The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 105, July 2001 - April, 2002 Page: 382
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
(p. 4) defined so broadly as to include virtually any innovator at any time, but
once past the introduction, he mercifully drops this idea to delve into the
Spindletop boomer's world, a world of fortunes won and lost overnight, of fierce
fires and poison gas, of horrific accidents and heedless shootings. Readers of the
classic Spindletop works, James A. Clark and Michael T. Halbouty's Spindletop
and Boatright and Owens's Tales from the Derrick Floor, will recognize familiar
themes here. In fact, Spellman frequently quotes lengthy passages from the for-
mer work, but he offers far more lively particulars than previous authors. This is
especially noticeable in his coverage of "victimless" crime; what he presents on
prostitution, one of the most illuminating parts of the book, offers a graphic il-
lustration of how brutal this part of boomtime life was. If some of the particulars
are new, however, the mud and blood perspective is highly traditional. As Spell-
man puts it, "as long as the oil flowed from under Patillo Higgins's salt dome,
the blood and sweat poured out across the fields and streets and saloon floors"
(p. 113). Had Spellman compared local criminal court and/or death records
against what may be honest recollection or may just be tall tales, that might have
led to a new story.
For Christine Moor Sanders, the "untold story" of Spindletop consists primari-
ly of debunking the usual view that Patillo Higgins was the prime mover behind
the Spindletop discovery. As she presents it, other persons, most notably her
great grandfather George Washington O'Brien, were interested in oil at Spindle-
top long before Higgins, and Higgins was a pushy, impecunious promoter and
blowhard who had little to do with the discovery; she is even skeptical that Hig-
gins was responsible for initially contacting Anthony Lucas. Also "untold" is the
story of the Gladys City Oil, Gas & Manufacturing Company, in which the
O'Briens were majority stockholders. Here Sanders had company records as a
resource. Unfortunately, like Spellman only on a grander scale, Sanders often
presents chunks of evidence-affidavits, meeting minutes, newspaper stories-
without offering the context and interpretation that would produce narrative.
The result is difficult to track, and for that reason, the story of the Gladys City
company remains untold. Ironically, the course of George Washington
O'Brien's own fortunes during and after the boom also remains obscure. In the
end, Sanders's work will be most useful to those interested in local lore and the
genealogy of the O'Brien and allied families.
Petroleum industry scholars will notice that both authors' works contain avoid-
able clangers. For example, for Spellman, John D. Rockefeller's brother Frank
becomes "Flagler Rockefeller" (p. 25), and Sanders has oil activity "heightened"
in New England, the Dakotas, and "various Indian Territories" in the 188os (p.
49). Such gaffes demonstrate that, however colorful the raw material, authors
need to master the broader industry context when they tell the Spindletop story.
Unzverszty of Texas of the Permian Basin Diana Davids Olien
Balcones Heights: A Crossroads of San Antonio. By Lewis F. Fisher. (San Antonio:
Maverick Publishing Co., 1999. Pp. 57. Notes, index. ISBN 0-9651507-7-1.
Lewis F. Fisher has written a book about the history of Balcones Heights, a city
Here’s what’s next.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 105, July 2001 - April, 2002, periodical, 2001; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101222/m1/412/?rotate=270: accessed January 23, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.