On the surface, Governor John Calloway Walton's term as governor of Oklahoma bears a strong resemblance to that of former North Carolina Governor William Woods Holden. Both men tried to stop the violent depredations of the Ku Klux Klan in their state. Both men used martial law as a potent weapon against the masked vigilantes. And both Walton and Holden were accused of abusing their power and thrown out of office.
But while Holden was pardoned by the North Carolina legislature 140 years after his impeachment, it is unlikely that Walton will ever enjoy a similar posthumous vindication. His fight against the Klan was seen both at the time and through the lens of history as a politically rather than morally motivated action. Walton even had some personal ties to the organization. Moreover, the effort to expel him from office ultimately focused on malfeasance that was unconnected to his campaign against the Klan.
Walton was born in Indianapolis on March 6, 1881. As a child, he moved with his family to Lincoln, Nebraska, and later to Arkansas. Details on his early life are somewhat scarce; even the Oklahoma Historical Society describes them as "sketchy and convoluted." He traveled extensively as a young man, reportedly working as a railroad employee, electrical engineer, and traveling salesman. Walton also served in the Army's field artillery during the Spanish-American War, graduated from the Fort Smith Commercial College in Arkansas, and spent some time living in Mexico and studying engineering.
In 1903, Walton moved to Oklahoma City and began working as a civil engineer and contractor. He formed the McIntosh and Walton Engineering Company with a partner in 1913, and served as a colonel in the Engineering Corps during World War I.
Walton's political career began when he was elected to serve as a public works commissioner of Oklahoma City. He held this post from 1917 to 1919. He won the 1919 mayoral election in Oklahoma City by 50,000 votes, the largest majority in the state's history at the time. He was a supporter of progressive ideals such as women's suffrage, a 40-hour work week, and public ownership of utilities. Walton was even rumored to be so liberal on the issue of race relations that he was a regular at black jazz clubs.
The city's police proved to be a significant obstacle to Walton, so he became actively involved in their work. When the police chief said he wouldn't enforce the Prohibition laws, Walton personally led raids against speakeasies and other illegal establishments. He forbade police officers from joining the Ku Klux Klan and, in one remarkable case, ordered a 10-year-old boy to be whipped for disrespecting a 13-year-old black girl.
Walton's actions as mayor caught the attention of the Farmer-Labor Reconstruction League, which was formed in September 1921. This political party generally worked as a progressive force within the Democratic Party, although many members were former Republicans and Socialists. The party was particularly impressed when Walton actively supported a strike by a meat packers' union, providing them with food and refusing to extend police protection to the owners of the packing plants.
This stance put him on the wrong side of the local chamber of commerce, especially after the lynching of a black man named Jake Brooks in January 1922. After crossing a picket line during the meat packers' strike, Brooks was dragged from his home, shot, and hanged. The chamber of commerce demanded a declaration of martial law to prevent further unrest; Walton opposed such an action, declaring that the organization was "killing the city by their promotion of labor strife, and wanting to finish the job by declaring martial law." Though the murder had been made to look like the work of the KKK, responsibility was soon fixed on several members of the meat packers' union; the Klan even offered to help break the strike and remove Walton from office.
As the 1922 election approached, the Farmer-Labor Reconstruction League chose Walton as their nominee for the Democratic Party's gubernatorial candidate. He faced two more conservative men for the nomination: Thomas H. Owen, a former chief justice of the state supreme court, and Robert H. Wilson, the state superintendent of public instruction. The Klan favored either Owen or Wilson to Walton, and ultimately endorsed Wilson. But in the Democratic primary, Walton earned 119,504 votes to Wilson's 84,569 and Owen's 64,229.
The results caused a rift among Democratic voters, as the more conservative members could not stomach the idea of supporting Walton's more progressive ideas. These voters threw their support behind John Fields, the Republican candidate for governor and editor of the Oklahoma Farmer, in a coalition dubbed the Constitutional Democratic Club. Many Klansmen undoubtedly backed Fields over Walton, but a large number likely opted to support the Democratic candidate after Wilson endorsed Walton.
