T’day, March 10th, 2018 I had a delightful phone visit with historian, Bill Horst.  Bill is 84 years young and very active with the museum in Porterville, California.  Horst has an abiding interest in Joe Walker.  Thanks to Bill Horst, I hope to soon have additional information on Joseph Rutherford Walker compliments of “History With Horst!”

Horst told me that he is looking for information on the brand Walker used.  This is something I have no knowledge of but expect to join Horst’s quest to learn if Walker, in fact, had one and what the brand was…

I first learned of ol’ Joe Walker from my aunt Virginia, she ranked second in seniority in the eight children born to John J. and Martha Mayfield Walker.  My father, William Dillard “Pic” Walker was third from the youngest.   Robert D. “Bob” Walker was the last and the one I was closest to on the Walker side of the ledger.

I knew that the Walker’s came from a clannish family made up of Scotch, Irish, and English.   I learned also that I had a sixteenth Shoshone Indian mixed in there as well.  This lineage came from one of the Walker Clan’s Westering.   Joe Walker was a true Westering Man, a veritable renaissance man of the West.  Joe Walker, a polymath from an early age, had no peer.  I am not certain as to the blood-line emanating from Eastern Shoshone or Western Shoshone.

Once a traveler, part of a wagon train heading west, asked the fort’s proctor, “What trail might I find Captain Walker traveling on?”  William Bent, the fort’s founder, said, “Walker don’t follow trails, he makes ’em!”

Joe Walker’s grandfather, Samuel Rutherford Walker was born in County Cork, the largest and most southern county in Ireland.   His father, Joseph Walker was born in Virginia.  Joseph Rutherford Walker was born in Roan County, Tennessee near where the city of Knoxville now stands.   In December of 1798 not much was there in the way of civilization.

Joe Walker by Alfred Jacob Miller circa 1833

                                                                                    _____| 16_ John Walker 1655-1734
_____| 8_ John Walker ca 1678-1734
/                            ¯¯¯¯¯| 17_ Jane McKnight ca 1658-
_____| 4_ Samuel Walker 1714-1793
/                           \                             _____| 18_ John Rutherford ca 1656-1737..1740
/                             ¯¯¯¯¯| 9_ Katherine Rutherford ca 1682-1738
/                                                           ¯¯¯¯¯| 19_ Isabella Alleine ca 1650-1740
|2_ Joseph Walker 1758-ca 1816
|                       \
|                        \                              _____| 10_ ? ?
|                         \                            /
|                          ¯¯¯¯¯| 5_ Jane Patterson ca 1720-1800
|                                                     \
|                                                      ¯¯¯¯¯| 11_ ? ?
|–1_ Joseph Rutherford Walker, Cpt. 1798-1876
|                          _____| 6_ Robert Willis
|                        /
|3_ Susannah Willis 1766..1770-ca 1816

The First American Walkers (by Johnny and Laurie Walker)

John and Katherine started the Walker’s on their western movement in 1700 by moving from southern Scotland to Ulster in Ireland. They were considered to be lowland Scotts and were rebelious Presbyterians, this part of Scotland was the last part of Europe to come out of the “Dark Ages” and thus still had a poor standard of living. Both were natives of Wigton, a community in the southwestern lowlands of Scotland, which by the time the Walker’s reached adulthood was so depressed that people were it’s chief export.

Living in Ulster was recognized by the Walker’s as futile, as they were living in “unfortunate economic, political and religious circumstances”. In the late summer of 1728 John and Katherine Walker arrived on the Chesapeak Bay in Maryland with three daughters and five sons. Along with the Walkers siblings there were two nephews, and a son-in-law John Campbell, who had married the eldest daughter, Elizabeth.

The family almost immediately set out for Pennsylvania, John, his 5 nearly grown sons, 2 nephews and his son-in law, worked as freemen and did not have to work as indentured servants as the majority of the Scotts-Irish did. During this period they picked up the trade of blacksmithing and the art of making rifles.

During the 1720’s the price of land in western Pennsylvania skyrocketed, so in 1732 John Walker then in his 60’s, started west into the Cumberland Gap in Pennsylvania coming out into the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. (together known as the Great Valley) Staying south of the Iroquois empire to the North, the Shawnee to the West, and the Cherokee’s to the South, and having passed the last settlements around the trading post forts on the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, the Walkers came to the Maury River, a tributary of the James, lying between the present day communities of Staunton and Lexington.

There they met up with Jack Hayes one of the original explorers of the Appalacian Territory and a fellow Scottish kinsman. Hayes directed the Walkers to a splendid empty valley which lay below Jump Mountain. The valley was well watered by a stream that flowed down to the Maury and was set with a series of open meadows, natural pastures for deer, elk, and buffalo.

In one of the meadows was a good natural spring which took John Walker’s fancy and he decided to end his quest that had started in Wigton. One of his sons was later to recall that he found the climate milder, the soil fertile, and everything attractive. They cleared off a portion of land, erected a log cabin and then he headed back to Pennsylvania to bring the family to the frontier.

John Walker never returned to the Appalachian frontier. He died in 1734 and was buried in Chester County, Pennsylvania as was his wife Katherine who died shortly thereafter.

By 1739 their sons, John, James, Samuel, Alexander and Joseph and their 2 nephews, John and Alexander, and 2 sons-in- law, John Campbell and James Moore (who married Jane Walker) had all moved their wives and children to the property below Jump Mountain. Along the way they brought other Ulster families with them, Toomys, Pattersons, Poages, Mc Clellans and Houstons, who if they were not already, soon would become relatives.

Spreading out from the original cabin site, they made a settlement which for a time was probably the westernmost in Virginia and therefore in any of the English speaking colonies. They named the stream running through the clearings, Walker Creek. Soon the place and the vigorous, remarkably reproductive clan itself, became known along the frontier as the Creek Nation.

When my father and his siblings were kids GrandDad Walker admonished his youngsters not to mention their Native American heritage.   In those days, not so far removed from the indian wars, it was easy enough to be ostracized for having other than caucasian heritage.   Bigotry abounded.   By the time I came along it was not of a concern as to what your ethnical makeup was.  Now, it is not only OK it promuglates braggin rights!  Shoot!  I reckon I’m cross between a gunny sack and a barbwire fence!  JW-LW

To realize the greatness of a person, one should look at that person’s humility.  Seeing Joe Walker as the person he must have been is to simply view his tombstone.  It is known that, prior to his death, while living on his nephew’s Contra Costa County ranch near today’s Martinez, California, Joe Walker laid out that which he hoped to be remembered.  No aggrandizement!  Simplicity at it’s barest.

Below:  the author visiting Joe Walker’s grave site in 2014


I spent a long time being curious about Joe Walker.   My curiosity had me delving into what others had written.  I became surprised to find so little had actually been written about someone who was truly of immense character and, in his day, such a notable personage.

My curiosity took me on along the trails we know he traveled and it took me all the way to his gravesite in Martinez, California where it is necessary to obtain a key from the Martinez police to gain access to the cemetery.   There I discovered numerous references to Joe Walker’s past.

If I was asked to pick a single word to define Joseph Rutherford Walker it would be “EXTRAORDINARY.”  If asked to expand on that, I would say he was likely the most complete man of his lifetime.

Arizona State Historian, Marshall Trimble, had this to say about Joseph Rutherford Walker “…one of America’s greatest of the mountain men, scouts and trailblazers; right up there with Carson, Smith, Fitzpatrick and Bridger.  He had the admiration of and respect of both white men and Indians and was comfortable in both cultures. He was married to a Shoshone woman and at home in Indian country for more than fifty years. He was a big man for that period; well over six feet tall and weighing 200 pounds. During the 1830s he was one of the nation’s foremost scouts and mountain men. The famous artist Alfred Jacob Miller used him as a model for some of his paintings on the American West.

In 1833 he led a winter expedition over the daunting Sierra Nevada range, becoming the first to accomplish that feat and the first Anglo American to gaze upon what would become Yosemite National Park.

The mark of a great leader, Indian or white was the ability to keep your men alive. Most remarkable, in all those years as a leader of brigades of trappers of trappers and emigrants he lost only one man.  The man died accidentally from his own carelessness when a revived grizzly mauled him to death.

In 1819 the family moved to Missouri. A year later he headed down the Santa Fe Trail to New Mexico. For the next few years he was one of the Taos Trappers who trapped the beaver streams of Arizona. For a time he returned to Missouri where he served two terms as sheriff of Jackson County.

Walker could never say in one place too long. In 1830, while in  Fort Gibson, Oklahoma he made the acquaintance of Captain Benjamin Bonneville and accompanied his expedition in 1832 to explore the Green River country in Wyoming.

Bonneville Expedition I (by Johnny & Laurie Walker)

The adventures of Captain Bonneville and the related expeditions to California, led by Joseph Walker, were agreed to if not instigated by Andrew Jackson and some of his Cabinet members. General Alexander Macomb gave Bonneville a two year leave of absence beginning in the fall of 1831. This was an unheard of situation in the annals of the U.S. Army at that time. The official mandate was to find a way to California and to reconoiter the strength of the Spanish/Mexican army as well as that of the native tribes.

The “cover story” was that this was a fur trading enterprise financed by Bonneville. One insider in the U.S. Government wrote “Bonneville still bothers me. He is a good enough little man for a frog, and ambitious as all sin, but he doesn’t make a convincing fur trader. For that matter, if they get a chance at California, I don’t see him leading a gang of those hillbillies across the mountains, wherever they are. He’s likely to get his French pizzle caught in a beaver trap and ours with it.”

During the winter of 1832 Bonneville was dealing with the War Department and his New York investors Jacob Aster and Washinton Irving. Walker was back in Fort Osage recruiting men for the expedition and making arrangements for supplies. Most of the recruits were green hands because most of his acquaintances and neighbors were already engaged in the Sante Fe trade or working for other fur companies. One stroke of good luck was that he hired a band of Delaware Indians who had a good reputation for this kind of work.

The Bonneville expedition left Fort Osage in May of 1832. It was the most lavishly supplied single fur brigade to leave Missouri and included 110 men, each with extra horses and mules and 20 freight wagons. They headed straight west into Kansas and then angled north to the Platte River. The first band of Indians were from the Kansas tribe with their Chief White Plume. Walker had know the Chief since 1825 and was not impressed with him, thinking him a scruffy scalliwag. Further on the North Platte they met a party of some 60 Crows that were chasing some Cheyenne raiders.

By July 20th the column was on the Sweetwater River and the Rockies, the “Shining Mountains”, first became visible. During the next week they became the first wagon train to go through South Pass and then came down to the Green River. Camping on the Green River in Wyoming, near where it is joined by Horse Creek they prepared for the winter building Fort Bonneville.

Bonneville/Walker Second Expedition

Spending the winter of 1832 with 20 of the expeditions men camped near the confluence of the Blackfoot River and the Snake River, this team of men trapped 2200 lbs of beaver pelts worth $15,000. On July 13, 1833 the party all reunited at Fort Bonneville, this was the site agreed upon for the 1833 trappers rendezvous that drew about 350 white trappers. Capt. Bonneville was making plans for Walker to find a way West to California while Bonneville himself planed to stay and work the fur trade.

Among the first men hired by Walker for the California trip was Zenas Leonard, a 23 year old Pennsylvanian hired as a clerk. Leonard’s journal was one of the best ever compiled by a genuine mountain man. He wrote after signing on that “Mr. Walker was a man well calculated to undertake a business of this kind. He was well hardened to the hardships of the wilderness, understood the character of the Indians very well, was kind and affable to his men, but at the same time at liberty to command without giving offense, and to explore unknown regions was his chief delight”. Among the 40 who went with him were: Bill Williams, Bevin Mitchell, George Nidever, Powell Weaver, Bill Craig, Joe Meek, and his brother Stephen Hall Meek, all were famous for their shooting ability and hardiness.

Walker and his men left the Green River on July 27, 1833. They stopped on the Bear River to hunt Buffalo and gather at least sixty pounds of meat per man for the trip. At the Bear River the party grew by 15 or 20 men that were free trappers who were “enthusiastic about joining the California column.

The Brigade was just north of the Great Salt Lake in mid August looking for the outlet of a large river. Rumors of the river, the Buenaventura, was marked on many early maps flowing from the lake directly to the Pacific. Of course no trace of it was found, thus Walker had the distinction of doing away with the last major mythic geographical feature in the country.

Walker decided to strike out directly West and in a few days came upon the upper stretch Humboldt River. Further downstream they came into increasing contact with the Paiutes, then known as Diggers. At the end of the first week of September the party came to the Humboldt Sink, an area of marshes and shallow lakes. While setting up camp they bacame surrounded by 800 – 900 Indians. The next day a short battle ensued with the Paiutes, 39 Indians were killed and the rest disbanded.

Pushing West, they came to the North of Mono Lake and there first glimpsed the east wall of the Sierra. By this time they were about out of supplies and really had no choice but to try to find a way through the mountains and hope that California was as bountiful a land as they had heard.

They spent the next month trying to find and force a passage through the Sierra’s. Pushing through snow and often above timberline, trying to cope with snow filled crevasses, and icy rock walls and suffering from numbing cold. Surviving on half rations the men were becoming weak and the first of 17 horses were eaten. As best as can be determined they reached the main ridge of the Sierra northeast of Tuolumne Canyon. Not able to find a way through this maze of peaks and boulder fields they turned South along the crest looking for a descent route West.

On October 20 they came to one of the great natural marvels of North America, being the first whites to reach the brink and look down into the Yosemite Valley. Walker to the day he died was to remember the moment, chronicled by Zenas Leonard. The descent was slow and dangerous but the hunters were able to find deer and black bear, “all very fat and in good eating order…”

On October 30 they found “Trees of the red wood species, incredibly large some of which would measure from sixteen to eighteen fathoms round the trunk and at the height of a man’s head from the ground.” (Probably the Merced Grove) They became the first whites known to have seen one of the stands of giant sequoias.

Bonneville’s Third Expedition led by Walker

While camped along the Merced River in the Yosemite Valley on the night of November 12, 1833 the expedition was witness to one of the most spectacular meteor showers ever recorded. Zenas Leonard recorded “our men were again thrown into great consternation by the singular appearance of the heavens. Soon after dark the air appeared to be completely thickened with meteors falling towards the earth, some of which would explode in the air and others would be dashed to pieces on the ground, frightening our horses so much that it required the most active vigilance of the whole company to keep them together.”

A few days later while camping along the San Joaquin River the company was able to hear the waves of the pacific crashing on the shore. This was described as “we were startled by a loud distant noise similar to that of thunder. Whilst lying close to the ground this noise could be distinctly heard for a considerable length of time without intermission. When it was at first observed some of our men were much alarmed, as they readily supposed it was occasioned by an earthquake, and they began to fear that we would all be swallowed up in the bowels of the earth”. Joseph was able to keep order by his commanding presence, Leonard wrote, “Capt. Walker allayed their fears, he supposed that the noise was originated by the Pacific rolling and dashing her boisterous waves against the rocky shore.

They made their first seaside camp on the beach at Ano Nuevo Point by a spring of “delightful water”. They found the carcass of a beached sperm whale and were astonished by the monster. On the third day camped on the beach they spotted the sails of the 292 ton Lagoda, out of Boston, commanded by John Bradshaw who was trading along the coast for cowhides and tallow. Bradshaw invited Capt. Walker and his men aboard for dinner and some “untapped barrels of Conaec”.

The company then headed to Monterey to present their credentials to the Mexican Governor. Bonneville had, prior to the expedition, applied for and received a passport and visa for Joseph. Along the way they met friendly Spaniards and fellow Scotsman John Gilroy. He was the first english speaking settler in northern California, having jumped from a British ship in Monterey in 1814.

As he had promised, Capt. Bradshaw met the party in Monterey, and arranged for an appointment with the Governor of Alta, California, His Excellency Jose Figueroa. The meeting went very well, Figueroa told Walker that he and his men were welcome to stay all winter, to travel freely, to kill as much game as they needed and if they wished, to trade with Mexican citizens. However they were not to brawl with or molest any resident citizens, and were prohibited from trapping on Indian lands or trading with Indians.

Capt. Bradshaw, Capt. Walker, and Governor Figueroa attended the New Year on the Lagoda and got along “famously”. Following the New Years celebration Figueroa took Walker aside and made him an extraordinary offer. Figueroa said he would give the American outright title to 30,000 acres of what ever unoccupied land he found most desirable in northern California if, in return, Walker would undertake to establish a colony of fifty American “mechanics of different kinds.”

Walker was well aware of what he might gain. He told Zenas Leonard that he listened carefully to the governor because he “was well pleased with the country, and had no doubt the could, in a few years amass a fortune, and be the head of a rich and flourishing settlement.” However he politely refused the offer. Privately he told Leonard that his “love for the laws and free institutions of the United States, and his hatred for those of the Spanish government, deterred him from accepting the governor’s benevolent offer.”

One must reflect on the irony, that the instigator of the expedition was Andrew Jackson, and the objective was to spy on the Spanish. Then there is the family legend that included Jacob Walker as a brother to Joseph who was killed at the Alamo along with another cousin, Asa Walker. Sam Houston had invited Joseph’s brother Joel to move to Texas and take part in the rebellion there as well. Not to mention Joseph’s capture by the Spanish outside of Santa Fe. So in light of these events it is not all that surprising that Joseph turned down the land grant offer in California. Joseph R. Walker was a man of character!

The Creek Nation

A remarkable advancement in frontier technology occurred in this part of Appalachia at this time. Prior to this movement axes were made on the English model and were thin bladed and not conducive to cutting through the brush and thick timber found on the western frontier of the 1730’s. Thus a thicker sturdier model looking much like the modern axe, was developed. Being the first blacksmiths to inhabit the area the Walker’s seem to be in a prime position to lay claim to the invention of the American Felling Axe. The advancement was acclaimed by Benjamin Franklin who once watched two “white savages” working with these new American axes. He reported that in six minutes they felled a pine, fourteen inches in diameter at the cut.

Corn turned out to be the ideal crop for the woodland clearings. The leaves and stocks were pulled and dried for winter fodder. The ears could be eaten green, kernels could be parched and would keep almost indefinitely and then could be ground into meal. The Scots-Irish had a long tradition of turning corn into the finest of whiskey. Finally corn did not take much work, once enough timber had been cut for cabins furnishings and fence railings the corn was planted between the stumps. Transporting whiskey to market was much easier and more profitable than marketing the corn crop in virtually any other way.

