The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 107, July 2003 - April, 2004 Page: 341
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Texas State Historical Association, 2001, Pp. xii+304. Acknowledgments,
preface, prologue, selected bibliography, notes, index. ISBN 0-87611-182-7.
How did a group of five unlikely men-an unprincipled reprobate, a cos-
mopolitan engineer, and three brothers from the Corsicana oil fields-gather
on Spindletop Hill near Beaumont and help bring in the world's largest oil
field? What was so important about the Lucas gusher, which played itself out less
than three years later? How did a sleepy lumber town in southeast Texas accom-
modate the throng of curious sightseers and job hunters eager to get rich quick
from the bonanza? Three local authors, Judith Linsley, Ellen Rienstra and Jo
Ann Stiles, provide answers to those questions and more. Written on the occa-
sion of the centennial anniversary of Spindletop, Giant Under the Hill builds on
the scholarship of Clark and Halbouty in Spindletop (Random House, 1952), an
early chronicle of the hill. By utilizing new and previously unused sources, the
authors provide the most up-to-date discussion of the men, the technology, and
the times that ushered in the Texas oil era.
One of the strengths of the book is the colorful pageant of characters--wild-
catters, speculators, hucksters, company men, and hometown boys-that appear
within its covers. In the early chapters both human agency and dogged ingenuity
combine to bring in "the giant under the hill"-oil. Consequently, the hub of
petroleum production shifted from the eastern to the southwestern United
States. Without any one of these "authentic American heroes" (p. 2), the authors
convincingly argue, the gusher-and hence the modern age-would not have
Almost overnight Beaumont became a boomtown. Chapter nine on the daily
life of the drilling crews is a fascinating social history of the oil culture. Three
separate settlements-Gladys City, Spindletop, and Little Africa-sprang up to
provide for the basic needs of the residents. Mud, fire, and mosquitoes were con-
stant threats. Adequate accommodations, however, failed to match the mush-
rooming population and living conditions remained "rough, uncomfortable,
unhealthy, and dangerous" (p. 161).
Chapter eleven updates the story of Spindletop. While Beaumont would re-
main a refining center, it failed to become the premier city on the Gulf Coast. As
oil production ranged outward from the hill, the city would be eclipsed by Hous-
ton to the west with its rail and financial connections. Spindletop would later
host newer fields, but the heady days of the Lucas gusher would not be repeated.
Giant Under the Hzll is both an authoritative and highly readable account of the
euphoric days that launched the golden age of the Texas oil industry. Abundant
photographs enhance its pages. Additions to this otherwise fine volume would
be a discussion of the environmental impact of the discovery, as well as data on
the economic effects on the established lumber and rice industries. Academics
and those interested in business and economic history will find this book a valu-
able addition to Texana. It will be a standard reference for the early Texas oil in-
dustry for a long while.
Mary L. Kelley
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 107, July 2003 - April, 2004, periodical, 2004; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101224/m1/385/: accessed April 26, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.