Tuesday, April 26, 2016 – The Big Rich


Tuesday, April 26, 2016 – Once I built a railroad; I made it run; I made it race against time. Once I built a railroad, but now it’s done, Buddy, can you spare me a dime?

In this case, “Once I found an oil well…” The Big Rich – The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes by Bryan Burrough takes the story from there.

The end result is the same. “Buddy, can you spare me a dime?” Just as Can You Spare a Dime? came to be viewed as an anthem to the shattered dreams broken by The Great Depression of the 1930’s, The Big Rich – The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes tells the story of the shattered dreams and fortunes broken by oil.

If you are a native Texan, grew up in Texas, got to Texas as fast as you could or live in Texas now, this book explains a lot. What is it about? “Oil, that is. Texas tea!” (From The Ballad of Jed Clampitt) and the big four who made the state and possibly the country what it is today.

It will take you from Spindletop (January 10, 1901) in Beaumont to the political landscape of Texas today. From Dallas, we have H.L Hunt and his THREE bigamists families, the eccentric Sid Richardson (this is where the Bass Brothers from Dallas come in), and Clint Murchison, Sr, whose son, Clint, Jr. would own the Dallas Cowboys. The Cullen Family from Houston creates the fourth family of the Big Four. And gushing oil and squandering incomprehensible sums of money in between we find the Conroe, Texas oil fields and George Strake, Glen McCarthy and the Shamrock Hotel in Houston and many more names on buildings we drive by daily. Plus there are more lawyers and lawsuits than students attending Roy Cullen’s beloved University of Houston today. In 1938, Hugh Roy Cullen donated $335,000 (equivalent to $5,631,643.03 in 2015) (2) for the first building to be built at the location of U of H today.

Those waiting in lines at the gas stations in the 1970s and organizations with letters like OPEC become clear. That cornering the silver market thing no body understood at the time (and I did not until I read this book) gives insight into The Middle East and the resulting economic and political policies in place today. And yes, it becomes clear why Jerry Jones’ purchase of the Dallas Cowboys hurts so badly even today. And how and why did Houston get an NFL team that was once called the Houston Oilers in a new football league called the AFL? It is all in this book.

The foundations of anti-federalism (Big Government, States’ Rights, Right-wing ultra-conservative thinking) begin with these four families. The link between the views and values of these four, Ted Cruz (Senate- R-Texas) and Donald Trump and the presidential election today is strong.

Nothing exhibits the age of the great, Texas oil boom and bust better than the Cadillac Ranch(1) outside Amarillo, Texas.

Palo Duro Canyon Trip 4.15 2015-04-21 007 (800x600)

Photo by me – Amarillo, Texas 4.15. 2015

From 1949 to 1963 the caddies buried nose down, fins up correspond almost exactly to the decades of the Texas oil booms and busts that resulted from Spindletop and all of the others. It was when the big and rich from Texas oil bragged and bought Cadillacs, airplanes, big houses, hotels, islands, politicians, radio stations, newspapers and as always, more oil wells. By the mid 1970’s it was nose down and fins and belly up for it all.

Two footnotes to history:

The Republicans of the 1930’s and 1940’s tried to get Buddy, Can You Spare a Dime banned from radio play because it was “Anti-capitalist propaganda promoted by the Democrats and President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal.”

The Nieman-Marcus Christmas Catalog was created for the families of the Big Four.

Sources

  1. Cadillac Ranch is not a ranch but a public art installation and sculpture in Amarillo, Texas, USA. It was created in 1974 by Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez and Doug Michels, who were a part of the art group Ant Farm. It consists of what were (when originally installed during 1974) either older running used or junk Cadillac automobiles, representing a number of evolutions of the car line (most notably the birth and death of the defining feature of mid twentieth century Cadillacs: the tailfins) from 1949 to 1963, half-buried nose-first in the ground, at an angle corresponding to that of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. (Wikipedia)
  2. “Discover UH’s Heritage & History”. UH Alumni Organization. Archived from the original on November 7, 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-16. From Wikipedia

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