Tuesday, September 17, 2019

J. Paul Getty, Kisner Heights, and Enid, Oklahoma

J. Paul Getty (The Getty Museum)
The Cadillac V-8 Roadster bobbed up and down over the muddy section line roads in eastern Garfield County, Oklahoma, pitching its driver like a horse would a rider moving at a slow trot.

The spring of 1918 had been wet in Garfield County, Oklahoma, ending the driest 10-year period of the new century for the state.

Pavement had not yet reached western Oklahoma roads, so the Cadillac Roadster traversed more mud than dirt. The federal system of numbered and paved highways that would eventually crisscross America were still a decade away from being built.

25-year-old Jean Paul Getty didn't mind the drive from Tulsa to northwestern Oklahoma. Dressed in his custom suit with pants tucked into riding boots, Getty drove for oil. He drove for money. Every mile brought him closer to his goal.

Harry Ford Sinclair, a Getty family friend and President of Tulsa's First National Bank, had told the Getty family about an oil pool near Covington, Oklahoma that he'd been drilling since September 1916. There were still more leases to obtain, enough for the Getty Oil Company to take part in the Covington oil play. However, the Garbers and the Champlin families of Garfield County, oilies themselves, would not take kindly to another oil family encroaching on their territory.

J. Paul had done his research quietly.

George Getty, J. Paul Getty's father, lived in Los Angeles and ran the Getty oil operations from California. J. Paul had just begun working (again) for his father's company after spending a couple of years traveling the world while also periodically attending Oxford. J. Paul's job that summer of 1918 was to find available farm leases for oil production in the well-known Bartlesville, Cushing, and Glenpool Oklahoma oil fields.

But this new Covington oil pool would be a fresh entry point for Getty Oil. J. Paul was the only Getty son with an aptitude and appetite to eventually replace George as President of Getty Oil. By 1973, J. Paul Getty would be called The Richest Man in America, worth over $2 billion dollars, equivalent to $12 billion today. But on that hot, wet, and sticky early summer day of  1918, J. Paul Getty wasn't the richest man in America. He was just a man on a mission, sent by his father to obtain the best oil lease in Garfield County, Oklahoma. The Getty's needed in on this hot new oil play in Oklahoma.

J. Paul Getty's Cadillac of choice in 1918
Oklahoma wasn't a strange place to J. Paul Getty.  He first came to the Sooner state as an 11-year-old boy in January 1904. He'd accompanied his father (George Getty) from Minneapolis to the oil boom town of Bartles-ville. At that time, Oklahoma wasn't yet a state, and people still called it "Indian Territory."  The young J. Paul Getty wrote in his diary how he looked forward to the trip to Indian Territory to see "real Cowboys fight'en real Injuns." 

50-year-old attorney George Getty had first come to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) just two months earlier, in November 1903, to settle a life insurance policy on behalf of Northwest Life. After arriving in Bartlesville, he'd listened in the hotel restaurant to the locals talk about how much money could be made with oil leases. After conversing with one man interested in selling some leases, and on a whim, George purchased his first oil lease for 1100 acres in the Osage Indian Nation (Oklahoma). George Getty filled out the paperwork to form an oil company while he was in Tulsa on the insurance matter. One month later (December 1903), George Getty's contracted oil drillers hit a gusher on his lease in Osage Nation (now Osage County, Oklahoma).

He'd struck black gold on his first try.

George went back to Minneapolis by train, and returned to Indian Territory with his eleven-year-old son J. Paul in late January 1904. George came to observe the second well being drilled on the Getty lease in Osage County  The first well had been such an unexpected surprise, turning George a quick and handsome profit and launching his career in oil production. That December 1903 Getty gusher in the Osage Nation also became the impetus for many white businessmen wishing to make their fortune in oil coming to Osage to marry the Osage Indian women. In one of the darkest chapters in American history, some of those men surreptitiously killed their Indian brides and families to obtain their oil rights. This stomach-churning decade (1920s) of white domination and crime is documented in the 2018 bestseller Killers of the Flower Moon.  The Osage murders became the first field case for a young government agent named J. Edgar Hoover

The oil bug bit eleven-year-old J. Paul Getty on his first trip to Oklahoma in January 1904. J. Paul didn't see any "cowboys fight'en injuns," but he did see men working for his daddy on a job that captivated his imagination. George Getty was well on his way to becoming a millionaire through oil. Later that year (1904), George moved his family from Minneapolis to Tulsa to oversee his new oil business.

