The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 95, July 1991 - April, 1992

Book Reviews

Doubtless one should take seriously the concluding words of this excellent
study: "The entire American petroleum industry has, in short, paid a high
price for the pursuit of easy money" (p. 179).
University oJ Illinois Urbana-Champagn J. LEONARD BATES
Staking a Claim: Jake Simmons, Jr., and the Makng of an African-American Ozl Dy-
nasty. By Jonathan D. Greenberg. (New York: Antheneum Publishers,
Macmillan Publishing Company, 1990. Pp. 311. Introduction, prologue,
black-and-white plates, bibliography, notes, index, acknowledgments.
$19.95.)
When he was five years old, Jake Simmons, Jr., announced to the world that
"a man"-he already called himself that-"doesn't like being told what to do all
the time." Jake Simmons made his life one in which he could not be told what to
do. That is the story that Jonathan Greenberg tells so well in this book.
At its most immediate level, it is a biography of a remarkable man. Born in
1901 near Muskogee, Indian Territory, his was a youth of uncommon toil and
circumstance. The toil was the product of his parents' magnified work ethic.
The circumstance was that the family owned nearly two thousand acres of
prime farm and ranch land-the product of his parents' own industry and the
good fortune of being descendants of freedmen who shared equally in the al-
lotment of Creek Indian lands. It was a family of such area renown that it
hosted Booker T. Washington when he visited Oklahoma in 1914. Washington
left well-rested, well-fed, and with three future students for his famed
Tuskegee Institute: Jake, Jr., and his two youngest brothers.
Washington's gospel of work and economic independence found a natural
ally in young Jake. Graduating from Tuskegee, he made his way back to Mus-
kogee and became lease "hound" (broker) in the booming oil business. The
Lone Star State provided the basis of what became a sizable fortune, for Jake
Simmons was able to get leases from poor, black, East Texas farmers who
trusted no white man. There, his race was an asset. Just as important, though,
were his knowledge of the industry-knowledge gained entirely in the fields-
his talent for salesmanship, and his unbending integrity. All of these served
him equally well when he took his Simmons Royalty Company into Africa and
brokered multimillion dollar oil deals, at one point including an exclusive con-
cession to all mineral rights on or below eight million acres, the entire nation of
Liberia.
If this were merely the biography of a black entrepreneur, it would be inter-
esting. What makes it fascinating is that Greenberg makes it much more. In
Jake Simmons, Jr., he also finds the story of a pioneer civil rights worker and a
political broker whom legislators, governors, congressmen, and senators ap-
proached with respect. In Jake Simmons, he found the life of a man.
More than that, Greenberg tells here the story of an entire family, one that
he traces through several generations. Using appropriate written records and
109 interviews, he begins the story with Cow Tom, a Creek slave in Alabama.
With his Indian master, Cow Tom trekked across the Trail of Tears, survived

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 95, July 1991 - April, 1992. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117153/. Accessed September 2, 2014.