Walker (Walker Hardin)

 “Walker” The Old Colonel’s Manservant
Walker Hardin

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Played by Bill “Bojangles” Robinson in Twentieth Century Fox’s 1935 movie, “The Little Colonel,” Walker – the old Colonel’s long-suffering body-servant who endured his peppery temper and tirades in Annie Fellows Johnston’s “Little Colonel” novels -- was based on a real African American man who lived in Pewee Valley.

Though Annie Fellows Johnston created pseudonyms for the Caucasians who served as models for her characters (the Muirs became the Moores, the Craigs the McIntryres, the Smiths the Tylers, the Cochrans the Shermans, the Lawtons the Waltons), she referred to the African Americans servants in the “Little Colonel” stories by their actual first names.

Her inspiration for Walker was Walker Hardin, who was born in Pewee Valley in 1859 and lived in the area most of his life. At age 18, he was residing in nearby Brownsboro and working as a farm laborer with his father, also named Walker. From census records, he appears to have been married twice: once to a woman named Lula Oxford, the mother of his oldest son Samuel, and then to Laura Murphy, who appears to have added six more children to the Hardin family: Fannie, Thomas, Oscar, Matilda, Mamie and Walker, Jr.

In 1900, the Hardins lived near a cluster of African American families in Pewee Valley, including the Flournoys, Taylors and John and Rebecca Porter – “Mom Beck” in the “Little Colonel” stories. Their home at that time was most likely in Stumptown, since the Klingenfuss family was listed on the previous census page and we know their farm was off Ashwood Avenue. Census records for 1910 list the Hardins on Rollington Avenue near the homes of the Foleys and Herdts. By 1920, they had moved to Frazier Town, an African American settlement that developed near Rollington after the Civil War. Though Walker may once have worked as a servant, his occupation at age 60 was house painter.

Sadly, Walker Hardin didn’t live to see the famous scene of “Mr. Bojangles” tap dancing on the stairs with Shirley Temple. He died at age 75 on October 23, 1934 at Central State Hospital, where he had been a patient for several months. His commitment to the mental institution was probably due to dementia from general atherosclerosis, the cause of death listed on his death certificate.  He was buried in Pewee Valley’s African American cemetery. Unfortunately, there is no record of his grave site’s location and Stoess Funeral Home in Crestwood, which handled his burial, burned in 1948, losing their old records in the fire.

Born May 5, 1908, Walker Hardin’s youngest son and namesake stayed in Pewee Valley and earned his living doing yard and maintenance work for many of the town’s families, including Mary G. Johnston, who employed him at The Beeches until her death in 1966. After that, he was hired by the Utleys at Woodside, where he worked until he retired. He was a well known and much beloved figure in Pewee Valley. He died in Jefferson County on February 21, 1980 at the age of 71. Like his father, he was buried in Pewee Valley’s African American Cemetery. His funeral service was held at the Pewee Valley First Baptist Church on Old Floydsburg Road.