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The Day the People Turned Against Jack Walton

At great personal risk to his life, Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives W. D. McBee of Duncan led the 1923 defiance of Governor John C. Walton. When queried by the Daily Oklahoman newspaper regarding Walton’s threat to jail him if he convened the legislature to consider impeaching the governor, McBee replied: “I would go to hell or to jail if necessary in the impartial discharge of my official duty.”

Decades later in his book The Oklahoma Revolution, McBee—a former cowboy, rancher, printer, and attorney—wrote of the memorable day when the people of Oklahoma, defying armed threats and intimidation by Walton and his army of hired gunmen, voted to allow the legislature to meet in a special session to consider impeachment charges against the corrupt governor:

“The events that followed are unique in the history of America. We have always stood up, shoulder to shoulder, against invasion. But now a commonwealth stood up against those it had elected. All over the state men and women were standing up in high indignation. And they said to those who had humbled them and were now threatening them: ‘This is our state. We and our fathers and our mothers made it. Part of it we hewed out of a wilderness. Part of it we built upon the prairie where there was nothing before us but the buffalo, the hot sun in summer and the cold sleet and the biting north wind in winter. Our fathers lived in this log huts and dugouts to make this a free state for free men. And we will be free men to the last.’

“They assembled about their elected peace officers by hundreds and by thousands. Some carried rifles and shotguns. Some unpacked their father’s and their grandfather’s pistols—the Colts and the pacifiers of the old West. Guns so old that their holsters had become cracked and brittle. Many came unarmed. But they came.

“They stood in line before the courthouses and sheriffs’ offices and asked that they be made special deputy sheriffs in order to protect the ballot boxes and the age-old right of citizens to vote.

“It was a grand thing they did that day. Something that should be long remembered.

“Over two thousand men stood patiently in line in Oklahoma City on the night of October 1. One by one they were deputized. As a sample of their universal character, three men stood together in that long line. One was the wealthiest, most influential banker in the city. The second was a small businessman. The third was a taxi-driver. All barriers were down; social and financial differences were forgotten. They stood together, free and equal citizens, against those who were raging threats against th