History of the Killam Family

The Killam Companies first began as one company under the leadership and vision of one man, Oliver Winfield Killam. O.W. Killam, as he was usually referred to, moved to Laredo, Texas in the spring of 1920. As an Oklahoma businessman and State Senator, O.W. had in most eyes achieved success. Anticipating the financial panic of 1919, O.W. sold his business, property, and sacrificed his promising political career- during which he advocated and helped achieve Statehood for Oklahoma- to make the fateful journey south to Laredo. O.W. was 45 years old, married, and had three children. While he had achieved financial success in Oklahoma, O.W. was not born into luxury. One of eight children, O.W. was born to David T. Killam and Catherine Magruder Killam in 1874. He grew up in a small, sleepy farming community near Elsberry, Missouri. In short, O.W. knew hardship, hard work, and the pioneering spirit which coursed through him through his days of labor as a farm boy.

Now, having made up his mind to head to South Texas, O.W. set forth to discover oil, where no man had ever discovered oil before- south of San Antonio and north of the Rio Grande. He was entering a business activity in which he had no previous experience or education. He had never been in the oil business. He just figured he could learn. Defying the odds, O.W. did what most might not have done. He moved his whole family to this outpost on the Mexican border. Perhaps, O.W. had learned early on that to avoid risk forgoes what makes a man and renders inevitable regret of that risk not taken.

O.W. established the Mirando Oil Company and secured an oil lease on the Hinnant Ranch in Zapata County. He erected his first oil derrick, purchased a rig, and started drilling a well, the Hinnant No. 1, on what was known as the Mirando Valley Lease. The first well was a dry hole. Not discouraged, O.W. drilled another well, the Hinnant No. 2. A trace of oil was struck. O.W. decided to set pipe. Excitement began to spread immediately, but then disaster struck. When they got ready to bail the well in, the pipe slipped down to the bottom of the hole and cut off the prospective oil sand. Primitive rigs and poor technology prevented any recovery of the well.

Still undaunted, O.W. moved the derrick over about 30 feet and began a new well. At about 50 feet above, where they expected to find the oil sand, O.W. ran out of coal to fuel the derrick's drilling process. The foreman approached O.W. and offered him two options:

  1. With what little coal remained, they could either set casing at the present depth...
  2. Or, they could wait for more coal to arrive and go deeper...

Which would you do? Well, in April 17, 1921, O.W. decided to set the casing which led to the beginning of the oil industry in South Texas. The Hinnant No. 3 was the forerunner of tremendous development that was to revolutionize the economic structure of this region.

On the basis of this 20 barrel well, more drilling soon followed. At around 1,500 feet deep, the Schott No. 2 came in strong. When they bailed it, the well gushed oil and gas over the derrick uncontrollably. It was a real Texas gusher producing over 400 barrels a day and several million cubic feet of natural gas. Photographs of the well flowing wild, plus accounts of its success in newspapers all over the state, encouraged the South Texas oil boom of the 1920s.

With the success of the Schott No. 2 in 1921, O.W. bought a section of land about four miles south of the railroad and laid out the town of Mirando City. Soon Mirando City became a boomtown for the South Texas oil business. Located 22 miles from any roads to transport the oil, the Schott oilfield had no access to refine, distribute, and sell the oil. O.W. undertook the building of a pipeline. Texpata Pipeline Company carried the oil to tank farms or railroad tank cars which later would be sold on the open oil market.

In 1923, O.W. created Misko Refineries at Mirando City in order to capitalize further on his Texpata Pipeline investment. In only a few short years, Killam became one of the best-known wildcatters in South Texas.

In 1937 on July 4th, the oil operators of the Laredo district at the Oilman's Jubilee crowned Oliver Winfield Killam as "King Petrol." Soon after, in 1940, O.W. having judiciously bought extensive mineral rights in the past decided now to purchase the 80,000 acre Oritz Ranch for an astonishing $600,000 (the most ever paid for ranch land at the time in Webb County). Since then, the Killam Ranch and Cattle Company has purchased the 100,000 acre Duval County Ranch gradually increasing the ranch to 125,000 acres through new aquistions. Killam Ranch also owns ranches in West Texas, Oregon, and Mexico.

 

In an interview for the Pioneers in Texas Oil, which occurred in May 5, 1956, Oliver Winfield Killam stated:

When I came here [Webb County and Zapata area 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.

 

O.W. realized his dreams through a belief in his ability to achieve and a frontier work ethic. In the same Pioneers interview, O.W. stated, "there never was any doubt what I could do because my mother had taught us that we could do it, if we wanted to do it." O.W. always credited his mother for her dominant influence on him and his siblings with regard to education and personal ambition. Consequently, this Missouri farm boy- as well as his other seven siblings- graduated from a four year college. A college education for a rural farm boy was no small feat in the late 1800s. Catherine Magruder Killam, being a woman with a vision, inspired her son to further his education and pursue a law degree, which O.W. received in 1898 from The University of the State of Missouri.

 

In the mid-1930s, O.W.'s son, Radcliffe Killam, joined the company. Radcliffe graduated with a degree in Government and Economics from the University of Texas in 1932 and from Harvard Law School in 1935. As a business man, he has proven to be an astute, financial custodian and conservator who has implemented a strategic management style throughout the years. Under Radcliffe's supervision, the company has expanded and established deep roots in the South Texas region. He has been recognized as an All American Wildcatter (once stating "I've never lost money on a blowout.") and as Mr. South Texas in 1978. Radcliffe, however, has defined his leadership through his commitment to the values of "family" and "community."

Radcliffe is proud of the education being provided through Texas A&M International University to the Laredo community. The Killam family donated land to help establish a new campus for the Texas A&M System. Radcliffe believes- with full conviction- in the value of education for everyone.

When asked about his business principles, Radcliffe responds, "Treat them with respect and consideration; stand by them in adversity and need; be loyal to them, and expect them to be equally loyal to you; pay a fair day's wage for a fair day's work- one without the other will not work." Killam Oil Company stands by these values.

  

Throughout the 1940s to the early 1980s, Killam Oil Company continued to drill for oil on a steady and successful pace. In 1959, Oliver Winfield Killam passed away. At this juncture, Radcliffe Killam assumed complete responsibility and leadership of Killam Oil Company.

Currently, David Killam manages and leads the Killam Companies. David received his high school degree from The Taft School in 1970, bachelor degree from the University of Texas in 1974, and a professional degree in ranch management from Texas Christian University in 1975. From 1975 to 1980, David managed all day to day ranch operations.

David created two new aspects and divisions in the company. In 1984, Killam Company began developing residential neighborhoods. In 1987, Killam Industrial Park established the premiere industrial development to serve the growing local needs of global corporations. To date, 450 acres have been developed for Killam Industrial Park with another 750 acres planned.

Since 1980, David has immersed himself in the oil and gas operations of the company. From 1983 to 2003, Killam Oil Company has drilled over 517 wells. Currently, Killam Oil Company operates over 284 wells. In 1994, David orchestrated the purchase of the 100,000 acre Duval County Ranch, which increased land and mineral holdings. David is committed to increasing daily production for Killam Oil Company through enhancing the company's prospect portfolio and has taken a measured approach to wildcat exploration. Killam Oil Company is poised for the future and endeavors to further the pioneering dreams of Oliver Winfield Killam.

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