I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday. (Or Monday, if I spent Sunday traveling.)
Book captures early 1900s era Galveston perfectly
By MARK LARDAS
Apr 24, 2018
“The Downfall of Galveston’s May Walker Burleson: Texas Society Marriage and Carolina Murder Scandal,” by T. Felder Dorn, History Press, 2018, 192 pages, $21.99
There is something distinctive about a society murder when it involves a Texan.
“The Downfall of Galveston’s May Walker Burleson: Texas Society Marriage and Carolina Murder Scandal,” by T. Felder Dorn, demonstrates that. The book tells the story of May Walker Burleson’s murder of her ex-husband’s second wife.
Born in 1888, May Jennie Walker belonged to Galveston’s prominent Walker family. She grew up a member of Galveston’s aristocracy.
In 1908 she married Richard Coke Burleson. It seemed a fairy-tale marriage. Burleson came from of one of the most important families in San Saba County. A 1906 graduate of West Point, he was starting a prestigious career as an officer in the United States Army.
Dorn shows how May Walker Burleson had it all: looks, brains, charm and spirit. In 1913, she was Grand Marshal of the Woman Suffrage Parade of 1913 in Washington, DC. Later, she became an archeologist, noted for her work studying ancient Mexico.
Richard Coke Burleson’s career also prospered. By the mid-1930s he was a colonel. His wife boosted his career; he supported her activities. They seemed the ideal couple.
Yet Dorn reveals cracks in the marriage. Richard wanted children. May did not. She spent more time with her mother and pursuing her other interests than she was spending with her husband. In turn, he began several affairs with other women. Each accused the other of egregious behavior. She claimed he struck her. He stated she threatened to shoot him.
When he decided to seek divorce, she fought. She liked the status and prestige of being an officer’s wife. A bitter three-year legal struggle ensued, blighting his career, and shaking her sanity. Once the divorce was granted Richard Coke Burleson married his current woman.
May Walker Burleson decided to rid the world of the other women — so her husband would return to her. She shot the new wife, was caught in the act, and convicted.
Dorn puts together the tale of two unlikable people in a manner that catches the reader’s interest. A meticulously researched work, “The Downfall of Galveston’s May Walker Burleson” captures its era perfectly.
Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.