History of Cotton County
Cotton County was formed from Comanche County Aug. 29, 1912 after two elections, both of which were extremely contentious. Walters was named the County Seat Nov. 18, 1912, after another bitter election. One faction wanted to form a new town for the county seat, a "New Jerusalem" town called Paris, to be located three miles south and seven miles west of Walters. The first county officers were: Austin Aiken, County Judge; H. F. Tripp, County Attorney; T. L. Mullins, Sheriff; G. C. Blackwood, Treasurer; Osborne Logan, Register of Deeds; J. A. Stipp, County Clerk; A. C. Woodward, County Superintendent; T. A. Shephard, Clerk of the District Court; J. P. Wheately, Weigher; C. D. Freeman, J. M. Hooper and E. L. Marriott, Commissioners. The four room frame school building was moved to the Courthouse Square and used as a courthouse until 1927 when the present courthouse was built without a bond issue at a cost of $130,000.
History of Walters
The hot August sun beat down mercilessly that day in 1901 when Bertha Carr and her brother Delbert stepped off the train at Duncan, I.T. They had come from their home in Sumner County, Kans., for Bertha to make her filing on a quarter section of land in the Kiowa, Comanche and Apache Reservation. She was among the lucky 13,000 individuals who had drawn a winning number in the Land Lottery. They rode overland in a typical Indian covered light wagon to Lawton. To select the piece of land she hoped to file on, they hired a locater, Bob Gilham, and took a prospecting trip in a southeasterly direction and viewed the land a short distance north and east of the townsite of McKnight. There was no visible building on the townsite about noon on that day, the 20th of August, except a shed-like 8 x 10 shack in which Mr. Wilhelm and his curly-headed boy were preparing and serving food, if you could manage it for the flies and the dust. Bertha, Delbert and Bob were the only customers in sight. Before they drove on their way back to Lawton, a cowboy came leisurely riding up. He remarked how dry and parched the townsite was. He said he had seen that very ground so wet the bullfrogs died of chills and fever. He knew what he was talking about. In May of 1902, the rains came, Cache Creek overflowed, and the townsite was flooded.
The original townsite of McKnight was surveyed and platted by Judge S. W. Childers, described as SW 1/4 of Section 24, which lies just north of the highway at the north side of present-day Walters. At that time the land was part of the Suggs Ranch and was stocked with cattle and white horses. This was land that had been segregated for townsite purposes by the Federal government in compliance to a petition filed with the local land office by Judge Geo. D. Latham, Judge Childers and Col. B. H. Howle. It was named in honor of Maj. H. D. McKnight, Registrar of the Land Office at Lawton. When a post office was applied for in October of 1901, it was learned that another town named McKnight existed in Old Greer County and therefore, another name would have to be selected. The name of Walters was chosen, in honor of W. R. Walter, but the "s" was not included on the post office application, so the post office was named Walter. The railroad depot was also called Walter because the post office was. W. R. Walter, J. M. Bellamy and Geo. E. Taylor were townsite commissioners for McKnight. The Town of Walters was incorporated on October 21, 1902 with A. M. Thompson, Frank Boles and J. H. "Pat" Patterson being elected members of the Board of Trustees. Therefore, the names of Walter and Walters were used interchangeably and confusingly until in June of 1917 when an application was made to Congress to officially change the post office name to Walters.
After the flood, most of the businesses and residences were moved to "the hill," the quarter section just south of the townsite. It was several years before all of the land disputes were settled. Harry B. Holt was the first postmaster and his daughter, Doris, was reported to be the first baby born in Walters.
The railroad came to Walters in November, 1902. It started a rival townsite one half mile south of the present business center of town. A town fight continued for almost a year when nearly all of the businesses that had moved south moved back. The original frame depot burned in April, 1916. Several factors, including WWI, delayed a new depot being built until 1920, when the present brick building was constructed. In 1984, the City of Walters purchased the depot from the Rock Island Railroad for $500 and gave it to the Cotton County Art Council to restore.
The City of Walters was incorporated in 1919 and in 1928 the citizens of Walters voted for a City Charter form of government. Three elected councilmen constituted a policy-making body, which appointed a City Manager to be the Administrator of the City and executor of the policies. Today the number of councilmen has been expanded to five. In 1920 a $68,000 contract was let for constructioin of water, light and sewer systems in the city and work was started on the paving of city streets and sidewalks.
The two-story city hall, located at the corner of California and 5th streets, which had been in use for 15 years, was condemned in June, 1937, as large cracks had opened in the building and the walls leaned to the east. In April, 1940, the building was finally razed and a new one-story city hall was built on the same lots. In 1969, Kathleen Sultan Woolbright, donated the Cotton County Ice Co. building to the City, which converted it to house the city offices, fire and police departments.
The Walters Fire Department was an unorganized bucket brigade until 1906, when a hose cart was purchased. In 1909 a volunteer fire department was organized with about twenty members, and in 1913 was made a lawful organization. In 1922 the first full-time fire chief, C. C. Campbell, was hired, and the first real fire truck, a Model-T Ford was purchased. Today the fire department occupies a five-bay building next to the city hall.
The Walters Public Library formally opened for business at the city hall Sept. 22, 1922, with Mrs. Voegelein as librarian. In 72 years, there were only five librarians, Mrs. Voegelein, Mrs. Stella English, Mrs. Howard Way, Mrs. Monta Balding, and Mrs. Corella Fletcher.
