Museum the New Llano Colony

Dr. Robert K. Williams


He was born in 1873 at Lowelville, Ohio.

Family Information:

He married Cecil (Criswell) Williams in 1898 at Allegheny, Pennsylvania.


Pre-Colony History: He grew up at Brush Hill, near Clintonville, Pennsylvania - in the heart of the early oil region back in the 1870's. His father was an oil man, as well as his two elder brothers. Stalwart young Bob played his way through a happy childhood, cherishing at an early age the ambition to become a tight rope walker. He and his brother Charley stretched a rope between two apple trees with this laudable aim in view. He was succeeding admirably and might have become a noted circus performer if Charley hadn't eaten a can of spoiled salmon -- the two brothers met in the middle of the swaying rope and Charley blew his breath in Bob's face. The fish odor was so nauseating that Bob fell off the rope and skinned his leg -- and that was the end of his ambition to become a tight rope walker.

But childhood dreams pass. Young Robert was steeped in oil -- even as a sardine -- and oil will out. He early went to the derrick, and as a climber was a good squirrel. When not acting as "elevator man" on tubing and sucker rods, he tossed coals into the boilers, worked at the forge and slung hash equal to Otto of the Waldorf.

Meantime his brother Charley had specialized in telegraphy, at that time a coming thing. Charley had been made manager of the home town Western Union office. Young Bob, too, became fired with the consuming desire to learn telegraphy. His plea to Charley to "learn me to telegraph" met with the affectionate encouragement to "get the so and so out of here -- I'm busy." Wouldn't even allow the youngster in his office. The yen persisted however. Hunting up a dictionary, Bob thumbed it through until he found "Morse" and the telegrapher's alphabet and all the figures, punctuations and everything. With speed he mastered it, and crawling under his brother's office which was built on stilts, he lay and listened -- and worked out what the ticking thing above him was saying.

Denied a practice instrument, he used a knife and fork to formulate the letters. After weeks of secret practice one afternoon he heard brother Charley coming up the sidewalk. Hurrying to the kitchen, he clicked out a message which surprised Charley who fell for his persistence with enthusiasm. Said he, "Go down to the office and bring up a battery and key and sounder." Putting up the set, he sent messages to young Bob for an hour and Bob copied. Six weeks later, Charley was called to the Exchange board at Oil City and Bob took over the home town job.

This turning point in his career happened when he was 14. He had gone into the Academy stage of his education -- was long on everything but mathematics -- not so in that line. Was a "wow" in anatomy, physiology and hygiene; this tendency taking him later in life into the chiropractic field where he became a very proficient and successful practitioner.

In 1900 he and Cecil were living in Pennsylvania where he worked as a telephone operator.

In 1910, he and his wife were living on San Pablo Ave. in Fresno, California with him employed as telegrapher for the Associated Press.

He joined the colony while it was located in California and made the trip to Louisiana in one of the autos that left the old colony on November 15, 1917 and arrived in early December at Stables (later to become Newllano), Louisiana.

His companions for the trip were Ed Bruel, Bert Kenny and M.E. Babb.

He and his wife were still in the area in 1919, but left at some point before 1922. They lived in California for years -- in 1930, he and Cecil were living on Colden Ave. in Los Angeles, CA with both working as chiropractors and having Alice C. Austin as their lodger.

In May 1930 he attended a picnic of ex-colonists at Fullerton, California. Each brought a lunch, sufficient for his needs and the needs of several others. Long tables were arranged under the shade of the park trees. The coffee was furnished by Minnie Pickett and John Will saw to it that everyone was generously served. It was unanimously agreed to form an organization that would organize future semi-annual social gatherings for the group. Minnie Pickett was chosen secretary-treasurer and Dr. Robert K. Williams was appointed assistant secretary.

The picnic was attended by more than 65 ex-colonists including: Minnie Pickett, John and Frances Will and Dorothy, Lottie Brown, Professor Lowell H. Coates, Bert Engle, Victor and Alma Swanson and Elwin, Jess and Mildred Morris, Louis and Grace Petty, Louis and Jennie Conlin, Mrs. M.E. Babb, Norman and Ethel Johnson, Ernest and Pearl Wooster, H.L. and Guy Ward, Mrs. Clara Powers and son, George, Mrs. Ada Harper, Ethel Wright, E.E. Vaughn, J.H. Ryan, Val Brown and wife, Lottie Brown, Miss A.C. Austin, Walter Millsap, Jr. and his mother, Cara Millsap, Dr. Robert K. and Dr. Cecil C. Williams, E. Krause and family, John Van Nuland (who passed around a tub of Llano candy sent by Anton, and it was "great stuff" by all those who tasted it) Mr. and Mrs. W.L. Kilmer, Professor Lowell B. Coate, Mr. and Mrs. Jack Wallace, Mr. and Mrs. Charley Earl, Mr. and Mrs. Suhre, A.L Spann, Frederick R. Johnson, A. Hansig.

