by Clay Coppedge
there was the name. Tom Slick. It sounds daring and adventurous, like
Clutch Cargo, Johnny Quest or Indiana Jones. That trio of heroes are
each fictional but Tom Slick lived in the real world, even if he spent
a lot of time and money looking for creatures that many people believed
to be unreal.
Tom Slick made a name for himself in Texas
and in the wider world as millionaire oilman, rancher, businessman
and philanthropist. His father, Thomas Baker Slick, Sr., was a famous
and wildly successful wildcatter known as “Lucky Tom.” He died young,
at the age of 46.
After his mother remarried, Tom Slick, Jr.’s stepfather was kidnapped
by gangster Machine Gun Kelly, an ordeal that ended with the release
of his stepfather and Kelly pleading “Don’s shoot G-men! Don’t shoot
G-men!” when the FBI tracked him down.
as a result of that experience and his wealth, Tom Slick, Jr. would
become a private man who shunned the spotlight. He settled in San
Antonio with his millions, an insatiable, sometimes unconventional
curiosity and a strong desire to do great things without drawing a
lot of attention to himself.
That wasn’t always possible. Spending millions of dollars to look
for creatures that science has never acknowledged does tend to draw
attention. Slick's biographer, Loren Coleman, refers to Slick as “Texas’
In addition to his oil and ranching business and contributions to
research science, Slick also made a name for himself as a cryptozoologist:
one who searches for animals that science has never officially acknowledged.
Think Loch Ness Monster, and then think Yeti, Sasquatch or Bigfoot
and you get the idea.
drew some national attention when he funded and participated in expeditions
to the Himalayas in the 1950s in search of the yeti, the original
abominable snowman. Slick and his teams never found anything that
science could hang its hat on and say, “By golly, I think we have
discovered a new creature! A yeti!” but they unearthed some tantalizing
clues that, as the years have gone by, have unfortunately been lost.
When Slick and his team was pounding the Himalayas for proof of the
yeti’s existence, there was a considerable if not widespread belief
that yetis existed but in such harsh and remote environments that
finding one, even its remains, was almost impossible.
Yeti fever peaked in the late 1950s then plunged when famed mountaineer
Sir Edmund Hillary effectively put an end to the public’s fascination
with any notion of an abominable snowman.
Hillary, the first man credited with climbing Mt. Everest, signed
on with a TV crew featuring Marlin Perkins of “Wild Kingdom” fame
and went to the Himalayas in sort of a made-for-TV search for the
yeti. In lieu of actually spotting one, Hillary tracked down fakes
and misrepresentations and used them to debunk the whole notion of
a yeti, or abominable snowman.
Annoyed but undeterred, Slick turned his attentions to another reported
man-ape creature, this one said to be living deep in the woods of
the Pacific Northwest: Sasquatch, often referred to as Bigfoot.
we know anything at all about Tom Slick’s search for the yeti and
Bigfoot is due almost entirely to Coleman’s efforts. A cryptozoologist
himself, Coleman spent the better part of 30 years researching Tom
Slick’s life, particularly as it related to his contributions to cryptozoology.
The result was his 1989 book “Tom Slick and the Search for the Yeti.”
Coleman wrote in the introduction to his book: “This man would throw
his fortune behind a serious search for the mysterious creatures.
Who was this man? He was a handsome, lean, prematurely white-haired
man, soft spoken, with a slight Southern drawl. Tom Slick was his
name, more fictional-sounding than real. And in many ways, Tom Slick’s
life was the stuff legends are made of…Tom Slick was given many names
during his short, event-filled life. But today, hardly anyone remembers
him. And that’s a shame.”
|Had he lived
past the age of 46 – he died in 1962 when the plane he was riding
in exploded over Montana – Slick might have hooked up with or even
founded the Texas Bigfoot Research Conservancy, which carries on Slick’s
interests, primarily in East
Texas Bigfoot is believed to be a Southern Cousin of the Pacific Northwest’s
Sasquatch. Of the 100 or so sightings reported on the center’s website,
the center deems about 75 of those sightings as legitimate in the
way that sightings of unidentified flying objects are legitimate;
both remain unidentified.
Persistent reports of a Sasquatch-like creature living along the Sulphur
River, just across the state line in Arkansas, inspired the movie
“Legend of Boggy Creek.”
| The modern
day Texas Bigfoots (Bigfeet?) go by many names, some of which sound
like high-end fishing lures: Night Screamer, Hawley Him, Haskell Rascal,
Wooly Bugger and Caddo Critter. The people at the Texas Bigfoot Research
Conservancy believe the sightings indicate a primate, albeit an elusive
one of which no remains have ever been positively identified. Recent
sightings have occurred in the Sam
Houston National Forest, near the San Jacinto River.
We might say that all this started with Tom Slick, but to call him
Texas’ first cryptozoologist we would have to dismiss the Comanche,
Tonkawa and other Texas tribes who believed strongly in a man-ape
creature in the same way that they believed in, say bears.
viewed objectively and as a whole, we may be doing Tom Slick an injustice
to focus solely on his searches for abominable snowmen, Bigfoot and
several other perhaps mythical creatures. This was a man who founded
what is today the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research, the
Institute of Inventive Research, the Southwest Research Institute
and the Mind Science Foundation. Much of the work he founded continues
Slick helped develop Brangus cattle and at one time had one of the
three largest herds of Angus cattle in the country. Following in the
footsteps of his wildcatter father, he discovered the Benedum Field
in West Texas, one of the largest
oil strikes in the United States after World
Most of us don’t have any reasonable expectation of having Tom Slick’s
resources or of leaving such a legacy. What most of us have in common
with Tom Slick is that we too want to know, once and for all, if there
is or ever was such a creature as the yeti or Bigfoot.
Like Tom Slick, we just want to know.