True Life Story: Illiterate Herzegovina policeman and Arizona millionaire

Posted on

This is the true story of a Herzegovinian man who started as an illiterate policeman and, after a run-in with destiny, became a rich man in Arizona.This story was written down by Momo Kapor when he visited the village of Mirilovići (in the municipality of Bileca whre he has familial roots) after hearing this story from a group of farmers. Obrad Milicevic, born in the village of Zvjerina in Herzegovina, where nothing grew but Hercegovinians, decided in 1922 to apply to become a policeman (gendarmes) in Bileca. He passed all of the exams. He was healthy, smart, honest, and brave, could hit the bullseye, ran faster than any other, shaking his saber and bayonet, cast the longest stone from his shoulder, did not smoke or drink, and was, as we know, from a good family…

In the end, after passing the test to become a gendarmes, he was supposed to sign the contract, but he refused to do so.

“Why will not you sign this?” they asked him.

“I do not know how,” he said. “I am not literate.”

“How unfortunate, you are not literate? So how are you going to write applications and protocols on the job?”

And so he did not become a policeman, and instead moved out to the United States, where his journey started on an Italian ship called San Giovanni di Messina in the port of Kotor. There, a man from Dubrovnik named Balthazar Gardi was collecting Herzegovinians to work in the mines of Montana.

After many wanderings, and after adopting the new name of O’Brien while in New York, Obrad began looking for a place like his native village of Zvjerina. And so he settled in the state of Arizona, near the border of California, under the Mohave mountain. He lived in poverty, much as before, breeding sheep whose meat was sold in the nearby town of Havasu City.

The state of Arizona gave him a hundred acres of completely infertile land for the symbolic price of five dollars.

One day while he was digging a big hole to make a pit, just as he had done in Herzegovina (since there was no other water except rainwater), oil suddenly spurted to the surface.

He became rich overnight. He built a large house in the colonial style, and to his soul lifted one quite small stone, such as the one in which he was born, with a fireplace, beams and rams’ skins on which he slept, dreaming of Zvjerinu.

Finally, the day came where his company was to merge with Standard Oil Company, which sent a famous lawyer from Pheonix to handle the contracts.

But he refused to sign!

“Why will not you sign the contract?” asked the astonished lawyer.

“I am not literate,” he replied.

“Mr. O’Brien,” said the lawyer, “you are one of the richest men in Arizona. What would you have become if only you knew how to write! “

He thought for a second and replied, “I would be a policeman in Bileca.”