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Oklahoma Memories

World's Biggest Barbeque


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"Oh this was a terrific thing. Of course they threw that big barbeque for him out there. Everybody, I don't know, there must have been 100,000 people at that barbeque."

That is the voice of Leon Hirsh, who on January 9, 1923, attended the world's largest barbeque on the State Fairgrounds in Oklahoma City.

From the Oklahoma History Center, this is Oklahoma Memories. 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 politics as a Democrat. 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 elected governor there will be no 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 same day Walton was inaugurated as governor, a 21-year old lawyer, Leon Hirsh, was sworn in as a deputy attorney general. And later that day, Hirsh journeyed to the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds on NE 10th and Eastern where he witnessed Walton's barbeque.

"They had a dozen great big long pits and covered them with chicken wire and had built fires in those pits and let them go down to ashes till they had a tremendous bed of coals. They had every kind of an animal in the world, and they laid on top of this chicken wire and cooked them there, charcoal-broiled them on that. They had buffalo meat, bear meat, deer meat - every animal in the world that you could eat meat of."

The meat Hirsh saw that day included 289 head of cattle, 70 hogs, 36 head of sheep, 2,500 rabbits, 134 possums, 25 squirrels, 3 bears, 2,000 pounds of buffalo, 1,500 pounds of reindeer meat, 15 head of deer, 1,400 chickens, 210 turkeys, 14 geese and 34 ducks. Wood to fuel the fire was shipped in on 19 railroad cars. On Thursday the week before, bakers began baking 400,000 buns and loaves of bread.

All that food required a lot of coffee to accompany it as Hirsh explains.

"They had two huge wooden urns that they had lined with galvanized iron that they had filled with coffee, I don't know how many, and they had regular spigots on the bottom, and they passed out tin cups that you could go by and get all the coffee you wanted with your barbeque."

Those percolators Hirsh saw held 8,800 gallons of water, fed by fire engines from the Oklahoma City Fire Department. To make 8,000 gallons of coffee required more than 4,000 pounds of coffee grounds.

Dan Lackey was the chairman of the barbeque and later he said it was the biggest undertaking in his life. The newspapers estimated that 20,000 people worked in the preparation for the dinner, serving 15 plates a minute, and when it was finally over, an estimated crowd of 100,000 people were served.

Unfortunately for Walton, the 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 run for U.S. Senate and lost, but 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 see 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 Memories is a production of the Oklahoma History Center, dedicated to collecting, preserving, and sharing our state's past. I'm Michael Dean.