D. Harold (Dry Hole) Byrd, oilman, was born in Detroit, Texas, on April 24, 1900, the youngest of five sons and three daughters of Edward and Mary (Easley) Byrd. He grew up in Texas and Oklahoma. His first job in oil was as a roughneck in the Burkburnett oilfield. In 1917 he went to Trinity University, and from 1919 to 1921 he studied geology at the University of Texas. During the summers he worked on a rig in Santa Anna, where his penchant for wrestling got him into a match with a carnival bear. He lost.
After college Byrd worked for A. E. Humphreys as a geological scout. In 1924 he worked for the Old Dominion Oil Company of San Antonio. In 1925 he decided to become independent and moved to Brownwood, where he worked as a geological consultant and contracted for drilling. During this time he acquired his nickname by drilling fifty-six dry holes. Then, on May 5, 1928, he hit two good wells at once: the Byrd-Daniels produced 1,000 barrels a day, which sold for three dollars a barrel; and one of his wells opened up the Baker gas field in Brown County.
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."
In 1931 Byrd and Jack Frost founded Byrd-Frost, Incorporated, to operate 492 East Texas wells that were soon producing 4,000 barrels of oil a day. In 1944 Byrd founded Byrd Oil Corporation and B-H Drilling Corporation. Byrd Oil was later bought by Mobil. In 1952 the entrepreneur began to phase out Byrd-Frost and organized the Three States Natural Gas Company, which was purchased by Delhi-Taylor Oil Corporation in 1961. Byrd also invested in Temco Aircraft and, in 1961, helped organize Ling-Temco-Vought, a conglomerate that reflected his continued interest in aviation.
Byrd was a lifelong advocate of aeronautics. He had invested in his cousin Adm. Richard E. Byrd's exploration of the poles, and Admiral Byrd had named a mountain range in Antarctica for him. In 1938 Byrd was appointed by Governor James Allred to the Texas Civil Aeronautics Commission. In September 1941 Byrd and Gill Robb Wilson formed the Civil Air Patrol. During World War II Byrd commanded an antisubmarine base for the Civil Air Patrol at Beaumont. In 1968 he received the Alpha Eta Rho annual award for the man outside the aviation education profession to contribute most to aviation. In 1963, in resistance to the activity of the Teamsters' Union among farm workers in Texas, Byrd moved his frozen food business from Crystal City to La Pryor. He regarded the teamsters as "a terrible cancer."
On June 8, 1935, he married Martha Caruth of Dallas. They had two sons. Mrs. Byrd died in 1972, and on February 14, 1974, Byrd married Mavis Barnett Heath, the widow of William W. Heath. Byrd made two African safaris and was known for his trophy room. He was awarded the University of Texas Ex-Students' Association Distinguished Alumnus award in 1966. He donated the drum Big Bertha to the UT Longhorn Band and gave many scholarships to university students. Byrd was a deacon in the First Presbyterian Church of Dallas, where he contributed the Byrd Fellowship Hall. He died on September 14, 1986, in Dallas.
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David Harold Byrd, I'm an Endangered Species (Houston: Pacesetter, 1978). James Anthony Clark and Michael T. Halbouty, The Last Boom (New York: Random House, 1972). Dallas Morning News, February 21, 1963. Dallas News, October 10, 1968.
Oil and Gas Industry
Oil Entrepreneurs and Wildcatters
Texas in the 1920s
World War II
Texas Post World War II
Dallas/Fort Worth Region
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Jerrell Dean Palmer,
“Byrd, David Harold,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 23, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
November 1, 1994
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: