Sammy Walton and the Salt River Save

By The Walmart Museum Exhibit Team



Sam Walton and Donald Peterson


After a ball game in the summer of 1932, young “Sammy” Walton and a group of boys wanted to go for a post-game swim. One of the local team boosters gave the boys a lift from Shelbina, Missouri, just a few miles east, to the North Fork of the Salt River. After crossing railroad tracks and farmland, the boys found the old water stop for steam locomotives that marked the north bank of their favorite swimming hole.

Rather than taking the time to change into swim trunks, one of the boys, Kyle Peterson, decided to forgo clothing altogether. Upon hearing that a carful of girls had pulled up, Kyle, in a panic, urgently asked his younger brother Donald to retrieve his trunks from the shore. As he swam back with the trunks, Donald reached a part of the river where the current was strong – too strong. The man who had driven the boys out to the river jumped in to pull Donald out, but the panicked child pulled the man under with him instead.

 salt_river_2 Actual location - decades later - where Sam Walton  jumped in to save Donald Peterson. Revisited by The Walmart Museum Oral History Team.

Sam Walton, then just 14 years old, used training he had learned as the first Eagle Scout in Shelby County, grabbed Donald Peterson from behind and pulled him to safety.  On shore, Donald was blue and unconscious; Sam knew he had to act fast. Administering CPR, Sam’s quick thinking saved Donald, who went on to live to the ripe old age of 86, a popular member and leader of his community of DeKalb, Illinois. 

What makes this story so important to the Walmart culture is in how the incident has become part of Walmart’s “DNA”.  Sam, at such a young age, demonstrated exceptional leadership and the willingness to jump in and help when help was needed most. That trait has manifested itself in Walmart so many ways over so many years.

 Here at 105NorthMain, we’ll bring more stories to our digital museum that demonstrate the leadership and willingness to “jump in” that Sam Walton imparted to his company for decades to come.

Newspaper story about the incident.



Meet The Author
The Walmart Museum Exhibit Team