“Gun stocker John” Walker the patriarch of the family was so nicknamed to distinguish him from his nephew “Gun maker John”. The Walkers had apparently picked up the Gun smithing trade in their brief stay in Pennsylvania. The guns they produced were a marvel of the time, known as long rifles, they had barrels that were 4′ long and rifled with either 6 or 8 rifleings. Most were made in smaller calibers than were the .50 cal – .75 cal muskets of English and German origin, .25 cal. – .45 cal. This economized on the number of shots a frontiersman got for the weight he had to carry. A pound of lead gave 40 – 60 shots, and the guns were accurate out to a range of 250 yards. Until the early twentieth century one of the Walker Rifles remained on display in Lexington, Virginia as a particularly fine example of these beautiful frontier pieces.

During the 1730’s and the 1740’s the Indian nations surrounding the Creek Nation chose to ignore them. There were simply too few people to be much of a problem and they were a good source of English trade goods. But all that changed around 1750 when all three neighboring tribes started feeling the pressure of the expanding white population. 1755 to 1814 is given as the dates of the Indian Wars in the eastern United States. Starting with General Braddock fighting the French and Indians and ending with the last vestige of Indian power in the east being defeated by Andrew Jackson. This “forest war” was the bloodiest up to that time with over 5000 white settlers being killed along with as many natives.

From the 1750’s onward there is no record of any able Walker man who did not take part in the Forest war, and fifteen members of the family were killed or captured by the Indians. John Walker along with his brothers Samuel and James fought at Point Pleasant one of the most crucial pitched battles of the border wars. At the Kanawha and Ohio rivers at least 1200 white frontiersmen and 900 Shawnee Indians under their war chief, Corn Planter had at each other for two days in October 1774. Over 200 men on each side were killed. Corn Planter was forced to the other side of the Ohio River and settlements in western Virginia were spared from the Indian raids that would have been likely to come.

John Walker became the family’s first recorded casualty in the Indian wars. In 1778, when he was seventy three years old, he and his second son, Samuel, went off hunting or exploring in the Clinch River valley along what is now the boundary between Virginia and Tennessee. There the two men were caught by the Cherokee killed and scalped.

In 1814 Joseph and his brother Joel joined up with Andrew Jackson to fight the Cherokee and Creek Indians in the last great battle of the Forest War. Jackson and 2000 volunteers attacked 1000 “red stick warriors” at Horseshoe Bend. This is where 20 year old cousin Sam Houston met Joe (15) and Joel Walker (16) 1000 Creek Indians were killed in the battle and the settlers suffered 50 casualties and 150 wounded. Joel was wounded in the battle and Joe came through unscathed even though he was among those that stormed the Creek barricade.

The Creek Indians and others that escaped the battle along with some bands of runaway slaves went to Florida to create the Seminoles (Runaways). The Seminoles raided for the next 50 years causing the American military considerable expense and embarrassment, but were never caught and put down the way the tribes in the way of America’s “manifest destiny” were.

Great Great Uncle Joel Walker

In the spring of 1840 after 17 years of working the family holdings around Fort Osage Joel and his wife, Mary, pregnant with their 5th child, their 4 children and a sister-in-law Martha Young were the first of 300,000 emigrants to travel the Oregon Trail.

The winter of 1839 Joel sold all his land and property, bought two light wagons and the family headed out on April 30th for the Green River the site of the last rendezvous. Traveling with the party were Jim Bridger and Henry Fraeb, famous mountain men in their own right. The party was also joined by a mixed religious party including Harvey Clark, Philo Littlejohn and Alvin Smith each with their wives. The other “devine” in the party was Father Pierre Jean De Smet probably the most famous of the missionaries in the westward movement.

In June Joel Walker carved his name in Independence Rock and became the first of thousands of emigrants to do so. The party arrived at the rendezvous on the Green river on July 30th where they met “one of my brother’s men” Bill Craig, who led them to Fort Hall on the Snake River.

The party arrived on September 13, 1840 in the Willamette Valley. Later in September Joel went to the Hudsons bay Company outpost in Vancouver and got some farming equipment from Dr. John McLaughlin. Returning to the Willamette valley, Walker selected land and sowed it in wheat. there He found Ewing Young, one of his wife’s family, and an old friend with whom he had worked years before as a Taos Trapper. Young had settled in Oregon in 1834 and trapped otter and beaver, raised horses and had a prosperous ranch.

On January 14th, 1841 Mary had their fifth child, Louisa, born near Salem the first American baby in Oregon. The family Traveling by ship, arrived in San Francisco in September 1841, adding to the historical record book being the first American family to reach California. Joel Walker became the manager of John Sutter’s farm and also did some stock trading on his own. The family stayed a year and a half then went back to Oregon, because there were english speaking schools for the children in that territory. Joel and his son John and some wranglers returned by the overland route, driving 1200 cows and 600 sheep and 200 horses. On the way Joel reported “We were met by a large number of Indians who pretended to be friendly, but killed a good many of our horses. The next day we returned the favor by killing a good many Indians.”

Joel claimed 640 acres of land in Yamhill County and farmed it for the next 4 years. Then he sold it for a good profit and in the fall of 1848 moved again to California. There he met his old Missouri political ally Lilburn Boggs and the two of them served as delegates to the California Constitutional Convention in 1849. Thereafter the Walker’s settled down in the Napa Valley and prospered. He became known as the “Pioneer of Pioneers”.

WALKER, Isabella: d/o Joel P. and Mary Young Walker

WALKER, John (1834- ): s/o Joel P. and Mary Young Walker

WALKER, Joseph (1828- ): s/o Joel P. and Mary Young Walker

WALKER, Louisa (1841- ): d/o Joel P. and Mary Young Walker; was born Jan 1841 near Salem.

WALKER, Newton: s/o Joel P. and Mary Young Walker

Behind the Scenes of Mono Lake Expedition

G. Andrew Miller is the author of a wonderful series of books called the Joseph R. Walker Frontier Adventure Series. Mr. Miller has consented to contribute some of his insights as to writing and researching some of the tales of the Old West.

While talking with the magazine’s manager about the Joseph R. Walker Series, a suggestion was made that it might be interesting to know what goes into developing a story from clues and newspaper leads. I agreed to scratch out some notes and see if I could put something together that might help others in following clues and developing a story.

The book New Trails to Coso & Mono Mines was not planned in the normal way, it was developed from the discovery of one event after another. I had just finished the Expedition against Mohave Indians and was wondering how Capt. Joseph Walker would return to the ranch at Manzanita. I was thinking about him riding back up through the San Joaquin Valley and realized he would have to pass through Visalia on his return. It hadn’t dawned on me at this time, that he would have probably bought passage on the steamer from San Pedro to San Francisco.

So I started by searching microfilm newspaper copies of the Visalia Weekly Delta, during the later part of 1859 through 1860. While doing this tedious work I found an article where the Delta’s editor interviewed a Col. Walker. Studying the article closer, I became convinced that the Col. was none other than Capt. Joseph Walker. In the article the editor states, The Col. passed through this route the first time in the fall of 1834. This would be the Indian trail Zenas Leonard mentioned in his narrative. At the end of the article the editor printed, Walker’s Pass as laid down on the map is incorrect. Using the article and topo maps, I tried to trace a route through the mountains that exited near Owens Lake according to the story.

Around this time, I had made an appointment to meet with the director of collections of the Upper Mojave Desert Historical Society located at Ridgecrest, CA. While discussing the Walker Series with Lou Pracchia, I mentioned the newspaper article and told him what the editor wrote. Mr. Pracchia informed me that a Mr. Horst had also written a piece on the same article. Lou found the work and was kind enough to put me in touch with Bill Horst, the historian at Porterville, CA.

After meeting with Bill and discussing our work, it wasn’t long before we agreed to co-author a story on what I was calling Mono Lake Expedition. As the story developed further we changed the title to New Trail to Coso & Mono Mines. After weaving the two pieces together, Bill told me about the time he was shown, what was thought to be, the wagon wheels from the Walker – Chiles party and said they were at the museum at Independence, CA. After several letters back and forth an interview was scheduled with the director of the museum.

When discussing the Walker Series with the director, I was allowed to look through the many files stored at the facility. While going through the files another newspaper article was found entitled: Round about the Museum, which was printed in February of 1965. The article describes a number of articles donated to the museum by a Mr. Cooper and among the items were some wagon wheels which were found in a canyon many years ago behind the ‘Way-station’ at Dunmovin. The article then asked the question Could they be wheels from the wagon’s left by the Chiles’ Party?

On the return trip back down Owens Valley, I examined the area behind Dunmovin and noticed it was a short distance from the entrance to Haiwee Canyon which leads to Haiwee Pass. On another field trip into the area, we learned of three more passes and Indian trails over the mountain heading in the direction of Walker’s route, described by the editor of the Delta. A couple more field trips to interview old ranchers whose families have been in the valley since the 1860, resulted in more small pieces to our story. Bill Horst and I included the many references for future researcher to build on. The evidence and facts that we have found speak for themselves. Many more items were found, a good example would be the notes in Edward Kern’s journal that speak of Walker’s northern pass.