But the Gettys didn't stay long in Tulsa. J. Paul's mother wanted to live in California to be near her family, so George once again packed up the his family and moved to Los Angeles. But J. Paul Getty would travel back to Oklahoma every summer as a teenager to work as a roustabout, a tool pusher, and then eventually a lease man for his father's oil company.

J. Paul never wished to disappoint his father, even now that he was a young man of twenty-five. As he drove those dirt roads in Garfield County in the late spring/early summer of 1918, J. Paul Getty was determined to find a good oil lease for Getty Oil.

The Robert R. Kisner Farm in Eastern Garfield County

Location of the Kisner Farm, Garfield County
Enid, Oklahoma is the county seat for Garfield County. 17 miles east of Enid and about 4 miles south, Robert and Minnie Riley owned a small farm in 1918. It sat in Olive Township, Section 14 (see map to the left).

Robert and his wife watched as the Cadillac pulled up their long dirt driveway. They looked on as a strange man pulled a shovel from the back seat and walked up to their porch. Robert and Minnie came out to greet him.

"Mr. and Mrs. Kisner. My name is J. Paul Getty. I would like to pay you $50.00 to dig a hole in your back yard."

The name Getty was not yet known around the world, and the Risners didn't know that the Getty family owned an oil company. $50.00 was a lot of money in 1919.

"Don't worry Mr. and Mrs. Kisner. I'll fill the hole back in after I dig it."

Assuming the man in the suit and riding boots was someone hired by an oil company to look for farms to lease, the Kisners agreed. They watched as J. Paul Getty began digging his hole.

 "Getty Road" intersection at US 412, 17 miles east of Enid 
Before professional geology degrees, early oil men would often say they could "sense" where oil could be found. The more scientific of the first generation of oil men would dig in the soil near known producing wells to find the composition of soil that most closely matched known wells.

After digging for an hour, J. Paul Getty paused. Leaning on his shovel for a few minutes, it seemed to the Kisners as if he was contemplating something. Then, as quickly as he dug the hole, he filled it back up.

"Mr. and Mrs. Kisner," J. Paul said as he brushed dirt off his suit pants, "I'd like to lease your farm. I'll give you $2,000 for the lease, and if you like, I'll even buy your farm from you for a higher price. I believe there's oil underneath the soil on your farm, and if we drill for it and strike it, we'll give you a royalty as well."

Robert Riley Kisner  accepted J. Paul Getty's money that day, and the Kisner family would never be the same.

Neither would nearby Enid, Oklahoma.

Kisner Heights Historic District, Enid, Oklahoma

Kisner Heights being developed in Enid (early 1930's)

Robert Riley Kisner had participated in the 1889 Oklahoma Land Run and the 1893 Cherokee Strip Land Run. Not able to stake a claim in either Land Run, he worked at various odd jobs until 1896 when he married a German immigrant named Minnie Laging. The young couple moved to Missouri to be near family, only to return to Oklahoma by 1910, buying a cheap 160 acre farm in eastern Garfield County, near the small community of Covington, with the money he'd saved.

The money given Robert Kisner by J. Paul Getty was more money than he'd ever dreamed of having.

The original Kisner home at 812 S. Van Buren
Deciding not to stay on the farm during the noisy and messy process of drilling, Robert Riley and Minnie thought it best to move to nearby Enid and buy another small farm west of the the city. Just south of the modern intersection of Van Buren and Owen K. Garriott, on the west side of Van Burn, the Kisners purchased a 160 acre farm and built two houses facing east.

According to the 1996 survey of what would become Kisner Heights, the earliest houses built on Kisner’s tract of  farm land were the “original Robert R. Kisner house" at 812 S. Van Buren and a house for their son, the William H. Kisner house, next door at 822 S. Van Buren. The Kisners then built an Olympic-size swimming pool in the back yards, between both houses (see it in the photo above)

By the mid-1920s, Enid development had essentially reached the Kisner property. At the urging of the Enid Chamber of Commerce, Robert Kisner decided to subdivide his farm and create a new housing addition. Kisner Heights is what he and Minnie called it.

Kisner asked an architect from Kansas City to plat his farm. Robert F. Gornall, was one of Kansas City's important architects during the 1920s. Gornall is credited with having designed several significant buildings in the Kansas City area. He was proficient in a wide range of building types and styles, including Tudor Revival, Beaux-Arts, and Classical Revival.

The Kisner Mansion, 1111 Wynona, Enid, Oklahoma
The Kisner Historic District in Enid, Oklahoma strongly resembles midtown and uptown Kansas City neighborhoods because Robert Gornall designed them all.
Kisner Heights lots in Enid could be purchased with an agreement that home construction would be
restricted to three styles: English Type homes, American Colonial Type Homes, or Spanish Type Homes. For the first time in Enid's history (est. 1893), neighborhood roads would be platted with larger home lots, winding streets, and parks (even mini-parks built in the middle of intersections). Streets were named "York," "Wabash," "Wynona," and other English names. The Kisners decided to build their home in the center of Kisner Heights. The Kisner Mansion at 1111 Wynona is the most outstanding example of the Neoclassical style within the Kisner Heights addition.

Soon, several other homes were being built in the Kisner Residential area, including the historic Champlin Mansion (pictured left), located on the western edge of Kisner's farm.

As Enid continued to develop westward, the residential planning commission established a new residential district west of Kisner Heights that they named Indian Hills .
Many Enid residents confuse Kisner Heights with Indian Hills, but Kisner Heights predates Indian Hills by two decades.

Though many of the original homes in the Kisner Heights Historic District of Enid are eligible for entry into the National Register of Historic Places, so far only the Kisner Mansion and the Champlin Mansion have been placed on the register.

Very few people, even those living in Enid, realize that a trip to Garfield County by J. Paul Getty in 1918 led to the establishment of one of Enid's most beautiful and historic neighborhoods.

Next time you're in Los Angeles at the J. Paul Getty Museum, or in the Uptown District of Kansas City, or at Spartan School of Aeronautics in Tulsa, or next time you read the tragic story about J. Paul Getty and his family or watch the movie All the Money in the World, remember that day in the summer of 1918 when J. Paul Getty pulled a contract out of his Cadillac and gave the Kisners the resources to buy a farm in 1919 on the outskirts of Enid, now the beautiful neighborhood called Kisner Heights.

100 years have passed, but the connection between Getty and Enid remains evident in Kisner Heights Historic District.


Rex Ray said...

Wade this is Off Topic. I’m replying to Christiane about my brother.

I asked Google: “Hez Ray Big Dipper” and got ten references to choose from.

I chose this one: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Dipper_Ice_Arena

“Prior to 1968, the building now known as the Big Dipper was an aircraft hangar located in Tanacross, Alaska. Constructed during World War II, the building saw little use after the war.

In 1968, Hez Ray, a teacher and coach at Lathrop High School, organized a crew of high school students and volunteers and undertook a project to move the derelict hangar to Fairbanks and repurpose it as an ice skating arena. Coach Ray’s initial group of boys were “First Boots on the Ground” in the beginning of the enormous project. The incredible story of this adventure is in Coach Ray’s book “The Big Dipper, A Dream is Born.”

I asked Google: “Arctic winter Games” and got this:

“The Arctic Winter Games were founded in 1969 under the leadership of Governor Walter J. Hickel of Alaska. In 1970 in Yellowknife, Canada, 500 athletes, trainers and officials came together for the first Arctic Winter Games.”

This is ‘The rest of the story’.
Governor Hickel sent the Park and Recreation Director, Hez Ray to tell the Arctic Winter Games organizers that Alaska didn’t have $15,000 to join. Hez told the group that Alaska would not join unless they let kids compete with one another. He convinced them that people would give more to support kids than just adults. They took his advice. He returned to Fairbanks and helped raise the money.

His book tells this story. In 1977 Hez was remodeling a house in Denton, Texas. A young black man asked if he could rent it while he was completing his doctorate degree at North Texas State University. Hez told him it was only for sale, and asked where he was from.
“You’ve never heard of it; Yellowknife, Canada.”
“I’ve spent two weeks in that town.”
The man called his wife, “Honey, this man has been to Yellowknife. Come and meet him.”
Hez asked, have you heard of the Arctic Winter Games?
“I played in those games when I was a teenager! We won and got a scholarship to college. I almost didn’t get to play because some didn’t think I was eligible. They asked the Canadian directors to decide, but their vote was a tie. They decided to let the Alaska director decide. He let me play.”

“They thought you weren’t eligible because you lived in a small town outside of Yellowknife.”
“How did you know that?
“Because I’m the man that decided you could play.”

Christiane said...

Great story, REX RAY

it's a small world :)
(my father was born in St. Armand, in the Province of Quebec, and came to this country when he was five years old) I LOVE Canada! Beautiful country, interesting people! Great neighbors!

Christiane said...

Hello WADE,
this is an interesting post about J.Paul Getty's history with Enid's development. I'm familiar with Getty's tragic story concerning his grandson's kidnapping and it is good to be able to widen my knowledge of this person in a more positive light. Can't help thinking that the Getty family might have happier without all those millions, though. People can be rich in some ways and poverty-stricken in other ways at the same time, and there is a lesson there for all of us in the Gettys' sad family saga.

