Norman Walker

Related Page:
4th Estate article
Norman at Ojinaga
Senate subcommittee testimony
Norman's articles

My grandfather's younger brother Norman Morris Walker was a 1906 graduate of Indiana University who moved to El Paso, Texas, shortly after graduation. In his job as a reporter there, he found himself in the midst of the Mexican Revolution where he became well acquainted with Francisco Madero, Pancho Villa, Gen. John J. Pershing, and other important figures in those turbulent times. I have heard, from family members, that Norman is supposed to have arrived in El Paso via freight train, with only five dollars in his pocket, but I suspect these stories are apocryphal. Norman may have heard about life on the border from his uncle, John C. Voss, who had been living there for a number of years. On the other hand, John Voss had probably already left El Paso for points south by the time Norman arrived on April Fool's Day, 1908.1

The articles below tell a small part of Uncle Norman's story. Norman's hometown Bloomington Evening World mentioned his involvement in the Mexican Revolution on the front page of its 11 March 1913 edition:

Home Boy Interviews Mexican Fighter

Norman Walker, a former Bloomington boy, now city-editor of the El Paso Herald,2 interviewed Oron Orozco, the famous Mexican fighter and dominant figure in the present revolution now going on. Walker went to Mexico to personally cover the war story for his paper and managed to get a long interview with the Mexican chief.

The next article is taken from a 1922 issue of the Indiana University Alumnus:

Norman Walker Is Labeled By Those Who Know As "The Greatest Living Authority on Mexico"

Few men, in the span of years allotted to them on this earth are privileged to roll dice with a Mexican bandit, sit in on important conferences with a president of the same republic and the sworn enemy of the first, campaign with a half dozen Mexican generals in as many revolutions, hold every position from printer's devil to editor on an American newspaper, hobnob with authors and soldiers, be executed by a firing squad and yet live, but such is only an index to the turbulent career of Norman "Squiggs" Walker, '06, greatest living authority on things Mexican. The following is a sketch of Mr. Norman's career, brought out during a conference with a representative of The Indiana Alumnus.--Editor's Note.

"I was born in Bloomington, Indiana, which was the biggest thing in my life," began Mr. Walker. And then in a hurried effort to cover up his youth and get to his balmier days, it developed that he attended the common schools of Bloomington, graduated from the high school there and then attended Indiana University where he was graduated in 1906. He was president of his class. In the Arbutus of the same year he was complimented in the following fashion: "He taught dancing, thereby ruining many social careers."

His education over, he took the cactus trail to the southwest, and, in his own language, "went to Arizona for lack of better gumption. I worked a while in Tucson and then went to Mexico. There I kept time in a flock of mines, using a hand-picked Spanish learned in Kirkwood hall. Got fired and returned to Tombstone for a rest and got it. Then I drifted into El Paso, for at that time El Paso and Southwestern freights ran no farther."

Arriving in El Paso, Mr. Walker capitalized his education and forsook the dust and dirt of the mines for the electric fans of the El Paso Herald. His initial duties were serving as mining editor and Spanish scholar. Then began his unusual career during Mexican revolutions, that was to bring him to the front among American newspaper men.

He fell in with Francisco Madero, when that wily gentleman was just entering on the spectacular and speedy rise to the presidency of the Mexican republic. He followed him from the battlefields of the north to Mexico City, and when his leader was murdered he sought another. In turn he campaigned with Orozco, Huerta, Villa and Obregon. Villa, in spite of his hatred for all Americans, formed a lasting friendship for the young American newspaper man. The intimacy with which Walker regarded all Mexican leaders is illustrated as follows: "I sat in on the first junta ever held by Madero followers. All have since been killed but me, thanks to Jimmie Horne's coaching in cross country. I sang a rotten barber shop tenor with Adolfo de la Huerta when he was governor of Sonora. Then he became provisional president and spoiled the quartet."

Mr. Walker had a few other spicy remarks to share in regard to his career on the El Paso Herald. "I was correspondent in Mexico when Gen. Pershing made his punitive expedition after Villa. Villa was an amigo. General Pershing likewise was a personal friend. I was in a dickens of a pickle. Walking a tight rope over Niagara was a parlor game compared with my job of covering both sides without getting in bad with either." Mr. Walker covered the Columbus raid for his paper, and got his story by long distance telephone while the Villa peons were still shooting up the town. After the raid he was the first white man to see Villa.

When Obregon became president and Mexico ceased for a spell to be a seething volcano of bloodshed and "revolutionizing," Mr. Walker was "like a shirt without a collar button." With him it was "no Villa, no war." He was offered the position of Associated Press correspondent at a number of European capitals, but refused because he wanted to devote his time to other work in El Paso. He is now engaged in the publishing business in El Paso and is vice-president of the McMath company,3 the largest printing establishment on the Mexican border. He is publisher of the Mexico magazine, having for its purpose the spreading of information concerning the colonization of Mexican farming lands. He is also a member of all the prominent clubs in El Paso.