Monday afternoon, May 5, 1930, "Trades Day," was a day many people long remembered after a tornado suddenly dropped from the sky and roared through the northwest corner of the city, destroying two houses west of the railroad track, the Chickasha Cotton Oil Co.'s gin, two gins owned by Parks Bros., the Oklahoma pool elevator and the seed house of the Farmers' Union gin. A second tornado dropped down nearby and swept northward, destroying the west half of Sultan Park. A third tornado dropped down about two hours later and traveled along Temple Route 1, killing one man, injuring eight others and wreaking havoc in the oil field and at farm homes.
There were three oil refineries located at Walters about 1920 during the oil boom, Livingston Oil Refinery, Southern Oil Refinery, and Blue Ribbon Oil & Refining Co. In 1920 there were 180 oil wells in the Walters field.
Robert Sultan, banker, oilman, and businessman, purchased 63 acres of land a mile north of Walters on Cache Creek adjacent to the city park in 1923 and deeded it to the City of Walters. He then spent about $100,000 in improving and beautifying the area for everyone to enjoy. The city named it Sultan Park. There were swinging bridges across the creek to the "island," a bandstand, picnic and camping facilities, playground equipment, numerous flower beds and shrubs, and even a goldfish pond. A bathing pool had been built in 1920 in the park by Sam Cowan. The tornado of 1930, frequent flooding and time erased much of the functionality and beauty of the park. In an effort to reduce the effects of flooding, the "horseshoe" bend of the creek through the park was dammed to make a straighter path for the flow of the creek. However, in the last year or two, the city obtained grants to revitalize the park. Water has been pumped into the horseshoe and stocked with fish and a fishing dock and waterfall added. A walking track has been built, and other amenities included to help make it an enjoyable recreation area that is used for the 4th of July celebrations, Comanche Homecoming and Pow-Wow, family reunions and picnics.
The Walters Herald, established Jan. 27, 1922, is the only surviving newspaper in Cotton County out of twenty-four newspapers that have existed at various times and locations in the county.
The "Great Walters Bank Robbery" occurred Aug. 8, 1946, when two bandits entered the Walters National Bank and robbed it of $32,949.09. No one was injured in the robbery and the two bandits were able to make a clean get-away. Through fingerprints, the FBI identified the two as brothers from Electra, Tex. The robbers were captured, one on Sept. 3 and the other on Nov. 1, and subsequently pleaded guilty and were sentenced to 25 years in prison. $25,000.00 of the "loot" was never recovered.
At one time, Walters was called "The Turkey Capitol of the World." The Cotton County Poultry & Egg Co., established in 1928 by Robert Sultan, shipped 900,000 pounds of turkeys to market in 1930, under the firm's brand, Blue Anchor.
The Walters Hospital, located at 225 W. Colorado, was originally a wooden structure built by Dr. Lloyd B. Foster in the early 1920's. It was subsequently sold to Drs. S. A. Heflin and George W. Baker, and then Dr. J. M. Thompson. In 1938 Dr. Thompson replaced the west wing of the building with a two story brick building. He retained the east wing for his residence. The hospital had several other owners before being closed in the 1960's. The building was town down in 1985.
The Walters Cemetery, located one mile west, was established in 1905 by the I.O.O.F. lodge and operated by them before being sold to the city in 1942. The reservoir at the cemetery was built in 1931.
The first Walters Airport was constructed with government Civil Works Activity funds in 1934. It was located one-half mile west of the SW corner of Walters. The present Walters Airport, located five miles west of Walters, was built in 1970.
Lake Boyer, NW of Walters, was built in 1936 by the WPA with a $25,000 participation by the city. The lake was named for Dave Boyer, Walters pioneer businessman and former state senator, who was instrumental in making the project a reality. In 1940, a municipally owned five-hole golf course was built on the east side of the dam at the lake, later being expanded to nine holes. Today the course consists of a full eighteen hole, ranged around the lake.
Cotton Electric Cooperative Assn. was established in 1938 with its headquarters in Walters. The first directors were: Louis R. Burkhart, T. H. Ketels, Sam Philpott, Leonard Ketchum and Tab Dowlen. The coming of the electric cooperative to rural America changed the way people lived in the countryside forever.
On Oct. 31, 1901, the first officers were elected for a school board in Walters. They were: W. R. Walter, J. D. Cuisenberry and J. B. Stewart. This was the first school district organized in old Comanche County (outside of Lawton) and was numbered "One." A four room frame building was constructed for school use. In 1909 a three story brick building with basement was built on the School block at a cost of $35,000. After thousands of children's feet trod the stairs, the building was torn down in 1960.
The Walters school football stadium, Sultan Bowl, was built by the government agency, FERA in 1935. The land was donated by the Sultan Estate and the school furnished the lights. After 60 years, the school began playing their games in a new stadium in 1995. It was built on school land at the SW corner of Walters through the generosity of Elmer Graham and others. It was named Elmer Graham Stadium.
The size of Walters increased by over 4,000 acres Feb. 15, 1994, when the city council voted to annex the land a half mile on either side of SH 5 to six miles west of Walters. The population of the city is approximately 2,700.
The hot August sun still beats down mercilessly on the land, but the citizens of Walters live their lives in a friendly and community-oriented atmosphere, ever mindful of the pioneer spirit of those who came to this new land and carved a new town and a new life from the prairie.