Voices from the Oil Fields
Published by: University of Oklahoma Press
Imprint: University of Oklahoma Press
276 Pages | 6 x 9 | 41 b&w illus.
In the late 1930s employees of the Federal Writers Project, a branch of the New Deal Workers Progress Administration, recorded the voices of these pioneers as they offered their memories, sometimes wryly humorous and sometimes bitter, of the turmoil that was the daily lot of the oilfielders. We meet colorful, tough-talking “Manila Kate,” who took over her husband’s drilling outfit after he died in an explosion. A welder vividly recalls the death of his closest pal, a skilled hand who loved to take chances. In an oil-field shantytown the support of good-hearted neighbors assuages the pain of a bereaved and impoverished family. A “shooter” recalls the deadly danger of the “soup wagon” the buckboard that delivered the nitroglycerin to the well—or blew up on the way.
While many of the individuals witnessed bizarre accidents that became almost routine in the early oil fields, their personal stories also show how uncertain job security and wages could be, even before the Depression, when dry holes and plummeting oil prices left thousands of workers broke and homeless.
Many of the interviewers provide valuable technical details about early oilfield operations. Yet it is the stories of the people, the workers themselves, that endure. The early oil industry was built upon their toil, their pain, and their courage, all of which are evident in every word recorded here.