Home in Colony:

In Louisiana, he and his wife lived in an upstairs apartment at the Kid Kolony.

Job in Colony: In California, "Doc" Williams served as the official colony guide for visitors. In 1915, he became the secretary of the "Commission of Nine", which at that point was the managing force in the colony; in September of 1915 he was also in charge of housing the colonists.

In March 1922 he was in New York City and writing a column called "Meanderings" for the "Llano Colonist."

In April 1931 he, Roede and Doc Cayton "smuggled potatoes, corn, beans and beets into the bosom of mother earth at the general manager's garden... Anton Van Nuland most decidedly put the seedbed into superb condition for planting, and when done he said facetiously, Tell Doc he owes me five dollars.

In September 1931 one hundred fifty sacks of beans and peas were picked in the forenoon by a volunteer crew of men, women and children. The crowd gathered a little after 7 am and was divided into different crews to look after different fields; by 11:30 the job was done. Volunteers included: Killian, Butts, Lloyd, Baldwin, Waters, Doc Williams, Quentin, Fred Busick, Roscoe Busick, Byron Busick, Vivian Busick, Graves, Webb, John Allred, Melvina Hullinger, Fred Levan, Goeke, Eldred, Tom Farrell, Claud Allred, Earl Swenson, Mackie, Frank Collins, George Collins, Boydelatour, Cleve Campbell, Mr. Caves, Clarence Long, Harry Rennick, Dee Kurtz, Pittman, Edminster, Walter Fread, Clarence Fread, Mrs. Herron, Woodruff, J.W. Gilbert, H.M. Wood, Winegar, Bert Moore, Lindwall, Ole Synoground, Rohr, Carnahan, Hoens, Mrs. Wooley, John Neill, Robert Roe, Warren Roe, Nesnow, Bartrum and B. Stevens.

In the late 30's when the colony decided to try to drill for oil, he managed the Oil Corporation and had his own office inside the colony. In addition to colony labor, he brought in oilmen to run the operations. In June 1934 Esther Allen and Martha Dougherty helped him with the printing of the cards for the Oil and Mineral Dept.

On May Day, 1935, some dissatisfied colonists -- most of them younger members who had not yet earned their right to vote on colony decisions -- held a meeting while Pickett was out of town and elected a new Board of Directors that didn't include George Pickett. Doc Williams was elected President; Eugene Carl, a new member who'd only been at the colony about three months -- he was still a probationer and consequently didn't even have voting rights in colony matters, was elected Executive Director; and Walter Robison, also a recent arrival, was elected Chairman of the Board of Directors.

Pickett and his supporters fought the action in the Vernon Parish courts, but even though the courts ruled the new board was not legal, they also refused to name Pickett's board as the legal directors, so the disagreements within the colony only continued to escalate.

Read the Court Judgment dated September 6, 1935.

In order to claim that an official board had been properly elected after the court judgment had been handed down, the new board and leaders held another election. They advertised for former colonists to send in their proxies and adopted a rule permitting all resident members who had been at the colony more than sixty days to vote in the election, provided too few proxies were received to hold a regular stock holders' meeting.

In October 1935 he was nominated to be on the self-proclaimed "legal" Board of Directors, along with (in order of nomination), E.D. Carl, Lester Caves, Crockett Campbell, John Szpila, Harold Emery, Charles Lawrence, Chester Peecher, E.O. Joynes, Chester Page, Horace Cronk, George Hullinger, Walter Robison, "Chauncey" DuProz, Mrs. Olive Lentz, Mrs. Mabel Busick, Lionel Crossland, Charles Derleth, J.H. "Dad" Ribbing and Cy Horney.

As expected, less than one fourth the required stock was represented at the Stockholders' meeting, so the colonists proceeded with the election of a new board of directors as planned. Those selected were: Robert K. Williams, E.C. Carl, Lester Caves, Crockett Campbell, Harold Emery, Chester Peecher, E.O. Joynes, Charles Lawrence, and Chester Page. Runners up were Mrs. Mabel Busick, Horace Cronk and John Szpila.