The Santa Fe Trail

In the spring or early summer of 1819 Joe Walker went to the Missouri frontier. One of Joseph’s favorite memories of these days was his ride on the first steamboat to come up the river, the steamer Independence. In September of that year the family left Tennessee for Missouri. In addition to Joseph and his brother Joel, the group included their younger brother “Big John”, their sister Jane and her husband Abraham McClellan, and their two sons, a widowed cousin Annis Carrick and her two children, and a slave named Hardy.

The Walkers headed for the westernmost point in the country, Fort Osage. When they finally selected and occupied a piece of land west of the government post, it is likely that they became in 1819 what their grandparents had been in 1733 – that is, the most westerly permanent settlers of the United States. In fact, they were several miles beyond the point where the United States government officially thought any of it’s citizens should or could reside.

In the spring, after completing the building of a cabin and fencing some stump filled fields, they put in a crop of corn, planted the apple trees they brought from Tennessee, and set up a smithshop. Having established this base, and done their part in providing for the women Joe and Joel Walker left the family in the charge of Abraham McClellan and their younger brother Big John. They set off to take a look much further West.

In 1820 Joe and Joel set out on what was to become the Sante Fe Trail. The expedition was set upon by the Spanish military in New Mexico and they briefly became prisoners in Sante Fe. These men became known as the Taos Trappers.

Washington Irving provided the first publication regarding Joseph Walker, describing him as “strong built, dark complexioned, brave in spirit, though mild in manners. He had been among the earliest adventurers to Santa Fe, where he went to trap beaver, and was taken by the Spaniards. Being liberated, he engaged with the Spaniards and the Sioux Indians in a war against the Pawnees…”

Joseph spent the next 4 years trapping beaver and living on the upper Arkansas River netting as much as $30,000 per season. In 1825 he returned to to the family holdings in Missouri.

In March of 1825 President James Monroe got congress to put up $30,000 to survey and establish the Sante Fe Trail. Joseph Walker and his younger brother “Big John” got two of these “lucrative” jobs. The positions paid $20/mo. Bill Williams one of the west’s famous mountain men, was recommended by Joseph and hired for the task of interpreter as well.

On the Neosho River, 150 miles from fort Osage, Bill Williams and Joseph Walker negotiated with fifty of the principal Osage chiefs and warriors. After 4 days of talks and $800 worth of trade goods a treaty was reached with the Osage who agreed to let the trail pass through their territories and never thereafter to molest any white travelers or merchants who might use it.

The only thing Joseph Walker would say about his pioneering of the Sante Fe Trail was that at least they “broke the crust”.
Sheriff of Jackson County Missouri

In May of 1827 at the urging of Abraham McClellan, the head of the clan as far as the settlement business was concerned, Joseph Walker became the newly organized counties first sheriff.

In 1825 a treaty with the Osage Indians opened up the land west of Fort Osage. Abraham McClellan, his son Mike, along with Joseph, Joel and John Walker, as well as Annis Carrick filed land claims, collectively taking up about 1500 acres of the best land. Joel married shortly thereafter and had a son and subsequently settled down and stayed on the farm. Three years later the town of Independence Mo. was founded.

In 1827 Joel Walker became the first justice of the peace, appointed by the Governor and his brother Joseph became the first sheriff. The initial circuit court was held in the oldest house in Independence, which had been built by Joel Walker.

During Walkers term of office 33 criminal cases were tried in the Jackson County circuit courts. More than half were assaults of one sort or another, but none involved gunplay. At 6’4″ and 225 lbs., Joseph Walker the frontier veteran was able to handle the position without resorting to gunplay. When he took office he was only 29 years old, he was reported to have a knack for keeping “discipline”.

According to the sketchy court records, Jackson County was a relatively orderly place during Walker’s term of office. Presumably his presence and reputation were in part responsible for the keeping of the peace. The time and the place are evidence enough of the rough feud prone characters that frequented the area. A year after Joseph left office the community had it’s first murder, and after that a religious war erupted between the Mormon’s and the Scotch-Irish.

Joseph’s duties in the position as sheriff included summons of jurors and witnesses along with managing the local jail, a log building which was constructed in 1827 at a cost of $150. He held and apprehended one cattle thief and 2 horse rustlers. Sheriffs were also expected to look out for runaway slaves and indentured servants. One of these was posted in 1826. “Christopher Carson, a boy about 16 years old, small for age but thick set; light hair. “Kit” Carson had run away from David Workman who offered a one penny reward for his return. Joseph took a liking to the young man and got him a job working for one of his Taos trapper friends, William Wolfskill. He worked as a horse boy and went with William to Taos for the season.  It was the Taos trappers who nicknamed Carson as “Kit.”

By 1830 Joseph had enough of the “city life” and became restless. He remained in contact with his friends living on the frontier. The list of western notables is remarkable. The Sublette brothers, Tom Fitzpatrick, Jed Smith, Jim Bridger, Bill Williams, and William Wolfskill among them. Joseph wanted to become a freelance explorer with the freedom of action to live and explore in the unknown regions of the west.

In 1830 Joseph drove a string of horses to Fort Gibson with the idea of getting aquainted with U.S. Army Captain Benjamin Louis Eulalie de Bonneville. His introduction was arranged by Sam Houston, a cousin, who he became friends with while serving with Andrew Jackson in the battle of Horseshoe bend. Houston had become the political protege’ of Andy Jackson and was at the time living with the Indians outside of Fort Gibson. Walker and Bonneville met and agreed upon a joint venture that would connect their lives for the next 4 years.

What Washington Irving wrote about Joseph Walker and the Bonnieville Expedition:

“As sub leaders or lieutenants in his expedition, Captain Bonneville had made choice of Mr. J. R. Walker and Mr. M. S. Cerre. The former was a native of Tennessee, about six feet high, strong built, dark complexioned, brave in spirit, though mild in manners. He had resided for many years in Missouri, on the frontier; had been among the earliest adventurers to Santa Fe, where he went to trap beaver, and was taken by the Spaniards. Being liberated, he engaged with the Spaniards and Sioux Indians in a war against the Pawnees; then returned to Missouri, and had acted by turns as sheriff, trader, trapper, until he was enlisted as a leader by Captain Bonneville.”

In fact in 1832 Joseph Walker organized and led the entire brigade of 110 of the best equipped men to ever leave Missouri. Lavishly outfitted for the time, the 22 wagons and 110 men led by Joseph Walker was to become the first wagon train to cross South Pass.

Bonnieville had decided to stay in Wyoming on the Green river to “trap beaver” (turns out that he wasn’t very successful as a trapper) and late in July of 1833 Joseph Walker led a brigade to California, battled with Piute Indians, dispelled the myth of the Buena Ventura River and in October of 1833 discovered the Yosemite Valley, the first to see the giant redwoods, negotiate with the Spanish Governor, and come back without the loss of a single man.

Washington Irving got his name wrong, ignored his discoveries, cast him in the light of a lieutenant enlisted by the great Captain Bonnieville when the reverse is quite obviously true. Due to this rough handling by the “Press” of the day Capt. Joseph R. Walker was thereafter very reluctant to have anything written about him. In fact he has been described as reticent and generally shied away from granting any interviews about his incredible story.

Explorer Joseph Walker Discoverer of the Yosemite Valley

Joseph Rutherford Walker was the second white man to cross the Sierra Nevada and the first to do it in an east-to-west direction. When he left California the following year, he made a southerly crossing over a relatively low Sierra pass that still bears his name. While crossing the Sierra Nevada in 1833 Walker and his party were the first white men to gaze upon the Yosemite Valley. They were also the first to see the huge redwood trees that became known as “Sequoia gigantea.”

Walker was born in Tennessee in 1798 and raised on the Missouri frontier. In 1832 he joined a party of 110 hunters and trappers under the command of B.L.E. de Bonneville. Bonneville was a French-born U.S. Army officer who was detached from active service and ordered to lead a military intelligence gathering expedition through the far west. Bonneville’s adventures during the escapade were chronicled colorfully by Washington Irving in the Adventures of Captain Bonneville, U.S.A., published in 1837. The captain’s two most important accomplishments were the leading of wagons through the South Pass and sending Walker to spy on the Mexicans in California.

El Capitan, was a prominent point in Yosemite Park, and must have been looked at in awe by Walker and his men.  Walker’s detachment consisted of 70 men, including Zenas Leonard, his second-in-command, clerk, and journal keeper. Walker’s orders were to find a way to the Pacific through the “unknown country to the west.” Walker did not follow Jedediah Smith’s route to California, however. Instead of striking south from the Wasatch Mountains, Walker led his men on a westward arc around the north shores of the Great Salt Lake to the headwaters of the Humboldt River, then known as “Mary’s River.”

Walker followed the Humboldt River to its sink, where he was confronted by 800-900 Paiute Indians. When warning shots failed to disperse the braves, Walker’s men fired into them, killing 39. The following year, having made a southerly exit from the Sierra Nevada, Walker’s group was again confronted by hostile Paiutes, and 14 more braves were slain by Walker’s muskets. These battles may have contributed to the endemic hostilities of the southern route.

