A Texas Rebel's Fight for Her Land

How a down-on-her-luck single mother in a ramshackle trailer reinvented herself as the bright, bold, unapologetically outrageous voice of the antifracking movement

by Suzanna Andrews
Photograph: Dan Winters

The fracking industry and its supporters are not amused. Wilson has had her records subpoenaed and has been deposed by one energy company. She’s been called a Communist, a crackpot, a lunatic, a liar and “a hypocrite, because I leased my mineral rights and I still get royalty checks from the gas company,” she says with a smile that is defiant but also a little hesitant around the edges. There is a part of Wilson that is uncomfortable with the life she now leads. The sleek, manicured lawns and stately redbrick homes of her upscale neighborhood—where her weather-beaten garden fence, front-yard rain barrel and solar panels raise eyebrows—contrast sharply with the life she once led. At times she feels as though she doesn’t “fit in anywhere,” almost like a stateless person. As Wilson is the first to admit, she is not always as tough as she looks, acting, she says, “from fear as often as I do from courage.” Still, most of what propels her now is anger—at what people have suffered, at the trampling of their land and health and the environment by powerful corporations that she believes have tried to suppress the truth about fracking in order to reap big profits. “I became angry and loud,” she says. “I wasn’t always that way.”

Dreaming of easy money

Born and raised in Fort Worth, Wilson was the only daughter of a single mother, a staunchly conservative and religious woman who brought up her three children “on a secretary’s salary,” she says. Her father left the family when she was two, and she never saw him again. “We were very, very poor,” she says. “I was teased for wearing hand-me-downs and for not having a father.” She spent weekends and vacations at her maternal grandparents’ ranch south of Fort Worth, where the only friends she recalls were her horses, a dog, cats and the wildlife she rescued. Her grandfather, a retired police detective, taught her to ride, work a tractor, haul hay, rope cattle and shoot.

Wilson married at 19. It was what her mother expected of her, she says, and the union lasted less than a year; she was married again by the time she turned 26. She dreamed of going to college but took only one class, a business course at Texas Christian University, before dropping out because she was pregnant with her first child, Frank, now 30. By 1985 her second marriage had ended, and Wilson found work as a secretary for Champlin Petroleum. Like many other Texans, she says, she grew up wanting a career in the lucrative oil and gas industry. After Champlin, Wilson worked for a firm that helped energy companies boost their production revenues. She started as a secretary and rose through the ranks, taking on more analytical work and heftier pay. But she quit in late 1995, bored and burned out by the corporate routine.

Wilson had long dreamed of owning land, a place where she could keep her beloved horses instead of boarding them. In 1996, with money she had carefully saved, she bought 42 acres in Wise County. The property was situated north of Fort Worth, on the edge of the magnificent Caddo-LBJ National Grasslands—so “soothing and beautiful in the summers,” she says, that “when there’s a wind, it looks like a golden ocean.” Wilson was in a new relationship by then; in 1995 she’d given birth to her second son, Adam. Her life seemed to have settled into something close to perfection. There were turkeys and owls in the woods that surrounded her trailer, and deer in her front pasture. “I couldn’t see another porch light at night, nothing,” she says. But Adam’s father left in 2002, and Wilson was once again on her own. She went on to hold a series of dead-end jobs that she refers to as “soul destroying” but that gave her skills—in graphic design, computers, teaching, office administration—that would later make her effective as an activist.

Originally published in the September 2013 issue

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