The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 94, July 1990 - April, 1991

Book Reviews

of an inland navigation system and an important source of hydro-
electric power generation. The river, in the author's perhaps rueful
opinion, has become three rivers rather than one.
The author's sympathetic treatment of the Arkansas is overshadowed
by his deep concern over its misuse. Poor public policy has allowed the
river to become polluted, its natural flow diverted and commercialized,
and its character forever changed. Being a contemporary account, the
author's historical and anthropological analysis is sometimes a bit sim-
plified. And, the book would be strengthened by several good maps
(the bold outline of the river for each section is not enough). Other-
wise, this is an excellent treatment.
Universzty of Arkansas at Little Rock C. FRED WILLIAMS
The Murchisons: The Rise and Fall of a Texas Dynasty. By Jane Wolfe. (New
York: St. Martin's Press, 1989. Pp. 505. Photographs, afterword,
acknowledgments, notes and references, bibliography, index.
$19.95.)
This is the story, not only of a family, but of a fortune, formerly one
of the largest in the nation. It begins with Clint Murchison, Sr., learn-
ing how to trade livestock in Athens, Texas, in the first decade of this
century and ends with the liquidation of most of the family assets in the
state's bankruptcy courts in the mid-198os. In between, there is enough
detail on business, politics, sports, sex, and family relations to keep any
Texana junky turning the pages.
Author Jane Wolfe's thesis is that the rise and fall of the Murchison
family embodies in microcosm the trajectory of boom and bust experi-
enced by the state during the twentieth century. Consequently, her
account explicitly follows the outline of classical tragedy. That is, she
argues that the same business style that underlay the protagonists'
amassing of a huge fortune also explains its evaporation. In her ac-
count, Clint Murchison, Sr., beginning in the oil business and continu-
ing through ownership of over one hundred companies, always relied
on an optimistic, borrowing, risk-taking strategy that kept him lever-
aged to the hilt his entire life. So long as the Texas economy expanded,
this strategy worked perfectly. When his sons attempted to continue
the strategy into the oil-bust 198os, however, its historical inappropri-
ateness doomed them.
Running implicitly through Wolfe's account, however, is another dra-
matic interpretation-melodrama. In this scenario, the heroic founder
of the family fortune was a virtuous, serious-minded entrepreneur.
After his death in 1969, however, his two sons proved to be unworthy
of his mantle. One, John, spent more time on his art collection and his

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 94, July 1990 - April, 1991. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101214/. Accessed September 21, 2014.