Walton gained popularity with a lively campaign across the state in which he promised to advocate for the working man. He was a gifted orator, and turned heads by taking a black jazz band along to play at his events. "Jazz Band Jack" was one of several nicknames Walton earned in his life, along with "Iron Jack" and "Our Jack." In the general election, Walton triumphed with 280,206 votes to Fields' 230,469. The margin of victory was the largest one in a governor's race in Oklahoma up to that point.
During his campaign, Walton had vowed that the entire state's population would be invited to an enormous barbecue celebration if he won the election. His critics would say this was the only campaign promise Walton managed to keep. On his inauguration day on January 9, 1923, so many people took part in the parade to the ceremony that the procession stretched on for 16 miles. The Oklahoma State Fairgrounds became the seat of a massive feast. A vast selection of food—beef, chicken, turkey, deer, even three bears and 134 opossums—were cooked on roasting pits that covered more than a mile. The Oklahoma City Fire Department brought out its fire engines to supply the water needed to brew 8,000 gallons of coffee. An estimated 300,000 people attended the event.
An overhead view of the barbecue celebrating Walton's inauguration (Source)Walton favored a Farmer-Labor Reconstruction League program, but had little chance of getting these initiatives approved. The majority of the state legislature was conservative, and Walton's major goals—including a state bank, state insurance system, and a soldiers' bonus—never came to pass. Walton was credited with overseeing a more modest set of reforms such as the expansion of a farm cooperative program, the establishment of licenses for farmers' community market associations, improvements to welfare and Workman's Compensation benefits, strengthened laws for the inspection of warehouses, stronger laws for banking violation, a free textbook law, and $1 million in school aid.
In order to curry more favor with the conservative legislators, many of whom were members of the KKK, Walton met with several prominent members of the organization. Shortly after his inauguration, the governor was designated as a "Klansman at Large." This title was given to public officials who wanted their membership in the organization to be kept secret. Walton's attempts to satisfy both the progressive and conservative members of the legislature contributed to his downfall, as neither side was won over by his actions. There was speculation that Walton was already looking ahead to a Senate run or even a presidential campaign in 1924, and that he was moving away from his more radical stances to try to appeal to a broader pool of voters.
Several other actions also led to criticism of Walton's handling of the state's affairs. He was strongly opposed to the death penalty, and vowed that no prisoner would be executed while he was in office. The governor's critics were especially alarmed by his liberal use of pardons and paroles. Between his inauguration and October 1923, Walton racked up 253 acts of executive clemency. Twenty-nine of the prisoners benefiting from these actions were convicted murderers, and one was pardoned after Walton asked a state fair crowd if he thought the man had been punished enough for his crime. There were suspicions that bribes were aiding Walton's actions, though he was never officially charged with this malfeasance.
Walton was heavily criticized for pursuing the appointment of friends and allies to state posts. He pressured Dr. Stratton Brooks to resign as president of the University of Oklahoma, removing five regents at the school and replacing them with his supporters after Brooks left for the University of Missouri. In one of his more notorious acts of patronage, Walton ousted Dr. James B. Eskridge from his presidency at the Oklahoma A&M College in Stillwater and replaced him with George Wilson. The action was so unpopular that Wilson had to be escorted onto the campus under National Guard protection amidst protests by angry students and faculty. Wilson was the head of the Farmer-Labor Reconstruction League and had served as one of Walton's advisers, but he didn't even hold a bachelor's degree. Walton would ultimately remove Wilson from his new position before his term was up.
The purchase of a mansion in Oklahoma City also caused many to question whether Walton was trading his official influence for favors. The governor had purchased the property with the assistance of Ernest W. Marland, a wealthy oil man. Walton paid $18,000 in cash to the home's owner, Walter D. Caldwell, along with six $5,000 notes. Caldwell sold these notes to Marland, an action which critics said left the mayor obligated to Marland's oil interests.