His knowledge of Mexico, its leaders and its people has caused him to be in general demand by people who need information concerning the republic to the south. As a result he has aided a number of well-known writers in preparing stories with their settings in Mexico. Chief among them is George Pattullo4 and Irvin Cobb.5

Mr. Walker was married in 1911 to Vera Allen, of Detroit. Concerning that particular episode in his life, Mr. Walker said: "Like the man who went from Bloomington to Indianapolis to buy a suit of clothes and didn't remember anything until he came out of a South Illinois street clothing store with a red vest on, I don't remember anything after I met Mrs. Walker until we were engaged."

Sometimes, the reporter has an opportunity to influence history. The next story was taken from pages 268-269 of AP - The Story of News, by Oliver Gramling, illustrated by Henry C. Barrow, published in 1940 by Farrar & Rhinehart, NYC. I have read a similar story in a collection of sports stories by Bill Stern:6

Back home in the United States, the nation was trying to forget its war worries momentarily by reading of the World Series, and again Cooper lined up his 26,000 mile circuit to report the Chicago White Sox-New York Giants games direct from the ball parks. Despite the keen competition of other news, the baseball classic could still command position on American front pages, and it had one less story to contend with that October, thanks to one of the co-operative's staff.

Upheavals in Mexico no longer made the stories they once did now that America was embroiled in Europe, but Pancho Villa continued active in Chihuahua and was anxious to impress the United States by defeating President Carranza. An attack on the federal-held town of Ojinaga seemed to offer a good opportunity, and Villa laid plans for an assault early in October. Just as he finished preparations, Norman Walker, a staff correspondent, reached his camp. Villa had known the reporter during several years of assignments south of the Rio Grande, and therefore confided his plans to Walker and asked if he considered the date propitious.

Smiling, Walker told Villa he could not have chosen a worse time. The World Series, he pointed out, was just starting and what space American newspapers had for news other than baseball would be pre-empted by war dispatches.

"If you wait until after the World Series", Walker said, "you might make the front pages."

Villa waited, and when he finally took Ojinaga he did make the front pages.

Pancho Villa postponed a revolt on an A. P. man's advice. In 1917 he asked Norman Walker if the time was propitious to start trouble. Walker replied: "If you wait until after the World Series, you might make the front pages." Villa waited and made the front pages.

The drawing above was sent to me by Norman's granddaughter, Peggi (Walker) Kilroy, and may have accompanied Gramling's article. Villa's assault on Ojinaga, which occurred late in his career as a protagonist in the Mexican revolutionary drama, didn't take place until 14 November 1917. Gramling's story, and the following quotation from page 70 of From the Front: The Story of War, by Michael S. Sweeney, National Geographic Society, 2004, illustrates Pancho Villa's awareness of the importance of the media in modern warfare:

... A natural self-promoter, Villa offered American film companies the rights to his battles. On January 3, 1914, Mutual Film Corporation agreed to $25,000 and a 50 percent royalty of profits. When practical, Villa would fight in daylight for the cameramen.

American print journalists and still photographers flocked to the border to cover Pancho Villa, including John Reed, a Harvard graduate and Communist from Portland, Oregon. For four months, Reed rode the sun-scorched plains and slept on the ground with the rebels...

This episode in Villa's story was documented by an HBO made-for-TV movie entitled And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself, which starred Antonio Banderas as Pancho Villa and Alan Arkin as Villa's and Norman Walker's friend Sam Dreben, misspelled Drebben in film credits. Norman isn't portrayed in the movie, but American Communist journalist John Reed, of Reds fame, is. Villa was also the subject of a 1936 Mexican motion picture, ˇVámonos con Pancho Villa!, which is rated Number One in a list of the 100 best movies of the cinema of Mexico published in 1994 by the Mexican magazine Somos. I haven't seen this film yet, but don't doubt it's a classic. It was scored by the great composer Silvestre Revueltas.

Peggi Kilroy also sent us a wonderful article which appeared in the 4 Oct 1924 issue of The Fourth Estate, "a newspaper for the makers of newspapers". This article is now available in our Family Album. If only a half of the things which the article alleges Norman Walker did actually happened, he must have lived a very exciting life. We haven't tried to annotate the article or investigate its details. You may wish to draw your own conclusions about the events and personages described in it.

My uncle Bill Walker copied the following brief mentions of Norman Walker from clippings of the Bloomington Telephone which he found at the Bloomington Public Library:

Fri., 6 Jul 1906. Norman Walker left today for Tombstone, Arizona, to spend the summer and fall with his brother, Charles Walker.7

Tues., 12 Jan 1909. [Walker, Norman. City Editor of El Paso Herald. See envelope file of newspaper clippings; envelope labeled STRONG, Lee;8 LOSES LEG UNDER TRAIN, dated same as above.]