The battles for control of the colony continued over the next couple of years, threats were made, there were some physical altercations, and even a few guns fired. Many colonists became so tired of all the fighting they moved away -- leaving an even greater shortage of workers for the industries.

Read about some of the conflict... "Llano Colonist" dated August 3, 1935.

All these upheavals within the colony increased the financial difficulties which had always been part of colony life. The new board had maintained their control of the colony business office, and introduced some new luxuries to the colonists. Newspaper accounts seem to focus less on the agricultural industries that had always sustained the colony and more on the business industries, many of which had been leased to outsiders. And with the growing shortage of workers, some of their most lucrative industries had to be abandoned.

In April 1936, with finances totally out-of-control, Eugene Carl was appointed as receiver for the colony, though immediate claims of unfitness were brought against him by George Pickett, Walter Robison, and their followers; the court heard evidence on the matter for two days, before the judge announced from the bench that it was his opinion that if a receiver was to be appointed, it should be some person not connected with the corporation.

Richard Pollard, a young businessman from a family that had always been friendly to Llano (even having loaned them large sums of money), was appointed in that same month. Pollard accepted the position with the condition that colonists must agree to work together. He appointed Dr. Robert K. Williams to be his representative in the colony and Eugene Carl to act as his accountant.

In early 1937, when he became convinced that colonists would never be able to work together, Pollard resigned from the receivership and the court appointed C.D. "Dwight" Ferguson.

In May, Ferguson appointed two groups to work with him in an advisory capacity -- first a membership committee who would settle questions about returning members, which might or might not be allowed. This committee consisted of H.S. Stansbury, chairman; George Pickett, E.O. Joynes, R.K. Williams and Carl Gleeser. The second was expected to organize the industrial work so as to ensure that everyone had a job somewhere. That committee consisted of Dr. Williams, chairman; Chester Page, Chester Peecher, Charles Worden and Crockett Campbell.

In June, 1937, as disaster loomed, some control was returned to Pickett when he was asked to be, first the Farm Superintendent, then the Ice Plant Manager, and finally in control of all colony industries.

"Doc" also remained -- in August 1937 writing a column which stated that he was "indeed, very happy to see this change made" referring to Pickett's return to manager. He went on to regret the material loss resulting from the difficulties of the previous two years, but said that "losing confidence in each other and allowing passions and emotions to play to and fro has been the most regrettable thing..."

Unfortunately, it was too late to save the colony; within months the receiver petitioned the court for permission to sell the land and soon began to divide the property into smaller lots which were sold at auction for much less than their actual value.

Other Info: A popular singer, Doc Williams often led the community singing in the Sunday night shows at the theater and performed as part of various groups, sometimes even at churches "outside".

In January 1932 Doc visited the health home (Webb corrected him; said it's a hospital) where he discovered a real typewriter table made by Frank Gion who had been sick, but at that time was brought to a state of "150 percent" by E.G. Webb.

In December 1932 it was decided (by Gaylord, DeBoer, Chet Page, and Doc Williams) that Comrade Archer who was an expert on the piano, would take over on that instrument for theater performances and Bill DeBoer would take up the bass viol or clarinet in the orchestra; however, Bill would continue to play the piano for the dances while Archer played the sax or violin.

In January 1933 he was planning a Gypsy Program for the theater; Sidney and Ethel Archer were helping him work it out "while the fiddles and etycetery were plinging and a plunking at the roof garden." Lloyd Potter, Gordon Pickett and Margaret (sic) and Jasmine Lewis were practicing the steps for Mrs. Archer's act.

In 1933 he was part of the mixed quartet, the Llano Four, composed of Dr. Williams on the upper end; Anita Brannon and Mary Roe; and Comrade Gaylord on the lower end.

Another service that Doc performed was to sit up every night until midnight or later, listening to his personal radio, so that he might take down in shorthand what was happening the world over; next day he typed several copies of his notes,, one of which was posted to the colony bulletin board -- others sent to the branch units.

In 1932 E.G. Webb organized the Llano Welfare League, but within only a few months, he was asked to explain some of the actions taken by that organization to the colony Board of Directors. Webb ignored them and continued to make unfair insinuations about colony affairs. The colony was forced to take him to court in order to evict him from the colony.

