In this intricately interpretive narrative, Lawrence Goodwyn explores the legend of the Texas wildcatter, the 20th century’s version of Thomas Jefferson’s “yeoman farmer” and the 19th century’s plains-riding cowboy. Goodwyn brings into clear relief the people who endeavored to act out the American Dream in the remote corners of “oil country.” A driving force in American culture, the “American Dream,” always difficult to define, nevertheless possesses one core quality: the thought that all citizens, regardless of the circumstances of their birth, enjoyed the opportunity to make something of themselves through their own efforts.
Goodwyn looks at the notion of the American Dream through the eyes of the Texas wildcatter. Surprisingly, even before the outlines of the wildcatter come into focus, other vague but seemingly omnipotent actors occupy center stage: major oil companies. Indeed, the “independents” and the “majors” are found to be abrasively yoked in awkward embrace; what immediately becomes clear in this intimate study is that the presence of one helps in important ways to define the other. In fact, as Goodwyn perceptively shows, the relationship of individual enterprise to corporate enterprise becomes uniquely visible in the sources amassed over half a century by the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association.
This peculiar relationship also came about because of another component of the national experience: the American anti-monopoly tradition. In compelling detail, Goodwyn shows precisely how the American anti-monopoly tradition has historically been mobilized by Texas independents in a sustained effort over many decades to defend themselves against the forces of centralization that have always occupied a dominant position in global petroleum.
Texas Oil, American Dreams has a magisterial quality whose ultimate meaning extends far beyond the borders of Texas because the enterprise of oil finding and the wildcatters who have lived it constitute one of the most intense expressions of individual American striving. Above all, they kept careful records of their own efforts-when they prevailed and why, and when they met defeat and why. In Goodwyn’s own words: “In its implications about the driving imperatives of modern life, their story is not provincial. It speaks to everyone who respects the idea of autonomy and independence.”