For Father of Texas Philip Nolan the money-making draw in 1801 was wild-as-the-wind mustangs. Two hundred years later in the county that bears his name, some of the downstream beneficiaries of his courageous frontiering are making their millions by harnessing the wind itself.
West Texas. Wild, free, open—and economically up and down. At one time it was cattle and cotton—and Texas is still the biggest producer of both in the nation—but the cotton boom busted with the introduction of boll weevils and a Great Depression, and, as important as the cattle industry still is to these communities, the beef heyday had already peaked well before the turn of the twentieth century.
After that came oil, a gushing goldmine for decades, and it is no exaggeration to say today’s Texas was built with the black stuff. But oil wells run dry too, apparently, and communities like Sweetwater in Nolan County, which survived off the cattle-cotton-and-oil trade for a hundred years, were in a 20%-poverty slump by the turn of the following century, looking around for the next big thing to keep them going—when, look what blew into town, one of the sustainable energy movement’s poster boys, the giant wind turbine of the future, looking for that West Texas wind that reportedly never ends.
Five years later, in 2006, Texas had taken the national lead in wind energy, and Nolan County wind farms were at the head of that pack—and still are. Three out of the top ten largest wind farms in America are located in this tiny West Texas county, alone producing enough electricity to power all of the homes in a monstrous city the size of Dallas. Things turned around fast for the area. Ranchers replaced dried-up oil rigs with hundreds of the twenty-story airplane-propeller-looking wind turbines, garnering millions from energy companies in the process. The county’s property tax base increased by several hundred percent to nearly two and a half billion dollars. Every business in town benefited from the surge in energy business, and by the end of the decade there was another 20% figure representing the portion of the county’s population now working at wind-energy-related jobs. Sweetwater even got a new multi-million-dollar school facility—replacing a building that had been there for over 120 years. About time! Sweetwater school mascot? Mustangs, of course.
Horse-trading, railroads, cotton, beef, oil, and now wind—what will provide for the Nolanites of the future following the wind-energy craze? Who knows. But rest assured they will always hunt down something and make it work for them. Because there is something I haven’t told you about these folks. Nolan County is not only the world-center for wind-energy-production—it is the World Capital for Rattlesnake Round-ups. That’s right. Nowhere in the world but right here in this windy spot in West Texas will you find more people of all ages and makeup chasing down on a bright spring day these poisonous vipers with their own death-rattle attached—and make a sport and fun-fest out of it all.
Don’t get me wrong. Although they do make a big day of it with a lot of hoopla, and there is certainly money from all the attention, no one expects rattlesnake-rustling to be a huge money-maker like wind or even horses. But my point, of course, is that a people who will chase down and round-up rattlers for fun are bound to have something in their blood that’s going to see them through.
Like chase down the wind and squeeze lightning from it.