Monday, October 5, 2015

#CollisionWithFame: Tom Slick, Yeti Hunter


“There is precious little in civilization to appeal to a Yeti.” --Sir Edmund Hillary


Thomas B. Slick lived a life that could have inspired a work of fiction.  His famous namesake father, Tom Slick, was the “king of the wildcatters” who came out of Pennsylvania to make a fortune in the oilfields of Oklahoma and Texas. Tom Slick the elder died of a stroke on August 16, 1930, at the age of 46. Two days later the oil derricks in the Oklahoma City Field stood silent for an hour to honor his passing. Slick’s widow married Oklahoma City oilman Charles F. Urschel, who was a kidnapping victim of Machine Gun Kelly in 1933. Young Tom was back east, attending Phillips Exeter; he would later go on to Yale, serve in the US Navy during World War II, and also do graduate study at Harvard.
Young Tom Slick had great success in business.  He had become chairman of Slick Oil and also Transworld Resources Corporation, and sat on several other boards. Tom Slick was also “instrumental” in developing the Texstar Corporation.  In his twenties, before World War II, he had plans for creating a series of research enterprises, which he later fulfilled in the 1950s.  His children carried on those efforts, endowing multiple research enterprises, some in the family name.  Among the institutions he or his family created, endowed, or assisted were the Southwest Research Center, the Southwest Research Institute, the Southwest Foundation for Research and Education, and the Southwest Agriculture Institute; Trinity College in San Antonio; and positions and lectureships at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas.
            During the 1950s Slick made his public name as an adventurer and mystery seeker.  He had crashed his plane in the Brazilian jungles while seeking diamonds, but walked out of the rainforest unscathed. Slick financed and undertook expeditions to search for the Loch Ness monster, the Yeti, and Big Foot. An accident on the Nepal Yeti expedition had also nearly claimed his life. The Yeti-seeking expedition of the late 1950s so upset the Soviet Union that the Communists claimed the expedition was a cover for destabilizing Communist Chinese influence in South Asia:

The engineering of the incidents between Nepal and Communist China . . . was the missing link in the story of the mysterious scientific expeditions sent to the Himalayas in quest of the “snowmen”  . . . Izvestia told its readers of the current “sensational clamor” in the United States press asserting that the snowman is one of the earliest ancestors of man and a sort of herd-living Himalayan pithecanthrope.  A dispatch from Peiping warned that searching parties now “intensively reconnoitering” the China-Nepal border resembled dangerous, missions once sent to snoop around the Soviet-Turkish frontier in search of the remains of Noah’s Ark. Izvestia presumably was alluding to an expedition led by Tom Slick of Texas and sponsored by the San Antonio Zoological Society to try to determine whether the “abominable snowman” of the Himalayas is an ape, a man, or possibly a myth.

Slick had also been involved in more credible and serious pursuits than cryptozoology.  His annual conference at Columbia University was a vehicle for seeking paths to world peace; Slick also wrote on the topic, including his publication of the book Permanent Peace by Prentice-Hall in 1958.
On October 7, 1962, Slick and Shelly Sudderth, his friend and pilot, were returning from a hunting trip to Canada, bound for Salt Lake City, Utah.  Their craft, a twin-engine Beechcraft Bonanza 35, crashed in the mountains of southwestern Montana, in Beaverhead County.  Little is known about the crash. As reported at the time, the’re best theories were speculative:

Harold Briggs, search and rescue coordinator for the Federal Aviation Agency and the Beaverhead County sheriff’s office, said the plane, a Beechcraft Bonanza 35, apparently disintegrated in flight.  There were storms in the area Saturday night, and Mr. Briggs theorized that the plane had been had been struck by lightning or was traveling too fast and tore itself apart.

Yeti activity was not suspected.