Longform

Moncrief Family Values

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But it is also clear that for Mike Moncrief, this conflict isn't just about money--it's personal.

The senator has for decades endured a caste system that always put him, his father, and his siblings at the bottom. "He was always treated as if he didn't belong in the Moncrief clothes," says a business associate once close to the family, who asked not to be named. "It was so apparent that side of the family was treated differently that the rest of us stopped noticing it."

"Once my grandfather died," says Mike, "Tex tried to assume the mantle. I was comfortable with that for a while. As time passed, things began to unfold. The patriarch position of his became one of sheer power or control. His way was 'my way or the highway.'

"I did what I felt I had to do to protect myself and my family," says the senator. "If I had to do it all over again, I would do exactly the same thing."

In the early 1930s, four young wildcatters--W.A. "Monty" Moncrief, H.L. Hunt, Sid Richardson, and Clint Murchison--struck gushers in the East Texas oil fields. The fortunes founded on that oil brought each of their families fame and influence for generations. It also transformed the four men into international symbols of the Big Rich Texan.

A descendant of Scottish immigrants, Moncrief, a strapping six-footer, personified the rags-to-riches Texas oil myth. Born in 1895 in Sulphur Springs, Monty Moncrief lost his mother three years after his birth. A short time later, his family moved to Checotah, Oklahoma, where his father and stepmother eked out a living as small-town merchants. Monty, working at odd jobs, studied for two years at the University of Oklahoma. But he left college to teach English before earning a degree.

At 22, he wed Elizabeth Bright, then 20. Ten days after the ceremony, he left for Europe to serve in the cavalry in World War I. When he returned, persuaded by army buddies that the petroleum business held promise, he joined the accounting department of Marland Oil. In the mid-1920s, Moncrief left Marland to go out on his own--at first, with little success. He drilled 29 dry holes before he hit the big gusher in East Texas.

Before striking it rich, while Monty was still with Marland, he and Elizabeth had two sons. The eldest was William Alvin "Tex" Moncrief Jr.; the second, born two years later, was Richard Barto Moncrief--Mike's father.

From the beginning, there was an odd and unsettling difference in how the Moncriefs viewed their sons. In True Legacy, an authorized biography of Monty written by John David Scott and published in 1982, Elizabeth was quoted enthusing about the arrival of Tex: "I decided to go back to my family in Little Rock...for delivery of my first baby, W.A. Moncrief Jr., who weighed in at a whopping 13-1/2 pounds at birth. My second son, Richard Barto, was delivered in a hospital in Wichita," she added simply.

In the book, Monty and Elizabeth discussed in loving detail all the major events of handsome Tex's youth: his college career, his first marriage, his difficult days as a young adult, his children's trials and triumphs. Three pages, for example, are devoted to one letter that Tex's son Charlie wrote to his grandmother.

But the authorized volume devotes a mere six paragraphs to the couple's second son, Richard Barto, a plump, bespectacled man who suffered numerous allergies and other maladies. In fact, the lives of Richard and his entire family occupy less than two pages. After describing Richard's death in 1970, at age 48, from kidney failure and other medical woes, the authorized biographer makes a startlingly dismissive transition: "But life must go on."

Meanwhile, Tex and his father always had been almost inseparable. According to a Texas Monthly account, Tex, then 10, was present when his dad hit pay dirt in East Texas. And, as he watched his dad toss his hat in celebration, Tex vowed to be an oilman forever.

Tex wavered at least once in his resolve. While attending the University of Texas, he flirted with the idea of becoming a golf pro. But Monty, during a trip to Austin, persuaded Tex to finish his degree in petroleum engineering.

For more than 50 years, Monty and his firstborn shared an office in downtown Fort Worth. Tex became wealthy in his own right. (Forbes now estimates his personal fortune at $330 million.)When Tex's sons became adults in the 1970s, three went to work in the business beside their grandfather.

"There was a pecking order. It was pretty well-known, pretty obvious," says Mike Moncrief. "My grandfather was obviously top rung. Then it was Tex, then Dickie [Tex's second son], Charlie [the third son], and then Tom [the fourth]." (Tex's first son, William Alvin Moncrief III, does not work with his relatives in the oil business.)

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Miriam Rozen
Contact: Miriam Rozen