24 May 2011

Cleophas and Clovis

I have struggled with this post for a few weeks. It involves a family member, long since gone, whose life was a classic tragedy. No one in our family knew anything about this saga until I started poking around in the family genealogy and breaking down walls that were, in retrospect, put up for a reason. I have no pictures because I can find none. It's a story worth telling, I think, and I am still piecing it together. 

His name at birth was Cleophas Dewitt Walker, and he was the youngest child of John Hinton Walker and Nancy Ellinor Honnoll Walker. That makes him my great-grandmother's baby brother, and my great-grand uncle. He was born in Altus, Oklahoma, in 1892. Times were tough for farming families in the drylands, and by 1917, according to his WWI draft registration record, he was living in Homestead, Florida. In 1922 Cleophas married a girl from the same part of Oklahoma; it appears that he had moved back there. At that point the trail stopped cold. 

I was working on documenting all of my great-grandmother's siblings--all 9 of them--and I could not figure out why someone with such a distinctive first name simply never showed up after that. Finally I called Shirley, who remembered that the family generally called him "Clovis." Easier to spell, I guess, and pronounced almost the same....but not the same name. More on that later. 

Bingo. Clovis D. Walker he was, starting about the time of his marriage and lasting the rest of his life. And it was quite a life for a young man from a dryland farm. 

He had gone to work for the Department of Agriculture. By 1938 he was chairman of the Oklahoma headquarters in Stillwater. Clovis kept moving up in the Agriculture Department, and was transferred to the main office in Washington, DC. He sailed to England in 1948. Apparently, he was the Walker family success story, living in Florida when he was not in DC. I get the strong feeling that he was trying to escape Oklahoma and farming in any way possible. 

And then, in 1952, it all came crashing down. 

From Time magazine, 12 May 1952: 

"When the U.S. Government began stockpiling Egyptian cotton 15 months ago, it looked to a Senate investigating committee as if one Loutfy Mansour, a broker for an Alexandria firm, had an inside track. Out of some $70 million worth bought by the U.S., the committee was told last week, Mansour got a $37 million share.

"From Harold Mesibov, a special investigator for the Department of Agriculture, the committee learned that Mansour had the benefit of some intimate contacts with the man who handled the purchases, Clovis Walker, head of the cotton branch in the Production and Marketing Agency of the Agriculture Department. Walker had sent many messages to Mansour; some signed 'Eula' had been sent by Walker's wife; others which referred to 'the Florida situation' used some kind of code. Walker, who had listed his 1951 income as $17,000, explained this by saying that he had bought $50,000 worth of Florida land after selling off some Oklahoma farmland, and that Mansour was interested in buying an adjoining tract for a 'nest egg.' Walker denied profiting by any of his transactions with Mansour, but admitted: 'Some of the things I've done have been improper.'

"At first, none of this seemed to perturb Secretary of Agriculture Charles Brannan, but his aide reported that Brannan felt Walker had been guilty of only indiscretions. But this week Clovis Walker suddenly quit his job, denying 'any implication of guilt,' but adding that to stay on would be 'embarrassing to the department and detrimental to my health.' "

A high rise and a devastating fall, all on the national stage. In September, according to the New York Times, Clovis was indicted. 

"WASHINGTON, Sept. 15 -- Clovis D. Walker, former Director of the Cotton Branch of the Department of Agriculture's Production and Marketing Administration, and Loutfy Mansour, an Egyptian cotton importer, were indicted today for conspiracy to defraud the United States."

The rest of the story was published six years later by columnist Drew Pearson. From his column released on 29 June 1958:

"Recent revelations regarding Sherman Adams, his gifts, and his influencing of government agencies, make me regret a column I wrote on Feb. 14. 1952. It pertained to another case of gift receiving inside the government. 

"I reported that Clovis Walker, head of the Agriculture Department's cotton branch, had received some gifts from an Egyptian cotton broker named Loutfy Mansour, in the form of Egyptian glassware and silver. I also reported that Walker had given Mansour, in turn, some electrically illuminated pictures which he makes. 

"The column also called attention to the fact that the Egyptian cotton broker had cornered 17,500 bales of cotton just before the Agriculture Department had suddenly decided to buy Egyptian cotton and had cleaned up. But the column did not accuse Walker of giving any inside information to his friend, Mansour.

"Following publication of the column, Walker was promptly removed by scrupulous Charlie Brannan, then Secretary of Agriculture for Truman. Walker had a good record as a civil servant and career official, but in those days more people were removed from office than in the present administration [nb: Eisenhower]. He was also tried in district court for a conflict of interest--which has not happened to any of the conflict-of-interest officials in the Eisenhower administration. 

"In the end, and after a lengthy trial, Walker was acquitted. The trial cost him most of his savings and he is now living in Florida on a meager income...Under the circumstances, I owe an apology to Mr. Walker, which I hereby tender." 

Clovis fell from grace in 1952. He died in Homestead, Florida in 1977, at the age of 85. I cannot find an obituary or a grave for him. Eula remarried after his death and returned to Oklahoma when she was widowed for a second time; she is buried in the same cemetery in Altus where Clovis's parents and some of his siblings are. She died in 1996 at the age of 97. Her obituary makes no note of her life in either Florida or DC. It's written as if she never left Oklahoma.

Shirley was in college in 1952 and raising two tiny children in 1958. At no time did her mother or grandmother ever tell her what was going on with her grandmother's youngest brother, the family success story, the Federal official in Washington, the shamed one, the one on trial. Shirley went to Homestead with her grandmother to visit the next-to-youngest Walker brother, Uncle Marcus. Clovis, Cleophas, whoever he was by then, was still living there, but no one went to visit him, and the feeling she got was that he did not want to see family. 

25 years is a long time to live in disgrace. There were no children, and everyone involved is long gone. It is hard to find words for this situation. I wish that I knew more about Cleophas/Clovis, but I also wish that he could have turned to his family for support. Instead, he turned away and never spoke to them. Drew Pearson's apology came far too late. 

He was one person with two names. The names are not the same. 
Cleophas is Greek in origin and means "vision of glory." 
Clovis is Old German and means "renowned fighter."      

I don't know if that means anything about his life or not.      

If anyone knows anything more about him, please let me know.  

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