In my previous blog I discussed my recent excursion to the far reaches of West Texas, that is, El Paso. It was there that I hiked the Franklin Mountains and had a challenging but memorable experience. As I hiked I thought of the other mountain ranges of West Texas that I have enjoyed hiking including the Davis Mountains, the Chisos Mountains of Big Bend, and not to be forgotten, the Guadalupe Mountains.
I have hiked the Guadalupe Mountains almost a dozen times, and am always held in wonderment. The highest point in Texas is Guadalupe Peak at 8,700 ft. You can see for over a hundred miles in almost any direction. I have watched the sun set while at the peak, been at the peak when it is dark, and I have watched the sun rise from the peak; all enjoyable experiences. The trails are challenging and many are quite remote. You can hike for days in the Guadalupe Mountains without seeing anyone. The Peak trail is challenging but you will see a number of folks on that trail.
The Guadalupe Mountains from what I have read were formed differently than neighboring mountain ranges such as the Rockies. They are a distinct ecosystem unto themselves. One of my favorite treasure books I read this past year was Legend and Lore of the Guadalupe Mountains written by W. C. Jameson. He is a very well-known author of many treasure books. His treasure tales are captivating but what I really enjoy most about Jameson’s writing is his attention to history. I actually love his history stories related to the Guadalupe Mountains more than his treasure stories. I have read many of his treasure books but I think the Guadalupe Mountains is my favorite.
If you are ever on a venture to see Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, the Guadalupe Mountains are just 40 miles down the road. You will feel like you are out in the middle of “no where” and you would be right. But that is the lure of the Guadalupe Mountains. I will make it a point to reread his book before my next excursion to the Guadalupe Mountains. It will quite literally add to the adventure.
The backyard to our home in West Texas has open skies with beautiful morning sunrises and colorful sunsets. I love to sit on the back porch and watch God’s nature. I also enjoy catching the morning stars before sunrise. I had a scare in the fall of 2010 when I thought someone was putting an oil rig in the open field directly behind us. It sure would have messed up our view. (Please see Texas Tea I) Fortunately, no oil derrick went up and our cherished view remains intact. The silly hopes of my wife and I thinking about drilling for oil was just something to lighten the moment. We wouldn’t have the money, and besides I don’t think you can drill for oil within city limits. I see some pump jacks bobbing up and down as I drive around town but I dismiss the thought I would ever own one.
Nowadays, I see those wind turbines going up all over the place and stretching for miles. I don’t know exactly what people are paid to allow even one of those on their land but some of the wind farms I have seen a mere 30 miles from my house are quite extensive. Some of those same land owners are growing cotton and have pump jacks on them as well. I don’t own any land so I don’t think about it much. That was,………….. until a few weeks ago when my wife asked to speak with me for a few minutes. If you’re like me, you hesitate when your spouse asks for a few minutes. Does one of the kids need help? Did the transmission go out? Are we invited to a party we would rather not go to? You know all the thoughts that race through your mind. I took and breath, sat down, and opened my ears.
“You know that land in far West Texas near Lubbock on my mother’s side of the family that I sometimes mention. “Yes, the one that the family no longer owns but supposedly owns the mineral rights to,” I responded. I added, “the one that we have not heard about in decades and the one we wondered if you were even a part of since your mom passed away almost eight years ago. The one that possibly could have gone solely to your surviving uncle since her death.” She smiled and nodded her head as she replied, “Yes, that one.”
I sarcastically responded, “you mean the one that is the piece of land next to someone else’s land that has had pump jacks bobbinng on it for years. If there is any oil there, those nearby pump jacks have sucked it all out. Didn’t your mom say there were some pump jacks right near the fence line and they have been there for years. If there was any oil it is probably mostly gone by now,” I added.
“Could be,” she said. “My dad said he will be sending a check in the mail soon because an attorney called representing an oil company that wants to lease the mineral rights.” Her dad is 91 and wants to split the money between my wife and her sister. He doesn’t need the money. “Any idea of how much I asked?” “Probably not a lot,” she giggled, “by the time you divide it up between my uncle’s family and my mom’s.” I added, “You didn’t answer my question.” “About eighteen hundred dollars,” she said. “It won’t be much. “Is it annually I asked?” “I think it is for a three year lease,” she said. “Oh well, still fun to think about,” I told her. I told her to keep the money and spend it herself. I know she gives it away to good charities anytime she receives money. She turns it into a blessing for others. “By the way, if oil is found do you even get any of the proceeds?” I asked her. I actually didn’t think she would get any. To my my surprise she responded, “Yes.”
Really?” I asked, with my eyes and ears opening wide at this point. “Yes, but it doesn’t sound like much,” she admitted. “The oil company gets 80% of any barrel, and the family gets 20%. My father would get 37.5% of that and I would get 50% of that.” If my calculations are right, and oil is selleing at $100 a barrel, I am guessing it would be about $3.75 a barrel to my wife. I have no idea how many barrels are pumped daily but I doubt much will ever come of it. Still nice to hope though, isn’t it? It would also be nice to say I own some west Texas crude, excuse me,………….Texas tea.
I can still hear my wife saying, “There is precious cargo in the back seat.” She would occasionally remind me of this if I was getting short tempered on the freeway because someone cut me off intentionally or thoughtlessly. “It is not worth an accident, just let it go.” Then to help defuse my temper she would add, “They are driving like a jerk.” It was a way of acknowledging that she was aware I was not the one at fault, but be mindful of the kids in the back seat. Our families are our most valuable assets; precious cargo indeed.
