David Harold Byrd

David Harold Byrd

David Harold Byrd was born in Detroit, Texas, on April 24, 1900. He studied geology at the University of Texas (1917-19) and during his holidays worked on an oil rig in Santa Anna.

After leaving university he worked for H. E. Humphreys. He joined Old Dominion Oil Company of San Antonio in 1924 but the following year he became a freelance geological consultant. During this time he acquired his nickname by drilling fifty-six dry holes. His luck changed when he discovered oil on 5th May, 1928. The Byrd-Daniels oil-field produced 1,000 barrels a day, which sold for three dollars a barrel.

Byrd formed a business partnership with Jack Frost and in 1931 founded Byrd-Frost Incorporated. The new company operated 492 East Texas wells that produced an average of 4,000 barrels a day. In the 1930s he purchased property, including the Texas School Book Depository building in Dallas.

During this period Byrd became very interested in aviation. In 1938 Governor James Allred appointed him to the Texas Civil Aeronautics Commission. In September 1941 he formed the Civil Air Patrol. During the Second World War Byrd commanded an antisubmarine base for the Civil Air Patrol at Beaumont.

Byrd's cousin was Harry F. Byrd, who was described by Alden Hatch (The Byrds of Virginia: An American Dynasty) as "the leader of conservative opinion in the United States." Byrd also had a close relationship with Sam Rayburn, Lyndon Johnson and John Connally. As Byrd pointed out in his autobiography, I'm an Endangered Species: "Another goal was to reach a rapport with the politicians who ran things, especially at the seat of state government in Austin.... Sam Rayburn, Morrie Sheppard, John Connally, and Lyndon Johnson on the national scene were to become men I could go to any time that I wanted action, and so were a succession of Texas governors."

In 1944 Byrd founded Byrd Oil Corporation and B-H Drilling Corporation. In 1952 Byrd established the Three States Natural Gas Company. Byrd later sold Byrd Oil to Mobil and Three States to Delhi-Taylor. Byrd used this money to invest in aircraft production and established Temco. A company that employed Mac Wallace after he was convicted of killing John Kinser.

Barr McClellan (Blood, Money & Power) points out that Byrd, along with Clint Murchison, Haroldson L. Hunt and Sid Richardson, was part of the Big Oil group in Dallas. McClellan argues that "Big Oil would be during the fifties and into the sixties what the OPEC oil cartel was to the United States in the seventies and beyond". One of the main concerns of this group was the preservation of the oil depletion allowance.

Byrd became involved in the Suite 8F Group, a collection of right-wing businessmen. The name comes from the room in the Lamar Hotel in Houston where they held their meetings. Members of the group included George Brown and Herman Brown (Brown & Root), Jesse H. Jones (multi-millionaire investor in a large number of organizations and chairman of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation), Gus Wortham (American General Insurance Company), James Abercrombie (Cameron Iron Works), Hugh R. Cullen (Quintana Petroleum), William Hobby (Governor of Texas and owner of the Houston Post), William Vinson (Great Southern Life Insurance), James Elkins (American General Insurance and Pure Oil Pipe Line), Morgan J. Davis (Humble Oil), Albert Thomas (chairman of the House Appropriations Committee), Lyndon B. Johnson (Majority Leader of the Senate) and John Connally (Texas politician). Alvin Wirtz, Thomas Corcoran, Homer Thornberry and Edward Clark, were four lawyers who also worked closely with the Suite 8F Group.

Suite 8F helped to coordinate the political activities of other right-wing politicians and businessmen based in the South. This included Robert Anderson (president of the Texas Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, Secretary of the Navy and Secretary of the Treasury), Robert Kerr (Kerr-McGee Oil Industries), Billie Sol Estes (entrepreneur in the cotton industry), Glenn McCarthy (McCarthy Oil and Gas Company), Earl E. T. Smith (U.S. Sugar Corporation), Fred Korth (Continental National Bank and Navy Secretary), Ross Sterling (Humble Oil), Sid Richardson (Texas oil millionaire), Clint Murchison (Delhi Oil), Haroldson L. Hunt (Placid Oil), Eugene B. Germany (Mustang Oil Company), Lawrence D. Bell (Bell Helicopters), William Pawley (business interests in Cuba), Gordon McLendon (KLIF), George Smathers (Finance Committee and businessman), Richard Russell (chairman of the Committee of Manufactures, Committee on Armed Forces and Committee of Appropriations), James Eastland (chairman Judiciary Committee), Benjamin Everett Jordan (chairman of the Senate Rules Committee), Fred Black (political lobbyist and Serve-U Corporation) and Bobby Baker (political lobbyist and Serve-U Corporation).

