The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published April 15 by Grand Junction Free Press.
June 15, 2020 Update: At the time I wrote this, I did not know the following information, as reported by Dan West: “According to interviewees from the Mesa County Oral History Project, Walker helped bring the Ku Klux Klan to Grand Junction and was a member. He later turned against the group and published editorials in the Daily Sentinel attacking the KKK and was even the target of violence from Klan members.” So that is an embarrassing omission, obviously. I think there are a couple of lessons here. First, Walker’s story is one of sin as well as of reform. Second, the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend. I include some relevant context and links in a write-up for my Liberty ‘Gator.
Back in the era when the Daily Sentinel was “published every day in the year, except Sunday,” and a monthly subscription cost just fifty cents, the paper’s editor Walter Walker waged rhetorical war against the city’s socialists.
Karl Marx published his Communist Manifesto in 1848, and his ideas gained traction in subsequent decades, culminating in the Russian Revolution of 1917 and a socialist sweep through much of Asia.
American intellectuals too flocked to socialist ideas. The so-called Progressives arose in the early 1900s, and in 1927 some of future President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s advisors-to-be visited Joseph Stalin. See Amity Shlaes’s book on the Great Depression for details.
Jeannette Smith writes for the Fall 1997 Journal of the Western Slope that, by 1913, “socialism had thrived for many years in Grand Junction and Walter Walker stood as one of the movement’s staunchest foes.” Smith notes that, in 1909, using a system of ranked voting, the city elected Thomas Todd of the Socialist Party as mayor. Based on Smith’s notes, we looked up several fascinating old articles.
To get a sense of the local popularity of socialism, consider this September 7, 1908 story: “Nearly one thousand people crowded and packed into the Park opera house last night to hear Eugene V. Debs, the socialist candidate for president of the United States.” It was “one of the greatest audiences that ever turned out to hear a political speaker in Grand Junction.”
Yet Walker consistently opposed Mayor Todd’s socialistic program. For example, the editor relentlessly derided Todd over his city-run ice house. The January 26, 1912 paper quoted Todd, “I am firm in the belief that the city should own and operate its own ice plant.” Yet Todd’s proclaimed savings of $30,000 a year defied reason, as “only $24,000 worth of ice was used here last year,” Walker retorted. (Note: while the articles are unsigned, we’ll follow Smith in attributing the anti-socialist editorials to Walker.)
Walker concluded the essay, “Municipal ownership of everything — whether that thing is paying while privately owned or not — is the song of the radical reformer. We have the municipal owned wood pile, now we are to have the municipal owned ice plant: wonder if the mayor will call attention to the need for a municipal owned lumber yard next?”
A few days later, on January 30, Walker pushed harder, suggesting “that the mayor demonstrate his abounding love for his ‘masters’ by cutting down the price of lumber at the yard he owns and operates in this city.”
The paper argued “that the man who experiments with his own money, or who is willing to cut his own profit for the benefit of the people, is more of a patriot than he who wants the public to put up for his benevolent operations, and whose great heart yearns first to take over somebody else’s business.”
We can only imagine what Walker might say to today’s local politicians who control recreational facilities, golf courses, theaters, swimming pools, ambulances, and so on.
Just a few weeks earlier (December 22, 1911), Walker had lambasted the “socialistic municipal wood pile.” The article mocked, “Even some of the socialists have smiled to see the lack of the ‘Reds’ on the woodpile.” Instead, four to six men worked the pile daily for food and accommodations at the jail; “the only men at work are some hoboes who drifted in… No family men have applied.” Moreover, the article notes, the “the Coal Dealers association” vowed to “fight against the city entering into the business.”
Not long after the controversies over the wood pile and ice house, Walker berated Todd yet again over the city’s support for the socialistic Industrial Workers of the World.
“The Grand Junction city administration was engaged in a mighty poor businesses yesterday afternoon when it made an appropriation to feed the members of the notorious I.W.W. who are passing through the city this week,” an April 9, 1913 article relates.
Walker continues, “We are not surprised at the socialist mayor pulling off a stunt like this: but we are surprised at the other commissioners for standing for it… Thus again does this city come under the lime-light as a ‘haven for hoboes…’ What right have the city commissioners to make an appropriation to care for these worthless, country-hating, law-denouncing drones? …Grand Junction has been made a laughing stock in such matters often enough. It is time to call a halt.”
Walker noted the hypocrisy of the city supporting those who “denounce the country, the government and the laws, and urge the use of revolutionary methods,” while at the same time dragging to jail “some poor devil down in the flats [who] gives another a swig of whiskey.”
We’re sure that, if Walker were around today, we would often enough find reason to criticize his views. We’re also sure that often we would unite to condemn the modern heirs of Todd’s socialist schemes.