression. Businesses began to close and, by the middle of 1930, the population had fallen to 500; the community appeared destined to become a ghost town. Many Blacks joined the Great Migration out of the South to northern, midwestern, and western cities for work.

Kilgore's fortunes changed dramatically on October 3, 1930, when wildcatter Columbus M. "Dad" Joiner struck oil near the neighboring town of Henderson. This well, known as the Daisy Bradford #3, marked the discovery of the vast East Texas Oil Field. Seemingly overnight Kilgore was transformed from a small farming town on the decline into a bustling boomtown. The Daisy Bradford #3 was subsequently followed by the Lou Della Crim No. 1 and many others. By 1936, the population had increased to more than 12,000, and Kilgore's skyline was crowded with oil derricks.

Oil production continued at a breakneck pace throughout the early 1930s, with more than 1,100 producing oil wells within city limits at the height of the boom. The explosive growth left most civic services overwhelmed, and as a result Kilgore was forced to incorporate in 1931. With the city flooded with male workers and roustabouts, law enforcement struggled to keep order among the shanties, tents, and ramshackle honky-tonks that crowded Kilgore's main streets. On one occasion, they had to summon help from the Texas Rangers to keep the peace.

By the mid-1930s the oil boom had begun to subside, and most of the small oil companies and wildcatters had sold out to major corporations. The boom was essentially over by 1940. But oil production has remained central to the city's economy. The population, which fluctuated wildly throughout the 1930s, stabilized at around 10,000 in the 1950s. A 2015 estimate placed it at just under 15,000 residents.


Kilgore is located in southern Gregg County at 32°23′8″N 94°52′7″W (32.385534, –94.868502),[8] and extends south into Rusk County. U.S. Route 259 passes through the east side of the city as a limited-access bypass, leading northeast 11 miles (18 km) to Longview and south 17 miles (27 km) to Henderson. Kilgore's city limits extend 3 miles (5 km) north from the city center as far as Interstate 20, with access from Exits 583, 587, and 589. I-20 leads east 69 miles (111 km) to Shreveport, Louisiana, and west 119 miles (192 km) to Dallas.

According to the United States Census Bureau, Kilgore has a total area of 15.7 square miles (40.7 km2), of which 15.7 square miles (40.6 km2) are land and 0.04 square miles (0.1 km2), or 0.22%, are covered by water.


As of the 2020 United States census, there were 13,376 people, 5,060 households, and 3,476 families residing in the city.

As of the census of 2000, 11,301 people, 4,403 households, and 2,963 families resided in the city. The population density was 734.3 people per square mile (283.5/km2). The 4,766 housing units averaged 309.7 per square mile (119.6/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 78.22% White, 12.34% African American, 0.41% Native American, 0.68% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 6.95% from other races, and 1.38% from two or more races. Hispanics or Latinos of any race were 11.11% of the population.

Of the 4,403 households, 30.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 50.5% were married couples living together, 12.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 32.7% were not families. About 27.6% of all households were made up of individuals, and 13.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.48 and the average family size was 3.03.

In the city, the population was distributed as 24.6% under the age of 18, 12.5% from 18 to 24, 26.2% from 25 to 44, 20.3% from 45 to 64, and 16.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females, there were 94.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 91.1 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $43,129, and for a family was $61,765. Males had a median income of $45,995 versus $30,124 for females. The per capita income for the city was $21,297. About 9.7% of families and 15.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 19.1% of those under age 18 and 13.9% of those age 65 or over.[13]

Arts and culture

Kilgore is the home of the Mount Tabor Indian Community, a cultural heritage organization and nonprofit organization.

Texas Shakespeare Festival

Kilgore is home to the Texas Shakespeare Festival, an annual summer repertory company. Founded in 1986, the Texas Shakespeare Festival presents four shows in rotating repertory every summer at the Van Cliburn Auditorium on the campus of Kilgore College.

Kilgore Public Library

Based on the style of Normandy cottages, construction of the Kilgore Public Library began in 1933 and was completed in 1939. The New Deal agencies, the Public Works Administration and Works Progress Administration of the President Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, participated in the construction.

East Texas Pipe Organ Festival

Every November, Kilgore hosts the East Texas Pipe Organ Festival, which honors the work of pipe organ voicer Roy Perry (1906–1978). Perry, a longtime resident of Kilgore, worked for the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company, and he oversaw the construction of highly regarded pipe organs at St. Mark's Cathedral (Shreveport, Louisiana) and Washington National Cathedral.

Kilgore Film Festival

The Kilgore Film Festival began in 1998 under the sponsorship of KTPB, the former public radio station of Kilgore College.[15] Each year a festival is held in the Spring and Fall offering moviegoers a chance to see unique and award-winning selections. The festival is held at Kilgore's 4 Star Cinema.

Notable events

On September 23, 1983, five men and women were abducted from a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in Kilgore and found slain, execution-style, in an oilfield outside of town. The crime went unsolved until November 2005, when two men, already in prison for other crimes, were charged, tried and convicted for this crime.