Byrd was also close to Jack Alston Crichton who was president of Nafco Oil and Gas. Both men were also directors of Dorchester Gas Producing. In 1961 Byrd joined forces with James J. Ling and Chance Vought Corporation to form Ling-Temco-Vought (LTV). Byrd expanded into other business areas. For example, he owned a frozen food business in Crystal City. He was a strong opponent of trade unionism and described their activities as a "terrible cancer". In 1963, when the Teamsters' Union began recruiting his employees, he moved his frozen food business to La Pryor.

David H. Byrd on safari with General Jim Doolittle
David H. Byrd on safari with General Jim Doolittle

In November, 1963, Byrd left Texas to go on a two-month safari in Africa. While he was away President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Lee Harvey Oswald, who was accused of being the lone-gunman, worked in Byrd's Texas School Book Depository building. In February, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson, granted a large defense contract to LTV to build the A-7 Corsair II. According to Peter Dale Scott, (The Dallas Conspiracy) this was paid for out of the 1965 budget which had not yet been approved by Congress.

Byrd was a member of the Dallas Petroleum Club. It has been argued that it was here that he met George de Mohrenschildt, David Atlee Phillips and George H. W. Bush. Richard Bartholomew suggested in Byrds, Planes, and an Automobile that Byrd knew David Ferrie via the Civil Air Patrol.

In 1978 Byrd published his autobiography, I'm an Endangered Species.

David Harold Byrd died in Dallas on 14th September, 1986.

Primary Sources

(1) Jerrell Dean Palmer, David Harold Byrd (2001)

During the East Texas oil boom, Byrd rented office space in the Gregg Hotel in Longview and secretly bought out the Gregg Abstract Company. He then hired seventy-two typists from Dallas and assigned each of them to a volume of the county abstracts. With his control of lease information thus secured, and with an office set up in the courthouse yard, Byrd could force anyone who wanted to verify a lease to consult him; he could also get service to anyone he was dealing with by the end of the day or pay cash for any lease that he wanted to acquire. He comments in his autobiography, "At one time I owned 34,000 acres, but... ended up owning 15,000 in partnership with Gulf, Humble, and Atlantic Oil Companies, with whom I drilled about 5,000 wells.... Needless to say I became an overnight millionaire."

(2) Curtis E. Le May, Scroll of Appreciation, presented to David Harold Byrd (24th May, 1963)

For rendering meritorious service to the United States Air Force from Dec. 1941 to April, 1960. Motivated by a strong sense of patriotism, Mr. Byrd played a major part in the successful operation of the Texas Wing, Civil Air Patrol, throughout World War II. After the war he assisted in the incorporation of the Civil Air Patrol and its designation as an Auxiliary of the Air Force. Mr. Byrd helped initiate the International Air Cadet Exchange and worked closely with the Air Cadet League of Canada. The many scholarships established or supported by Mr. Byrd have aided countless cadets in the attainment of additional training and higher education. His contributions of material and personal aircraft to the use of Civil Air Patrol materially aided in the performance of its mission.. The distinctive accomplishments of Mr. Byrd have earned for him the sincere gratitude of the United States Air Force.

(3) Richard Bartholomew, Byrds, Planes, and an Automobile (July-August, 1997)

Byrd prepared well for the trip: Temco, Inc. was an aircraft company founded by D.H. Byrd and which later merged with his friend James Ling's electronics company (1960), and aircraft manufacturer Chance Vought Corporation (1961) to form Ling-Temco-Vought (LTV). Byrd became a director of LTV and bought, along with Ling, 132,000 shares of LTV in November 1963. Byrd then left the country to go on his two-month safari in central Africa. He returned in January to find his good friend Lyndon Johnson president of the United States, his building famous, and a large defense contract awarded to LTV to build fighter planes - to be paid for out of the 1965 budget which had not yet been approved by Congress.

Mac Wallace, who received a five-year suspended sentence in the shooting death of John Douglas Kiner in Austin on October 22, 1951, went to work for Temco, Inc. of Garland, Texas five months after his trial. He remained in that position until February 1961, four months before Henry Marshall's mysterious death on June 3, 1961, when he transferred to the Anaheim, California offices of LTV.

