No Land in Japan, Kishi came to Orange County
FM 1135 about midway between I-10 and FM 105 is a historical maker dedicated to
the Kishi Colony. The houses and barns are gone and the fields are fallow, but
this was once the land that grew crops from rice to strawberries and even had a
profitable, though short production of oil.
Kishi was born in Nagata, Japan in 1872. He was an ambitious young man that
wanted to accomplish more than he felt he would be able to in his homeland, so
he left Japan in 1907 with his second wife, Fuji, and young son Taro and
migrated to America.
eventually settled in the community of Terry, located between Orange and Vidor.
He had encouraged 16 other Japanese men to move to Texas and they began prepare
1600 acres for cultivation. The first order of business was to dig irrigation
canals from Cow Bayou to the fields. Levees were constructed to hold the water
and the plowing and planting began. In the 1908 harvest the sale of 15,753
sacks of rice weighing 200 pounds apiece brought $47,000 income to the new
invaded the rice fields and they colony needed to diversify its crops. By 1920
the crop production included cabbage, potatoes, onions, corn, cucumbers,
spinach, celery, tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, beets, and strawberries. It was
also about this time that oil was discovered on the portion of the land near
edge of Kishi’s land was on the deep salt dome that would produce the Orange
oil field boom of the 1920s. The discovery of oil made Kishi a millionaire
practically overnight and enabled him to pay off all of his creditors and begin
to buy more land. He would eventually own 9000 acres.
Taro was college age and registered at Texas Agricultural and Mechanical
College. While at Texas A&M he became an outstanding football player under
legendary coach Dana X. Bible. He was a part of the teams that were football
powerhouses of the time and won several Southwest Conference titles. Taro Kishi
was the first Asian to play for the Aggies. During the 1924 football season,
Taro caught a touchdown pass against Baylor and returned a punt for a touchdown
against Texas Christian.
In 1925 when
the Aggies captured the Southwest Conference championship, Taro tore a ligament
in his shoulder early in the season. He came back to perform solidly against
TCU and after a reinjury he played a game against Rice, it was said he played “purely
on guts.” He was considered one of the Aggies’ most consistent ground gainers
of the era.
graduated in 1926 with a degree in Agriculture and returned home to help his
Matsukata, president of the Kawasaki Dock Company had made a large investment
in Kishi’s oil venture and the Orange Petroleum Company had been created. The
land was leased for drilling to the Gulf Production Company, The Sun Company,
and Humble Oil and Refining Company. At its peak the wells produced slightly in
excess of 400 barrels per day.
oil was never discovered and the wells began to slow production in 1923 and by
1925 production had nearly ceased. Financial problems for Kishi began because
of the notes due on his large land purchases.
several officers of the Japanese Navy had toured Europe and America to view the
state of military affairs. Commander Isoroku Yamamoto was from the same home
town as Kishi and brought his delegation to Orange to view the Kishi oil field
and to see how the Orange Petroleum Company was organized and run. On his
return to Japan Yamamoto tried to interest the Nippon Oil Company to consider
American operations. They were not interested.
later became the admiral who was the architect of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
In 1925 the
Orange Oil Company was no longer profitable. Kishi’s finances were so depleted that he made
trips to Japan to try to borrow money to stay in operation with his farming
start of World War II the remaining interest in the Orange oil properties was
placed under the Alien Property Custodian and sold to the Kilmarnock Oil
Company for the sum of $1.
Kishi was an
American patriot. Japanese was spoken in the home, but outside the home English
was the language. He wanted his son and daughter to be familiar with American
customs and history and be proficient in the English and Japanese languages.
Taro and his sister Tokiko had both attended public schools and the family
attended the Methodist church.
morning following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Kishi went to Port Arthur and
turned himself in to the FBI. He wanted to show that he was a loyal citizen of
the United States. When asked if the Emperor ordered him to bomb a refinery in
Port Arthur, “would you do it?” He answered, “I am a business man and a farmer
and know nothing about explosives. Suppose I was adopted into another family
and was ordered to harm them would I do it? I could not do so.”
U.S. Attorney told Taro that his father “had answered all of our questions
sent to Camp Kenedy, near San Antonio for an internment period of only two
months. The probable reason for his internment was due to his relationship with
Yamamoto. Orange residents Lutcher Stark and J.O. Sims were quick to vouch for Kishi’s
character and patriotism and requested his release.
other action taken was that the Kishi family had to surrender their firearms
died in 1951, Kichimatsu died in 1956, Tokiko Kishi Hirasaki died in 1981, and
Taro Kishi died in 1993. They are buried along with 20 other members of the
Kishi Colony in a small cemetery located on the original tract.
there are none of the buildings left from the day of the colony and not much of
the land is still in use as farmland there are some majestic reminders of Kishi
and his contributions to Orange County. These are the large camphor laurel
trees in the area. The stones for these trees were brought from Japan by Kishi’s
1911-12 trip to Japan. One of the trees was certified by the Texas Forest
Service as the largest example of a living camphor laurel tree in Texas. After
the damage from an ice storm and a drastic trimming, that tree and the others
with it are once again forming a canopy over FM 105.