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SLICK, THOMAS BAKER (1883-1930)

A legendary Oklahoma oilman, Tom Slick became one of the largest independent oil producers in the nation. His business ventures also included railroad building, town site development, and plantation ownership. Known for honesty in his business dealings, devoted to family and friends, and intensely private, he was born Thomas Baker Slick on October 12, 1883, in Shippenville, Pennsylvania, to Johnson M. and Mary A. Baker Slick. Tom Slick's home environment and upbringing in Clarion, Pennsylvania, lead him naturally to the oil-field life.

Following his father and brother westward into the oil business, he began his career in Tryon, Oklahoma, in 1904. Working as a leaser, he received a 25 percent share of all the leases he acquired. His first drilling venture proved unsuccessful, but with the intense determination that was his hallmark he vowed to become a millionaire in the oil fields of Oklahoma, a goal he achieved many times over.

After he had drilled a series of dry holes, his enormously successful Wheeler Number One well in the Cushing Field, made public in April 1912, thrust him into prominence and eventually earned him the name "King of the Wildcatters." Charles B. Shaffer, and Slick's longtime partner B. B. Jones, along with Charles J. Wrightsman, shared in this success and formed Hi-Grade Oil Company. Unfortunately, Slick and Shaffer ended their business and personal association in a disagreement over leases. In 1913 Slick sold his part of Hi-Grade to Prairie Oil and Gas Company, earning him a fourth of the million-dollar sale. But this was just a portion of all his holdings in the Cushing Field, and by 1914 his leases had made him a multimillionaire. A cycle of overworking, selling his holdings, retiring, and then coming back full force into the oil business would repeat throughout his life.

On June 21, 1915, he married Berenice Frates, oldest child of Joseph A. and Lula M. Buck Frates. The Frates were a well-known family in the railroad business. Slick's subsequent partnership with his father-in-law made them major players in the transportation industry, with Slick providing the financial backing and Frates the expertise. They also collaborated to develop oil boomtowns. Under the auspices of the Slick Townsite Company and the Oklahoma Southwestern Railway (OSWR) they created the towns of Slick and Nuyaka, located between Bristow and Okmulgee, Oklahoma.

Between 1915 and 1920 Tom Slick took time out to build a family of three children and enjoy his home life. His children were Thomas Bernard, Betty, and Earl Frates. Thomas Slick, Jr. would later become an adventurer and oilman in his own right and go in search of the yeti (abominable snowman).

In the 1920s Slick reentered the oil business with a vengeance, developing or discovering six major pools in the Mid-Continent Region within the next five years. During this period of expansion he managed his oil concerns with three important staff, Charles F. Urschel, Ernest E. Kirkpatrick and James Huffman. In 1923 Slick began ventures in central Oklahoma's Greater Seminole Field. He also accumulated further holdings in Kansas with partners Ralph Pryor and Floyd Lockhart and in 1929 acquired leases in the Oklahoma City Field. Due to his experiences of overproduction and waste in the Kansas and Oklahoma fields, Tom Slick realized the need for conservation measures for his industry, and he advocated unitization and well spacing.

Years of hard work took their toll, and Slick died on August 16, 1930, from a massive stroke following surgery. Many grieved his passing, and on August 18, 1930, oil derricks in the Oklahoma City Field stood silent for one hour in tribute. Political and legal wrangling among the family trustees and the States of Oklahoma and Pennsylvania over Slick's residency and valuation of his estate followed his death. Slick's sister, Flored Urschel, died in 1931, and Charles F. Urschel married Tom's widow, Berenice.

SEE ALSO: PETROLEUM, URSCHEL KIDNAPPING.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Estate of Thomas B. Slick, Valuation Report by Board of Appraisers as of August 16, 1930, Oklahoma Collection, Oklahoma Department of Libraries, Oklahoma City. Ray Miles, "King of the Wildcatters": The Life and Times of Tom Slick, 1883-1930 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1996). Ray Miles, "A Taxing Matter: The Dispute over the Estate of Tom Slick, 1930-1932," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 75 (Fall 1997). D. Earl Newsom, Drumright! The Glory Days of a Boom Town (Perkins, Okla.: Evans Publications, Inc., 1985).

Kitty Pittman

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