Melissa Oliver-Eakle


Dora Oliver-Eakle, financier, real estate developer, and philanthropist, was born near Eufaula, Alabama, on September 23, 1860, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J. S. Callaway. She attended Georgia Female College in Macon and graduated in 1879. On March 4, 1884, she married William Oliver, industrialist and principal stockholder of Mississippi Mills, then the South’s largest textile manufacturer.

In 1890 Mrs. Oliver visited Amarillo for the first time, on invitation from her merchant brothers, John and James Callaway. After her husband’s death in 1891, she returned to the Panhandle on several occasions and purchased land in Potter and Randall counties; she moved there permanently in 1895.

She caused a stir among townspeople when she arrived with her fine horses, carriage, and household servants, who were said to be the first blacks in Amarillo. Soon her spirited chestnut horse, elegant attire, and aloof public manner caused her to be labeled the “Duchess.” To her family and friends, however, she was known for her warmth and generosity. Her personal fortune exceeded the combined capital of all the area banks, and she began to contribute funds to the town at a time when money was needed for growth. Because the entrance of a woman into the financial world was unusual at the time, she used the name M. D. Oliver. Those to whom the banks lent money on her behalf were rarely aware that the actual lender was a woman.

After being widowed for eleven years, Dora Oliver was remarried in 1902 to O. M. Eakle, an organizer and director of the Amarillo National Bank and first president of the Amarillo Board of Trade. Eakle had come to Amarillo from Fort Worth in 1890 as a furniture dealer and undertaker. The marriage was rocky, and the couple were often estranged. They had one daughter. Eakle died in 1914.

In 1903 Dora Oliver-Eakle, as she was henceforth called, filed with the city a residential plat that comprised part of the land she had bought in 1891. The initial development of the M. D. Oliver-Eakle Subdivision extended from Fifteenth to Thirty-fourth streets and from the Santa Fe tracks to Washington Street. The land on which Amarillo College and Memorial Park are located was part of her original holdings, and she also gave the city Oliver-Eakle Park with its colored light fountain.

As part of her contributions to Amarillo’s social and cultural development, she encouraged her niece, Pearl Bethune Lawrence, to organize the Just Us Girls (JUG) Club to collect books for the town library in 1900. Seven years later she helped finance the Amarillo Opera House, where such famous artists as Amelita Galli-Curci appeared. She also helped establish the Tri-State Fair and sponsored the local temperance movement. Because of her firm stand against liquor, Chicago mobsters made several kidnapping and extortion attempts against her, after which she carried a revolver in her purse. In 1927 she completed Amarillo’s first skyscraper, the ten-story Oliver-Eakle Building, later renamed the Barfield Building. Dora Oliver-Eakle died in El Paso on November 16, 1931 and was buried in the family mausoleum in Llano Cemetery, Amarillo. Area newspapers headlined and reported her death for four days. Her grandson Bourdon R. Barfield later donated a collection of her papers, furniture, and personal effects to the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon. On September 16, 1985, a Texas historical marker in her honor was unveiled by Lieutenant Governor William Hobby at Oliver-Eakle Park.


Biography was obtained by Prominent Figures of the Panhandle, Amarillo Globe News, May 19, 2000. Amarillo Daily News, November 17–20, 1931, December 18, 1982, September 17, 1985. Della Tyler Key, In the Cattle Country: History of Potter County, 1887–1966 (Amarillo: Tyler-Berkley, 1961; 2d ed., Wichita Falls: Nortex, 1972). B. Byron Price and Claire R. Kuehn, Melissa Dora Oliver-Eakle (MS, Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Canyon, Texas, 1983).