The transfer required a background check by the Navy. "The most intriguing part of the Wallace case was how a convicted murderer was able to get a job with defense contractors. Better yet, how was he able to get a security clearance? Clinton Peoples [the Texas Ranger Captain who investigated the Marshall and Kiner murders] reported that when the original security clearance was granted, he asked the Naval intelligence officer handling the case how such a person could get the clearance. 'Politics,' the man replied. When Peoples asked who would have that much power, the simple answer was, `the vice president,' who at the time was Lyndon Johnson. Years later, after the story broke [of Billie Sol Estes' March 20, 1984 testimony that implicated Lyndon Johnson, Malcom Wallace, and Clifton Carter in the death of Henry Marshall], that investigator could not recall the conversation with Peoples but he did say no one forced him to write a favorable report. He also added that he wasn't the one that made the decision to grant the clearance. The whole matter might have been solved with a peek at that original report but unfortunately, when the files were checked, that particular report was suspiciously missing. It has never been seen since."

Wallace was transferred and given clearance in February 1961. "In January 1961, the very month Johnson was sworn in as vice president, and the month Henry Marshall was in Dallas discussing how to combat Estes-like scams, Billie Sol Estes learned through his contacts that the USDA was investigating the allotment scheme and that Henry Marshall might end up testifying. The situation was supposedly discussed by Estes, Johnson, and Carter in the backyard of LBJ's Washington home. Johnson was, according to Estes, alarmed that if Marshall started talking it might result in an investigation that would implicate the vice president. At first it was decided to have Marshall transferred to Washington, but when told Marshall had already refused such a relocation, LBJ, according to Estes, said simply, 'Then we'll have to get rid of him.'"

According to Craig Zirbel, author of The Texas Connection, in May 1962, "...Johnson flew to Dallas aboard a military jet to privately meet with Estes and his lawyers on a plane parked away from the terminal.... This incident would probably have remained secret except that LBJ's plane suffered a mishap in landing at Dallas. When investigative reporters attempted to obtain the tower records for the flight mishap the records were "sealed by government order."

Still more LTV intrigues were revealed by Peter Dale Scott: "A fellow-director of [Jack Alston] Crichton's firm of Dorchester Gas Producing was D.H. Byrd, an oil associate of Sid Richardson and Clint Murchison, and the LTV director who teamed up with James Ling to buy 132,000 shares of LTV in November 1963. While waiting to be sworn in as President in Dallas on November 22, Johnson spoke by telephone with J.W. Bullion, a member of the Dallas law firm (Thompson, Wright, Knight, and Simmons) which had the legal account for Dorchester Gas Producing and was represented on its board. The senior partner of the law firm, Dwight L. Simmons, had until 1960 sat on the board of Chance Vought Aircraft, a predecessor of Ling-Temco-Vought. One week after the assassination, Johnson named Bullion, who has been described as his `business friend and lawyer,' to be one of the two trustees handling the affairs of the former LBJ Co. while its owner was President."

(4) Barr McClellan, Blood, Money & Power (2003)

Another important Johnson friendship was in the construction business. This special relationship actually started in 1937 with Brown & Root, the contractors who built the dams needed for LCRA in central Texas. During the war, the company would expand mightily for the war effort as military bases were built everywhere in Texas. After the war, from his new position in the Senate reviewing waste and then preparedness, Johnson was in the middle of the armed forces and the military-industrial complex. George Brown and brother Herman Brown remained good friends of Johnson throughout his long political career. Like old money, these old friends were there from beginning to end. Wonder kids from the start, they stayed friends and prospered.

There was another important class of supporters who had entered Johnson's sphere of friends before the 1948 Senate election. This group included the Ling story, but it was more accurately the Murchison story and Big Oil in what was then high-tech business. During the 1950s as money flowed to Big Oil, the huge sums had to be invested somewhere. Construction was a key attraction and major investments went into building, from readymix plants to highways and bridges to high-rises. Murchison and his Big Oil friends had the excess profits needed, called "burn money." Like throwing cash in an incinerator, this was the unexpected cash. They used it to invest in apparently hopeless ventures or into business they knew little or nothing about.

D. H. Byrd attracted their interest because he experimented in airplanes and rockets, important keys to the military industrial complex in the late 1950s. A member of Big Oil, D. H. "Dry Hole" Byrd was well known for his lack of success in the oil business. Finally, when the east Texas field was developed, he bought into it and became wealthy. Through him, the foundations were laid for the military-industrial complex that centered on LTV. With the money flowing everywhere, D. H. Byrd had enough extra to purchase the building that later housed the Texas School Book Depository.' There were notable success stories. John Connally advanced into the Governor's Mansion. Clint Murchison and his Big Oil friends all became the new billionaires and Dallas became Big D. Old friends George and Herman Brown benefited with military construction during the war. After the war they moved into oil. As one example, they helped convert the Big Inch and Little Inch, the emergency wartime oil pipelines, into Texas Eastern and its natural gas pipelines.