History Written to Conclusion

Ken Johnson’s new book, Publishers: Walter and Preston Walker, The Daily Sentinel, is a self-
published memoir and scrapbook masquerading as a history book. The book lacks footnotes, adequate
in-text citations, a functional bibliography, indexing, and is filled with unverifiable first person
accounts, unsupported accusations and outright conspiracy theory. While it covers many topics of
historical interest to the local history buffs, and that is where the book is at its best, Johnson has stated
that the goal of the book is to dispute the historical understanding of Walter Walker as ‘having [brought]
the [Ku Klux Klan] to town.’ Unfortunately, Johnson’s fawning ‘awe’ over ‘papa Walker,’ indicates that
he needs what he has written to be true. An honest evaluation of the available evidence this is not.

This understanding of Walter Walker, as a one-time Klansman, is derived from two peer-reviewed
academic histories: “Hooded Empire: The KKK in Colorado” by Robert Goldberg, and “The Ku Klux
Klan in Grand Junction, 1924-1927,” by J. Kenneth Baird. Both works rely heavily, but not solely, on
oral histories and interviews with Al Look. So, too, do Johnson’s arguments. So, what did Look say?
and who was Al Look?

“I not only was present, I was a member of the Klan and I worked for the Sentinel at that time. No,
there isn’t any doubt at all, regardless of what it says in the Brand Book story about Mr. Walker. He
brought the Ku Klux Klan to town. He wanted to be the [Exalted Cyclops]…D.B. Wright was another
man with ambition, and he beat Walker out of that office, and when that happened Walker quit the
Klan.” –Al Look, Oral History

Chapter 18 of Publishers is dedicated to attacking Al Look’s character. Look worked for Walter Walker
and The Daily Sentinel from 1924 to 1960 as the head of the advertising department. According to
Johnson, Al Look had an “ego the size of Colorado,” was a “story-teller,” and that Al Look once
“confessed to not respecting Walter Walker.” Essentially, Publishers claims that Al Look lied. It tries

and fails to provide a motive for Look to slander Walter Walker. Look’s oral history and his
conversations with Robert Goldberg three years later are remarkably similar.

Whatever motivated Look to talk about the KKK, died with him. Look was a journalist at heart, thus he
likely believed in things like the ‘public record.’ Look was a part of the Mesa County Historical
Society’s Oral History Project as both a subject and an interviewer. Look also penned numerous local
history books; a number of them sit on my bookshelf. He put his legacy on the line to come out as a
Klansmen. At its height as much as 20% of the local population were members of the KKK, yet only a
handful of people ever spoke publicly about their involvement. Essentially, it was socially much easier
to be a Klansman in the 1920s, than it was to go on the record as a former Klansman in the 1970s.

Al Look is not the only person selected out for criticism in Publishers. Johnson takes issue with
Goldberg because “Hooded Empire” was originally written as a doctoral thesis, and later turned into a
book (not uncommon), and that Goldberg conducted his interviews over the telephone (again not
uncommon). Johnson concocts a flimsy conspiracy theory that the local minister and Mesa State
College history professor J. Kenneth Baird censored his history of the KKK in Junction, focusing on
Walker, because Baird and a former Klan leader (George Rossman) both ministered at the same church,
albeit 50 years apart. Johnson also attacks by name local history guru Dave Fishell, CMU Spanish
Professor Tom Acker, and former student journalist Ryan Biller, for spreading what Johnson calls

Johnson writes, “A glance at Walker’s lifetime of service to his community would show he could
NEVER have brought the Klan to town,” Does it? Do acts of charity and political legacies prove
someone was not a Klansman? Simply, no. It proves that history and life are just more complicated and
nuanced than than fairy tales and old Hollywood westerns.

