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The Early Years

Hard Times

Sam was born in the rural town of Kingfisher, in central Oklahoma, in 1918. He and his brother, James “Bud” Walton, born in 1921, grew up during the Great Depression of the 1930s. As Sam said, “this heartland area ... was hard hit in that Dust Bowl era.” To find work, their father, Thomas Gibson Walton, moved his family from Oklahoma into Missouri and from town to town. Sam helped his mother, Nancy, run a small milk business. He milked cows in the morning and delivered milk and newspapers after school.

At age 13, Sam (left) was the youngest Eagle Scout in Missouri. In 1932, he used his Scout training to rescue Donald Peterson (right) from drowning.


Sam Walton (center, fifth from right) with fellow newsboys, who worked their way through school delivering the Columbia Missourian on the University of Missouri campus.


Nancy Lee and Thomas Gibson Walton with their sons: Samuel Moore Walton, born March 29, 1918, and James “Bud” Walton, born December 20, 1921.


Sam and Bud

Nancy Walton always said that her dearest wish was that her sons would stay close to each other. Sam and Bud enjoyed their relationship; they played together as children, went to the same schools until college, held similar jobs, and both served in the military during World War II. Later, Bud would work at Sam’s first variety store in Newport, Arkansas, and then become a co-founder of Walmart. It was a loving and loyal partnership that lasted all their lives.

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Mementoes of Sam's youth, including his Eagle Scout pin, U.S. Army medals and insignias.

During World War II, Bud (left) was a fighter pilot on the aircraft carrier USS Manila Bay. Sam served in the Army Intelligence Corps.

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Executive – Student President As class president, Walton led Friday assemblies and the student body at David C. Hickman High School in Columbia, Missouri.

The 1935 Football Squad As a halfback for the Kewpies, Walton contributed to their undefeated 1935 season, scoring twice against Jefferson City.

Hickman "C" Men On the left side of the left page, third from the top, we see a young Sam Walton in his Kewpies yearbook picture.

State Championship Basketball "Practice" Sam always believed in the value of teamwork. He brought that belief to the Kewpies basketball team.

Champions of Missouri! Sam Walton was a member of the Kewpie basketball team. In 1936, the team won the Missouri state championship.

Torch Club Sam Walton always strived for academic excellence. He was inducted into the National Honor Society in 1936.

Most Versatile Boy – Sam Walton As a result of his scholastic accomplishments, Sam Walton was a natural choice for "Most Versatile Boy" in 1936.

Beta Theta Pi As a freshman at the University of Missouri, Walton pledged the Zeta Phi chapter of Beta Theta Phi fraternity.

I learned from a very early age that it was important for us kids to help provide for the home, to be contributors rather than just takers.
Sam Walton