Walton charged that the Ku Klux Klan was behind the hostility towards him, and he would go to war with the organization just six months into his term. Given his earlier meetings with KKK officials, this decision was likely influenced at least in part by political expediency; by taking on the masked vigilantes, Walton could regain his popularity and perhaps ride the ensuing wave of support to higher office.
Ku Klux Klan members gather in Drumright, Oklahoma, in 1922 (Source)
The KKK had become more prominent in several areas of the nation after World War I, and it had a particularly strong presence in Oklahoma. In the early 1920s, membership in the state was estimated to be between 90,000 and 200,000, or as many as one in every 20 residents. Klansmen were influential members in many communities around the state, including the police departments and local governments. David Mark Chalmers, author of the book Hooded Americanism: The History of the Ku Klux Klan, says the Klan in Oklahoma was "less concerned with crime than personal behavior and, many said, personal vengeance." Chalmers says most victims were white Protestants, including young men and women caught riding in cars together, bootleggers, a man opposed to a school bond issue they apparently favored, and both a man who had deserted his wife and the woman he ran off with.
Klansmen typically kidnapped a person, took them to a remote location, and whipped them. The Klan would also tar and feather, mutilate, assault, and sometimes murder their victims. Those subjected to these abuses rarely reported them; they were either afraid of reprisals or certain that the local officials were themselves part of the KKK. When a case did get to court, the juries usually acquitted anyone charged with the vigilante behavior.
A horrific race riot in 1921 provided another boost to Klan membership. The inciting incident occurred on a Tulsa elevator on May 30 between a teenage black shoe shiner named Dick Rowland and a white female elevator operator named Sarah Page. Rowland accidentally stepped on Page's foot or grabbed her arm after tripping, causing her to scream. Police arrested Rowland after he fled the elevator, and rumors alleged that he had tried to rape Page. The Tulsa Tribune ran an inflammatory editorial entitled "To Lynch a Negro Tonight" on May 31; an armed mob of white citizens assembled to try to kidnap Rowland from the courthouse, where he was under police protection. Black citizens, also armed, also went to the courthouse to defend Rowland against the lynch mob. Shots were fired, and the riot began.
The violence lasted only 24 hours, but it had a profound effect. White rioters targeted the Greenwood District, a successful black residential neighborhood and business district in Tulsa nicknamed "Black Wall Street." Buildings were looted and burned, reducing the thriving neighborhood to ruins and leaving most of Tulsa's black residents homeless. There were reports that the attackers used a machine gun and dynamite thrown from airplanes to add to the bloodshed. Initial estimates held that as few as 36 people died in the riot, but historians now estimate that the death toll was closer to 300.
Even if his fight against the Klan had a political edge to it, Walton was likely sincere in his desire to stop the violent acts by the organization. He had already clashed with the Klan during his time as Oklahoma City's mayor, and as governor he learned the full extent of the KKK's brutality. His executive secretary, Aldrich Blake, estimated that there were 2,500 "whipping parties" operating in the state in 1922.
Walton first turned his sights on Okmulgee County, which he claimed had been the site of repeated mob incidents. On June 26, 1923, he placed the county under martial law and warned that he might take the same action in other counties. The county's sheriff, John Russell, considered Walton's action to be retaliation, since he had recently arrested two intoxicated men with state commissions from the governor. After only three days and a handful of arrests, the state of martial law ended.
After a quiet July, Walton surprised Tulsa County by placing this region under martial law on August 14. The governor took this action after learning that a Jewish man suspected of selling drugs had been severely beaten by Klansmen. The residents of the city of Tulsa were particularly incensed by Walton's order; martial law might be appropriate for a backwater region like Okmulgee County, they argued, but not for a sophisticated city like Tulsa.