In 2001, the Kilgore College Ranger football team had a perfect season, winning the Southwest Junior College Football Conference. The 2001 squad finished #2 in the nation, losing the NJCAA national championship when the coaches poll gave the championship to Georgia Military College.

On December 18, 2004, the Kilgore High School "Ragin' Red" Bulldog football team completed a perfect season (16–0) after winning the Class 4A Division II state championship game, 33–27, in a double-overtime thriller against the Dallas Lincoln Tigers at Baylor University's Floyd Casey Stadium in Waco. Nick Sanders blocked a potential go-ahead field goal attempt by Lincoln and returned it for the winning touchdown.

In popular culture

  • Folk singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie refers to Kilgore and Longview, Texas, in his song "East Texas Red".

  • In the 2011 film Country Strong, actor Garrett Hedlund makes the quote, "Ms. Dallas or Ms. Kilgore? What's the difference?" to co-star Leighton Meester.

  • Michael Herr's Vietnam War memoir Dispatches features an unnamed helicopter door-gunner from Kilgore. The man's attitude and appearance partially inspired the character of Lt. Colonel William Kilgore in Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now and the door gunner's dialogue in Stanley Kubrick's later Vietnam film Full Metal Jacket. Herr contributed to the screenplays of both films.

  • Actor Matt Damon mentions Kilgore when impersonating his friend Matthew McConaughey on the Late Show with David Letterman.

Notable people

  • Van Cliburn, noted piano virtuoso, lived and grew up in Kilgore from age 6 through age 17. His family's modest home was in the 700 block of South Martin Street.

  • Dana Dodd (1985–2003), murder victim; body found in Kilgore in 2006.

  • Charles Hurwitz (born 1940), businessman and financier, he is known for his role in the savings and loan crisis and controversy around the Headwater Forest lumber logging in the 1990s; he was born and raised in Kilgore.[22][23]

  • Ron Shepherd (born 1960), former outfielder for the Toronto Blue Jays; attended Kilgore High School.

  • David Van Os (born 1950), Civil Rights, Labor Lawyer, Politician; attended Kilgore High School.

The Kilgore College Rangerettes, also known simply as the Rangerettes, are an American precision dance team from Kilgore College in Kilgore, Texas, created by Gussie Nell Davis in 1939. The Rangerettes have performed in 71 Cotton Bowl game halftimes in a row (1951-2021),[5][6] and make regular appearances at NFL pre-game and half-time shows for the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans. The Rangerettes perform at Kilgore College football games, and in many other athletic and special events, including the Cotton Bowl game, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and five presidential inaugurations. They have taken several world tours since the 1970s, including South America, the Far East, Romania, France, Canada, Japan, Italy,[13][14] Switzerland,[15] England,[16] Scotland, and Ireland.


The Kilgore College Rangerettes were founded by Gussie Nell Davis, a physical education instructor from Farmersville, Texas who had previously taken an all-girl's group called the "Flaming Flashes" from being a simple high school pep-squad to an elaborately performing drum and bugle corps in Greenville, Texas. In 1939, Davis was hired away from Greenville High School by the Kilgore College Dean, Dr. B.E. Masters. Masters wanted something different than the traditional women's drum and bugle corps. He wanted something that would increase female enrollment at the college but would also keep fans in their seats during football half time shows instead of drinking alcohol under the stands. Opting early to forgo the use of musical instruments, Davis focused her new team on dance and choreography, later naming the group the Rangerettes. The Rangerettes became a success early on despite criticisms of their uniforms featuring skirts above the knee, which by the 1960s had become much shorter. Davis served as the group's director for forty years, until June 1979.

There is disagreement within the Rangerette alumni group and others in the dance team industry regarding the date of the first Rangerette performance. Several sources have it as September 12, 1940, but in an oral interview with Texas State University history professor Dan K. Utley, Davis confirmed the first performance date as September 19, 1940, as does the book, A History of Kilgore College, 1935-1981.

Performances and appearances

A partial list of major performances over the past 20 years

  • Nov 2022 - 96th Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, New York City[22]

  • Dec 2021 - 80th Anniversary Pearl Harbor Memorial Ceremony, Honolulu, Hawaii[23]

  • Nov 2021 - 95th Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, New York City[24]

  • Jun 2021 - Virginia International Tattoo, Norfolk, Virginia[25]

  • Nov 2019 - Birmingham Tattoo, Birmingham, England[16]

  • Jul 2019 - Festival Bande, Modena, Italy[13]

  • Nov 2018 - 92nd Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, New York City[7]

  • Jul 2018 - Basel Tattoo, Basel, Switzerland[15]

  • Jan 2017 - Texas State Society Black Tie & Boots Ball, Washington, D.C., for the inauguration of Donald Trump[9]

  • Dec 2016 - 75th Anniversary Pearl Harbor Memorial Ceremony, Honolulu, Hawaii[26]

  • Nov 2016 - 90th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, New York City[27]

  • Mar 2015 - Saint Patrick's Day Parade, Dublin, Ireland[28]

  • Jan 2013 - Texas State Society Black Tie & Boots Ball, Washington, D.C. for the second inauguration of Barack Obama[10]

  • Dec 2011 - 70th Anniversary Pearl Harbor Memorial Ceremony, Honolulu, Hawaii[29]

