Who Killed Walter Locke?

The quick answer is, “No one. He died of a stroke.” But there’s just so much more to the story and if you could go back in time to 1922, I bet anyone you asked would tell you Ivan Stultz killed Walter.

I promised a more detailed post on the Bargain Store/Eckles Department Store and this one was definitely worth the work. It’s no secret that people with an entrepreneurial spirit tend to experience highs and lows, some of which can be quite dramatic. Walter N Locke was no exception and he saw more than his fair share of boom and bust cycles.

He came to Dodge City from Pennsylvania by way of St. Joseph, Missouri around 1884 and found himself Deputy Sheriff under Pat Sughrue by 1885. Walter and O. A. Bond were granted “franchise and exclusive right to maintain, operate, and carry on the telephone business for and within the limits of Dodge City, Kansas…” in October of 1886. He was also one of the proprietors of the St. James Hotel. Walter married Josephine Tilghman on November 17, 1886 and you’ll remember that their daughter, Hattie, married Otto Theis and was half of the inspiration for naming the Lora-Locke Hotel.

Walter was involved in everything. Fraternal organizations, business organizations, real estate, insurance, groceries, you name it. He reopened the Cox livery stables in September of 1891 but these were some rough years. There were failures and foreclosures. He became an auctioneer.

Walter was a junior partner in Fitzgerald & Locke and in the spring of 1894, he was traveling all over the eastern US ordering stock for the new store.

The Dodge City Democrat, July 14, 1894

Walter really understood marketing and throughout the lifespan of the store he would rely heavily on half to full-page ads…sometimes on the front page, above the fold. I wanted to include them all but he advertised ALL THE TIME. It appears to have worked because the store was expanded in April of 1895.

Somewhere along the way, the Bargain Store acquired a co-manager.

The Ford County Leader, July 12, 1895

The store moved to the R. M. Wright building in early 1898. I’m not sure when it opened but at some point, Fitzgerald & Locke had a store in Lakin. I believe that branch was sold in December of 1908.

Western Kansas Live Stock Journal, February 15, 1900

Walter’s son, Frank, was 16 years old in 1903 and I found a brief mention that he was “holding down the clothing department” at the store. I imagine he first began helping out there at a much younger age.

We know from my previous post that Walter wanted to build the new Bargain Store at Second and Walnut long before he was able to make it happen. Construction would require an enormous amount of capital so Fitzgerald & Locke, the Stubbs & Barkley grocery, and A. D. Smith & Son store were combined to create the Dodge City Mercantile Company.

Things were shaping up by the summer of 1908.

The Journal-Democrat, June 12, 1908

The Dodge City Mercantile Company was officially created on February 20, 1909. By March, the building had been accepted from the contractor and the fixtures were being installed. The store opened on April 19, 1909. This piece gives a ton of information about the layout of the building as well as the people working there.

The new store was completely wrecked by a massive fire on November 1, 1909. You may not be able to read the tiny type but I wanted to show what an enormous blow this was to Dodge City and everyone involved.

The Globe-Republican, November 4, 1909

The loss was calculated at $180,000 with only $76,000 in insurance. In addition to the working members of the Dodge City Mercantile Company, there were 45 employees who were jobless until operations could be resumed. Incredibly, there were no serious injuries.

After the fire, the town rallied to keep the Bargain Store in business.

Operations were spread out all over with space leased in three separate buildings.

The Globe-Republican, March 10, 1910

The new building was occupied by late September of 1910 and operations gradually ramped up throughout October. Walter formed the Locke Mercantile Company on October 3, 1910. I see that the Dodge City Mercantile Company was dissolved but the Secretary of State website doesn’t list a date.

Even though the Bargain Store was his baby, Walter still had all sorts of other business arrangements. In addition to apparently managing Gwinner’s new shoe store on Second Avenue, he was still involved in real estate.

The Dodge City Globe, August 22, 1912

The Dodge City Globe, November 7, 1912

Here’s a fun photo with a bunch of old-timers! Frank Locke and my great-grandfather, Merritt Beeson, were good friends. Frank did Merritt a huge solid by taking over management of the Chalk Beeson Theater after Wolf Goldstein was run out of town for being Jewish. More about that outrage later.

The Dodge City Globe, July 23, 1914

There’s no easy way to share this next one because of how the text was broken up but I think you get the idea…the place was both massive and magnificent.

The Dodge City Journal, October 9, 1914

Dodge City Daily Globe, January 1, 1917

So do you remember me telling you about how excited I was to ride the elevator at Eckles? The first modern elevator was installed at the Bargain Store in 1917.

Dodge City Daily Journal, March 1, 1917

Walter had a reputation for being a generous employer and often held Christmas dinners for his staff at the O’Neal House Hotel in addition to handing out monetary gifts.

Dodge City Daily Journal, December 26, 1917

So the Bargain Store made it through all kinds of turmoil including the shortages caused by WWI but the betrayal of Walter’s trust by Secretary and Treasurer, Ivan E Stultz proved to be too much.

The Dodge City Journal, December 8, 1921

Because it was an officer of the corporation who was accused of embezzlement, the creditors immediately took over operations of the store so everything could be analyzed.

The Hutchinson News, December 15, 1921

Stultz pleaded guilty to three counts of embezzlement totaling $1,100 but the company initially suspected he was responsible for more like $17,000. Regardless, each count carried a penalty of one to three years. The auditors kept digging and found irregularities plus his personal account at the store totaling more than $27,000 and then everyone started calling in their notes because it was obvious Stultz was going to prison.

The Dodge City Journal, February 9, 1922

Walter suffered a paralytic stroke at the store on April 22, 1922. By the 27th, he seemed to be showing some improvement but that was really just wishful thinking.

After Ivan was sentenced to prison, his wife filed for divorce.

The Dodge City Journal, May 18, 1922

And then Ivan died in jail only days later. With that issue resolved, the committee of creditors could move forward with normalizing operations.

The Dodge City Journal, June 15, 1922

The Dodge City Journal, June 22, 1922

In early July, Stultz’s widow signed over to Walter the deeds to three lots (one with their former residence and two vacant lots) in the Fairview Addition. Walter, in turn, signed them over to Prudential Trust Company. Meanwhile, Olavus A Donhowe of Clarinda, Iowa was hired to manage the Bargain Store the first week of July.

Walter unfortunately died on July 17, 1922 and it was noted at the time that people close to him believed it was the Stultz affair which caused his demise.

The Hutchinson News, July 18, 1922

As previously mentioned, the Bargain Store continued on for a time but it just wasn’t the same.

The Southwest News, May 9, 1924

The building was sold to the Eckles brothers, who opened the Eckles Brothers Department Store in May of 1926.

I haven’t forgotten about the follow-up grocery post! Archival materials were promised by a certain someone and I will get that wrapped up just as quickly as I can. In the meantime, that book isn’t going to research itself.

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