Karl James Oliver

December 12, 1914 - January 13, 2006
Role: Tophand, Cowhand
Nicknames: K.J., K., Mare Rider
Known for: Ranch Knowledge

K.J. was born on the north corner of the McFaddin Ranch. His paternal grandfather, Jim Oliver, came from Jamestown, Virginia and he can trace his ancestors back to the first group of slaves in 1619. Grandpa Oliver was taken to St. Louis, auctioned off and brought to Texas. K.J.'s grandmother was a slave whose father was Irish. Both of his grandfathers and his father worked cattle. His uncle, Frank Oliver, was a tophand on the Welder Ranches and his maternal grandfather, Harrison Williams, was a tophand on the T. M. O'Connor Ranches. K.J. was born to cowboy. “I was married on Saturday, carried her home on Sunday, and caught a mean horse on Monday.” K.J.’s very first day of working cattle was the day his father drowned swimming cattle across a creek in 1929. He finally had to give up ranch work when he had a family to raise and couldn’t do it on a cowhand's salary. K.J. was an extraordinary person. Not only was he a great cowhand, rancher and horseman, but he was actively involved throughout his life in working for his hometown community, Refugio. He was a major leader in the Civil Rights movement there and through his diplomatic ways and knowledge of the people he was confronting, he was instrumental in fostering a peaceful change in the area. His articulation of his cowboy experiences has provided the project with an insight not found elsewhere. He was small in stature but not in heart or intellect.

Introduction to K.J. Oliver

Louise S. O'Connor
Voice of K.J. Oliver
K.J. Oliver – It's the cowboy fever that's goin' around now. Everybody wants to know somethin' about the cowboy; what he done. See, them dumb people out there…

E.J. Garza - They don't know.

K.J. Oliver - they just don't know. They really don't have the least idea of what, see. She said, "Well, what was y'alls hours? Would y'all work from eight to four?" I said, "No, ma'am." I said, "We worked from can't to can't." She said, "What you mean by 'can't to can't?'" "Can't see in the morning til you can't see at night."

E.J. Garza - That's right!

Jesse Jones – That's right.

K.J. Oliver – "Hey K, what makes a good cow hand?" I said, "A fool with a good horse!"

E.J. Garza - That's right!

K.J. Oliver – She said, "You know, K, that kind of sizes it up just about right." It's a lot of things people don't know what we were doing out there. Ain't that right?

Troy Robinson - Yeah. But see, things have changed so much.

K.J. Oliver – Yeah, but if you try to tell them, they don't believe it.

Troy Robinson -That's right.


“What's a cowhand? He s a fool on a good horse.”

Cryin' For Daylight: Ranching Culture in the Texas Coastal Bend