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 their freedom and their equality. They were prepared to meet the threatened force with force at the cost of blood if necessary.”
McBee’s Message to Us
W. D. McBee was one of the many selfless heroes of Oklahoma history who stood strong when the time came for them to do so for their people and state and who deserve to be remembered for their courage, sacrifice, and example. McBee left this wise and illuminating postscript regarding the temporary rise of Jack Walton and radical, corrupt Socialism in Oklahoma:
“The Walton fiasco, disgusting as were many of its details, and unfavorable as it was to the reputation of the state abroad, was not without value to the state of Oklahoma. With it passed a political threat that had shadowed the state for twenty years.
“Ever since the rise of the socialist movement, with its appeal not only to the dissatisfied and incompetent but also to many extreme liberals among the more competent elements of the population, there had been growing apprehension that the state would fall under the political control of the extremists and be seriously and permanently damaged. With Walton this apprehension passed, not to return.
“In the Reconstruction League and Walton the seizure of power which had been feared came to pass. But the experience proved that the proletariat could not use power after it had acquired it. It could neither select competent leaders nor administer government.
“The fellow travelers of that time were undeceived; never since that time—and probably never again—have they been disposed to go off the deep end for the extreme radical theories of socialism or communism.”
The above article is a bonus to the fascinating historical content found within our book
Oklahomans Vol 2 :
Statehood - 2020s
which can be purchased HERE.
View the inspiring 2-minute preview video HERE.