You must be very proud of Enid and Oklahoma, Wade, as a part of our beloved American 'heartland'. :)

Rex Ray said...

Chapter 8 “Disaster Strikes in clearing the roof of snow”

The roof of the Big Dipper is 210 feet wide. It’s in a small curve and easy to walk on. Wind had blown most of the snow off, but in some places the snow was several feet deep. From below it’s easy to see many small holes in the plywood that have rotted away. But some holes are large enough to fall through. The danger is they can’t be seen from above as they’re covered by snow.
On a wall there was a vertical ladder that led to the roof entry. We all climbed it with our shovels. We walked to the top and I got them in a circle with our arms wrapped about each other’s shoulders. I told them of the danger and warned them to never walk on snow until it was cleared by their shovels. I asked if there were any questions.
Doug Benn, a big quiet kid, spoke, “Coach Ray, you’ve scared us enough. Let’s do it!” He picked up his shovel and stepped back on snow. He disappeared right before our eyes. We heard his shovel hit the concrete floor 50 feet below.
Doug’s screams ripped our hearts out. They ricocheted off the beams to be lost in Alaskan wilderness. They were the most terrifying sounds I’d ever heard.
Barney yells, “Doug’s hanging by his shoe that’s caught between a truss and a cross rod.”
I holler to Doug, “We’ll get you out. I’m coming to get you. Hang still. We need a second.”
Doug is crying. The poor kid is weeping. “Help me! I’m going to fall. Dear God, help me! Coach Ray don’t leave me!
“Barney you and I are going first. Mark, you and Charlie are the strongest guys on the roof. You will have to handle our weight. The rest of you guys get a death grip on them.”
“I can feel Barney’s strong hands on my ankles. He is through the opening, and Mark and Charlie are halfway through. I call out, “Doug, here we come.”
He replies in a quiet voice, “Hurry Coach, my foot is slipping out of my shoe! You’ve got to hurry!”
I call out, “Barney, give me one more foot! I can’t reach him yet!” He calls to the others; Coach needs one more foot!”
As I’m lowered, Doug screams as his foot slips out of his shoe. He drops six inches before I can grab his ankle, and his scream stopped.
The added weight put an extra strain on the chain of kids as they yell to each other, “Don’t let go!”
“They pulled us out, and we all laid down exhausted. For a long time, nobody could say a word. Gibby was lying next to Doug and broke the quietness saying, “Doug I love you, big boy, but you got to lose some weight.”
Doug wiped his tears. “Man! I’m so sorry! You saved my life! Thank you. Thank you. Thank you! And then he turned to me, and his voice dropped to a whisper, “Coach, when my foot slipped out of my shoe, I knew I was a goner! I will never know how you caught my ankle!”
I held my hand up and said, “Fellows, you’re the greatest! The Lord has been good to us! This experience is over, but it will last us the rest of our lives! I need to say how proud I am of you. Mark, I don’t know how you and Charlie held us all, and Barney, bless your bones, I think you crushed both my ankles!”
Barney replied, “Coach, all those millions of push-ups you made us do, paid off!”

Christiane said...

WONDERFUL story, REX RAY . . . this makes my day. :)

Rex Ray said...


Of course, this story spread like a wild-fire. Contractors don’t have much work in winter. They used big cranes with snow-blowers to blow the snow off and to dismantle the large wooden trusses.

Hez had to solve problem after problem. I remember one when the convoy of many trucks were hauling the building to Fairbanks. They were unable to cross a large bridge because its structure was ten feet too narrow for the long trusses. Hez brought many chain saws and told his ‘chief’ to cut some off each end of the trusses. The chief said, “But that will make it smaller.”

Hez replied, “Who’s going to know?”

His largest problem happened because the ‘City Fathers’ didn’t believe the building could be moved and hadn’t prepared a proper location.

The place they had it stacked was on ‘permafrost’ and began to sink a foot deeper every day as it got warmer. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Hez told his wife, “I quit!”

But then ‘the wind beneath his wings’ was “You’re not making us the laughing stock of this town. You figure out a way!”

Hez called friends he had on the military base. They found ‘good soil’ and moved it to where it is today.

Rex Ray said...


As the years went by, the kids in Chapter 8: “Disaster Strikes”, became the leaders in Fairbanks. For a big celebration of the Big Dipper, they remembered their Coach.

They sent ‘round-trip plane tickets’ for Hez and his wife (in Texas) to be there. When they entered the Big Dipper, a red carpet was rolled out in front of them as people cheered.

A big man shook his hand saying, “Do you remember me?”
“No. I sure don’t.”
“You grabbed my leg.”