Tues., 26 Oct 1909. Norman Walker, a home boy of whom we are all proud, and who is now head reporter for the El Paso Herald, had the assignment with President Taft while he was in Texas and was kept busy day and night. There was an enormous crowd at El Paso for the President's reception.

Fri., 12 Nov 1909. There is on exhibition in the show window of the Kahn clothing store a series of pictures showing the visit of President Taft to El Paso, Tex., and his meeting with President Diaz, of Mexico, which were taken for the El Paso Herald and sent to Moses Kahn by Norman Walker, a former Bloomington boy who is on the staff of that paper. Mr. Walker is now in charge of the sporting page of that paper and one of its most valuable reporters.

The picture above, which may or may not have been taken by Uncle Norman, was found in the Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce's Old El Paso Photogallery, along with a number of other photos of the historic event and this statement:

The meeting of Presidents Taft and Diaz on October 16, 1909 was described by the El Paso Herald as the "most eventful diplomatic event in the history of the two nations." A breakfast honoring Taft was held at the St. Regis Hotel at a price of $25 a plate. The Presidents met in El Paso at 11:00 a.m. and later in Juarez. The banquet at the Juarez Customs House dwarfed all other events surrounding the visit, as the entire building had been transformed into a reporduction of one of the famous salons in Versailles.

Source: El Paso - A Borderlands History by W.H. Timmons

The following article is taken from a clipping in my grandmother's scrapbook. The beginning of the story is missing. It is possibly from a Bloomington newspaper and is dated 19 Jan 1931: Mexico to the welcome addresses of the mayor and other dignitaries. He never lost an opportunity to talk over old times with them.

That Sunday morning the University Club, of which he was a life member, gave him a breakfast at its club rooms. In answer to a telegraphic invitation which Walker sent him as president of the club, he wired back that he would accept if there was no ceremony and if those present were only the officers and directors and the members of his staff, that there be no speeches, and that we have ham and eggs for breakfast.

At that time we had a German steward to whom orders were given to serve ham and eggs. But this dish was considered by the German to be beneath the dignity of the C. in C., and without saying anything to the directors or house committee, he arranged for broiled chicken instead.

When the waiter set the plate of broiled chicken in front of General Pershing, he turned to Walker and said,

"Say Walker, where the hell are those ham and eggs you promised me?"

Walker did some hustling around the kitchen and soon had the general's favorite dish before him, and he ate it with a relish qcquired in Army camps, and on the Pershing trail in Mexico.

Norman Walker's friendship with Gen. Pershing was touched upon in War Letters, Andrew Carroll, ed., New York: Washington Square Press, 2001:

On the morning of August 27, 1915, a year-and-a-half before America went to war, a newspaper reporter named Norman Walker called the office of Gen. John Pershing in Fort Bliss, Texas to confirm a tragic story coming over the wires about Pershing's wife and children. Certain the voice at the other end was a military aide, Walker inquired about the deaths at Gen. Pershing's residence in San Francisco. "What has happened!?" demanded the voice. It was Pershing, himself. Norman stumbled through the report as the general listened: Mrs. Pershing, only thirty-five, and their three daughters - ages eight, seven, and three - were all killed when a fire swept through their house at the Presidio. Only six-year-old Warren was pulled out alive...

Uncle Norman met many colorful characters on both sides of the border during his career as a journalist. His name turned up in the biography of war hero Sam Dreben but only as the source of a minor quotation about the subject of the story:

Norman Walker, a newspaperman who also knew Dreben well, said, "Sam's two most cherished possessions were his Jewish ancestry and his American citizenship."

There's another mention, in passing, of Norman in an article on pioneer newspaperman S. H. Newman on the El Paso Community College Local History Project site:

El Paso Herald reporter Norman M. Walker wrote, "While in jail, Billy [the Kid] declared that he would be willing to hang if he could only kill Lew Wallace, Judge Newcome, and S. H. Newman."...

The following brief sample of Norman's writing was found on the El Paso Community Foundation's web site, describing the Hotel Cortez, originally known as Hotel Orndorff:

Architects, builders, decorators and drapers have worked together to such good effect that the result is a splendid blending of the ancient and modern, the artistic and useful, so that El Paso's newest and finest hotel is the pride of the Southwest and is one of the show places of the country. Built in the Pass of the North, where the Spanish conquerors made their camp while searching for the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola, the Hotel Orndorff (Hotel Cortez) is a monument to these explorers from old Spain who left their cultural imprint upon this land of magnificent distances and whose history furnished the inspiration for the Hotel Orndorff, a castle of Old Spain on the Plaza of El Paso.
--Norman Walker, 1926

We've also assembled a number of dispatches from El Paso and points south which appeared in major U. S. newspapers and were attributed to Norman Walker. Norman may have written many more articles distributed by the Associated Press for which he wasn't given credit. Be sure to read Norman's articles!