This reasoning conveniently ignored the recent Tulsa race riot, as well as the prominence of the KKK in the city. Shortly after the riot, the Klan completed its "Klavern," an enormous assembly hall capable of holding up to 3,000 people; it was nicknamed "Beno Hall" by locals who joked that members wishing to join had to "Be no nigger, be no Jew, be no Catholic, be no immigrant." Of the 131 officially recorded incidents of Klan violence in Oklahoma between 1921 and 1924, 74 were in Tulsa County while only 20 were in Okmulgee County.
When the Tulsa World printed an advertisement calling on Klansmen to resist Walton's order, the governor stationed a censor at the newspaper. After hearing that a suspected black car thief had been brazenly kidnapped less than a block away from the military's headquarters in Tulsa, Walton declared absolute martial law in the county on August 20. Under absolute martial law, the National Guard's authority completely superseded that of the local officials. This action included a suspension of the right of habeas corpus, in violation of the state constitution.
Seeking to publicize the KKK's crimes, Walton convened a military court of inquiry to look into mob violence in Oklahoma. Hundreds of people offered testimony about the abuses they had suffered at the hands of Klansmen, mostly in incidents in 1922. A married couple, Joe and Annie Pike, said masked men had taken them from their Broken Bow home and flogged them for brewing a strong alcoholic beverage known as "Choctaw beer." They reported the incident to the police, but no one was ever punished.
An Oklahoma City laundry driver named Ellis R. Merriman testified that he had been kidnapped on March 7, 1922, by two men posing as police officers. He had been driven to a large gathering of Klansmen, accused of immorality with a young women, beaten with a rope, and told to leave town. Merriman returned to the city a month later and gave the names of 18 suspected attackers to the county attorney, who did nothing with the information. His employer also threatened to fire him if he did not leave the matter alone.
Merriman's testimony led to the arrest of KKK grand dragon N. Clay Jewett on September 21, 1923. One cohort testified that Jewett had been present at the gathering and personally assaulted Merriman. The arrest followed Jewett's boast that Walton and his allies would "never be able to break the power of the Ku Klux Klan in Oklahoma." Walton would not be able to bag Jewett, at any rate; the grand dragon's case was dismissed after he provided an alibi.
In one particularly gruesome case, a black deputy sheriff named John Smitherman told how he had been kidnapped from Tulsa on March 10, 1922. Smitherman said the mob accused him of registering black voters to cast their ballots against the city administration, as well as "ungentlemanly" conduct toward a white woman. After tying him to a tree, the Klansmen beat him severely and ordered him to leave the state. One of the men cut Smitherman's ear off and tried to force him to eat it.
"This is only one of the hundreds of such crimes committed, which the civil authorities of this state refused to cooperate," Walton said. "I ask the people of the civilized world, in the presence of this testimony, if I was not justified in proclaiming martial law in the city of Tulsa?"
Walton was clearly feeling confident in his offensive against the KKK. He claimed to have the ability to suspend habeas corpus under an 1871 law specifically designed to combat the Klan. He welcomed a federal probe into his actions, saying it would put a national spotlight on the KKK's outrages. Walton even encouraged Oklahoma's residents to use lethal force to defend themselves against the Klan if necessary. Referring to the Klavern, Walton declared, "I don't care if you burst right into them with a double-barreled shotgun. I'll promise you a pardon in advance."
Such statements did little to win supporters to Walton's cause, especially since most residents regarded the governor's actions as heavy-handed and dictatorial. The Oklahoma News issued an editorial saying that the state wanted "neither Klan nor king." There were rumors that Walton's war on the KKK was motivated mostly by his ambition to seek national office in 1924. The Daily Oklahoman suggested that Walton might even run for President, and dubbed his actions "a libel against the whole state." Walton said he believed vigilante violence would be an issue in the next national election, but declined to say whether he would run for the U.S. Senate on an anti-Klan platform.
