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Thomas M. Walker became a resident of Kansas in 1879. He was one of the pioneer merchants at Alton in Osborne County, but from that county his range of interests had become widely extended in recent years. He is now a resident of Atchison, where he had lived since 1901, and is one of the leading business men and bankers in the eastern part of the state.
Mr. Walker was born on a farm in Owen County, Kentucky, August 15, 1846. His family became identified with Kentucky when it was a new western state. His grandfather, William B. Walker, was born in England and came to this country with an older brother. In Kentucky he located at Lexington, and became superintendent of the cloth manufacturing plant in which Henry Clay was financially interested. He had learned the trade of weaver at Manchester, England.
Thomas M. Walker was the fifth in a family of seven children born to Delville and Lucinda (Sparks) Walker, both of whom were natives of Kentucky. Delville Walker was a prosperous farmer. In the issues which grew out of slavery he took a firm stand on the side of abolition and became one of the early members of the republican party. His son, James, fought in the Union army with the Ninth Kentucky Cavalry and at one time was provost marshal of one of Kentucky’s districts. Delville Walker died while the Civil war was in progress, but his wife survived until about 1905.
The boyhood of Thomas M. Walker was spent on a Kentucky farm until he was fourteen, and he had only the advantages of the country schools. On leaving home he joined an older brother in Shelby County, Kentucky, and while there had further advantages of school attendance for six months. Like many successful Americans his beginning in commercial life was of the humblest. Working in a store at wages of $10 a month, sweeping the floor, building fires, and performing numberless other duties, he gained by that apprenticeship a knowledge of business which came to flower in later years in Kansas. After three years he became associated with his brother in a general store and tobacco warehouse, where he remained five years. With this experience as the foundation, and such capital and credit as his work enabled him to acquire, he then set up in business in Kentucky as a general merchant on his own account. He finally removed to Louisville, and became member of the firm of Reed & Walker, wholesale produce and provisions. The business was in a fair way to prosperity but after three years Mr. Walker found his health so undermined that he concluded to follow professional advice and seek new opportunities in the West.
It was in 1879 that Mr. Walker arrived within the borders of Kansas. He traveled by railroad as far as Hayes City and then drove across the country to what was known as “Bull City,” a locality named after Gen. John Bull, a famous Kansan who subsequently came to tragic end when gored by his pet elk. The Central Branch of the Northern Pacific Railroad was just being extended to Bull City, and that point was considered a favorable location for business and had already attracted about 100 inhabitants when Mr. Walker joined his fortunes with the town. Bull City is now the Town of Alton in Osborne County. Mr. Walker set up in business as a general merchant and attempted to supply all the varied demands of a pioneer community. He proved equal to the situation, and the store he conducted at Alton proved the foundation of his success. He also began investing in lands, and he still owned 640 acres in Osborne County and had gone in for a good deal of stock farming in past years, handling especially sheep and cattle.
From merchandising and farming his participation in banking followed almost naturally. In 1889 he bought the First National Bank of Osborne, and served as its president for fifteen years, when he sold the institution and came to Atchison. In Atchison Mr. Walker acquired the interests of Mr. Fox in the old firm of McPike & Fox, wholesale drugs. In 1901 he became treasurer and a member of the board of directors of the McPike Drug Company of Kansas City, Missouri. In 1917 he bought the controlling interest in the McPike Drug Company, and is now the president. Since 1907 he had been director of the Commerce Trust Company of Kansas City, Missouri, having been one of its charter members and organizers. In 1903 Mr. Walker bought an interest in and was made president of the Savings Bank of Atchison. This is the oldest state bank of Kansas. He is also president of the First National Bank of Hoxie, Kansas, of the Citizens State Bank of Selden, and had numerous other financial interests.
In 1885 Mr. Walker married Carrie Nixon. Her parents, John and Matilda Nixon, came from Illinois and were farmers in Smith County, Kansas. Two childern were born to Mr. and Mrs. Walker. Thomas, Jr., the older, died at the age of eighteen. Henrie is now the wife of William A. Carlisle, engaged in the lumber business in Washington.
His part in politics Mr. Walker had taken simply as a voter in the republican ranks. While not aspiring to official honors he had always done his part as a layman in the movements and undertakings for the general benefit of any community where he had lived. In Osborne County during the lean years which followed his early settlement there, he showed the quality of his public spirit and his practical charity by extending credit to many who were absolutely dependent upon their crops for a livelihood, and when weather conditions prevented the harvest such people would have touched the extremities of misery but for helpful hands extended to them by such men as Mr. Walker. Fraternally he is active in the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, and had held chairs in both lodges. Mrs. Walker is a diligent worker in the Congregational Church at Atchison.