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Hamm, who grew up just across the tracks, has a lot to savor these days. As the youngest of a sharecropper’s 13 children, Hamm spent his earliest years nearby picking cotton until the first snowfall or Christmas, whichever came first. Then he would scramble to catch up in school. Later, after the family moved to this small town, he delivered newspapers and played baseball in a lot that’s still here. Since his home had no television, he would go across the street to watch with neighbors. His surviving sister, Fannie, still lives in a modest home here.
Today, the 66-year-old Hamm is a multibillionaire who could buy the entire town several times over. An early believer in the notion that the techniques of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing could be merged to unlock new layers of oil, he is the chief executive of Continental Resources, the leading exploration company in the booming Bakken Formation, which stretches across Montana, North Dakota and Saskatchewan. His 68 percent stake in the company is currently worth $7.7 billion, and Forbes recently ranked him the world’s 76th-richest person.
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