The KKK remained nonplussed by the governor's actions. G.S. Long, a state representative from Tulsa and admitted member of the Klan, mocked the effectiveness of the martial law declaration by saying that 90 percent of the National Guardsmen were members of the organization. Long alleged that Jewett could order the soldiers to stand down, but that the grand dragon would take no such action. "The Klan oath is a re-dedication of man's loyalty to the constitution of Oklahoma, the constitution of the United States, the government of Oklahoma, the government of the United States," said Long. "And so long as Governor Walton exercises his authority as governor of Oklahoma, Klan members of the order will remain loyal to the orders of their commander-in-chief."
On September 15, 1923, Walton placed the entire state of Oklahoma under martial law and declared that he had full control of the state capitol buildings in Oklahoma City. Ostensibly, this action came after local officials failed to comply with an ultimatum. Walton had demanded the resignation of W.R. Sampson, the cyclops of the Muskogee KKK, as well as the resignation of Sampson's secretary. He also wanted the sheriff, police commissioner, and three members of the county jury commission in Tulsa County to step down. However, a grand jury was investigating Walton by this point and the declaration of statewide martial law also had the effect of preventing them from issuing an indictment.
Calls for the governor's impeachment intensified. His plummeting popularity was no doubt harmed even more when he announced that he was canceling the Oklahoma State Fair, since he felt it would interfere with the work of the National Guard. But the state legislature had little room to maneuver; there was no regular session scheduled, and the state constitution held that the legislators could only assemble for a special session while martial law was in effect if the governor asked them to do so.
On September 26, the state house of representatives tried to assemble anyway. Walton responded with a show of force. A machine gun was set up on the rooftop of a nearby building, its barrel pointed at the entrance to the state capitol; armed guards were posted at the doors. The governor, accusing the house of representatives of having 68 members who were part of the Klan, threatened to arrest any legislator who tried to assemble under martial law; it was even reported that he ordered the National Guard to "shoot to kill" any representative who defied his authority.
In a tense episode at the capitol, 66 members of the house of representatives squared off against the National Guard. Representative Wesley E. Disney, the chairman of the house's legal committee, called the body to order. The National Guard commander ordered them to disperse, and the representatives eventually departed. They continued to meet unofficially, trying to come up with a way to challenge Walton. Ten members of the state senate also held meetings at an Oklahoma City hotel, declaring that they would not make a decision on whether they would try to assemble until the courts made a ruling on whether the house of representatives could meet.
The legislators came up with an ingenious solution to get around the rules of assembly. A special election had already been scheduled for October 2 to allow Oklahoma's voters to weigh in on the veterans' bonus championed by Walton. A petition added a rider to the ballot, seeking a public decision on whether the legislature should be allowed to hold a special session. Walton tried to stop the balloting, and some election officials complied with his order to do so. Many voters likely stayed home to avoid potential violence at the polls. Nevertheless, nearly 300,000 people cast a ballot. They overwhelmingly authorized the special legislative session in a 209,452 to 70,638 vote. As an added rebuke to Walton, voters turned down the veterans' bonus. Martial law ended on October 5.
With impeachment looking almost certain, Walton made a last-ditch effort to achieve victory in his fight against the KKK. He called for a special session of the legislature on October 11, saying the purpose of the meeting should be to draft strong laws against the organization. If such legislation was passed, Walton offered, he would approve it and resign. The legislature refused to consider this proposal, though they promised that they would take action against the Klan after they had completed their work of investigating the governor.
On October 17, the house of representatives drafted 22 articles of impeachment against Walton. Six of them related to the governor's actions against the KKK, and Walton said he was prepared to introduce witnesses to testify about the Klan's terrorism. The house opted to simply drop those charges so the proceedings would focus more on other misconduct.
