Cas Walker’s haymaker: The rest of the story

Beth KinnaneDowntown, Our Town Stories

It is a photo that will live in infamy, an original of which once hung in the offices of The Knoxville Journal. It even made its way to Life magazine. Knoxville must have been doubly proud.

Taken at a Knoxville City Council meeting in March 1956, it shows the irascible Cas Walker and fellow council member James S. Cooper getting into fisticuffs during an argument over property taxes. Mind you, this wasn’t about property taxes for everybody; it was regarding their own properties, personal and business.

Walker famously owned a bunch of grocery stores, hosted a radio show (brilliantly firing The Everly Brothers), served as mayor at one point and had a long history of questionable choices in advertising, among other things. Cooper owned a hardware store in Five Points in East Knoxville. Their verbal spat had been going for 30 minutes before they finally started swinging at each other.

Cooper: Shut up until I finish!

Walker: You make me!

Cooper: Somebody will make you someday!

Walker: I’ve never run from any cur yet, and I won’t run from you!

Lord, help, Walker went and called him a cur dog! No direct blows landed but an abundance of name calling. The brief but unserious scuffle was broken up by WBIR announcer Walt Martin and police Captain George Pace.

The two were at it again just a few weeks later, this time over concessions contracts at Chilhowee Park. Reading between the lines, it seems Cooper felt Walker had some home cooking going on for a bidder on the peanuts and popcorn contract when other bidders hadn’t been notified that it would be up for a vote (because it wasn’t yet.)

Though no punches were thrown, Cooper was decades ahead of the “catch me outside” girl on Dr. Phil:

Walker: I’m not the dumbest man in town.

Cooper: You’re not the smartest either.

Walker: You’re going to keep on till I have to take you out and whip you!

Cooper: You don’t have to go any further. I’ll meet you anytime, anywhere … you smart rat!

Oh, the halcyon days of the 1950s when everyone was so much more civil and cooler heads always prevailed (insert eyeroll emoji). Many years later, Walker told KnoxTNToday’s Betty Bean that the whole thing was a put-on (read about it here). The fact the two had more than one instance of verbal sparring at council meetings makes me think maybe not.

Cooper lived and worked in Burlington, not far from Chilhowee Park. He arrived on the scene one night nearly a year following his not-quite-a-bout with Walker after some ne’er do wells blew up some dynamite outside the Jacob Building during a Louis Armstrong concert (see story here). He never got the chance to take a look back at his battles with Cas and opine as to whether they were real or just for show. He died unexpectedly at the age of 62 in 1974 and is buried in Highland Memorial Cemetery.

Beth Kinnane writes a history feature for It’s published each Tuesday and is one of our best-read features.

Sources: Sources: Knoxville Journal Digital Archives, Knox County Library Digital Archives

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