Historians are not sure where Walker and his men crested the Sierra Nevada, and a great deal of speculation has been indulged in. The most likely ascent was along a route that led to and over the Sierra Nevada in the vicinity of the Tioga Pass. This conclusion follows from the fact that after cresting the Sierra the expedition worked its way west along the divide between the Tuolumne and Merced rivers. This in turn is supported by Leonard’s description of the rugged terrain they crossed, the sighting of the Yosemite from the northern rim of the valley, and their observations of the redwoods in the lower foothills. Furthermore, according to Zenas Leonard’s account of the journey, the ascent of the eastern Sierra Nevada was made relatively quickly once the expedition headed west into the range. It is steep and rugged but relatively short, and it could be climbed by men on horses in two to three days. It also is aligned with the trails over which Walker probably traveled that ultimately developed into the Tioga Road. Half Dome The only other thing that can be said with certainty is that Walker’s descent from the Sierra crest was longer and more difficult than the ascent. During the descent Walker lost 24 horses, 17 of which provided nourishment for his famished followers. They were traveling more or less blind. But their route had its rewards. “In two or three days,” Leonard recorded, “we arrived at the brink of the mountain. This at first was a happy sight, but when we approached close, it seemed to be so near perpendicular that it would be folly to attempt a descent.” Walker took out his spyglass and inspected the “plain” (i.e., valley) below. Leonard had no need of a spyglass. “On looking on the plain below with the naked eye,” he wrote, “you have one of the most singular prospects in nature. From the great height of the mountain … we found … a beautiful plain stretched out toward the west until the horizon presents a barrier to the sight. From the spot where we stood to the plain beneath, must at least be a distance of three miles. As it is almost perpendicular, a person cannot look down without feeling as if he was wafted to and fro in the air, from the giddy height.”

Gazing at the grandeur of the valley, Walker considered descending into the plain below to make his way west from there. The descent was obviously too steep and precipitous, however. Men and horses would have to be lowered over two thousand feet by ropes. Working their way west from the rim of the Yosemite Valley, Walker and his men finally made their way into the foothills. There they came upon groves of sequoia gigantea, the huge redwood trees that are the largest plants on earth. “Big trees,” they called them, recording another historic first.

Emerging from the Sierra Nevada into the San Joaquin Valley, Walker’s party worked its way north by following the San Joaquin River. Walker eventually came to Yerba Buena and San Francisco Bay. This route is consistent with Walker’s military orders, as the Mexicans staffed a presidio at Yerba Buena.

He then turned south and traveled down the Peninsula to the Santa Clara Valley, where he turned west and climbed over the Santa Cruz mountains. The expedition came out of the mountains on the coast near Point Ano Nuevo. Walker’s expedition then made its way down the coast to another presidio at Monterey. His interest in coastal settlements is further evidence of the military character of his expedition. Three Brothers The irony of Walker’s group is that unlike the Smith and Pattie parties, who were entirely innocent but treated as hostile, the Mexicans welcomed Walker and his men warmly with open arms. There was considerable friction and rivalry between the Mexican civil officials at San Diego and the military dons at Monterey, however, and it occasionally ripened into rebellion.

Don Juan Bautista Alvarado, the military governor at Monterey, offered Walker a large land grant, which Walker politely refused, no doubt mindful of the touching irony of being offered the olive branch by the unwitting victim of his espionage. When Walker left Monterey, however, several of his men remained behind to become expatriate dons.

Walker left Monterey to rendezvous with Bonneville in the Rocky Mountains on Feb. 14, 1834. He was disinclined to return the way he had come, however, so he and his group worked their way south along the eastern edge of the San Joaquin Valley. Eventually Walker discovered a relatively low-lying pass (5,250 feet) through the mountains by ascending the Sierra Nevada up the gorge of the Kern River to Lake Isabella, then moving along the South Fork of the Kern River to the pass, which is located south of Owens Peak. From the pass the Walker party descended the eastern Sierra Nevada into the Owens Valley.

The pass through which Walker took his eastbound expedition is named for him. It can be found in Kern County along California Highway 178 about 10 miles east of its intersection with Highway 14 near the town of lnyokern.

Monument dedicated to The Walker Party of 1833

Note: Cheryl and I found this monument located along the Tioga Pass Road (Hwy 120) that takes travelers through the Yosemite Valley. (ed)

Yosemite National Park – Halfdome The adventures of Walker and his group were recorded by Zenas Leonard and published by him in 1839 as the Narrative of Zenas Leonard. Leonard later settled down as a fur trader and storekeeper in Missouri, but Walker continued his trips to and from California. In 1843 Walker led another expedition to California in company with Joseph Chiles, who had first entered California with the Bidwell party in 1841. The two men hoped to lead the first wagon train into California, and they selected Walker’s Pass as the best way to crest the Sierra Nevada with wagons. The approach was too rugged, however, and the settlers were forced to abandon their wagons in the Owens Valley before going into the mountains. The group traveled west through the Central Valley and wound up in southern Santa Clara Valley near the present city of Gilroy.

Walker also served as a guide for John Charles Fremont’s second and third expeditions (1844-1846). During the third expedition in 1846 Walker was more than a scout, however. While Fremont parleyed with the Mexicans at Monterey, Walker was in charge of the main body of Fremont’s small army, which had been left in the Santa Clara Valley. He was also with Fremont when the aggressive pathfinder assumed a defensive position at the top of Mt. Gavilan for the Hawk’s Peak Incident, where Fremont all but dared Alvarado to come and get him. When the Mexican general approached Hawk’s Peak with overwhelming force, Fremont and his men quietly slid down the backside of the mountain and headed back to the Sacramento Valley where Fremont would help foment the Bear Flag Rebellion. After the Mexican War, Walker continued his expeditions, and he is regarded as an important explorer of the southwest. He died in 1876 in Contra Costa County, where he had spent the last 10 years of his life. On his tombstone is engraved his discovery of Yosemite.

The latter research from cousin Johnny Walker and his wife Laurie.

During the 1840s Walker was a scout along with Kit Carson, on two of John C. Fremont’s historic expeditions to California.

There are several chronological gaps in Walker’s life. Not much is known about his life as a Taos Trapper in the 1820s but it’s likely he trapped along the Gila River and its tributaries. Also little is known of his dealings with Captain Benjamin Bonneville other than what my cousin and his wife researched and is copied above.

Sometime around 1836 he married a beautiful young Shoshoni girl. They were together for at least a decade and produced several children but unfortunately her name and the names of their children are unknown. Walker, typical of many of his ilk was a man of few words.

The Shoshoni or Snake women were known for their beauty, personality and conduct. Apparently, white men married them in far greater numbers than any other tribe. Her beauty is documented by the artist Alfred Jacob Miller. She was Walker’s constant companion on all his expeditions. They traveled to Missouri to visit his family where she exhibited poise and made quite an impression on the people she met.

Walker spent the winter of 1837 trapping in the central mountains of Arizona along the Mogollon Rim and was among the first whites to visit that country. In 1862-1863, a quarter of a century later, Walker led his last expedition, this time a party of gold seekers returning to the rugged and remote mountains of central Arizona where they found placer gold in the stream beds at the headwaters of the Hassayampa River in the Bradshaw Mountains. One of those tributaries, Lynx Creek, would be the richest streambed in Arizona history.

The following year the town of Prescott was founded on the banks of Granite Creek and was named capital of the new Territory of Arizona. A nearby community was named Walker in his honor.

Walker returned to his California ranch in 1867 where he died a few years later, on October 27th, 1876.

There is an excellent biography on him. Westering Man; The life of Joseph Walker by Bil Gilbert.

Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or e-mail him:   Marshall has a monthly column in True West Magazine.

I’m comfortable quoting Marshall.  He and I were fraternity brothers and shared a place along with his brother Danny.   Marshall lit the fuse causing the smoldering urge to delve into history and writing.   It’ll take some doing catchin’ up with my ol’ friend.   He has some twenty-two books published.   All are page-turners!

As for Captain Joseph Rutherford Walker, when you consider all the periods he considered as his life’s asterisks that are listed above, you must also consider what he had accomplished in between these times and events.

He was the founder of several places notably Independence, Missouri and Prescott, Arizona.   Lakes, river, roads, and points on maps were given his name mostly because he was the first one to touch those places.

There is a road marker near the old townsite of Walker (on Walker Road) SE of Prescott.   In the town of Prescott there is a reference to Captain Walker on the north side of the town square.   Another monument dedicated to him just west of Whiskey Row on the south side of Gurley Street.  After you visit this site keep going!   A short walk will take you to the Sharlot Hall Museum (415 W. Gurley Street).   There is an plethora of history in this small but delightful museum.

Walker was the consummate leader given his record of never losing a man in combat when we know of the many times he faced his enemies.

Walker knew his craft.  He knew his geography, and knew how to survive in the harshest of climes. He maintained the respect of his men even when they were in a starvation mode and in dire straits due to unforeseen weather phenomena.

Walker was successful in each and every endeavor he encountered.   When captured by the Spanish and imprisoned he successfully negotiated his and his men’s release back to his own country.  This situation occurred in New Mexico Territory and again in California.

It won’t hurt to mention again that Walker was a maker of trails others would follow rather than him doing the following.  Likely no one surpassed his leadership due mostly to that simple trait.

Joe Walker became friends with Chief Washakie leader of the Western Shoshones.  They were commonly called “Snake Indians.”  Little is known of his indian family although Walker once took his “squaw” back to Independence, Missouri where he had been a city founder along with being the first sheriff, a duty he took on for two years.   Below:  from the painting by Alfred Jacob Miller of Bourgeois Walker and squaw done circa 1830’s.