A rumor spread that Walton would take some drastic action before he was likely thrown out of office. Some worried that he would pardon the entire prison population at the state penitentiary at McAlester. On October 23, the house of representatives quickly voted to impeach Walton on two of the charges. The state senate concurred in a 36-1 vote, and Walton was suspended from office. The Oklahoma State Supreme Court upheld his removal in a 5-4 vote two days later.
Lieutenant Governor Martin E. Trapp assumed the duties of governor of Oklahoma. Ironically, he had faced impeachment proceedings of his own in 1921 due to allegations of corrupt bond contracts with Seminole County. Trapp had remained in office after the senate voted 27-16 to quash the charges.
Walton considered the impeachment proceedings to be little more than a kangaroo court, and made no effort to defend himself against the charges. On November 16, he appeared before the state senate and declared, "I don't wish to criticize any of these honorable members; some of them no doubt want to have a fair trial. But I have reached the conclusion that I cannot have a fair trial in this court. Knowing that, I am withdrawing from this room. I don't care to withstand this humiliation any longer for myself, my family, or my honorable attorneys. You may proceed as you see best."
The state senate needed to impeach Walton on only one of the 16 charges sent to them by the house of representatives to remove him from office, so the action was all but guaranteed. The senate voted to convict Walton on 11 issues. In some of them, all 41 senators present for the proceedings voted unanimously to convict. Walton was charged with illegally collecting excess campaign funds, padding the public payroll, putting his personal chauffeur on the state health department's payroll, using the National Guard to prevent the meeting of a grand jury, excessive use of pardons and paroles, illegal suspension of habeas corpus, issuing a deficiency certificate for the state health department when no deficiency existed, obstructing the legislature, and general incompetence. The five charges that were dismissed included accusations that Walton corruptly purchased his home, abrogated the death penalty, and appointed irresponsible people to the state police.
Walton was formally removed from office on November 19. He remains the shortest serving governor in Oklahoma, with only 10 months separating his inauguration and impeachment. Walton was also the first governor to be impeached after Oklahoma achieved statehood in 1907, though four of the five previous state governors had gone through impeachment proceedings and escaped conviction.
The impeachment sealed Walton's defeat in his fight to end Klan violence. He continued to blame the organization for his troubles and announced that he was forming an anti-Klan organization known as the National Society of American Freemen. The military courts assembled to investigate the floggings and other vigilante acts ended up arresting about 40 people, and four entered pleas and received prison sentences before Walton was impeached. Only one person, a Broken Bow constable named William Finley, ever did any time behind bars; he was later pardoned by Trapp. The other three had their sentences vacated in 1924 and were fined $25 apiece for assault and battery.
However, the tense standoff between Walton, the state legislature, and the KKK did result in some modest efforts to stem the Klan's activities. Disney, concerned that Walton could plausibly accuse the legislature of being dominated by the Klan and leverage these allegations in future political campaigns, asked the legislators to pass a "Klan bill with teeth." Despite this plea, the resulting legislation was fairly weak. It barred the wearing of Klan regalia in public and slightly increased the penalties for crimes committed while masked. The heavily publicized incidents of KKK violence helped spur the formation of a number of anti-Klan organizations, and internal disputes also helped weaken the KKK's power in Oklahoma; by the end of the decade, their influence had all but disappeared.
The graft accusations against Walton soon resulted in criminal charges against the ex-governor. The legislature had accused Walton of working with his state health commissioner, A.E. Davenport, to divert funds to pay the salary of Walton's personal chauffeur, T.P. Edwards. On April 10, 1924, the Oklahoma County state attorney filed five felony counts against the three men. Davenport managed a $15,000 fund to prevent and cure venereal diseases, and the state attorney said the trio had been skimming money to pay Edwards' salary when he was not involved with the health department in any way.
The case against Walton collapsed eight days later on a technicality. His attorneys moved to dismiss the charges, saying the state had accused him of directly participating in the scheme but had shown no evidence to back up the claim. It could have charged the former governor with aiding and abetting the diversion of funds, but it had failed to do so; moreover, the court had not authorized the state attorney to file new charges in the state. The charges were dismissed, and the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the decision in 1925 after the state appealed it.
Surprisingly, Walton was able to stage another political campaign just one year after his impeachment. Following the retirement of Robert L. Owen, who had been a U.S. senator since Oklahoma became a state, Walton ran for the Democratic nomination for the office. He was the only candidate to publicly denounce the KKK, which may have helped him win the nomination.
However, historians have also suggested that the Klan itself sought to manipulate the election so that Walton would win the nomination. The organization endorsed the front-runner, a strategy which hurt his support and elevated the relatively unpopular Walton to the top of the ticket. In the general election, the KKK threw its support behind Republican candidate William B. Pine. Walton repeatedly accused Pine of being a Klansman himself, a charge which Pine denied.
Walton remained unpopular enough that several members of his own party refused to endorse him. In a speech in Maine on August 23, 1924, Republican vice presidential candidate Charles Dawes directly referenced Walton's bungling anti-Klan offensive. Dawes declared that secret organizations had no place in a political campaign and denounced the prejudices advanced by such groups, but also suggested that most of their members were seeking to support law and order. Dawes suggested that Walton's actions, including the pardoning of "hardened criminals," helped enhance the KKK's appeal. "If there could be an excuse for law-abiding citizens to band themselves together in secret organizations for law enforcement, it existed in Oklahoma and the Klan became a powerful organization," he said. Dawes accused Walton of nearly causing a civil war in the state by declaring martial law, since it created a situation where citizens who thought they were supporting law and order as part of the Klan had to face off against the authority of the state; he said bloodshed had been avoided "only by a few clear-headed men."
Some of Walton's fiery statements did him no favors at the polls. He suggested that 95 percent of Protestant ministers in Oklahoma were KKK members and "lower than skunks," a statement which brought him plenty of Protestant opposition. He was quoted as accusing one resident of being "one of this dirty Klux crowd who would steal the pennies off St. Peter's eyes and ravish the Virgin Mary." Walton denied that he had said this phrase and offered to donate $500 to charity if someone could prove that he had uttered it; the Daily Oklahoman subsequently collected 100 sworn affidavits from witnesses who said Walton had made the statement.
With Walton's antics fresh in their memory, Oklahoma voters had no desire to see him represent them again. Though the Democrats performed well in several state races, Pine triumphed in the Senate race with 339,646 votes to Walton's 196,417.
After his defeat, Walton moved to Houston, Texas, to work in the oil industry. His enemies celebrated the departure, thinking they may have run him out of Oklahoma for good. But Walton returned to Oklahoma a few years later and would make a number of bids for political office. He ran for the Senate in 1930, but withdrew before the election. A year later, he made an unsuccessful bid to again become mayor of Oklahoma City.
Walton was one of 19 people indicted by a federal grand jury in January 1931 for mail fraud related to the promotion of the defunct business Universal Oil and Gas in Oklahoma City. In December, he and 11 others were acquitted due to insufficient evidence.
In 1932, Walton was returned to political office when he was elected to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. This body was charged with regulating the state's oil production, and Walton defeated 14 other candidates—including Huey Long's brother, George S. Long—for the post. He served on the commission until 1939.
Walton's repeated bids for office were regarded as an overarching attempt at political redemption, but he was evidently not satisfied that voters trusted him enough to elect him to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. He continued to seek higher office during the 1930s. He ran in the Democratic primary for governor in 1934, finishing third behind Ernest W. Marland and Tom Anglin. He made another unsuccessful bid for the nomination in 1938, losing to Leon Phillips. Walton would also make a bid for county sheriff, again without success. He began practicing law in 1944.
On November 4, 1949, Walton was partially paralyzed after suffering a stroke on an Oklahoma City bus. He started to recover, but died on November 25.
Sources: The National Governors Association, The Oklahoma Department of Libraries, The Oklahoma Historical Society, "2500 Whippings Roil Governor" in the Spokesman-Review on Jul. 2 1923, "Further Moves by Governor Walton" in the Lawrence Journal-World on Sep. 14 1923, "Governor Walton Calls Off Oklahoma State Fair to Avoid Interference with Plans to Disband Kluxers" in the Victoria Advocate on Sep. 18 1923, "Oklahoma Governor May Be Ousted by Impeachment as a Result of His Fight on Klan" in the Prescott Evening Courier on Sep. 19 1923, "Grand Dragon of the KKK Under Arrest" in the Schenectady Gazette on Sep. 22 1923, "Walton Welcomes Federal Probe" in the Milwaukee Sentinel on Sep. 24 1923, "Floggers Tried to Make Man Eat His Own Ear, Walton Says" in the Milwaukee Sentinel on Sep. 24 1923, "Declares Klan Could Stop Martial Law in Oklahoma" in the Lewiston Daily Sun on Sep. 25 1923, "Walton's Soldiers Disperse Legislators Who Assembled in Defiance of His Decree" in the Meriden Morning Record on Sep. 27 1923, "Klan Fight is Considered as Walton Boost" in the Prescott Evening Courier on Oct. 2 1923, "Walton Aims to Strengthen His Situation" in the Schenectady Gazette on Oct. 5 1923, "World History in the Making" in the Toledo Blade on Oct. 11 1923, "Oklahoma Legislator Wants Lots of Action" in the Nevada Daily Mail on Oct. 20 1923, "Walton Suspended is Decision of Supreme Court" in the Schenectady Gazette on Oct. 25 1923, "Klan Mention Stricken From Walton Record" in the Schenectady Gazette on Nov. 12 1923, "Governor Walton Quits His Trial" in the Spokane Daily Chronicle on Nov. 17 1923, "Impeachment Court Unanimously Ousts Walton as Governor of Oklahoma; Will Continue Fight" in the Prescott Evening Courier on Nov. 20 1923, "Walton Out as Governor of Oklahoma" in the Southeast Missourian on Nov. 20 1920, "Walton Faces Felony Charge in Oklahoma" in the Preston Evening Courier on Nov. 23 1923, "Walton Says Klan Plotted His Removal" in the Lewiston Daily Sun on Dec. 11 1923, "Dawes Discusses Klan Against Advice Party Men at Island Park Meeting" in the Lewiston Daily Sun on Aug. 25 1924, "Walton in Oklahoma Beaten by Unfitness" in the Sunday Morning Star on Nov. 9 1924, "'Jack' Walton Stages Lively Comeback" in the Sunday Morning Star on Aug. 1 1926, "Indict Ousted Governor of Oklahoma for Fraud" in the Herald-Journal on Jan. 29 1931, "'Iron Jack' Walton Freed in Mail Fraud" in the Pittsburgh Press on Dec. 19 1931, "Walton Pushes Oklahoma Race for State Head" in the Berkeley Daily Gazette on Dec. 25 1933, "Fiery Ex-Governor Dies; Was Klan Enemy" in the Evening Independent on Nov. 25 1949, Oklahoma v. Walton, "Oklahoma's 'Iron Jack' Walton Dies" in the Pittsburgh Press on Nov. 25 1949, "Governor Declares Martial Law in Okmulgee County" in the Tulsa World on June 27 2005, "Beno Hall: Tulsa's Den of Terror" in This Land on Sep. 3 2011, "Butchers: 'What Can Be Done' vs. 'What Is Done'" on OKC.net on Oct. 31 2013, Hooded Americanism: The History of the Ku Klux Klan by David Mark Chalmers, Oklahoma Justice: The Oklahoma City Police by Ron Owens, The Ku Klux Klan in the Southwest by Charles C. Alexander, Oklahoma: A History of Five Centuries by Arrell Morgan Gibson, Encyclopedia of Oklahoma