Van Zandt, Khleber Miller (1836–1930)

By: Patricia P. Kinkade

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: October 2, 2020

Khleber Miller (K. M., the Major) Van Zandt, lawyer, soldier, merchant, banker, and civic leader, the son of Frances Cooke (Lipscomb) and Isaac Van Zandt, was born near Salem, Franklin County, Tennessee, on November 7, 1836. The family moved in 1839 to Texas, where they settled in Elysian Fields, Harrison County. In 1843 and 1844 the Van Zandts lived in Washington, D.C., where Isaac had moved in 1842 upon his appointment as Texas chargé d'affaires to the United States. After attending Marshall University in Marshall, Texas, Van Zandt furthered his education at Franklin College, near Nashville, Tennessee. Upon graduation, he returned for a short time to Marshall, where he worked in a dry-goods store and helped organize the Christian church. He then accepted a position securing deeds for right-of-way with the Vicksburg, Shreveport and Texas Railway Company in Louisiana. He returned to Marshall, was admitted to the bar in 1858, and practiced law until the outbreak of the Civil War, when he helped organize and became captain of Company D, Seventh Texas Infantry. He saw action in Mississippi and Tennessee. He was taken prisoner during the capture of Fort Donelson, was exchanged in 1862, and received a certificate of disability in 1864 with the rank of major. After the war Van Zandt moved to what was called West Texas. He arrived in Fort Worth in August 1865 and found "a sad and gloomy picture," as the town had a population of only 250 people and lacked "even a saloon." He began a dry-goods business that succeeded and allowed him to participate in other business endeavors. In 1875 he organized the Tarrant County Construction Company, which built the Texas and Pacific roadbed from Dallas to Fort Worth. In 1874, with John Peter Smith, James Jones Jarvis, and Thomas A. Tidball, Van Zandt organized Tidball, Van Zandt and Company, forerunner of the Fort Worth National Bank. He served the two institutions as president for a total of fifty-six years. He was also president of the K. M. Van Zandt Land Company and a director of the Fort Worth Life Insurance Company, as well as director of the Fort Worth and Denver Railway and the Fort Worth Street Railway Company.

Van Zandt was cofounder of the Fort Worth Democrat, the town's first newspaper. He helped to obtain the first post office and to build a streetcar system that was one of the first in the state. He also served on the Fort Worth school board for at least twenty years. He helped bring the Texas and Pacific, the Santa Fe, and the Missouri, Kansas and Texas railroads to Fort Worth-a contribution crucial to the town's success as a transportation center. Van Zandt represented the Twenty-first District in the Thirteenth Legislature, 1873–74, but preferred business and civic duties to politics. He was president of the board of the First Christian Church from 1877 until his death. He also spent much time and effort organizing the United Confederate Veterans and serving the organization in various offices, the most prestigious being commander in chief (1918–21). Van Zandt was a Democrat. He was married three times: to Minerva Peete, on April 9, 1857; after her death to her sister, Mattie Peete, on July 22, 1869; and after her death to Octavia Pendleton, on October 8, 1885. Many of his fourteen children who lived to adulthood were later prominent Fort Worth business and social leaders. In his own words, Khleber Miller Van Zandt was one who "wanted to lead rather than follow." He died on March 19, 1930, in Fort Worth. According to his biographer, he was a typical Texan, "one of the quiet men who built homes, . . . engaged in business, promoted towns, . . . opened schools, and enforced law and order."

Dallas Morning News, March 20, 1930. Frank W. Johnson, A History of Texas and Texans (5 vols., ed. E. C. Barker and E. W. Winkler [Chicago and New York: American Historical Society, 1914; rpt. 1916]). Khleber M. Van Zandt, Force Without Fanfare; The Autobiography of K. M. Van Zandt, ed. Sandra L. Myres (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1968?).


  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Lawyers
  • General Law

Time Periods:

  • Civil War


  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Fort Worth
  • North Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Patricia P. Kinkade, “Van Zandt, Khleber Miller,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed December 09, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

October 2, 2020

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: