This Week In Texas History

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A Gainesville jury tried to decide on Jun. 30, 1967 whether Ernest and Margaret Medders were a couple of folksy con artists or bumbling bumpkins caught up in an incredible charade.

The strange saga began in 1961 in Memphis, Tennessee, where the impoverished parents struggled to support ten children. Ernest was a four-grade dropout, who worked days as a mechanic’s helper and peddled vegetables out of his station wagon on the weekends. Margaret, a practical nurse, pulled 16-hour shifts at a local hospital.

Then one day an attorney informed Ernest that he and his many kinfolks were among the 3,000 plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit challenging a petroleum company for the rights to a Texas oilfield. At stake was an estimated $500 million in royalties.

In their ignorance and desperation, the wishful thinkers jumped to a preposterous conclusion. They convinced themselves the suit would succeed and that every last cent would go to Ernest.


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