My grandfather on my mother’s side, A. P. Nesbitt, wrote a paper about Washakie, A GREAT AMERICAN, for the Young Men’s Literary League  back in 1947.  AP was a history buff and specialized in the Civil War.  As the senior grandchild, I inherited his complete set of Matthew Brady’s photo-history of the Civil War.  My aunt Virginia’s and my Grandpa Nesbitt’s fostering had me thoroughly hooked.  However, it was the fellow depicted below who was responsible for turning a good many of his friends, family and former students into Western History buffs.

 A GREAT AMERICAN is about someone few knew of seventy years ago, when my grandfather wrote of the great Shoshone Chief Washakie.  Not many US citizens realized the part he played in the early history of Wyoming.   And he wasn’t even a native born Shoshone Indian!
Washakie was more interested in helping his people and never thought of self aggrandizement.   Same with Joe Walker albeit in a different connotation.  Ol’ Joe was a doer and reluctant to even be interviewed.   All those who traveled with him told of him from their own perspective rarely quoting him other than in the minimal sense.   Both Walker and Washakie were true leaders-of-men!   I’m not sure if the term “natural born leader” is true.   If so, then the title would fit both.
The most incredible thing that stands out in my mind was in the length of time Walker spent traipsing across our great land from 1818 until his last excursion, the Arizona Adventure, in the early to mid 1860s, some four plus decades of exciting and dangerous adventures, and only he lost one man.   That one loss was from a revived Grizzly bear!   Extraordinary!   Even more extraordinary is that little is still known about either Joe Walker or Chief Washakie.
\/   AP & JOSIE NESBITT – May 1957

\/  A GREAT AMERICAN  by A. P. Nesbitt 1947

This paper is about a great American – few know of him, few realize the part he played in the early history of Wyoming. His name – Chief Washakie of the Shoshone Indian Tribe.

A great deal of well-deserved credit has been conceded our fearless pioneer leaders and military men for the part they played in the winning of the West, and too much praise cannot be given for their bravery and sacrifices. However, when the authentic early history of Wyoming is thoroughly analyzed, it is disclosed that the one individual who did most to bring about peace and security to the white settlers of this state,was an Indian Chief – Washakie of the Shoshones: Brave, intelligent and possessed of a wonderful physique.

From his first contacts with the whites, Washakie accepted them as his friends, realizing even then that opposition to their coming would be useless. He was discerning enough to perceive that hostilities against these powerful new arrivals, who appeared countless in number, and possessed implements of war with which the Indians could not hope to cope, would result in the inevitable defeat of his people. Also that the United States Government could, if it saw fit, either take this newly settled land from the Indians by force at great sacrifice of life, or guarantee the Indians permanent peace and plenty of land set aside for their exclusive use.

Washakie’s decision to cooperate and be loyal to our government was made. His valued counsel and aid were in constant demand, and always freely given. His knowledge of Indian warfare and the bravery of his fighting men, made it possible for the United States Troops to subdue many of the hostile tribes. Hundreds of immigrants and many scouts owed their lives to his protection.

Acknowledgment of the numerous outstanding contributions made by Washakie to the welfare and protection of our early settlers, was made by Presidents Grant and Hayes, and all of the many Indian officials and scouts with whom he served.

On the walls of the dining room of the Noble Hotel in Lander in the form of murals and exhibits is a history of the life of Chief Washakie from his birth to his death; one could spend hours looking at and studying this history. This is no doubt the finest exhibit of pictures and of Indian life in the state, if not in the entire Rocky Mountain country.

Washakie was not a native-born Shoshone Indian but was born into the Flathead Tribe in 1798 (note: some conjecture of Washakie’s actual birth date.  If 1798 is correct, he was born the same year his friend, Joseph Rutherford Walker was born), probably what is now the State of Montana, or possibly Wyoming. His mother was a Flathead and father an Umatilla Indian. When about 8 years old in an attack by a band of Blackfeet Indians, his father, Paseego, was killed. Young Washakie, after a short chase, was stabbed in the back and left for dead. His mother and two sisters who had evaded capture, located the unconscious boy and made their escape with him into nearby wooded country and they nursed the boy back to health. The family eventually found refuge with the friendly Lemhi Tribe and under their protection Washakie grew to manhood.

Very little is known of him until he joined the Shoshone Tribe in 1830, but his interval of time molded him into a great hunter and a brave, courageous warrior, an Indian of intelligence and great physical strength.

Washakie joined the Shoshone Tribe in 1830, and through his natural leadership and daring in battle it was not long until he was the accepted leader of the younger braves; in 1840 he was elected as a sub-chief and four years later, at the age of 46, was the acclaimed head chief of the tribe. At this time, the Shoshones were divided into two small bands, assembling only upon call of their head chief, Washakie succeeded in uniting the several groups of eastern Shoshones over whom he assumed personal leadership.

Washakie was a hard master – demanding absolute control over every activity of the tribe. The Shoshones were one of the smallest tribes in number of fighting men so Washakie set up a system of military training following as closely as possible the tactics of the United States Army, to which he added his experience as an Indian fighter.

The name Washakie means in Indian language “raw-hide rattle” but in later years, because of a pronounced scar across his left cheek, the result of an arrow wound received in battle with a band of Blackfeet, Washakie was generally known to the Indians as “White-haired Chief with Scarred Face”.

Washakie held the respect and admiration of his people not only as an able chieftain and a great leader in battle, but also as a mighty hunter.

For many years, Washakie claimed what is now known as the Lander Valley and surrounding Wind River Country for his people as their tribal hunting ground. Because this region was rich in game and fish it was eagerly sought by other tribes and the result was a long period of almost constant warfare. Washakie early realize that upon his ability to maintain friendly relations with the U.S. troops would depend the future of his tribe. His greatest ambition was to obtain by treaty absolute domain over their cherished Wind River Valley, with adequate protection against attack by their combined enemies. Washakie, therefore, refused to permit the blood of a white person to be shed by any member of his tribe and he assisted the U.S. troops on every occasion possible, when the U.S. troops found it necessary to do battle with his enemies.

The Indian tribes, especially the Plains Indians, spent their summers on long, marauding hunting missions; the hunting parties ranged from a few to many, often as many as a thousand, depending of course upon the size of the tribe. They often were found hundreds of miles from their permanent home. On these expeditions they never hesitated to attack, especially if they outnumbered the foe, any unfriendly tribe or white men that they came across. This procedure brought on many conflicts, many minor skirmishes and others of major proportions. The Indians in the early part of the time represented in this paper were armed with bows and arrows, tomahawks, lances and knives, and many of the encounters were man for man at extremely close quarter. The rifle followed at a later date.

The following battles participated in by Chief Washakie and his Shoshone Tribe, were the result of encountering other Indians on what he considered their – the Shoshone’s – private hunting grounds.

Death of Chief Washakie’s Son, 1865

During the year 1864, the Cheyenne and Sioux had become leaders of the marauding tribes which, through their widespread depredations, were creating a reign of terror among the white settlers and emigrants in Wyoming. Although arch enemies of the Shoshones, the Cheyennes and Sioux sent one of their chiefs to wait upon Washakie in the spring of 1865 in an endeavor to have the Shoshones join them in ridding their land of the whites. However, Washakie stood firm, and steadfastly refused to permit his warriors to participate in any of of the many horrible atrocities being committed. He further incited these tribes by declaring that it was his intention to assist the U.S. troops in their efforts to quell this continued uprising. At this point I wish to emphasize the courage that it must have taken to turn down those strong requests – almost demands – knowing full well that these very Indians, strong tribes that they were, would attack him at every opportunity. Bringing this thought to date, how many of our present day leaders and politicians would or could resist such an advance if made under today’s conditions? Is it a wonder that one of our prosperous Wyoming counties is named Washakie? That monuments have been erected in his honor and that streets in several towns bear his name?

To go back to the preceding paragraph – a short time later, in answer to an urgent appeal from General Connor, Washakie rushed several of his best scouts ahead to help the troops track down those plundering tribes, and made preparation to follow with the balance of his fighting men. The news of this action tended to further infuriate the Cheyennes and Sioux, and in the early summer of 1865 they attacked the main body of the Shoshones who were then camped on the Sweetwater River, south of Lander.

While the battle was in progress, a small group of Sioux succeeded in driving off about 400 of the Shoshone horses. Chief Washakie immediately designated his oldest son Nau-nang-gai (Snow Bird) to lead a detachment of picked warriors in pursuit of the fleeing enemy, and endeavor to bring back the highly-prized horses. Young Washakie was the first to mount, and while waiting for the others was severely reprimanded by Chief Washakie for his apparent delay in getting started. Making no reply, but without hesitation the boy whipped his mount and started off alone after the horse-stealing Sioux. At the crossing of Willow Creek, six miles distant, he caught up with eight of the Sioux Indians and engaged them in battle. Out-numbered, young Washakie had no chance of survival, and after killing two of the enemy, was over-powered and slain. His death was avenged later in the day by his comrades, who killed almost all of the Sioux raiders, recapturing all of their own horses as well as taking those of their enemy. The death of his favorite son was a tremendous loss to Chief Washakie, who realized that his unwarranted reprimand had sent the boy to his certain death. Indians who were present at the time the boy’s body was returned to Washakie, shorn of its scalp stated that within a few hours Washakie’s hair had turned completely white.

Crow Heart Butte Battle – 1866

An important battle was fought within view of this large flat-top butte, between the Shoshones and Bannock Indians on one side, and the Crow Indians on the other. It was a contest for possession of the prized hunting grounds of the big Wind River Basin.

The tribes were so evenly matched that as the battle continued into the fifth day it was apparent that neither side was able to gain an advantage, while many men were being lost. It was finally agreed that Chief Washakie and the Crow Chief “Big Robber” should fight a duel, and the tribe of the victorious Chief should have undisputed claim to the Wind River Valley. As both chiefs were noted fighters and bitter enemies the contest was heralded as a great event. With their own lives and the future of their tribes depending upon the outcome of this contest, each chief fought with all of his skill and cunning. Although excitement was at a high pitch, the members of each tribe looked on without interference as they had agreed. Washakie was the victor, and was so impressed with the bravery of the Crow Chief that he cut out the heart of his late antagonist and displayed it on the end of his lance at the dance of victory held by the Shoshone Tribe that night. One of the Crow girls (Aha-why-per) captured during this battle was later to become the wife of Chief Washakie.

The Treaty of 1868

On July 2, 1863, the U.S. Government granted to Washakie practically all of the land over which his tribe roamed consisting of parts of what is now Colorado, Utah, Idaho and Wyoming, or in excess of forty-four million acres of land. Four years later due to the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad and the land grant made to it by the government, the government found itself in an embarrassing situation by reason of the Treaty of 1863, so the Congress passed the Indian Peace Commission Act of July 20, 1867. General C. C. Augur, acting for the Commission and assisted by an interpreter, met with Chief Washakie and his Council at Ft. Bridger on July 3, 1868, and in lieu of the Treaty of 1863, entered into a new treaty with Chief Washakie and his Council, which was to give him his favorite Wind River Valley consisting of a little more than three million acres of ground, an area in itself as large as the State of Connecticut.

Although only a small part of the original Shoshone grant, this wonderful valley included some of Wyoming’s finest agricultural lands, as well as hunting and fishing grounds prized by many Indian tribes. General Augur wanted the boundaries described by latitude and longitude, but Chief Washakie wanted the boundary descriptions shown by our familiar rivers and mountains and this was the way it was drawn up in the treaty.

Following the signing of this treaty of 1868, Washakie informed the members of his tribe that it was his intention to avoid, if honorably possible, any further battles with enemy tribes and settle on their newly acquired reservation as soon as the government carried out its part of the agreement. The treaty provided the setting up – under adequate military protection – a model farming community, to furnish instructors to teach them the modern farming methods, school teachers, physicians, carpenters, millers and others.

Unmindful of what the carrying out of the provisions of this treaty would mean to all members of the tribe agitation for a new leader was started by a few of the younger warriors who were still imbued with the spirit of adventure and lust for battle. In the spring of 1869 Washakie heard rumblings of their dissatisfaction and assertions that he was no longer the brave and fearless fighter of past years, that age and contact with the white man had thinned his fighting blood and he had become too civilized to scalp his enemies. Washakie was then 71 years of age. He said nothing when he learned of this but, placing a sub-chief in charge, he left camp at once. Upon his return he called all of his braves into council and informed them he had learned of the desire of a few to replace him with a chief more brave and daring. Holding up before them seven enemy scalps, he announced that he, alone, had taken these trophies of war, and if there was one among them who could better this accomplish, let him do so and claim his place as leader. This ended the agitation to replace Washakie as chief of the Shoshone tribe, and until his death in 1900 he retained unquestioned authority. He was chief of the Shoshone tribe for 56 years, probably a record by any Indian chief of any tribe.

Trout Creek Battle – 1872

The Sioux and Cheyenne finally persuaded the strong Arapahoe tribe to join with them in an endeavor to wipe out the Shoshones, their common enemy. Each tribe alone numbered more fighting men than the Shoshones.

Year after year the Shoshones had been pursued, only to successfully outwit their foe, and safely make the protection of the Wind River Mountains. The wiley leadership of Washakie and the daring bravery of his men was a constant flaunt to these enemy tribes. In the early spring of 1872, the Shoshones were taken by surprise by the combined forces of these three tribes and advance scouts brought back word that they had been cut off from their usual retreat into the mountains. Trapped in the valley, and realizing that this was to be a battle upon which would depend the survival of his tribe, Chief Washakie had his people cross Trout Creek to higher ground and set up their lodges in a giant circle in preparation for the attack.

He then ordered trenches to be dug inside each tepee, around the lower edge, sufficiently deep so that only the heads and enough of the bodies of his fighting men were above ground to permit them to shoot between the ground and the bottom of the tepee. The enemy coming over a nearby ridge at dawn, observed the apparently hopeless plight of this small village, and were filled with confidence that their long-hoped-for time to wipe out the Shoshone tribe had come. Gathering their forces they circled for the kill. Unseen by the attacking forces, the Shoshones fired under their lodges from their buried positions and but few of them were hit, while the invaders lost many men.

Several more charges were made, each receiving the same reception. When Washakie felt that he was no longer too heavily out-numbered, and noting the confusion in the enemy ranks caused by their ever-increasing losses, he mounted his warriors and led them in attack. After a fierce running battle, the three enemy tribes were driven out of the Wind River country sustaining heavy losses in both men and horses.

Upon examination of the Shoshone tepees after the battle, they were found to be peppered with holes made by enemy bullets and arrows, many of which would surely have found their mark had the Shoshone warriors not been firing from their entrenched positions.

In 1873 Camp Brown, which was located on the present site of the Noble Hotel in Lander, was moved 16 miles north and renamed Fort Washakie. Until this time Chief Washakie had insisted that his people would be unable to lay down their arms and till the soil until they were assured ample protection against enemy tribes and urged that sufficient numbers of cavalrymen be stationed nearby for that purpose.

Bates Battle – 1874 – The Last Indian Battle of Importance Fought by the Shoshones

The famous Bates Battle took place in the Big Horn Mountains, July 4, 1874, between a large and of roaming hostile Arapahoes, and a force composed of Company “B” 2nd U.S. Calvary under the command of Captain Bates, 20 enlisted Shoshone Indian Scouts under Lt. Robert H. Young of the 4th Infantry, 167 Indian Shoshone braves led by Chief Washakie, and a few citizens from Camp Brown.

The Arapahoes long-time enemies of the Shoshones, had been causing a great deal of trouble by their attacks on white settlers of the Lander Valley, having taken a number of lives and stolen and destroyed considerable property.

Chief Washakie responded at once to Captain Bates’ appeal for help in running down and punishing the Arapahoes and picked from his tribe the best of his fighting men. As this was to be Capt. Bates’ first encounter with hostile Indians, he entrusted all plans of attack entirely to Chief Washakie. The expedition started from Camp Brown July 1, 1874, traveling only at night. During the night of July 3, after a march of nearly 120 miles, Washakie came upon the Arapahoe camp located in a gorge at the base of a high bluff in the Big Horn Mountains. The attack started at daybreak the morning of July 4.

The Arapahoes had chosen a poor location for their camp, and were taken completely by surprise. The fierce battle which ensued lasted about four hours; so savage was the fighting that the ammunition of both sides was nearly exhausted, and the Arapahoe Village, composed of 115 lodges, was entirely wiped out. More than 200 head of horses were taken by the Shoshones, who displayed exceptional bravery throughout the battle. When Lt. Young fell, badly wounded, Washakie and a few of his men, along with Scout Cosgrove, rushed out under heavy fire and saved him from falling into the hands of the enemy.

Through the able leadership of Chief Washakie the losses sustained by the troops and the Shoshone Indians were very small, while the defeat of the Arapahoes was so complete that their power as a marauding tribe was broken forever.

The government again broke its agreement with Chief Washakie and his people by moving the Arapahoes in on part of their reservation in March 1878. This caused great uneasiness to the Shoshones as the Arapahoes had been their bitter enemies for many years and blood shed was prevented by unusual tact on the part of Indian Agent Patton and Chief Washakie. The Arapahoes were located on the reservation’s most productive land farther down the valley. The Arapahoes are a lazy and shiftless bunch and have made little progress to this day and are government wards. The government definitely broke its agreement with Chief Washakie and the Shoshones by moving the Arapahoes onto their reservation and only after years of litigation and after Chief Washakie and his Council were dead, did they make amends. In 1938, the Supreme Court of the U.S. awarded the Shoshone tribe the amount of $4,453,000 in lieu of encroachment by the Arapahoes.

The Reverend John Roberts who had come to the reservation as an Episcopal Missionary in 1863 was a close friend of Chief Washakie. Chief Washakie had adopted the Christian faith and was baptized in January 1897. He died on February 19, 1900, at the age of 102 years, and was buried in the Military Cemetery at Ft. Washakie, with full military honors of a Captain. The funeral procession was two miles long. Assisting Dr. Roberts in the services conducted at the grave was an Episcopal minister, Dr. Sherman Coolidge, a full-blooded Arapahoe Indian.

Truly, Chief Washakie was a Great American, a good friend of our pioneer settlers.

A. P. Nesbitt 1947


First, as a matter of clarification Joe Walker’s middle name “Rutherford” is a family name.  His father’s mother’s maiden name was Rutherford.   The confusion, I believe, occurred when cartographers such as Daniel Conner erred by using the name “Reddeford” as Joe Walker’s middle name.   It reminds me again of the adage “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”   Legend, rumor, or what, Joseph Rutherford Walker is the name of one of America’s greatest trailblazers.