Johnson also argues that Walker would never have been involved in the KKK because it was a
Republican organization and Walker was a staunch Democrat. But this ignores a number of political
realities at that time: 1). That the KKK was bi-partisan, concerned with “law and order,” and “100
Percent Americanism.” Both candidates for Governor of Colorado in 1924, for example, were endorsed
by the KKK. 2). The Pro-Klan/Anti-Klan infighting between factions within both parties. 3). Walker
was a decidedly Southern Democrat hailing from Kentucky, and his mom was a leader within the local
chapter of United Daughters of the Confederacy. Fact is Walter Walker was a conservative, and I don’t
think anyone would argue that. 4). Grand Junction’s Klan-era was before the parties took on their
modern positions. It is hard to fathom today, but back then there were both liberals and conservatives in
both parties, not just liberal and conservative wings of either given party.

Finally, Johnson also paints D.B. Wright as a Walter Walker “foe,” and therefore they couldn’t have
been a part of the same secret society. A search of newspapers.com could not turn up a pre-KKK
instance of D.B Wright receiving negative press in Walker’s Daily Sentinel. Additionally, the following
quote places Wright and Walker together in a far more violent vigilante secret society just five years
before the rise of the local KKK. From Dalton Trumbo’s novel, Eclipse, set in a very thinly
fictionalized Grand Junction.

“You formed a Loyalty League. Remember….they tarred and feathered old Professor Fuchs. That
Loyalty League did something to this town….something that will never be over come…for the first time
Art French (Sterling Lacy), and Walter Goode (D.B. Wright) and Stanley Brown (Walter Walker), and
William Harwood (George Parsons) discovered that you were participating in the history of nations.
Power—that was it…the power of snoopery, persecution, investigation. And no one dared oppose the
snoopery and persecution, because no one dared risk the charge of treason….You can remember that

not so long ago the Ku Klux Klan marched down main street at night, all ghostly with a fiery cross, an
American flag and a drum. It was still the Loyalty League…the organized mob risen from its grave to
snoop and tyrannize once more. And it will come up again and again, for ever and ever! If there isn’t a
good cause like a war, then it will parade for a poor cause. It will always be a cause with ideals so high
that no mere law can restrain the execution of its judgments. And it will always be based on hatred and
fear. To-morrow it may come again…..who know?”
–Dalton Trumbo, Eclipse, pg 60.

In my research with www.peopleshistoryofthegrandvalley.com , I found Walter Walker and his Daily
Sentinel heavily involved in the far more violent Loyalty League. The Loyalty League and their
associated militias (Home Guard) and societies (American Defense Society) arose in 1917 to ferret out
‘disloyalty,’ snoop on neighbors (especially immigrants and minorities), and suppress radicals
(socialists, anarchists, pacifists, and the I.W.W.). The Loyalty League is an angle that hasn’t been
explored by any historian to date.

Johnson’s motivations for writing Publishers is likely more personal than historical. Johnson as a boy delivered the Daily Sentinel and later began working in the press room. Johnson described himself as a “free-range” boy being raised by a single mother, at the time. Later Johnson would start writing for the Sentinel, and through hard work, became the publisher of The Daily Sentinel in 1970, when Preston Walker died. Essentially everything Johnson has, he owes to Preston and Walter Walker’s abilities to see his potential, skill, and hard work.

The recent 2020 renaming and re-branding of CMU’s Walker Field into the Community Hospital Unity
Field, has Johnson especially bitter. Johnson’s bitterness is not without cause. Because the ‘Ken Johnson
family’ donated $1,000,000 dollars to the college in 2008, for the rights to name the soccer field in
honor of Preston and Walter Walker. While I don’t like hypothesizing about people’s motives, Johnson does speculate wildly as to the motives of Al Look, and historians J. Kenneth Baird and Robert Goldberg; so it is only fair to point out that he has personal reason to glorify the legacy of Walter Walker, in fact he has one million of them.

Publishers, is determined to repair Walker’s reputation. It is a history written to a conclusion, not an
honest investigation of a man, his newspaper and his community. And that is why it fails. It doesn’t add
new sources or insights, but rather devolves into name calling, spurious arguments, unfounded
character assassinations and sour grapes. While some of Johnson’s points are interesting and would add
nuance to the story, the lack of footnotes or a real bibliography makes verifying what Johnson states as
fact, hard.

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