Walter Milburn. A career that has its lessons for every growing youth and has included a remarkable range of interests and experiences is that of Walter Milburn, of Madill. His experiences are told frankly and modestly and the story is told with only a few editorial comments.
He was born on a farm in Cooke County, Texas, reared in Montague and Jack Counties, in the neighborhood schools of Selma and Rocky Point in these counties, received practically all of his literary training at them, and assisted in the farm work on his father’s farm at the beginning and before the end of each school term.
At the age of 19 he journeyed to Gustine in Comanche County, Texas, attending the high school for about two months, that being the only time ever spent in a graded school. At the end of this term he took the examination in Comanche County for a teacher’s certificate, receiving a county third grade certificate, and secured a school near Gustine. He left for Oklahoma to attend to his father’s cattle and assist his eldest brother in putting up hay, about two miles northeast of the Town of Terrall, Oklahoma, on the C. R. I. P. Railway. This was the year 1901.
The fall of 1901 he returned to Texas and taught the country school, four months term, and went from there to Toby’s Practical Business College at Waco, Texas, for a course in book-keeping and commercial law. On account of not having a diploma from any recognized high school in the state, he had to take the preparatory studies and pass examinations in them. These were spelling, arithmetic, grammar and composition and on all these he made 100 per cent grade on examination and made 98 per cent on commercial law or an average of more than 99 per cent. On account of the fact that he had never seen inside a set of double entry books, or other account books, and his having to brush up on the preparatory studies, he spent about five months in this school and just at the time he had taken up the course in bank bookkeeping and corporation bookkeeping his money gave out and he had to stop school. As a student from this school is never examined until he completes all these, he therefore never received a diploma of proficiency or certificate of graduation in his chosen profession. On leaving school he went to Southern Oklahoma and began working at the carpenter’s trade, and after working the remainder of 1902, in the fall of that year obtained a position as bookkeeper for a cotton gin at Tishomingo, and after the cotton grinning season was over was an assistant teacher in the Milburn High School for the remainder of the school term. After school was out, he resumed carpentry work and went to other points in the state and was engaged in the service of the M. K. & T. Railway Company’s freight department at Muskogee, at night work, handling and trucking freight. A few months were spent with the Muskogee Electric Light and Power Company, oiling machinery and other work, and about two weeks in a brick plant at McAlester, where he received an injured finger. In the fall of 1903 he returned to Milburn and resumed work at the carpenter ’s trade and in November began work in the Milburn post office as clerk and worked continuously till January 5, 1906, at which time he took a position with the Rock Island Railway Company engineers, then surveying a line from Watonga to Woodward, Oklahoma. After passing the Town of Ceiling, Oklahoma, the party was called in, and four or five of the newest additions to the party were laid off, including Mr. Milburn. On this work he was assistant topographer.
After being laid off in April of this year, having failed to find other work, he took a job with the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch, near Ponca City, working there for several weeks, and returned to Oklahoma City, and did carpentry work and railroad work east of there. In June of that year he visited his parents at San Angelo, Texas, returned in July to Oklahoma City and took a job as salesman, selling direct to the consumer and followed that till the fall of 1907, at which time he went to Amarillo, Texas, and then to Clovis, New Mexico, working for the Santa Fe on its concrete round house. Leaving there he went to Amarillo and worked in a newspaper office, the Daily Pan Handle, about a month, left for Sulphur, Oklahoma, and visited parents a week, and returned to Oklahoma City where he enlisted in the engineering corps of the United States Army, being informed by recruiting officers that there was a school of engineering at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where they would send him till he had become acquainted with civil engineering. He was sent to Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis, Missouri, and after two weeks was assigned to Company L, 3rd Battalion of Engineers, at Fort Leavenworth. On arriving there he soon found how he had been deceived by the agents of the War Department, the recruiting officers at Oklahoma City, for there is a School of Engineering at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, but for commissioned officers only.
His story of experiences as a soldier may best be told in his own words:
“ I resumed the duties of a recruit and was drilled daily in the bunch of recruits and soon took my place among the other soldiers and we had daily drills at the Post gymnasium, digging ditches some days, the pontoon drill other days, the military training every day, target practice, etc., etc. The fare was the same every day, consisting principally of meat balls, rice, corn and beans some days, soup every day. We furnished our own butter, if we had any.
