Oliver Winfield Killam

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Oliver Winfield Killam​

Oklahoma State Representative
from Grove
In office
1911​ – 1914​

Oklahoma State Senator
from Delaware County
In office
1915​ – 1918​

Born April 27, 1874​
Elsberry, Lincoln County
Missouri, USA​
Died January 1, 1959 (aged 84)
Laredo, Webb County, Texas
Resting place Laredo City Cemetery​
Political party Democrat; later Republican
Spouse(s) Harriet "Hattie" Smith Killam (married 1902-1949, her death)​
Children Three children, including:​

Radcliffe Killam
​ Patricia Louise Killam Hurd​ Grandson David W. Killam
Parents:
David T. and Catherine Magruder Killam​

Residence (1) Joplin, Jasper County, Missouri​

(2) Grove, Delaware County, Oklahoma
​ (3) Laredo, Texas​

Occupation Oilman
Rancher
Philanthropist​

Oliver Winfield Killam, also known as O.W. Killam (April 27, 1874 – January 1, 1959), was a Texas oilman, a member of both houses of the Oklahoma legislature, a prominent civic figure, and a presidential elector in 1956 for the reelection of U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Background

​ Killam was one of eight children born to David T. Killam and the former Catherine Magruder. He was reared near Elsberry in Lincoln County, Missouri. At the insistence of their mother, all of his siblings graduated from college. Killam completed in 1898 the University of Missouri Law School at Columbia. [1]

During his lifetime, Killam resided in three principal locations, Joplin in Jasper County, Grove. Delaware County, Oklahoma, and, finally, Laredo in Webb County in south Texas.[2]

In 1902, Killam married the former Harriet "Hattie" Smith (September 9, 1876 – January 19, 1949). Killam was a delegate to the 1896 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois, which nominated William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska to challenge then Governor William McKinley of Ohio. He served in the Oklahoma House from 1911 to 1914, his tenure having begun only four years after statehood. He was elected as a Democrat to the Oklahoma State Senate in 1914 and served from 1915 to 1918. At the time, Oklahoma was a heavily Democratic state in orientation, unlike it became late in the 20th century.[2]

Moving to Texas

​ Originally a merchant in Oklahoma, Killam gained early success as a wildcatter in the burgeoning petroleum industry in south Texas, where he branched into numerous enterprises with his son, Radcliffe Killam (1910–2007),[2] who was married to the former Sue Spivey, a native of Sam Rayburn's Bonham, Texas.

Killam anticipated the post-World War I financial panic of 1919 and sold his business and property and sacrificed a potentially promising political career. Prior to election to the legislature, Killam had been a staunch advocate of Oklahoma statehood. At the age of forty-five and with three children, he had achieved considerable financial success in Oklahoma. But he was determined to discover oil in a section of Texas where no strike had yet been made, the area from San Antonio south to the Rio Grande. He had no previous experience with petroleum, but as a quick learner and risk taker, he moved in 1920 to Laredo to prospect for petroleum and natural gas on mineral leases that he had acquired while in business in Oklahoma.[1]

The third oil well drilled by Killam brought about an oil boom in Mirando City in eastern Webb County nearly a decade before the better know East Texas Oil Boom centered about Kilgore and Longview.[1] Killam also secured an oil lease on the Hinnant Ranch in neighboring Zapata County south of Laredo. His first two wells failed, but his third dril, to a depth of 1,461 feet on April 17, 1921, pumped about twenty barrels a day. It was the first commercial oil well south of San Antonio. That same year, Killam and Colon Schott (1863-1928) of Cincinnati, Ohio, developed the Schott oilfield south of Mirando City. The largest and most successful gusher, Schott No. 2, produced 300 to 400 barrels of oil daily, plus a large amount of natural gas. The South Texas Oil Boom, based at Mirando City, was hence underway through the persistence of the wildcatter Oliver Winfield Killam.[3]

After development of the Schott field, many cattle ranchers in South Texas began to lease large tracts of land to explore for oil. Thereafter, Killam established the Texpapa Pipe Line Company to transport the oil to railroad tank cars. In 1923, he established the Misko Refineries at Mirando City.[3]

Legacy

​ During the 1930s, Killam was the president of both the Laredo and the South Texas Chamber of Commerce. On July 4, 1937, he was named "King Petrol" at the Oilmen's Jubilee in Laredo.[3] In 1947, Killam purchased the 80,000-acre Ortiz Ranch, which Radcliffe Killam continued to develop, having established the Mil Ojos Hunting Club on the property. Since that time, the Killam Ranch and Cattle Company has purchased 100,000 acres in Duval County, Texas. The family also owned other ranch lands in West Texas, Oregon, and Mexico.[1]

In an interview for Pioneers in Texas Oil on May 5, 1956, Killam explained his success:

When I came here [Webb and Zapata counties in 1920], all the geologists said there couldn't be any oil in this part of the country; the formations were too young, and it was just impossible for oil to accumulate. Well, they said that I was here about four million years too soon. Well, I didn't know anything about that so I went ahead anyway...the country where they said there couldn't be any oil, has produced more than a hundred million barrels.[1]

By the 1950s, Killam had turned Republican and was invited by the Texas GOP to serve as an Eisenhower/Nixon presidential elector. He hence cast his vote with the Texas delegation in Austin in December 1956.​ It was only the third time that Texas had voted Republican for President.

In 1956, Killam was named "Outstanding Citizen of South Texas" by members of the Washington's Birthday Celebration Association of Laredo, which holds a lengthy festival each February in honor of first U.S. President George Washington.[3]

Killam died on New Years Day 1959, and is interred at Laredo City Cemetery beside his wife and daughter, Patricia Louise Killam Hurd (July 10, 1915 – January 2, 1955). The Winfield Subdivision across from the John B. Alexander High School off Del Mar Boulevard in Laredo is named in his honor. David W. Killam (born January 7, 1952), the grandson of O.W. Killam, operates the remaining Killam business and philanthropic enterprises.​ ​

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 History of the Killam Family. The Killam Companies. Retrieved on May 12, 2010.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Index to Politicians: Kilgour to Kimani. The Political Graveyard. Retrieved on May 13, 2010.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Laura Lamar Ramirez. Killam, Oliver Winfield. The Handbook of Texas: Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved on October 16, 2019.

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