"King of the Wildcatters"
The Life and Times of Tom Slick, 1883-1930
Business History
6.125 x 9.25, 178 pp.
8 b&w photos., 6 maps.
Pub Date: 06/14/2004
Kenneth E. Montague Series in Oil and Business History
  paper
Price:        $19.95

978-1-58544-399-4

Published by Texas A&M University Press

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1996 Outstanding Book on Oklahoma History, presented by the Oklahoma Historical Society at their annual meeting in April 1997.
American Association for State and Local History. Certificate of Commendation.

"King of the Wildcatters"

The Life and Times of Tom Slick, 1883-1930

By Ray Miles

A legend among oilmen, Tom Slick was an independent operator in the truest sense. His office was his car during his early days of wildcatting the Mid-Continent oil field around 1910. And even after great success brought him to posher surroundings in an Oklahoma City office suite, his style remained hands-on. His impromptu deals were often brokered on street corners and over pay phones in his typical laconic style. Well into the 1920s he was the last of a breed who had no stock holders or board members to answer to, and instead "worked out of his hip pocket."

Slick's extraordinary rise paralleled that of the modern petroleum industry. He began his career in the oil fields of western Pennsylvania, the birthplace of the American oil business. Before 1910, he headed west, traveling with his father and brother to the fields of Kansas to work as contract drillers. Slick met with failure in these early years, as he moved on to the new state of Oklahoma in an attempt to locate oil. In 1912 he received the financial backing to drill one more well, which turned out to be the discovery well for the vast Cushing Field. This amazing success was followed by more discoveries of fields—a frenzy of acquiring, drilling, then selling that in 1929 culminated with Slick's sale of his Oklahoma holdings in the Prairie Oil and Gas Company: up until that time, the largest sale of oil properties by an individual.

In this first biography of Tom Slick, Ray Miles fleshes out the man who, despite his legendary drive—and the high-profile nature of the oil business—was exceedingly private and withdrawn. Miles relies on newspaper accounts, court and business records, correspondence, and personal interviews with family, friends, and associates to render a portrait of one of the most successful and colorful, yet elusive, businessmen of his day.

More than a biography, King of the Wildcatters is a description of the early years of one of America's most important industries; a story of the birth of the oil conservation movement, for which Slick was one of the earliest proponents; and an examination of the first generation of oilmen who went west in search of a fortune in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas. Readers interested in the rough-and-tumble wildcatting days of oil exploration and business—and researchers of petroleum and entrepreneurial history—will find in this work a significant contribution to the literature.

Ray Miles is assistant professor of history at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana. His research and writings concentrate on the American West.

What Readers Are Saying:

“Miles gives us a highly readable biography of an intriguing person and a welcome addition to the history of oil’s first century.” --Southwestern Historical Quarterly

“An informative and well-written account of the life of one of the most successful and best known independents of an earlier time. It belongs on the shelf of any reader with special interest in the histories of the domestic oil industry and of Oklahoma.” --Western Historical Quarterly

“Miles’s study is a valuable addition to oil history. His focused, well-written presentation includes photographs, maps, and a glossary.” --Kansas History

“Ray Miles has done a commendable job of weaving together limited research materials to present an impressionistic portrait of a significant though intensely private wildcatter-turned-independent oil man.” --Technology and Culture

“Miles has done an impressive job of trying to reconstruct Slick’s personal story and business career from family interviews and newspaper and other accounts.” --The Journal of American History

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