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Oklahoma Journeys

World's Biggest Barbeque

2010-01-09

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One Oklahoma politician actually delivered what he promised. When Jack Walton was running for governor, he promised in every speech he would throw a big barbeque if he was elected. On January 9, 1923, he did just that, serving up more than 100,000 meals at the state fairgrounds. That's our story this week on Oklahoma Journeys from the Oklahoma History Center.

From the Oklahoma History Center, this is Oklahoma Journeys. I'm Michael Dean.

Jack C. Walton arrived in Oklahoma City in 1903. He was a civil engineer and opened a contracting business. Soon after the state capitol was moved from Guthrie to Oklahoma City, he became active in Democratic politics. In 1917, he was elected to his first public office, Oklahoma City Commissioner of Public Works, largely because of his engineering experience. Two years later, he won election as Mayor of Oklahoma City, then in 1922, he ran for governor. That fall he campaigned throughout the state. The Daily Oklahoman reported that he gave more than 400 campaign speeches and in every speech included this statement, "When I am elected governor there will not be an inaugural ball. I am going to give an old fashioned square dance and barbeque. It will be a party for all the people, and I want you all to come." He won, and he did.

On January 9, 1923, the day Walton was inaugurated as governor, he began delivering on that campaign promise. Dan Lackey was the chairman of the barbeque. He later said it was the biggest undertaking of his life. The newspapers estimated that 20,000 people worked in preparations for the dinner; they were serving fifteen plates a minute, and when it was over, an estimated 100,000 people had been served.

The menu that day was nothing short of incredible, including 289 head of cattle, 70 hogs, 36 sheep, 2,500 rabbits, 134 possums, and so on. Wood to fuel the fire was shipped in on 19 railroad cars. The Thursday the week before Oklahoma City bakers began baking 400,000 buns and loaves of bread.

All that food required a lot of coffee to accompany it. Four large percolators were constructed, each holding 8,800 gallons of water, fed by fire engines from the Fire Department. To make 8,000 gallons of coffee required more than 4,000 pounds of coffee grounds.

Ultimately 100,000 people were served. The story was big, making headlines across Oklahoma and even the New York Times sent a reporter to Oklahoma City to cover the festivities. Those festivities lasted into the wee hours of the morning. The Oklahoman reported it this way: "It was a big day, a big time, and it was the biggest barbeque." It is as the "biggest barbeque" that the story will be told in newspapers and magazines the world over.

Unfortunately for Walton that barbeque was the highlight of his term as governor. His term lasted less than a year when in the fall of 1923 he was impeached. Walton later ran for the Senate and lost, but then was elected to a six-year term on the Oklahoma Corporation Commission serving from 1933 to 1939. Jack Walton died at the age of 69 in 1949 and will be remembered for throwing the world's biggest barbeque.

You'll find this and many other interesting stories about Oklahoma in the newspaper archives at the Oklahoma History Center on NE 23rd Street, just east of the state capitol in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma Journeys is a production of the Oklahoma History Center, dedicated to collecting, preserving, and sharing our state's past. I'm Michael Dean.