“On pay day, once a month, our sleeping quarters and living rooms were turned into gambling houses and noncommissioned officers would take part, the biggest part of my room mates, the larger part of the Company, would go to town, Leavenworth, two miles distant, connected by interurban and half-hour cars, and spend half of the night at houses of ill fame, buying whiskey from the drug stores and elsewhere and carousing around, return to their barracks and proceed to empty their stomachs of poisonous contents onto the floor.
“I continued to endure this kind of life for five months, while some of the best men deserted and took the risk of being caught and made to serve a prison term of from one to three years in the United States Military Prison at Fort Leavenworth–the old Federal Prison. I have done duty while there as prison guard and we would march them out to the quarry and guard them with our guns while they worked and then march them back to the prison at night where they were placed in their cells. The greater number of these men–not criminals by act or deed, but made so by the military arm of their country, were serving terms for desertion only. Occasionally some of these men would be killed while engaged in rough work and they would bury them in the potters field, not in the well kept soldier’s cemetery on the easterly sloping hillside on the Western Part of the reservation.
“After five months of mental torture by my social surroundings, and living every day minute by minute, after having considered every means of extricating myself from my surroundings, including purchasing my discharge, which some of the boys did, I was successful in securing a place in the United States Post Office as clerk.
“There are, in fact, three distinct and separate Military Posts, or Military Departments, at Fort Leavenworth, namely, The Army Post, the Army Service Schools and the U. S. Military Prison. When I left there Col. R. H. R. Loughborough was commandant of the Post. He was grizzly, rough in speech, and an evident stranger to fear, although he was considerate of and friend of the enlisted man, the common soldier, but disliked the newly made officers from West Point, especially those who were ‘fresh,’ and he lost no opportunity to ‘bawl them out.’ The Colonel came up from the ranks and was not a graduate of West Point, but he was liked by the enlisted men generally. Brigadier General Frederick Funston, another plain, unassuming man and a friend to the enlisted man and one of the greatest benefactors to the service, on that account, was Commandant of the Army Service Schools. It is not remembered who the Commandant of the U. S. Military Prison was at the time. These three posts mailed out an enormous volume of franked or free matter–all official business, and as the postmaster at all offices, except fourth class, receive their salary on a basis of sales, or receipts from sale of stamps, envelopes, cards, etc., this condition worked a very unjust burden on the Postmaster at Fort Leavenworth and arrangement was made with the War Department at Washington whereby a soldier might be placed on detached service–that is service away from his company, and worked in the postoffice.
“In a few months after I began work in this office, Mrs. Laura Goodfellow, a kindly old lady who was postmistress was replaced by a favorite henchman of Congressman D. R. Anthony–Mr. G. A. Swallow, originally of Vermont, but for last preceding 30 years a resident of the Sun Flower State. Mr. Swallow was a very genial and withal a very fine man.”
Mr. Milburn was made assistant postmaster and as the work of the office had increased and additional clerk hire was needed, Mr. Swallow and Mr. Milburn took the matter up by correspondence with the postoffice department and with Mr. Anthony and, with the aid of Mr. Swallow’s influence with Mr. Anthony, secured an additional appropriation for clerk hire from the appropriation for unusual conditions. The postoffice at the fort was made a civil service office and was raised to the second class. Mr. Milburn is probably the first man in the United States who drew a salary regularly from the postoffice department and the war department at the same time, serving both of them. Also, he received his clothing allowance and rations until his term of enlistment was out.
What impressed Mr. Milburn most in his army experience was the utter immorality of the soldiers, the subserviency in which they are placed by the existing customs, the loss of individuality and initiative on account of the fact that they do not know one hour ahead what they will do the next hour, and the work they do is usually uninteresting, non-productive and is as a whole vitiating to one with any ambition or mind of his own.
If it had not been for the Young Men’s Christian Association Building donated by Miss Helen Gould to the enlisted men of Fort Leavenworth, and its efficient secretary and the bunch of better inclined men who are attracted by its atmosphere, life would have been indeed unpleasant and men of this class would probably resort to other means of passing the time and more of them might go from tolerably decent life to immorality and degradation. The United States Regular Army is the worst place on earth for a young man, or any age man, if he desires to live right, declares Mr. Milburn. Mr. Milburn says that there is less patriotism in the United States Army, including the commissioned officers, than any organization on the face of the earth.