Page 724 of the 1927 El Paso city directory contains the following entry for Norman and Vera Walker:

The 1930 census found Norman and Vera living with their four children on Lebanon Avenue in El Paso. About 1932, they were divorced. Vera subsequently married Tom Darling. During these difficult times, their younger children were cared for by relatives. Their son John William remembered being sent to live with his grandmother Walker in Bloomington, but misbehaving so badly that he was returned to El Paso, alone, on the train. He also spent some time with Charley and Alice Walker in Santa Monica, CA. Allen and Normie lived for awhile in an apartment above a bowling alley. Vera eventually moved to the Los Angeles area and maintained her close friendship with my grandmother. She died in Los Angeles 8 Dec 1965.

Norman Walker's death was the subject of several brief obituaries in major American dailies and in Bloomington newspapers. The first, from the 30 Jun 1952 edition of the Herald-Telephone may be a case of "killing the messenger bringing bad news". His hale and hearty 80-year-old brother George undoubtedly got a few laughs out of the headline of this one:

George Walker Dies In Texas

George Voss Walker, of 222 N. Dunn received word today of the death of his brother Norman M. Walker, 68,9 who died in El Paso, Texas10 Sunday.

Mr. Walker was in the advertising business in Texas. He was a graduate of Indiana University in 1906.

Funeral arrangements have not been completed but his body is expected to be returned to this city.

The next day, this article appeared in the Herald-Telephone:

Norman Walker Funeral Thursday

Funeral services for Norman Walker, 68,9 former resident of this city, who died in Big Spring, Texas,10 Sunday, will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday, in the Allen Chapel with Rev. A. E. Cole officiating. Burial will be in Rose Hill cemetery.

The body arrived Wednesday and will remain at the Allen Chapel.

Mr. Walker, a well-known newspaper man of El Paso, was a graduate of I. U., and had llved in Texas most of his life.

Survivors include four sons, Allen W. Walker, Des Moines, Iowa; Norman, Jr., U. S. Army; William, U. S. Navy11 and Charles Walker.

A brother, George B. Walker,12 is a resident of this city.

The Bloomington Courier published an article 4 July which repeats the Herald-Telephone's errors and says nothing of Norman's career in journalism or of his rôle as a confidant of the leading figures of the Mexican revolution...


Norman M. Walker, 68-year-old9 local resident and brother of George Voss Walker, of 222 North Dunn Street, died this week at El Paso, Texas.10 The body was to be returned here for burial.

Last rites for Mr. Walker were scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday at the Allen Chapel with the Rev. A. E. Cole officiating. Burial will be in Rose Hill Cemetery.

Survivors include four sons, Allen W. Walker, of Des Moines, Iowa, Norman Jr., U. S. Army; William, U. S. Navy11 and Charles Walker. A brother, George B. Walker,12 makes his home here.

I had heard that Norman Walker's papers were donated to the library of what eventually became the University of Texas at El Paso, but that library's response to my inquiry indicated that there was nothing in its Special Collections that could be identified with him. We would welcome any information our cousins or other readers may be able to contribute on this subject.

1 This date of Norman's arrival in El Paso is based on his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
2 The El Paso Herald was an evening newspaper which was founded in 1881. It eventually became the Herald-Post and ceased publication in October 1997. The Orozco mentioned in the first item is undoubtedly Pascual Orozco. Visit RevMexPC to see post card pictures of Orozco, Villa and other revolutionary leaders.
3 The Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin, has some papers pertaining to the McMath Printing Company among its archive of the Baldwin Printing Company's records.
4 George Pattullo (1879-1967), whose articles in Saturday Evening Post and other magazines are listed at The FictionMags Index. Pattullo's filmwriting career is documented in the Internet Movie Data Base
5 Irvin S. Cobb (1876-1944) wrote numerous magazine articles which are listed at the same site. Both Pattullo and Cobb were well known writers at the time the Alumnus article appeared.
6 For an "alternate take" of this story, visit our collection of Norman Walker articles.
7 If Norman went to Tombstone, it was most likely to visit his brother, John William Walker, who was living there at the time. My grandfather, Charles Edward Walker, was living in Tucson, AZ.
8 I'm not sure what this citation had to do with Uncle Norman. The man who lost his leg may be Norman's second cousin, Lee Voss Strong, The clippings on his accident would certainly be worth reading; could somebody in Bloomington take a look at them for us?
9 Norman was 69 years old. He was born 13 May 1883 and died 29 June 1952.
10 His death occurred in Big Spring, TX.
11 John William Walker was a career U. S. Marine Corps aviator.
12 This is the same George Voss Walker who is mentioned elsewhere in the obituaries.
This page was last updated 5 Mar 2016.