His resumé is so extraordinary I am amazed Robert Reddeford hasn’t made a movie of his life.  Just imagine the many travels made by Walker across the country in and out of areas never before visited by a white man and surviving.   All his men surviving say the one killed in a hunting accident and being mauled by a Grizzly.

Who the hell is Captain Joseph Rutherford Walker asked a friend?  I am often surprised at how Walker is relatively unknown given he was arguably the greatest of ‘em all!

Matthew Brady photo of Captain J R Walker 1860

It set me to thinkin’ I might should study up some on this interesting “ancestor.”  During the summer of 2013, my wife, Cheryl, and I traipsed around the country looking for evidence of ol’ Joe Walker’s having passed this way or that.   We discovered quite a bit.

In his day, Walker was one of the most famous of the mountain men and explorers of the unknown country west of the Mississippi.  Certainly, Walker was the most successful in that he developed an impressive résumé ranging from foot solder, mounted rifleman, leader, sheriff, hunter, guide, indian fighter, gold seeker, community developer, and, finally, retiree. At the end of those 78 years Walker had left a prodigious trail beyond spectacular.

Walker’s father fought in the Revolutionary War.  He was a member of George Washington’s famous spy ring.

Growing up amongst war heroes, surveyors, and special agents for America’s budding government, Joe Walker likely became enamored by the success of the Lewis & Clark expedition of 1803-1806.  There is little doubt this glorious event lit a fire in young Walker that would remain lit his entire life.

When he was just fifteen, Walker and some of his brothers joined a cousin, Sam Houston, as part of the Tennessee Volunteer Mounted Guardsmen.  They were led by none other than two-star general, Andy Jackson.

Walker participated in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814 defeating the Red Sticks under the great Creek leader,Tecumseh.  The following year, Jackson’s army had defeated the British following the Battle of New Orleans.

These battle success’ didn’t hurt Jackson’s campaign for the presidency.  The Walker family stayed close friends with Jackson until his death in 1845.

Walker’s natural ability in assuming a leadership role took him in numerous directions.  He led several famous personages including Becknell, Bonneville, and Freemont (a man Walker held in disdain).

Walker founded Independence, Missouri in 1925 at the governor’s request.  Walker became the first county sheriff of Jackson County.  One famous story is of the time Joe Walker made it possible for Kit Carson to become legendary.

Carson, an indentured youth, escaped from bondage.  It was one of Walker’s duties to send any runaway slave or indentured escapees back to their “owners.”  For this Walker would be paid a penny!

Walker saw something special in Carson and put him in the care of his Taos Trapper friends.  Billy Wolfskill and Ewing Young put Carson to work tending horses.  It was Wolfskill who named young Carson “Kit.”  The Taos Trappers would shape Carson into being a first-rate trapper himself.

According to author, Kate Ruland-Thorne, Walker WAS the greatest of them all.  Walker was amazingly successful given his firsts.  He was the first to guide a government survey party assigned to map the Santa Fe Trail; the first to find a navigable route over the Sierra Nevada Mountains to California; the first to lead an emigrant wagon train over that route; the first white man to set eyes on the majestic Yosemite Valley; and the first to discover the gold that initiated Arizona as a territory.

Even Joe Meek publicly acclaimed Walker as the greatest of all the early trail blazers.  Meek said, “To accompany Captain Walker on an expedition put a feather in a man’s cap.”

During his lifetime, Walker was more sought after than Jedediah Smith, Bill Williams, Joe Meek, Ewing Young, Kit Carson, Jim Baker or Jim Bridger.

Historian, Hubert Howe Bancroft (1832-1918), prolific writer, stated: “Captain Joe Walker was one of the bravest and most skilled of the mountain men; none was better acquainted than he with the geography or the native tribes of the Great Basin; and he was withal less boastful and pretentious than most of his class.”

“I was strongly impressed by the simple and upright character of Capt. Walker, and his mountain comrades spoke in the highest praise of his ability. Fremont, Kit Carson, Bill Williams, Alex Godey, Vincenthaler, Ferguson, and others, all agreed in saying that as a mountain man, Captain Walker had no superior.” These were the words of Lafayette Bunnell, the man that named Yosemite Valley, a valley that Walker first visited in 1833.  He and his party were the first white men to see what became Yosemite and the unusually huge Sequoia and Redwood trees.

Monument recognizing Walker having been the first white visitor to Yosemite

Bunnell met with Captain Walker on numerous occasions in the 1850s to discuss Walker’s route over the Sierra Nevada Mountains into the San Joaquin Valley.

Daniel Conner was a member of the Walker party during the Arizona adventure and wrote down all his experiences. Conner’s later writing’s were responsible for shedding light on the Mangas Coloradas affair at Fort McLean.   Certainly, Conner’s writings have been helpful albeit full of contradictions.

Conner had very strong feelings about Joseph R. Walker and shared them:

“I was with him [Walker] two years of his last explorations of our mountain country under the most desperate hardships and still I could never see any change in him. Always cool, firm, and dignified. “I never heard him tell any wonderful story. He was too reticent about his certainly bleak and wild experiences and he was never given to saying foolish things under any circumstance. Brave, truthful, he was as kindly as a child, yet occasionally he was ever austere. I was but a boy and he kept me out of dangerous places without letting me know it or even know how it was done. “. . . my greatest concern is the fear that his character will never be known as well as it ought to be. His services have been great and unostentatious, unremunerated and but little understood. Modesty was his greatest fault.”

My ol’ pal, mentioned earlier, Marshall Trimble, often quips that the first white man in Arizona was a black man!  Esteban came to what was then “New Spain” and now Arizona traveling with Coronado back in 1540-1542.  There is a rock engraving a stone’s throw from my home in Ahwatukee apparently carved by Fray Marcos de Niza who accompanied Coronado on this epic journey.

“Coronado became lost in what is now Arizona, lost in what is now New Mexico, lost in what is now Texas and even Kansas.  It just goes to show that even back then men wouldn’t stop and ask directions” says Trimble.

Another early traveler here was Juan Bautista de Anza Jr.  He was of Basque heritage but born in Mexico.  He traveled thru the region in the mid 1700’s on missions to subdue hostile Native American’s such as the Apache.

It is unknown who actually was the first white man to arrive in Arizona, but one of the first arrivals was likely Captain Joseph Rutherford Walker in one of his early treks across the country.

Enroute to Arizona, the Walker party had some interesting maneuvering to avoid deadly skirmishes with the Apache.   At one point Walker had an opportunity to capture “Red Sleeves” one of the sobriquets given famed Apache chief Mangus Coloradas (La-choy Ko-kun-noste), or Dasoda-hae (“He Just Sits There”) (c. 1793 – January 18, 1863).  Magnas was an Apache tribal chief and a member of the Mimbreño (Tchihende) division of the Central Apaches, whose homeland stretched west from the Rio Grande to include most of what is present-day southwestern.

Magnas was HUGE!  Some suggest he was seven feet tall!  The Apache is generally in the five-foot-five to five-foot-seven average height.   Even if Magnas was over six feet tall, he would have been an impressive specimen of the Apache.

He was an fierce leader; respected; and feared.  Walker sensing an opportunity had a lieutenant, Jack Swelling (1830-1878) set a trap to capture Magnas.  Swelling would later be credited with being a founder of the city of Phoenix.

The trap of January 18, 1863 was successful the end result not so.   The U.S. Army under the command of BGen. Joseph Rodman West of the California militia took custody of Mangas after the Walker Party reluctantly handed him over.

That night Magnas was tortured, shot and killed “escaping” while he was tied to the ground.   In death Magnas was measured at six-feet-six.  The army cut off his head, boiled it and sent the skull to a phrenologist in New York City.   Supposedly, the skull made it’s way to the Smithsonian.   However, an exhaustive search has no record of having received it.

The above photo is apparently of Magnus Coloradas son Magnus.  According to Marshall Trimble there are no known photos of “Red Sleeves.”

Walker, along with Pauline Weaver came back to Arizona to search for gold.  In 1863 The Walker Party discovered gold near ‘Links Creek’ actually Lynx Creek in the Bradshaw Mountains. Early in 1863, the new Arizona Territory had been signed into law by President Lincoln ostensibly because of the large gold discovery.

There would be more than six billion dollars in gold taken from the Bradshaw Mountains by the time it played out.  Even today there is some success with gold seekers panning the area.

By March of 1864 the territorial officers, headed by Governor John Goodwin, had arrived in the new territory and had picked this site for the first capital. A few other young men, mostly seeking after mining wealth, were already there. Captain Joseph Rutherford Walker and his Walker Party had moved into the ‘Links Creek’ area and were mining with some success.

Van C. Smith, a young adventurer from California, had built a small cabin and was accepting the stock on immigrants to graze and to care for at one dollar and fifty cents per head per month, and had been elected Recorder of the Walker Mining District. It was Smith who first spelled the name of the area “Lynx.”

Author, Jim Byrkit, (a retired professor of history and geography at Northern Arizona University) wrote: 

”In February 1863, at the height of the United States’ Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill making Arizona a territory separate from New Mexico. Three months later, renowned frontiersman Joseph R. Walker wrote a letter to Gen. James Carleton, whose U.S. