William Landon Oliphant
Biographical Sketch On The Life Of W.L. Oliphant
William Landon Oliphant was born February 23, 1900 at Mounds, Indian Territory, Sapulpa, Oklahoma. His parents were Edgar and Ida (cooper) Oliphant. While W.L. was still a young boy the family moved to New Mexico where his father filed on some land. So far as we have been able to learn, they had no religious connections and while living on this "claim" W.L. found a copy of the Bible in a sheepherder's shack. The family studied this Bible and from it learned the way of life. Later, after returning to Oklahoma, under the preaching of G.L. Gleason they all obeyed the gospel at Leach, Oklahoma in 1910. At about he age of fifteen, while still in High School, W.L. began to preach and had a debate with a "Russelite" (Jehovah's Witness) in the school house at Oaks, Oklahoma. He was very soon known as the "Oklahoma Boy Evangelist."
He attended the public schools in New Mexico and Oklahoma, graduating from High School at Oaks. Later he attended Western Oklahoma Christian College, as the Cordell school was then called. Later he attended Oklahoma University where he did Pre-Law work, and finally completed the Jefferson Law School in Dallas, Texas and was admitted to the Texas Bar. The following year Jefferson Law School awarded him the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws. He was also a member of the following organizations: Sigma Nu, Sigma Delta Kappa, Masonic Lodge, Elks Club, and Knights of Pythias.
He "preached his first sermon" at Oaks, Oklahoma in 1915 and seems to have been kept busy preaching from that time. On the fourth of October, 1917 he was married to Miss Bertha Thorp, daughter of Andrew and Gertie Thorp, of Oaks. Her family had long been members of the New Testament church. Following the wedding, which was conducted by G.L. Gleason, a reception was held in the home of the bride. W. L. took advantage of the opportunity to preach to them, and two of the guests were baptized in the creek near the Thorp house. Two daughters, Eleana Mae Oliphant, and Landa Lois McCool, were born to them. Very early in his life he taught one term in a rural school near Buffalo, Oklahoma. While there he often preached to a small group that met in the school house for worship, and conducted gospel meetings in the summers. He saw an article in the Firm Foundation that said the church in Fitzhugh, Oklahoma needed a preacher. He moved there in a covered wagon and found three families meeting in the school house. He preached for them, held meetings and worked on a farm. From Fitzhugh they moved to Muskogee where he preached for the church meeting at East Okmulgee and K Street, the only congregation there at the time. While living in Muskogee he rode the interurban to Tulsa twice monthly to preach for three families that were meeting there in the court house. He thus helped to start the first congregation in Tulsa, and they finally built a basement in which they met until they were able to complete the building. From Muskogee they moved to Drumright, Oklahoma where he held a tent meeting and baptized a hundred and ten people. He worked for the church there for at time. When Western Oklahoma Christian College was re-opened in 1921 they moved there and both of them went to school. He preached for the churches at Dill City and Hobart, held some meetings, and had a debate with A. Nunnery, a Baptist debater of that period. From Cordell they moved to Norman, Oklahoma where he worked with The Church and attended Oklahoma University. He majored in Pre-Law and she in Art. In 1925 they moved to Dallas to work with the Oak Cliff church, then meeting in a building that would seat about two hundred at Center and Lewellyn Streets. When he moved there the elders agreed that he could continue his work in Law School, which he did. The church grew and about 1928 a new building was built at Tenth and Van Buren Streets, not far from the old location. This new, modern brick structure would seat from a thousand to twelve hundred and the church continued to grow until often extra chairs had to be brought in to seat the people. This building was among the first of the "really good" buildings our people had, and this church became one of the largest in the brotherhood, if not the largest.
It was a very busy church. In depression years they maintained a benevolent program that attracted widespread and favorable attention. Brother Oliphant began to preach on Radio Station WRR and later was invited to put his program on KRLD, one of the most powerful stations in the area. Later a network of smaller stations was added to the work. We do not know who first broadcast the gospel over the air waves, but this was among the first.
Radio is so common today that it is very difficult for younger people to imagine the impact of such a program upon both saint and sinner in those early days of radio. He faithfully presented The Word, and brethren across the land were delighted with the program. It usually came on about ten o'clock on Sunday night, and after we were able to have a "radio," we usually listened to it and marveled at this modern "wonder." Copies of the sermons were offered free, and tens of thousands of them were mailed out all across the land. The church installed a modern printing plant in the basement of the building to print this material, and many members worked diligently night after night to produce and mail it. This radio work continued until failing health forced the termination of it in 1942.
Through the years he did quite a bit of debating. Perhaps his two most famous debates were with Charles Smith, President of the American Association for the Advancement of Atheism, of New York City. This debate was held in the meeting house of the brethren in Shawnee, Oklahoma in August of 1929. Their subjects were: There is a Supreme Being (God, Creator); Atheism is Beneficial to the race and is Most Conductive to Morality of any Theory; All Things Exist as the Result of Evolution, Directed by no Intelligence. This debate was published by the Gospel Advocate Company, of Nashville, Tennessee. Before the Wallace-Norris debate in Ft. Worth, Texas in 1934, Norris had "wanted" a number of debates with Brother Wallace, including one in Dallas. (It didn't take Brother Wallace long to change his "wants" along this line, and he refused to meet Brother Wallace again.) But a debate was arranged between John R. Rice, a Baptist preacher in Dallas who had collaborated with Norris in the Ft. Worth debate and W.L. Oliphant. This debate was held in January, 1935. The subjects were: The Scriptures Teach That The Jews As A Nation Will Return To Palestine When Christ Returns To The Earth and Then Will Be Converted to Christ.; The Scriptures Teach That Christ Will Establish a Literal Throne in Jerusalem and Will Reign Over the Whole Earth For a Period of One Thousand Years; The Scriptures Teach That Baptism to the Penitent Believer Is Essential to His Salvation from Past or Alien Sins; The Scriptures Teach That a Child of God, One who has Been Saved by the Blood of Christ, Can So sin as to be finally lost. This debate was held in Dallas, Texas and was published by the Firm Foundation of Austin, Texas. These works may still be available from the publishers. Brother Oliphant did outstanding work in each of these debates, demonstrating the depth of his scholarship.
A contemporary who knew him well says: "...he was a brilliant man - he was loyal to The Book and had unusual ability to make Biblical things seem simple and clear." This party also said: "...he was absolutely fearless when it came to presenting the truth." In addition to the published debates, he wrote many tracts, and of course there was the vast amount of material he prepared for the radio. Many of these sermons are still in the hands of the faithful who prize them very highly. He sometimes wrote for The Gospel Advocate, the Firm Foundation, the Herald of Truth, and perhaps other papers. There was a Book of Sermons published and he published another work called: "Speaking The Truth In Love." He also wrote another book, "What is God like?"
As is true of most preachers, his was an interesting life. His grandfather was nothing religiously, and even refused to attend church services. When he was in his eighties, Brother Oliphant went to Locust Grove, Oklahoma for a meeting, where his grandfather lived. He intended to convert him, but the old gentleman would not attend the services. But the meeting place was close and he began to listen, moving ever closer to the arbor, and finally he submitted to his Lord in baptism. In the early-day debate with Nunnery, Nunnery said at the beginning of the debate: "Now we can conduct this in a Christian way, or have a dog fight. I can do either." Brother Oliphant replied: "since I am a Christian I cannot be that versatile. It will be conducted on a Christian level for my part." Very early in life he became a very competent magician and belonged to the Society of American Magicians. He used it to get acquainted with people, in meetings with Civic Clubs, P.T.A. meetings, etc. His membership card in the Society was signed by the eminent Houdini himself. Once when Blackstone, Sr. was appearing at a Dallas Theatre, the Oliphants entertained them in their home.
After he was admitted to the Texas Bar he maintained a Law Office and practice in Dallas to the end of his life, which he conducted along with his preaching. He did much free practice, for many people could not afford the usual legal fees. When Wyatt Sawyer completed his work in Harding college, the Oak Cliff church brought him "back home" (he had grown up there) to be "Youth Director" and later he had the title "Educational Director." He thinks that this was the first church to pay particular attention to these needed areas of service, and he gives Brother Oliphant credit for bringing this about.
In 1942 while attending a "preacher's meeting" in Denver, Colorado he became ill and came home with a "strep" throat. This made him quite ill, causing an attack of rheumatic fever which damaged his heart. The doctors "gave" him five years to live. He had to spend much time in bed but carried on his preaching and legal work as well as he could. In May of 1947 he went to Searcy, Arkansas to conduct a gospel meeting. He stayed over the night the meeting closed so he could speak in chapel at Harding the next morning. That night, May 7, 1947 he had a heart attack and The Lord terminated his earthly work. Brother T.H. Sherrill, a faithful gospel preacher was with him when they took him to the Searcy hospital. Brother Oliphant knew the end had come, and the last two things he said were: "What will happen to my dear wife and children?" then: "I'm coming into your hands, Lord." Brother Sherrill came from Searcy with the body to Dallas, where he and W.B. Andrews, and perhaps another conducted the final service. What was mortal sleeps in Laurel Land in Dallas.
Sister Oliphant lives at 11851 High Dale Dr., Dallas, Texas (as of Sept., 1979). She says she is in "good" health. She is a member of the Webb Chapel church and still helps in the benevolent work of that good church by sewing for children, and other such work as may be available.
May The Lord bless His people!
-Edited From Gospel Preachers Of Yesteryear, by Loyd L. Smith, pages 257-261, Originally appeared in The Christian Worker, September, 1979 & In Memoriam, Gussie Lambert, pages 206,207.
Directions To The Grave Of W.L. Oliphant
W.L. Oliphant is buried in the Laurel Land Cemetery in Dallas, Texas. Just south of Dallas on East I-35 take the Laureland Exit 420. and travel east. From the exit you should be able to see the cemetery as it is adjacent to the east side of the freeway. Enter the cemetery, and go past the funeral home into the cemetery itself. Go to Section 30. Plot is in the middle of the section near a tree. See map below for directions in the cemetery. The little red dot shows where the grave is located. (The cemetery phone number is 214-371-1336. Address: 6000 SRL Thornton Fwy. Dallas, Texas.) See Laurel Land Cemetery Map Here.
While At Laurel Land Cemetery See The Graves Of
Other Gospel Preachers