The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 87, July 1983 - April, 1984

Southwestern Historical'Quarterly

Oil in West Texas and New Mexico: A Pictorial History of the Per-
mian Basin. By Walter Rundell, Jr. (College Station: Texas Ac&M
University Press, for the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum Li-
brary, and Hall of Fame, Midland, 1982. Pp. xii+ 183. Preface, ac-
knowledgments, photographs, bibliography, index. $24.50.)
A pictorial history of industry in a region ought, ideally, to offer the
reader a wide variety of pictures recapturing the peculiarly human
and day-to-day elements of the past, accompanied by a text providing
an accurate historical context for visual detail. Walter Rundell, Jr.'s
Oil in West Texas and New Mexico: A Pictorial History of the Per-
mian Basin unfortunately falls far short of this ideal.
Not that the pictures themselves lack interest: one could wish Run-
dell had provided many more of them. Rather than so many photo-
graphs of gushers, one not unlike the next and often "staged" to im-
press potential investors, he might have given us more scenes of daily
life and work. Downtown scenes found among photographs in local
historical collections in Midland and Odessa would have been more in-
teresting than aerial views, and pictures from the Scurry County Muse-
um's excellent Delbert Hirst Collection would have greatly enhanced
the human interest of the book. It would also be interesting to know
something about the photographers who took these pictures, but Run-
dell dismisses them with the comment, "Some doubtless prospered
while others did not" (p. x).
The text Rundell provides for his pictures is disappointing. His
prose frequently lapses into awkward expression. The careful reader,
moreover, will find a dismaying number of erroneous details in his text.
The Hendrick field, for example, was not developed in 1926, when
only its discovery well was completed, but in 1927. "Atlantic-Simms"
(p. 57) does not refer to one oil company but two, the Atlantic Oil Pro-
duction Company and the Simms Oil Company. The first big oil field
shut down in connection with flared gas was Seeligson in 1947, not
Spraberry in 1953. More disturbing than minor gaffes are those por-
tions of text indicating a lack of understanding of petroleum history
and economics: this is, after all, a book about oil. That oil men were
slow to use science before 1920 was not a consequence of wildcatter's
luck and American "anti-intellectualism" (p. 136) but a reflection of
the infancy of applied petroleum science. Rundell does not realize that
in 192o few petroleum scientists attached much weight to Johan A.
Udden's hypotheses; the Big Lake discovery was a refutation, rather
than vindication, of prevailing geological thought. Just as Rundell does

226

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 87, July 1983 - April, 1984. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117150/. Accessed May 23, 2015.