WALKER, JAMES HEMPHILL (1860~1947) James Hemphill Walker, 17th Commissioner of the General Land Office, was appointed to the position by Governor Dan Moody, to fill the vacancy created by the unexpected death of Commissioner James Thomas Robison. He was the obvious choice to fill the unexpired term as Walker had served as Chief Clerk as long as Robison had been Commissioner. He was elected on his own merit to three succeeding terms and served until 1937.
Because Walker and Robison had worked so closely for the preceding twenty years, Mr. Walker had little difficulty assuming the responsibilities or keeping course on directions set during the previous two decades. The primary business remained oil and the undiminished reverberations of Land Office policies. Except for lands set apart fro the university and schools of Texas and the sectioning of the Public Domain under an act of 1900, the General Land Office had no active participation in the distribution of public lands. Since the advent of oil, however, a new set of conditions arose. Increased activity in the search for vacant or unsurveyed lands reached such proportions that the Commissioner was called upon almost daily to make decisions affecting the rights of the state and the rights of the citizens.
In other policies Mr. Walker focused much of his attention on the resurvey of university lands, securing several thousand acres previously unclaimed. He also directed attention to the potential value of school scrap land, which had been neglected in the past. Inconsistent field notes had always been an irritant to the Commissioners, and Mr. Walker decided it was time to order investigators into the field to examine county records. The Commissioner showed good practical judgment in his policy of withdrawing select oil-rich coastal lands from lease advertisement during periods of over-production and soliciting lease arrangement when prices later escalated. A tangible and thankful program Walker initiated was document preservation. The files and ancient papers had been in various states of deterioration almost from the beginning of the archives, but it was not until Mr. Walker directed the implementation of preservation efforts that an efficacious step was taken.
Commissioner Walker may best be remembered by many as the man who kept thousands of Texas families from losing their homes during the Depression. He successfully persuaded the School Land Board not to forfeit leases to those who were unemployed and could not make their payments.
James Hemphill Walker, another Commissioner whose early life was canopied by the upheaval of the Civil War, was born [June 15, 1860, in Johnson County, Texas, to Phillip and Elizabeth (Cooper) Walker]. (He wrote, later, in his memoirs - not entirely, perhaps, tongue in cheek - of the first four words he learned as a child: radical, scalawag carpetbagger and confiscation.) The young Walker studied the classics and languages in college and worked for a time as a teacher. He began his long service with the Land Office as a translator. He continued in the post during the Rogan tenure and became a legal examiner in the last ten years of Mr. Terrell's direction. Walker was named Chief Clerk the same year Robison was elected, and served in that capacity until he assumed the duties of Commissioner himself. At the end of his third term, Mr. Walker announced he did not desire to seek office again and retired his post to assume the duties of Land Officer for the University of Texas. He died a decade later [June 14, 1947,] at the advanced age of 87 and [was] buried in Austin [in the Texas State Cemetery, at the feet of his parents, Philip and Elizabeth Cooper Walker].
Information taken from: Texas General Land Office, The Land Commissioners of Texas: 150 Years of the General Land Office (Austin: Texas House of Representatives, Department of Reproduction, 1986).