My grandmother, Durah Roberts Walker, died in 1950, when I was nine. I have many fond memories of her; baking biscuits in her huge wood-burning stove on the farm near Moore Oklahoma, digging potatoes in her garden while I pulled weeds, always taking up for me when my four older brothers gave me grief, fixing my little cuts and bruises, as well as one huge gash in my leg. That came from a sharpened scythe used to cut wheat. It was mostly my fault for not keeping an eye on my brother Dennis while I gathered a shock of wheat near where he was swinging his scythe.
All my grandmother Walker’s siblings, her husband, Seth, her five children, my parents and my four brothers, have all passed away. There’s no one else alive except me who has any memories of her and her strong will to protect her family and keep the farm running when Seth was away on “business”. She never worked in the fields with our two mules, Jack and Pete, but she saw to it that her five grandsons and two hired hands, did the plowing and harvesting from sunrise to sunset. With the good lunches she delivered to us in the fields and the promise of a hearty supper, we worked hard to keep her happy.
I have one memory, not mine, but a vivid recollection given to me by my mother, Avice, that I want to give to my children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, nieces and nephews, their children and grandchildren, to pass on to future generations.
This event, though tragic, is also another graphic demonstration of Grandmother Walker’s unyielding determination to act as her conscious dictated.
It happened in 1923, eighteen years before I was born and when Avice was only fourteen.
Mom told me, most people knew of Seth’s philandering and womanizing, even Durah.
Grandmother tried to ignore his unfaithfulness while she concentrated on keeping the farm going during those hard years after World War I.
When she caught him and his new “business partner” in the barn in a very unbusiness-like position, she walked to the house, fetched and loaded her Navy .36 pistol, returned to the barn and open fire on Seth.
He scrambled away, leaving his partner to take the bullet.
The black powder from the gun set the dying woman’s dress on fire.
Durah knelt to pat out the flames, then waited for the sheriff.
She was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.
The trial was a long one, gaining not only lots of local attention, but also state-wide and some national notice as the sensational trial dragged on and reporters played up the scorned woman’s revenge killing.
She was finally acquitted on the grounds of justifiable homicide.
However, three days after the trial ended, Durah’s youngest son, Charles, my namesake, was run down and killed as he rode his bike along the gravel road leading to the farm.
The Model T Ford that was seen on the road that day, was tracked down and found to belong to the sister of the woman Durah shot.
There was some damage to the right front fender of the Model T, but not enough solid evidence to conclusively connect the vehicle to Charles’s death.
There was no doubt in Durah’s mind that the sister of the woman she killed, had murdered her son.
Death comes to all of us, one way or another, but violent death happens only on rare occasions.
Being involved in two violent deaths; one of her own doing, and the second, she believed, also happening because of her action, burdened her conscious and crippled her emotions for the rest of her 27 years.
Four months after her death in 1950, Seth married a woman from Wolfe City, Texas. He soon divorced her and married again. Then married once more before he passed away in 1963.
If you’ve ever walked into a farmhouse kitchen before sunrise and was welcomed by the scent of fresh-baked biscuits, fried eggs, thick slices of ham, hash-brown potatoes, and steaming coffee, then you know what it was like to enter Durah Walker’s domain.
I’m 81, three years beyond my “use by” date, so my hope is that when I’m gone, Durah will live on in the memories of her descendents she never met.