MO Bicentennial Minutes: Czar of the Bootheel: John Hardeman Walker
Among the other events occurring in 1821 was the election of John Hardeman Walker as Sheriff of New Madrid County. Walker had come to Missouri territory from Tennessee in 1810, settling in Little Prairie, which was near present-day Caruthersville. When the earthquakes hit in 1811-12, he was one of the few stalwart residents who remained. He saw opportunity, and bought up land and cattle, gaining the nickname of “czar of the bootheel.”
This time is when Walker is said to have earned his biggest claim to Missouri fame. Congress received the first statehood petition from Missouri in 1818, which omitted land south of New Madrid. Many of the relatively few citizens of the southeast objected because their business and social ties were to communities to the north such as New Madrid and Cape Girardeau. While the events are murky, Walker undoubtedly played a big role in modifying the southern boundary of Missouri. He knew the “right” people, including Robert D. Dawson on the territorial council, and is purported to have “wined and dined” the land commissioners, lobbied the territorial legislature, and even lobbied congressmen in Washington. However, lack of direct evidence suggests this is partly legend or else Walker left few tracks. Subsequently, the second petition for statehood included the Bootheel, which remained in Missouri.
Voters elected Walker a justice of the county court in 1822. His other public service included county collector, a term in the state legislature, and serving as one of the commissioners who platted Caruthersville in 1857, part of which lies on what was his land. He died of cholera in 1860.