After leaving the army and the Fort in December, 1910, Mr. Milburn took charge of his brother W. J. Milburn’s real estate business at Milburn, Oklahoma, and conducted it to his brother’s entire satisfaction while his brother was serving in the Third Legislature of Oklahoma as representative from Johnston County. On his return, he offered to give his younger brother a third interest in his business if he would remain with him, but his army experience had not settled him and he desired to find a location for a business of his own in a new field. Thereupon he departed for Colorado in April, 1911, and after spending several months in Colorado decided it was not the country to locate in and returned to Texas, after having spent several hundred dollars traveling around trying to find a location in Colorado.
He landed in Dallas, Texas, and secured a position in a book and stationery house, worked several months, and took a position in the office of the Western Union Telegraph Company, quit it, and secured a position with the Pullman Car Company as conductor and, after working at that several months, resigned and bought a small confectionery business in Dallas and after conducting it for several months sold out and returned to Southern Oklahoma. In July of 1912 he resumed work for the Pullman Company, headquarters at Memphis, Tennessee, and ran regularly to Tucumcari, New Mexico, and later to Dallas, Texas. While on the Memphis-Tucumcari run, Mr. Milburn had a very narrow escape. In November, 1912, after the train had pulled out of Memphis, it went through a lumber camp on the Arkansas side of the river, and while going about fifty miles per hour a Pullman tourist car from Memphis to Los Angeles, California, with Mr. Milburn in charge, was wrecked and there were two people killed outright and every other person in the car was injured except Mr. Milburn and a baby, who escaped without a scratch.
Mr. Milburn left the service of the Pullman Company in December, 1912, and returned to Milburn, Oklahoma, and engaged in the fire insurance business and was married in that month to Miss Ethel Blount.
In August of the following year, 1913, he sold his insurance business at Milburn and moved to Madill in Marshall County, Oklahoma, where he is engaged in the real estate, loan and insurance business and is at present conducting a business that has been built up by hard work, a thorough knowledge of his work and perfect openness and honesty in his business dealings. He is not the type of man that takes things by storm, but is content to build up gradually, solidly and permanently. He enjoys the full confidence and esteem of his friends, acquaintances and patrons and he values more than gold his reputation for truthfulness and honesty in all hie relations and dealings.
Mr. Milburn was the prime mover in the organization of the Marshall County Building and Loan Association, was its first secretary, and drafted the principal part of its by-laws. He is second vice president of the Madill Chamber of Commerce and chairman of its advertising committee. He was instrumental in securing for Marshall County a United States agricultural demonstrator or agent and, with the assistant state agent, Mr. James A. Wilson, made up the guarantee for the agent’s salary. He was selected as the first secretary for the Marshall County Fair Association, but resigned for lack of time to attend to its duties, as he had previously done, for the same reason, with the building and loan association.
Mr. Milburn’s career has been remarkable, especially on account of the number and different kinds of positions held and work done. He has a growing and remunerative business in Madill and whatever measure of success he has attained has been attained by honest methods. Throughout his entire past life he has adhered to the policy of honesty at any cost or sacrifice and his life is an example of the wisdom of this course. Life is vastly more than getting money, at any hazard; it is a schooling that fits for a better and nobler life and to fulfill and carry out the purpose of the Divine Creator in placing men here on this earth, fraught with difficulties and problems, to overcome which they have also been fitted with the necessary ambition, resourcefulness and talent, if they will only develop them by actual contact with the problems of life, one by one, as presented.
Mr. and Mrs. Milburn have two children, a girl and boy, Wilna Marianne and Edward Warren. Mr. Milburn is a member of the Church of Christ and of Hancock Lodge No. 311, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
His father and mother, ages seventy-four and seventy one respectively, live at Madill now, and also three brothers and four sisters are living, all in Oklahoma, except two sisters.
It should be noticed by young men that here is a practical example of the wisdom of determining or selecting early in life the profession or occupation one is best fitted for, or likes most, and bending all efforts to the end of becoming proficient in that one thing. Says Mr. Milburn: “The sooner you locate permanently and take up the performance of your chosen profession or occupation, the sooner in life you will build up an enduring and lasting competency and established character.” “A rolling stone gathers no moss” is exemplified in the life of the subject of this sketch, and it is given in detail and in full by him substantially as recorded here, in the desire and belief that younger men will profit by his mistakes and the example of his roaming, wasteful, scattered efforts over a period of several years.