Garen Martens said...

Wade, Getty leased quite a bit of western Major County land back in the old days as well.

Rex Ray said...

Last Sunday, we visited the Oklahoma City National Museum. I believed there was more than one bomb, but not anymore. I’m convinced only one bomb was built by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols that exploded next to the building.


168 killed and 680 wounded. Destroyed or damaged 324 other buildings. Destroyed 86 cars. $652 million worth of damage. (Explosion was heard and felt 55 miles away.)

McVeigh's rental Ryder truck had blasting caps that ignited 350 pounds of high-grade explosives that would set off the 4,800 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, nitromethane, and diesel fuel mixture. The explosion under the truck knocked a hole 8-foot-deep thirty feet wide.

He made the mistake of parking his car about ten blocks away. If he had parked farther, he might not have been caught since the explosion knocked his car license plate off and State Trooper, Charlie Hanger, stopped McVeigh and took him to jail since he had a concealed weapon in his car.

Later Hanger found a card McVeigh had tried to hide while handcuffed in the Trooper’s car. The card was from a military surplus store. On the back of the card, was written, “TNT at $5 a stick. Need more.”

Terry Nichols was sentence to 161 consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole.

On June 11, 2001, McVeigh was executed by lethal injection; transmitted on closed-circuit television so relatives of victims could witness his death.

Rex Ray said...

President Bill Clinton nominated Janet Reno to be the Attorney General of the United States. He took her advice to arrest David Koresh by the Waco siege. Rather than arrest him in town, she chose to show how ‘strong’ the Government was.


“The Waco siege was the siege of a compound belonging to the religious sect Branch Davidians, carried out by American federal and Texas state law enforcement, as well as the U. S. military, between February 28 and April 19, 1993.

The Branch Davidians were led by David Koresh and were headquartered at Mount Carmel Center ranch in the community of Axtell, Texas, 13 miles from Waco.

Suspecting the group of stockpiling illegal weapons, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) obtained a search warrant for the compound and arrest warrants for Koresh and a select few of the group's members.

The incident began when the ATF attempted to raid the ranch. An intense gun battle erupted, resulting in the deaths of four government agents and six Branch Davidians. Upon the ATF's failure to raid the compound, a siege lasting 51 days was initiated by the FBI.

Eventually, the FBI launched an assault and initiated a tear gas attack in an attempt to force the Branch Davidians out of the ranch. During the attack, a fire engulfed Mount Carmel Center. This resulted in the deaths of 76 Branch Davidians, including David Koresh, and many children.

The events of the siege and attack are disputed by various sources. A particular controversy ensued over the origin of the fire; an internal Justice Department investigation concluded in 2000 that sect members had started the fire.

The events thirteen miles from Waco, and the law enforcement siege at Ruby Ridge less than twelve months earlier, have been cited by commentators as catalysts for the Oklahoma City bombing by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols on the second anniversary of Waco.”

Wonder if these deaths should be added to the link below?

Rex Ray said...

Just got word an old friend passed away. Her son wrote; “Heaven will never be the same.”
I thought, he’s got that right.

She was the cook on our first mission trip to Japan, and was very bossy. She fussed at me for cooking three more eggs after she had cooked me three. (I’ve eaten six eggs/day for many years.)

When they found I could ‘tape & bed’, they moved me to a large church being constructed. They asked what I liked for breakfast. Thinking (wrongly) I’d have to ‘negotiate’; I said ten eggs. Needless to say, I went to work everyday more than full.

Rex Ray said...


Coming back Sunday from a wedding in Bentonville, Arkansas where the bride and groom took turns washing each other’s feet, we saw a sign “Enid” xxx miles. Would have liked to have heard you preach, but knew we’d be an hour late; knowing you weren’t ‘long-winded. :)

Brad Kisner said...

Hi Wade, I enjoyed reading this story about my great grandparents, Robert R. & Minnie Kisner. I’m just curious about several things. Where did you find all this information - I would be interested in looking at the sources.

There are a couple of things that I don’t believe are actually correct in your story. Robert Riley did stake a claim west of Kingfisher in the Cherokee Strip Run. As I remember my grandad (W. H. Kisner) and father (Billy W. Kisner) talk about this, Robert’s brother had a neighboring claim and sold it first - then they didn’t hear from him for years. R. R. & Minnie sold their claim and according to what I was told took a covered wagon to the Pacific Northwest, returning to Oklahoma in early 1900’s because W. H. Kisner was born in 1902 in Covington.

I would very much like to continue a dialogue with you about this family history. You can email me at blkisner@yahool.com. I live in Corpus Christi, Texas.