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WALKER, BRECKENRIDGE STEPHENS

WALKER, BRECKENRIDGE STEPHENS (1877–1929). Breckenridge Stephens Walker, rancher, banker, and oilman, was born on November 19, 1877. He was the son of Edward Lee and Molena [Malinda or Malena] Jane (Yanc[e]y) Walker and was born in newly-organized Stephens County, Texas. His first and middle names were derived from the town and county in which he was born. Walker’s father was a native of Kentucky and came to Texas as a young boy with his mother. E. L. Walker worked as a cowboy, became an independent cattleman and merchant, and in 1876 was elected county judge in Stephens County’s first election. 

Breckenridge S. Walker’s early life on the West Texas frontier was filled with hard work that left little time for education. As a young boy, he did general teaming with a pair of scraggly “Western pony mules” and then opened a livery with his older brother, B. B. Walker. The brothers then operated a stage line between Breckenridge and Ranger. During these runs, Walker developed a romantic relationship with his future wife, Cora Alice Davis (1877–1959), and drove the stage a block or two out of his way to ride past her house.

For their next business venture, the brothers purchased a hardware store from N. S. Greenwood and built it into the largest such store in Breckenridge. However, Walker’s goal was to be a banker. In 1904 he became cashier of the First National Bank of Breckenridge. Three years later, he purchased a controlling interest in the bank and became its president. He bought vast amounts of land on which he raised cattle. His land and his entrepreneurial skills proved to be valuable assets when Stephens County began to emerge as an important oil producing region.

In late 1916 Walker, along with T. B. Yarbrough of Fort Worth and Joe J. Perkins of Wichita Falls, incorporated the Stephens County Oil Company of Fort Worth. By 1917 Walker had sold his cattle in order to devote his energy to the oilfields. “Although the cattle are flourishing,” he said, “conditions are splendid for their growth, oil looks mighty good to me.” That same year, he formed the Walker-Caldwell Oil Company with Judge Clifton Mott Caldwell, also of Breckenridge. With the success of this company and other oil interests, Walker and Caldwell became very wealthy men. They built Breckenridge’s first water system, established a daily newspaper, and were instrumental in the construction of several modern commercial buildings and churches in the community.

Breckenridge remained a small town of approximately 1,500 residents when the Chaney No. 1 came in as a large producer on February 4, 1920. Within a year there were 300 derricks within the city limits, and the population had risen to 15,000. Walker was among the oilmen who benefited from this boom. In October 1920 the Western Oil Derrick reported that Walker was part of a very large oil deal in which he paid the Bass Petroleum Company $1.5 million for a forty-acre lease in the Stephens County district. The lease included a well that was producing approximately 5,000 barrels a day. As a result of such spectacular oil production, Breckenridge soon had two daily newspapers, eighty-nine oil companies, and was served by three railroads. Walker received much of the credit for bringing the railroad lines to the city. In 1920 he also constructed a new building for his bank.

During the oil frenzy in Stephens County, the new town of Breckwalker, located nine miles south of Breckenridge, opened to lot seekers on May 10, 1920. One newspaper stated, “The new town was laid out by Jake L. Hamon and Frank Kell” with the advice of “Breckenridge Stephens Walker, a self-made Stephens County millionaire, for whom it is named, as the most available place in that section for a good oil fields town.” An advertisement that appeared on May 7 in the Dublin Progress and Telephone stated that Walker owned most of the surrounding territory. The promoters envisioned that the town would become a supply center for the surrounding oilfields. The Eastland, Wichita Falls and Gulf Railroad, of which Walker was a founding board member, reached the settlement by November 1920. Unfortunately, after oil production in the area declined later in the decade, the town of Breckwalker disappeared.

However, while the field was still in play, Walker’s interests in oil and business grew. Regarding his success as an oilman, Petroleum Magazine stated in 1921, “Of the many men in this industry who are [hailed] far and wide few are better known than Breckenridge Stephens Walker of Breckenridge, Texas. His income is said to be $1,000,000 a month.” At the time of his death in 1929, he was president of the First National Bank of Breckenridge and the Moran National Bank in Moran. Other bank boards on which he served included First National Bank of Fort Worth, the First National Bank of Ranger, the Security State Bank of Mineral Wells, and the American Exchange National Bank (later the First National Bank) of Dallas. By the mid-1920s he returned to raising livestock with the acquisition of ranches, including the 18,000-acre Goodwin Ranch in Shackelford County which he purchased in 1925. By 1929 he was the largest holder of royalties in Stephens County, and his estate was valued at $3 million (the equivalent of approximately $41.7 million in 2015). 

Breck Walker and Cora Alice Davis were married on March 13, 1897. The couple had three daughters—Gladys, Pansy, and Joe Alice. Their first permanent home in Breckenridge was a small cottage where they lived for many years. In 1919 Walker purchased a home at 1433 Pennsylvania Avenue in Fort Worth’s Quality Hill neighborhood so that his daughters could take advantage of educational opportunities at Texas Christian University and other schools in the city. However, the couple continued to maintain a home in Breckenridge which Walker considered his primary residence.

Walker and his wife remained devoted to Breckenridge even as they maintained a residence in Fort Worth. Perhaps the best expression of Walker’s loyalty to Breckenridge and its citizens’ loyalty to him occurred in 1925. That year, the mayor resigned his office to accept a judicial appointment. Fifteen hundred residents petitioned the city commission to appoint Walker to fill the unexpired term. The commissioners sent a letter to his Fort Worth address offering him the office. In his letter of acceptance, Walker stated that he had initially considered declining the offer due to his many business and personal obligations and his misgivings about assuming an office without having been elected by the people. Yet, he concluded that Breckenridge “is my home and I expect it to be as long as I live. I therefore will undertake the responsibilities of this honored place…and I sincerely trust that I may be able to prove in every way worthy.” He remained mayor until the spring of 1928 when failing health forced him to leave office. 

Breckenridge S. Walker died at his home in Fort Worth on January 16, 1929, at the age of fifty-one, following the onset of pneumonia a few days after he had suffered a stroke. He was laid to rest in Greenwood Cemetery in Fort Worth. Among the numerous tributes following his death was an editorial published in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram which recalled his rise from a businessman of humble means to a self-made millionaire who used his wealth to the benefit of his beloved Breckenridge and for Fort Worth. It concluded that Breckenridge Stephens Walker was “A worthy citizen, a builder of great ability, an administrator of acumen and enterprise, an exemplary exponent to public and private of the virtues of honesty, loyalty and kindliness” who “made his mark upon his time.” 

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Buckley B. Paddock, ed., History of Texas: Fort Worth and the Texas Northwest Edition (4 vols., Chicago: Lewis, 1922). Dallas Morning News, January 17, 1929. Fort Worth Star-Telegram, January 25, 1929.

Susan Allen Kline

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Handbook of Texas Online, Susan Allen Kline, "Walker, Breckenridge Stephens," accessed October 16, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fwalk.

Uploaded on November 24, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.