WALTER DEARING CLINE, who went from mule skinner to being awarded medals by kings, was born in a dirt floor shack built by his father in March 26, 1883, in St. Helena Parish, Louisiana.
His father, a carpenter, and builder, was building a sawmill in the area. The family moved to Jackson, Louisiana in 1892-3. Cline attended Millwood Institute, a school for girls that allowed boys until age 14. He later attended Centenary College, working his way through with carpentry and kitchen skills learned from his parents. He left Centenary College before graduation to help with the education of his two younger brothers.
Cline worked manual labor on the rice canals near Crowley, Louisiana. Later, he was placed in charge of carpentry, building flumes and bridges. When oil was found near Jennings, Louisiana, Cline took a job in the oil field making $1.75 a day, an increase over his previous canal job of $1.50 a day.
Cline went from roustabout laying pipelines to pulling sucker rods and later pumping wells. He then worked as a roughneck on a drilling rig.
Rotary drilling was new and Cline learned many rough lessons, running the rotary through floorboards and crown blocks. At this time, oil was selling for 5 cents a barrel.
After working in the Evangeline, Batson, and Sour Lake fields, Cline moved to Humble, where he worked as a derrickman, pumper, and finally night driller for several years.
He then went out on his own, first drilling wells near Laredo.
A true “wildcatter”, Cline followed the oil strikes across Texas and New Mexico. In 1913, he and his family moved to Wichita Falls and then to Burkburnett, where Cline was involved in the oil activity west of Burkburnett. Cline, with investors including John G. Hardin, Joe Staley, Bob Moore, and Will Daniel, drilled the Fowler discovery well just north of Burkburnett, which ushered in the area boom of 1918. When he retired, Cline had drilled wells for major and independent operators for over 40 years. He also served as the first president of the Texas-Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association.
During his residence in Burkburnett, Cline was elected mayor, served on the school board and as director of a bank, and donated land for a high school.
Cline moved back to Wichita Falls in 1917 where he was approached by a group to serve as mayor.
He inherited a city wholly unprepared for the massive population growth due to the oil boom. During Cline’s term, the city acquired a municipal water system and a new city charter. During the battle over the bond election to provide water and sewer systems to the city, Cline and a partner, Clint Wood, offered to “buy” every piece of land in the city.
Cline continued his civic work in Wichita Falls. He helped reorganize the Wichita Falls Chamber of Commerce and helped organize the West Texas Chamber of Commerce. During World War I, he commanded the city’s war emergency drives and Liberty Loan campaign. He founded the first Community Chest in the south. He was a field director of the American Red Cross during the flu epidemic of 1918.
During the Depression, Cline led the distribution of relief funds through the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. He was one of the directors of the Texas National Recovery Administration and the Regional Director of the Federal Housing Administration. It was during this time that Cline coordinated the Wichita Falls Golden Jubilee Celebration, held in September 1932. Cline later helped organize and provided preliminary management for the Texas Centennial Celebration in Dallas.
Cline was active in the Wichita Falls Rotary Club. He later became a Board of Directors of Rotary International and coordinated a convention held in Belgium in 1927. Cline was made a Knight Commander of the Order of Leopold II by the King of Belgium.
Cline and his wife were presented to King George V in London. Upon his retirement from business, Cline was made an honorary life member of the Wichita Falls Rotary.
Cline joined the Masonic Lodge in 1908 in Galveston. He assisted in getting a charter for a temple in Wichita Falls in 1921. He held many offices in Masonry, including receiving the Imperial Potentate of the Ancient Order of Nobles of the Mystic Shrine in 1939.
During the following year, Cline traveled throughout the United States (including Hawaii) and Canada, speaking to local temples.
Walter Cline married Ella Pipes Cline on August 22nd, 1910, and together they had five children.
He died at age 77, June 23, 1960, and is buried in Crestview Memorial Park in Wichita Falls, Texas.