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Behind the big themes, celebrated figures, and dry dates of history are the interesting stories of life in the past and ordinary people. Southeast Missouri has a varied and rich history that you often don’t hear about in history classes. Join Bill Eddleman of the State Historical Society of Missouri to hear about these stories with “Tales from Days Gone By.” Listen in on the second and fourth Thursday of the month during Morning Edition (7:45 a.m.) and All Things Considered (4:44 p.m.)

A Pemiscot County Lawman Makes the Ultimate Sacrifice

Headline regarding the incident involving the shooting of Constable Dolph Walker. Dunklin Democrat, issue of December 29, 1922.
Headline regarding the incident involving the shooting of Constable Dolph Walker. Dunklin Democrat, issue of December 29, 1922.

Pascola in Pemiscot County was a small town in the early 1920s, with a population of about 420. The platting of the village occurred in 1894 upon construction of the railroad from Kennett to Caruthersville. Settlers had lived in the area since 1879, but incorporation of the town occurred in 1899. The village was a center for the surrounding agricultural community and a stave factory employed many residents.

The evening of December 25, 1922, in Pascola was much the same as any other day for town constable Dolph Walker. Maintaining the peace and enforcing the law know no holiday. The 34-year-old Walker had been re-elected as Constable in November and had served as constable or town marshal for several years. It was a tough job, demanding that he work all day until nearly midnight because the town had no night marshal or deputy. The townspeople respected Walker and knew him to be one of the best officers in the county.

Walker had one duty to perform that evening. The previous day he arrested Carson Smith for bootlegging “white lightning.” Young Smith was a habitual offender, and this was not his first arrest. Smith gave bond for his appearance before the local justice of the peace and Walker released him. Later the bondsmen requested release from the bond, so Walker had to find and take Carson Smith into custody.

Walker quickly located the offender and took charge of him. Smith’s father Claude objected to the arrest and followed the officer and his son to the jail at city hall. The elder Smith was proprietor of a small restaurant in Pascola.

Upon arriving at the jail door, Walker struck a match and immediately shots sounded from nearby. Claude Smith had fired three shots, all of which hit Constable Walker. Walker fell to the floor but managed to draw his pistol and fire at Claude Smith. Walker’s bullet hit Smith below his heart, and he died immediately. Carson Smith attempted to retrieve his father’s gun, but Walker fired again and wounded the young man in the hand.

The commotion attracted nearby townspeople, who rushed Walker to nearby Hayti. His wounds were mortal, and they placed him on a train to St. Louis for better medical care. His condition on arrival in St. Louis was critical. Walker survived for two days before dying from the wounds. Investigation of the shooting led to the arrest of three other men as accessories to the murder.

Walker’s death was one of over 300 deaths of prohibition officers in 1922 and was the second within a month in Pemiscot County. The problems with enforcement of Prohibition and rampant bootlegging would lead to the repeal of the 18th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution by enactment of the 21st Amendment on December 5, 1933.

The slaying of Dolph Walker was not the end of the family’s tragedy. Ten months after the shooting, on October 24, 1923, Walker’s wife Gertie died suddenly while crossing a road in Pascola. She had a chronic heart condition which had worsened after the death of her husband. Her death left two children orphaned to the care of relatives.

Bill Eddleman was born in Cape Girardeau, and is an 8th-generation Cape Countian. His first Missouri ancestor came to the state in 1802. He attended SEMO for two years before transferring to the University of Missouri to study Fisheries and Wildlife Biology. He stayed at Mizzou to earn a master of science in Fisheries and Wildlife, and continued studies in Wildlife Ecology at Oklahoma State University.