A SAGA OF WEALTH: The Rise of the Texas Oilmen by James Presley

A SAGA OF WEALTH: The Rise of the Texas Oilmen

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This lively chronicle of the men who played leading roles in the eventful drama of the Texas oil industry is unabashedly longer on personalities than petroleum perspectives. But, extensively researched, it does shed light on an endangered species. Presley's can't-miss cast includes a one-armed Sunday school teacher named Patillo Higgins; early in 1901, he struck oil at Spindletop, near Beaumont on the Gulf Coast, hunching the Lone Star State's first commercial field. Higgins, though, missed out on riches as did another stubborn visionary, Columbus M. (Dad) Joiner, who late in 1930 brought in the well that opened up the fabulous East Texas field, which still will be producing at the end of this century. A short bankroll forced Joiner to sell out to H. L. (for Haroldson Lafayette) Hunt before the real money came rolling in. Other high-rollers like Hugh Roy Cullen, Glenn McCarthy, John Mecom, and Clint Murchison are featured, along with a number of supporting players. In Presley's account, George Scopes (of monkey-trial fame) emerges as a career geologist at United Gas, and Conrad Hilton makes an appearance buying the small hotel that gave him his start in the lodging business. Also highlighted is the lack of local capital. Successful wildcatters--however independent and xenophobic--had to go east for funds to develop their discoveries. Many lost control, leading to the emergence of such major oil concerns as Gulf (financed with Mellon money) and Exxon (through Humble, the beneficiary of Rockefeller's Standard trust). On the plus side of the ledger, oil royalties provided the University of Texas with an endowment second only to that of Harvard. Meanwhile, oilmen pursued private philanthropies ranging from Hunt's reactionary Life Line broadcasts to Cullen's almost single-handed creation of the University of Houston; at the same time, they won and lost some epic battles--respectively, the tidelands and the treasured depletion allowance. Tacitly at least, Presley mourns the passing of outlaw operators and the accession of buttoned-down corporate managers who, inarguably, are better equipped to deal with the regulatory realities of an interdependent, energy-tight world. In itself, the book provides an important record of ""a way of life that has vanished while we were looking at it.

Pub Date: Nov. 2nd, 1978
Publisher: Putnam