"They couldn't pick a better time to start in life--
It ain't too early and it ain't too late!
Starting as a farmer with a brand new wife--
Soon be livin' in a brand new state!
Brand new state -- gonna treat you great!
Gonna give you barley, carrots and pertaters,
Pasture for the cattle, spinach and termaters,
Flowers on the prairie where the June bugs zoom,
Plen'y of air and plen'y of room,
Plen'y of room to swing a rope!
Plen'y of heart and plen'y of hope."
-- from the 1955 film of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma"
"In late March , another oil lease deal for Sarah's land came along.
This one was with a man named Frank Barnes. But this time, the signing
bonus was half as much as in the Devonian deal: only eighty dollars, or
fifty cents an acre.
"Clearly word hadn't reached Sarah's father, on the outskirts of Taft,
that around daybreak on , wildcatter Tom Slick had struck black gold
about five miles south of that horseshoe bend in the Cimarron River. The
site of Tom Slick's 'Eureka!' was on the land of a white stonemason, Frank
Wheeler, and was leased by one of Slick's partners: banker and real estate man
B. B. Jones of Bristow, Creek County.
"After oil gushed up on Wheeler's land, Tom Slick did his level best to
keep his discovery secret -- like cutting Wheeler's telephone wire. The wily
wildcatter knew that once word got out, a passel of oilmen would make a
mad dash to the area to get drilling rights on nearby land.
"In about a week, Slick and his partners snapped up leases to much of the
land several miles around Wheeler's farm. It was B. B. Jones who wound up
with the right to drill on Sarah's acres, because within days of getting
the lease on her land, Frank Barnes had handed it off to Jones for a dollar.
(Barnes was a landman, doing the leasing legwork for Jones.)
"To drill on Sarah's land, Jones had to shell out the money for everything
his crew had to do, from readying the rig and erecting the derrick to
spudding in, then drilling deeper and deeper -- hundreds of feet down into the
earth. The whole shebang could take one month, two months -- maybe more,
depending on the technical difficulties the crew ran into.
"After all that, if Jones's crew struck very little or no oil -- a 'dry
hole' or a 'duster' -- he could be out several thousand dollars. But if they
struck a 'gusher' -- oil jetting up fast and furious -- B. B. Jones would
make big bucks when he sold the crude oil to a refinery, where it would be
turned into gasoline, kerosene, and other by-products in high demand.
"Sarah would be in the money, too. Her royalty (or share) was the
standard 12.5 percent of the oil produced."
The first twenty pages of SEARCHING FOR SARAH RECTOR contain an amazing
and somewhat complicated mini-lesson in America's westward expansion; the
intricacies of alliances during the Civil War when it came to the Native
Americans who had earlier been booted westward out of what became the Old South;
and how Andy Jackson's famous promise ("...as long as the grass grows or
the water runs...") eventually went out the window.
Sarah Rector's black family had lived in Indian Territory as part of the
Creek Nation and when Indian Territory was broken up and Oklahoma became a
state, preschool-aged Sarah became owner of a 160-acre allotment of land,
the same as with each of her family members who were born before the legal
cutoff date. And so Sarah Rector, who was born into a generations-long
tradition of black folks being screwed by white folks, got lucky and hit the
As we are told up front,
"The scuttlebutt was that Sarah had an income of $15,000 a month -- the
equivalent of more than $300,000 today."
"The more money we come across, the more problems we see"
-- The Notorious B.I.G, Puff Daddy, Ma$e, Stevie J. Bernard Edwards, Nile
And you know that where there is a lot of money, there are also a lot of
truly evil people looking to separate it from its rightful owners. Author
Tonya Bolden keeps building the suspense about what becomes of Sarah Rector
and all of that money by sharing some truly disgusting tales about
guardianships gone awry. (Stealing money from children is bad enough, but acting
in a fiduciary capacity by stealing little kids' money AND dumping them in
orphanages to boot? Freaking amazing.)
Beyond all of the amazing American history that is sewn into SEARCHING FOR
SARAH RECTOR, it is fascinating to consider all the facets of this same
history -- as the author explicitly notes -- that remain a mystery. It is so
cool to live in today's world of children's publishing where the
omniscient tone of history writings of the past have been replaced by an author
providing details to his or her researching and writing process and saying,
essentially, "Here is what I have mined and made sense of." This latter point
of view offers young readers a lot of space for imagining the possibility
of picking up a virtual pick and shovel and probing one of the veins that
the author left unearthed. Or tracking down mysteries about the past in
their own families or their own part of the country.
The book is filled with photographs and historic maps, and the back matter
includes detailed source notes.
And I really liked reading about Kate Barnard, the first American woman
ever elected to a state post.
80 pages Ages 10-14 978-1419708466
- Recommended by: Richie Partington, MLIS, Librarian USA
- Richie's Picks _http://richiespicks.com_