Oliver Winfield Killam

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Oliver Winfield Killam

Birthplace: Elsberry, Lincoln County, Missouri, United States
Death: 1959 (84-85)
Laredo, Webb County, Texas, United States (UNKNOWN2017)
Immediate Family:

Husband of Harriet "Hattie" Smith
Father of Radcliffe Killam

Occupation: Oilman, Politician, Rancher,Businessman
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Oliver Winfield Killam


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 State Legislature, a prominent civic figure, and a presidential elector in 1956 for the reelection of Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Early years

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 in 1898 from the University of Missouri Law School at Columbia.

During his lifetime, Killam resided in three principal locations, Joplin in Jasper County, Grove in Delaware County, Oklahoma, and, finally, Laredo, the seat of Webb County, Texas.

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 to challenge then Governor William McKinley. He served in the Oklahoma House of Representatives 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.

Moving to Texas

Originally a merchant in Oklahoma, Killam became an early success in the petroleum industry in south Texas, where he branched into numerous enterprises with his son, Radcliffe Killam (1910–2007), who was married to the former Sue Spivey, a native of 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.

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 known East Texas Oil Boom centered about Kilgore and Longview. Killam also secured an oil lease on the Hinnant Ranch in neighboring Zapata County. His first two wells failed, but his third drill brought success on April 17, 1921. Drilled to 1,461 feet (445 m), the well pumped about twenty barrels a day. It was the first commercial oil well south of San Antonio. That same year, Killam and Colon Schott 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 (48 to 64 m3) of oil daily, plus several million cubic feet of natural gas. The South Texas Oil Boom, based at Mirando City, was hence underway through the persistence of the wildcatter Oliver Winfield Killam.

After the 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 tank farms or railroad tank cars. In 1923, he established the Misko Refineries at Mirando City.

The Killam 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. In 1947, Killam purchased the 80,000-acre (320 km2) 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 the 100,000-acre (400 km2) Duval County Ranch. That ranch was expanded to 125,000 acres (510 km2). The family owns other ranch lands in West Texas, Oregon, and Mexico.

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.

By the 1950s, Killam had turned Republican and was invited by Texas GOP leaders to serve as an Eisenhower/Nixon elector. He hence cast his vote with the Texas delegation in Austin in December 1956.

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 George Washington.

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 J.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.

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Oliver Winfield Killam's Timeline

Elsberry, Lincoln County, Missouri, United States
Age 85
Laredo, Webb County, Texas, United States