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On the Frontier the South American Way

May 22, 2002

Historian's Notes

The saga that is William Murray is one of Oklahoma’s more interesting, and at times, embarrassing topics. Whatever you might say of the man however, he did say what he meant and at least attempted to accomplish what he said that he would do. The South American colonization attempts are some of the more unusual chapters of Murray’s life and I thought that they would make for an interesting Almanac. For this Almanac, I utilized biographies of Murray. The autobiography of Murray listed here is interesting but should be used with caution and in conjunction with other sources.

Resources

Memoirs of Governor Murray – Murray, William H.

Alfalfa Bill Murray – Bryant, Keith L.

Oklahoma’s Governors 1907-1929 – Fischer, LeRoy H.

Oklahoma’s Governors 1929-1955 – Fischer, LeRoy H.

Almanac Transcript

On the frontier the South American way, this week on the Oklahoma Audio Almanac.

Hello, I'm your host Steven Knoche Kite.

Oklahoma, for better or worse, has had no shortage of colorful characters. One of the leaders of that group is William, H. "Alfalfa Bill" Murray. Murray was a true renaissance man; at various times he was a farmer, teacher, lawyer, state representative and governor of Oklahoma. Following his time in the U.S. legislature, Murray spent time working on various projects including the idea of setting up a U.S. colony in South America. It's not certain where or how Murray came up with the idea of heading up a colony to South America, but by the 1920's the plan was close to becoming a reality.

In 1919 Murray studied up on the continent and toured several countries including Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina. He returned to Bolivia and chose that area as the spot to be colonized. Officials in Bolivia welcomed Murray and his plans with open arms. For years the Bolivian government tried to interest European companies in the prospects of settlement but with little success. Apparently, officials in Bolivia thought that by involving other countries in their affairs more clout would be given to the countries border conflicts with Paraguay. It's not known if Murray knew of this motivation when he signed agreements with officials, but by 1920 he had obtained a concession of 300,000 acres for which he promised $39,000.00.

The colonizing plan today sounds a bit far-fetched at best, but at the time there were several dozen families who had pledged money to the project and were eagerly awaiting the move. To his credit, Murray also had managed to keep the U.S. government well informed of his plans and had their backing as well. The first attempt ended in disaster due to the ongoing and escalating border conflict between Bolivia and Paraguay, and subsequent second and third attempts failed as well. Success came for Murray on the fourth attempt. He obtained land in Bolivia and money from backers.

It was in this week of 1923 that Murray along with eighty-six followers, after weeks of grueling travel, arrived on the site of their colonial frontier. Needless to day it was not a long lasting affair. Poor relationships with the native inhabitants, soil and weather conditions along with homesickness all took their toll, and before a year was up families began the long trek back to the US. Some groups toughed it out for a while, and the Murrays themselves stayed until 1929 before giving up on their dream of a Bolivian agricultural empire.

I'm Steven Knoche Kite.

The Oklahoma Audio Almanac is a joint production of the Oklahoma State University Library and Oklahoma's Public Radio.

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