David Draper wrote the cover story of DICTA’s March edition. The Old Raccoon Hunter and The Tax Man
As a kid growing up in west Knoxville in the 1960s and 70s, my older brother and I would often watch Cas Walker’s “Home and Farm Hour” TV show. For us, like many, the draw was in never knowing what to expect, whether it was a promotion of a snake-oil product (see, Supraderm Salve) or one of his infamous off-the-cuff rants about a shoplifter or perhaps the Knoxville political elite – the “silk stocking crowd,“ as Cas referred to them.
Caswell Orton Walker was born March 22, 1902. He was one of 12 children. In his book “My Life Story,” he claimed to have been born at The Sinks in Sevier County. Before discovering his gift of promotion, he lived a hardscrabble life eeking out an existence as a coal miner, farmhand, logger, and bootlegger. His father, he once claimed, had killed twenty-four members of the White Caps, a vigilante group that targeted vice and indecent behavior in Sevier County.
According to a June 20, 2018, News Sentinel article, his father taught Cas the grocery business in a small general store his father operated on English Mountain. Cas arrived in Knoxville in 1924, and with $750 saved from coal mining, bought his first store on Vine Avenue on the edge of downtown and near the heart of the Bowery district. In time, his grocery chain grew to 27 stores in three states. The earliest known “flash mobs” descended on his Chapman Highway store to attempt catching a live fryer chicken thrown off the roof (catch it, it’s yours), or to gawk at one Digger O’Dell, who had convinced Cas to bury him alive in the store parking lot, with stove pipe airway and telephone to call out. Cas was incensed the traffic-stopping stunt had to be aborted when O’Dell supposedly faked a heart attack. My most enduring memory of Cas is the “Thumpin Good Watermelon” promotion, and the cornball theme song that accompanied those TV spots.
As a politician, he was known to throw his weight, and fists, around. He served on City Council for thirty years (‘41 – ‘71) and attained the mayor’s seat not merely once, but twice (’46 – ‘59).
At once admired and reviled, Cas Walker was a prodigious employer of local attorneys and a frequent litigant. His counsel included Ray Jenkins, Clyde Key, McAfee Lee, Boone Dougherty, Bob Campbell, and Ralph Harwell. I’m told he was a disobedient client in the extreme, placing well-honed defenses at risk by baiting his adversaries during breaks in a trial.
What follows here is our own former federal court clerk Don Ferguson’s account of Cas’s 1961 tax evasion trial. Don has for years been a champion of preserving this bar’s rich history, something for which we in the bar owe a great debt of gratitude. His remembrances here shed interesting light on The Old Coon Hunter’s epic tussle with the IRS. Click here to see the article in Dicta”s March issue (begins on page 16)