  • Jan 2009 - Texas State Society Black Tie & Boots Ball, Washington, D.C. for the first inauguration of Barack Obama[11]

  • Jan 2005 - Texas State Society Black Tie & Boots Ball, Washington, D.C. for the second inauguration of George W. Bush[9]

  • Jan 2001 - Texas State Society Black Tie & Boots Ball, Washington, D.C. for the first inauguration of George W. Bush[12]


Revels is an annual variety show with a central theme performed at Dodson Auditorium on the Kilgore College campus. Revels features performances by Rangerettes with several dances choreographed by nationally known choreographers such as J.T. Horenstein and Tracie Stanfield. There are five showings within the week of the program, and it is the last major performance of the year for the group. The revenue generated by the shows make it one of Kilgore College's highest grossing events. The last segment of the show is always an extended production kick routine, featuring all of the Rangerettes in the traditional uniform. Approximately 6,000 people see the show each year, with many people traveling from out of town to attend and provide a boost to Kilgore's economy.


Rangerettes Forever is an alumni organization that participates in various support programs for the team.

In July 2005, the Zwick Foundation provided Kilgore College with a $3.5 million grant for design and construction of a new dormitory exclusively for use by the Rangerettes. The residence was completed in August 2006 for the 2006–2007 school year, and was formally dedicated in a ceremony a few months later. Kathryn Heller Zwick is a Rangerette from Longview, Texas, who attended Kilgore College and performed with the team from 1976 to 1978. Zwick's daughter, Lauren Gibler, was also a Rangerette from 2007 to 2009.

During the week of Revels 2019 (April 10–13), a donation of $1,000,000 was made to the Mike Miller Rangerette Fund to complete a permanent operating endowment for the Rangerettes. The anonymous donor was a Kilgore College graduate whose wife is a former Rangerette.

On Saturday, October 19, 2019, a former Kilgore College Rangerette and her husband donated a $3.5 million estate gift to fund scholarships for the Rangerette organization. The trust is set up to provide scholarships for Rangerettes and Rangerette Managers who meet the endowment's academic criteria.

Controversy and criticism

Until the 1970s there were no African American members of the team. According to the Texas State Historical Association, Davis said she would "be receptive when a qualified black tried out." The Rangerettes selected their first black team member, Freddie Goosby Evans, in 1973, and their first black officer, Briana McLaughlin, in 2012.

Some critics have "expressed dismay at the emphasis on physical attractiveness and rigorous and authoritarian training." Davis countered, "that there was nothing wrong in learning self-confidence, discipline, cooperation, and the ability to perform precision dance, along with poise, etiquette, and personal grooming".

Rangerette kidnapping

In the late afternoon of December 29, 2016, there was an armed home invasion and kidnapping at Rangerette Director Dana Blair's home. The assailant kidnapped Blair's daughter, who at the time was a Freshman Rangerette. Blair's daughter escaped her captor a little over an hour later. The assailant, Nancy Alice Motes, was arrested on a charge of aggravated kidnapping and released on $500,000 bond on December 30, 2016.

On June 22, 2017, Motes was indicted by a Gregg County Grand Jury, and faced first degree felonies in three charges encompassed in two counts for aggravated kidnapping. The first count included two charges: aggravated kidnapping with intent to terrorize and aggravated kidnapping with a deadly weapon. The second count had one count of aggravated kidnapping by deadly force.

On December 21, 2018, Blair's attorney filed a civil lawsuit against Motes seeking monetary relief of between $200,000 and $1 million.

On January 22, 2019, a start date of April 15, 2019, was set for the criminal trial against Motes.

On April 29, 2019, Motes pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated kidnapping, one with a deadly weapon and one with deadly force. She was sentenced to two concurrent 5-year terms and had to serve at least half of her 5-year sentence before she was eligible for parole.

On July 1, 2021, Judge Alfonso Charles ordered Motes to pay Blair and her daughter $400,000 in compensatory damages and $175,000 in punitive damages.

Motes was granted parole in November 2021 after serving two and a half years of her five year sentence.

Popular culture

The Rangerettes have been featured in articles in several media publications, including: Life Magazine, Sports Illustrated, Newsweek, Esquire, Texas Monthly, The Saturday Evening Post, Popular Mechanics, and Texas Highways.

The Angelette Song from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas features a drill team performance that parodies the Rangerettes.

In the King of the Hill episode "The Company Man" (Season 2, Episode 9), Hank asks Peggy to wear a Kilgore Rangerette type outfit when they go out to dinner with Mr. Holloway, a man heavily influenced by Texan stereotypes.

In the February 14, 2020, comic strip Over the Hedge, the Rangerettes were mentioned as sending a Valentine's Day card to one of the characters.

In anticipation of the organization's 75th anniversary, filmmaker Chip Hale followed the Rangerettes for a year, creating the documentary Sweethearts of the Gridiron. In addition to Sweethearts of the Gridiron, the Rangerettes have appeared in four additional feature films: Seven Wonders of the World (1956), Beauty Knows No Pain (1971), Semi-Tough (1977), and Johnny Be Good (1988).

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