Red Water, Black Gold: The Canadian River in Western Texas, 1920-1999

Red Water, Black Gold: The Canadian River in Western Texas, 1920-1999

Red Water, Black Gold: The Canadian River in Western Texas, 1920-1999

Red Water, Black Gold: The Canadian River in Western Texas, 1920-1999


Red Water, Black Gold: The Canadian River in Texas 1920-1999 tells the story of the Canadian River in the Texas Panhandle. It is a tale of grand designs, high hopes, deep holes, politics, fishing, follies, foibles, and environmental change.

Although efforts had been made to tap the Canadian River's waters before 1920, the discovery of oil in the Panhandle gave new urgency to the search for permanent water supplies.
Additionally, the spread of groundwater irrigation amid the discovery of the limits of Ogallala Aquifer spurred regional interests to tap the Canadian. But overestimates of the river's flow and unfamiliarity with the critical role groundwater played in maintaining that flow led to complications and frustrations, culminating in a lawsuit over the location of the banks of a seemingly waterless river.

This book is a valuable addition to the water history of Texas and the American West and to the growing body of worldwide regional water histories. Combining traditional historical sources with hydrology, climatology, and geology, Red Water, Black Gold complicates the traditional story of top-down water management as well as telling the thus-far untold story of the Canadian River in Texas.


This is a book for both scholars and interested lay readers. For that reason, the author has attempted to keep jargon and technical terms to the minimum necessary for clarity, and Appendix a includes a terms list.

Certain phrases and omissions are worth noting. in place of the more common “Euro-American” used to describe people of western European ancestry living in the United States, this work uses “Anglo American” or “Anglo Texan.” the major role played by New Mexicans of Spanish descent, the Hispanos, in early Canadian River history means that “Euro-American” could be confusing. Spanish land and water use traditions differed from the English common laws introduced from the eastern United States into Texas. “Anglo Texan” better describes the people and the culture that came to dominate the High and South Plains economy in the twentieth century.

Readers interested in traditionally understudied groups in the High Plains will be disappointed in this work. Women, African Americans, and Latino/a residents of the plains contributed to the culture and economy of the region, especially in the cotton lands that extend from Lubbock south, and their struggles and stories are gaining more attention from historians. Very few Latinos/as, African Americans, or women achieved positions of political power in the region during this period, and this story focuses on the river and those politicians and regional leaders who drove the decision making. Indeed, African Americans and Latinos were systematically excluded from the political process until the 1960s. Poorer Anglos, along with Latino/as and African Americans, remain in the background of this chapter of the river’s story.

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