In February 1933 Doc Cayton was attending a meeting of that same Welfare League at the Leesville Music Hall, when about 150 colonists arrived to serve notice that the further use of the name "Llano" in connection with their organization would not be tolerated. Cayton pulled a gun on Doc Williams and told him twice that he must not speak and Walter Groth shouted after the body of colonists, who were leaving the hall, that it was a "matter of guns from now on."

In April 1934 a lovely gathering was held at the home of Frank Brough, another New Englander, to "God-speed" the Fay family to Norfolk, Connecticut where they hoped to arrange their affairs over the next few months and return to the colony in the fall.

Attendees enjoyed music, games and a wonderful lunch. They included: Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Archer, Drs. Robert K. and Cecil C. Williams, Mr. and Mrs. George Matz, Mrs. Maki, Smith Sanford, DeForest Sanford, George Leevey, Wm. Bingham, Dennis Stanley, Forest R. Waters, Mary Emery and the Brough family, consisting of Margaret, William and Frank.

After the May Day Revolution of 1935, he signed a statement supporting John Szpila's letter, which had been published in the September 21, 1935 issue of the "Llano Colonist" and spelled out the reason's the overthrow of former General Manager, George T. Pickett, had been necessary.

In 1936, Doc and Mr. Joynes traveled 15 miles below DeRidder, where they inspected the Hauser model farm and seed nursery and came back much enthused over lespedeza as a stock fodder suitable to this locality. During another trip in 1936 he, Roy Parson and Charley Derleth made a hasty run to Shreveport searching for a much-needed "dado" or groove cutting machine to be used, but none could be found. While there, they stopped to inquire after two colonists who'd been some time in the Shreveport hospital -- E.A. Bennett and George Collins. It was too early for visiting hours, but they inquired of the head nurse and she assured them that both patients were doing finely.

In May 1937 Doc Williams took Bondell Jensen, her son Earl Banta and C.S. (Daddy) Thomas to the Shreveport Hospital -- Earl to see a doctor about an injury to his eye and Daddy because his vision had been getting worse. They arrived around 10 and as usual, the hospital was very busy and it required considerable time before the two patients were seen. Finally they were examined and told to wait. Around noon, Daddy, who had to have a slight operation was told to stay over and taken to a ward and so they completely lost sight of him. Earl was eventually taken to a ward on the third floor and put in a white robe. He didn't fancy that very much, as he didn't want to go to bed in the daytime. At 4 pm the Dr. finally came around and looked Earl over, deciding that there was no need for an operation. He had nothing but a scar on his eyeball and adding another would only make matters worse. Mrs. Jensen was very relieved and Earl was immediately ready to return home.  

Post-Colony History:

In 1940 he and his wife were living in Leesville, Louisiana where he worked as a taxi driver; Sydney Archer was a boarder in their home. In July 1948 they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary at the Methodist Church in Leesville.


Sources: Pennsylvania County Marriage Records; US Census 1900, 1910, 1930, 1940; Pennsylvania County Marriage Records; "Western Comrade": December 1917-January 1918; "Llano Colonist": March 25, 1922, May 10, 1930, April 4, 1931, September 5, 1931, October 10, 1931, January 23, 1932, December 10, 1932, January 21, 1933 (Early Days in California), January 28, 1933, February 11, 1933, February 25, 1933, June 3, 1933, April 21, 1934, June 9, 1934, August 3, 1935, October 12, 1935, February 29, 1936, June 27, 1936, August 8, 1936, October 24, 1936, May 8, 1937, August 21, 1937; "Can We Cooperate" by Bob Brown; "Leesville Leader": July 22, 1948, August 5, 1948; "Bread and Hyacinths; The Rise and Fall of Utopian Los Angeles" by Paul Greenstein, Nigey Lennon and Lionel Rolfe; ; "Southern Exposure": Vol 1; No 3 & 4 (Llano Cooperative Colony, Louisiana)  

Dr. Robert K. Williams

Doc Williams and Job Harriman.

Clipping from the "Llano Colonist" dated June 22, 1935: "Three Corporation Officers - Walter Robison, Chairman of the Board; Eugene Carl, Executive Director; Dr. R. K. Williams, President."

Clipping from the "Leesville Leader" dated July 22, 1948.

Drs. Robert K. and Cecil Williams on their Golden Wedding Anniversary from the "Leesville Leader" dated August 5, 1948.

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