The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 101, July 1997 - April, 1998

Book Reviews

King of the Wildcatters: The Life and Times of Tom Slick, x883-z93o. By Ray Miles.
(College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1996. Pp. xiii+x66.
Illustrations, preface, introduction, epilogue, notes, bibliography, index.
ISBN 0-89096-715-6. $29.95, cloth.)
As Ray Miles's title indicates, among early-twentieth-century oil men, Tom
Slick was one of the most famous and most successful. Born in Pennsylvania
in 1883, Slick followed his drilling contractor father to the Kansas oil fields
twenty years later and began his industry career learning how to lease large
blocks of acreage for exploration at minimal expense, a technique central to
his business strategy thereafter. Notwithstanding a rocky start, Slick made his
first of several fortunes when he and his partners brought in the discovery
well of Oklahoma's Cushing field in 1912. His biggest successes came in
Oklahoma-in Tonkawa in 1922-1924, the Seminole area in 1926-1927, and
Oklahoma City in 1929-1930, but he was also active in Kansas and Texas; in
Texas his greatest coup came when he brought in some enormous wells at
Pioneer in Eastland County in 1922. Within the span of little more than two
decades, Slick found millions of barrels of oil and made millions of dollars,
chiefly in periodic spectacular sell-outs of production and leases to Prairie Oil
and Gas. A workaholic and compulsive micromanager-long after he was a
multimillionaire, he showed up to supervise the drilling of every well he put
down-Slick also worked himself to an early death at age forty-six. By that
time he had become an industry legend.
Apart from the drama of his life, Slick merits historical study because, as
Miles cogently argues, his career tells us a great deal about early-twentieth-cen-
tury oil men and their industry. In many respects Slick was a typical indepen-
dent of his time. He relied on hunches and experience, rather than science, in
finding oil; he brought in impressive production only to sell out to a large
company and literally move on to fresh fields; and he could see that his indus-
try faced serious problems by the late twenties. In other respects Slick was atyp-
ical. He did not raise money by looking for many business partners or wooing
small investors, and he tried to keep as low a public profile as possible. This
last characteristic offers a formidable challenge to any biographer, more espe-
cially when, as in Slick's instance, few business or personal papers survive. As
Miles admits, "writing a biography of someone who did not want anyone to
know anything about him has presented problems" (xi). All the more reason
to admire how Miles has succeeded in putting together the story of Slick's life
and career by talking to surviving family members, working with family memo-
rabilia, going to trade journals and local newspapers, and looking at land and
court records. Miles gives us a highly readable biography of an intriguing per-
son and a welcome addition to the history of oil's first century.
University of Texas of the Permian Basin DIANA DAVIDS OLIEN
A Hundred Years of Heroes: A History of the Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show.
By Clay Reynolds with Marie-Madeleine Schein. (Fort Worth: Texas

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1997

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 101, July 1997 - April, 1998. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117155/. Accessed July 12, 2014.