When my kids were young, an acquaintance of mine named Preston Harper wrote a book that I thoroughly enjoyed reading, Warlords of the West: A Story of the Comanche. I loaned the book out and unfortunately it has been lost for many years now. As one who has lived many years in West Texas, my imagination has been captivated by this group of Indians who were feared by all who encountered them. They were highly regarded horsemen, perhaps the best the world has ever known except for the Mongolian conquerors. They originally came from northern Colorado and southern Wyoming, migrating south into eastern New Mexico, the rolling plains of Kansas and Oklahoma, as well as the vast open prairies and deserts of West Texas. It is believed they began migrating in the late 17th century. They drove out other Indian tribes and resisted the Spanish and Anglo incursions for hundreds of years. They resisted white settlers after Texas became a Republic in 1836. After Texas became a state in 1845 they fought effectively against the U. S. Army until the 1870’s, only being subdued after the buffalo were slaughtered.
Harper did a good job of allowing you, the reader, to live among the Comanche as they rode vast distances hunting and raiding other Indian settlements. Horses were their prized commodity. The author took time to describe their lifestyle, including how they were raised as children, how they courted, how they honored each other, how they fought. One aspect that intrigued me was how they were named. Just as other Indian tribes had interesting names such as Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, or White Feather the book also mentioned some. For example, one of the main characters is named Talks to Horses. I wish I could remember some other names but it has been over 20 years since I read the book. Immediately after finishing the book I pondered what I would name each of my family if I were to give them Indian names. Here is what I came up with:
“….They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”
“A live oak tree is sturdy, provides shade, acorns for the squirrels, and a refuge for the birds. You are a strong and dependable husband to me and father to our children. You are the live oak for our family,” she told me. I tried to convey an Indian voice as I replied, “My name Live Oak.” Twenty years later I still secretly like the name she gave me.
In reality I very seldom refer to any of my family by their Indian names but I sure enjoyed the opportunity to come up with some names for them. I also encourage you to read Dr. Harper’s book. I hope my grammer is correct because I had him for an English teacher in college in 1972. I also wish I knew how to say goodbye in Indian but about the only Indian word I know is a greating, “how” (hau).
I enjoyed a good read this past week called The Big Rich, written by Bryan Burrough. I am not a fast reader but I do love history books, especially ones about Texas history. I remember how much I enjoyed having to take Texas history in the 7th grade and I have been hooked ever since.
The book chronicles the history of four prominent Texas oil families who were at the beginning of oil discovery in Texas in the early 20th century. These families acquired vast fortunes. Unfortunately much of the wealth was eventually lost by the close of that same century. I used to enjoy watching the 1980’s TV show, Dallas, but doubted people actually lived like JR Ewing. Well, Mr. Burrough does a nice job of revealing just how independent and rough-living some of the wildcatters really were. They made the sex charades of JR look quite tame. I suppose some people have a risk gene that enables them to gamble their last bit of money on one more business venture or in this case a possible “gusher.” I read that movie stars, great athletes, and many prominent politicians also have this same “go for it,” and “I’ll deal with the results later,” attitude. They want to experience life to the fullest at the moment. Unfortunately, it often spills over into other areas of their lives resulting in gambling, drugs and sex adventures. These personalities also seem to intrigue us, and I think The Big Rich did a good job of revealing the lives of these families.
The author mentioned traveling to a West Texas location where an individual can turn 360 degrees in any direction and see pump jacks bobbing up and down as far as you can see. I have been to that, very spot. It is near Kermit, TX.
I had just stopped in a little town called Wink to visit a small museum dedicated to one of its famous persons, the singer Roy Orbison. Pretty Woman is one of his songs you might recognize. As I drove out of Wink I anxiously sought to see desert scenery like out of the Arabian Desert. The remote open spaces of West Texas, some with actual sand dunes have always fascinated me. Just outside of Kermit I found the sand dunes. I also discovered the pump jacks. I stopped the car and just sat there amazed.
The Texas oil man that opened this area to drilling went on to become one of the richest people in America. He was not alone. Other Texas oilmen who discovered their riches in the East Texas oil fields and those near the gulf also amassed fortunes. By the middle of the 20th century four of America’s top ten wealthy were Texas oilmen. It would not last. By the turn of the 21st century the wealthiest were hi-tech creators, Wal-Mart heirs and financial investors. Oil tycoons are no longer even in the top 25. So what happened to the money from these families?
Some of the families eventually gave millions away helping establish hospitals, schools, supporting communities and so forth. On the other hand some families ventured into costly, risky, sometimes questionable legitimate investments that ended up losing much of their families fortunes. Was oil good for these Texas families or for that matter Texas?
The book does a good job of making you wonder if Texas has handled its wealth wisely. A wealth that is no longer as easy to come by as it was in the last century. I believe oil helped bring industry to Texas and thereby fueled the growth of cities such as Houston, Dallas, Midland, Odessa, and numerous others. One lasting effect of Texas oil money according to the book was its affect on American politics. Money has always had a hand in Washington and it was no surprise to me that it helped Lyndon Johnson’s political career. However, I did not realize it was Texas oil money that helped finance religious and conservative radio programs beginning in the 1950’s. In time these movements began to influence the right wing of the Republican Party which still has repercussions today. The book does a good job of chronicling this. Whether that is good or bad is probably dependant on each individual’s political perspective.
I have asked myself if Texas is better because of oil. The book sort of challenged me to ask this question. I was born in Texas and have lived here most of my life. Well, I think it has helped us. I also do not think we have necessarily managed our wealth as well as we should have. But then again I see wealth from a different perspective. I have visited over a dozen countries and over two dozen states and have met decent people everywhere. I also think Texas has been blessed with many, many decent people. That is what I see as the true treasure of Texas. They are what make Texas a great state. Unfortunately, the book did not touch on that much.
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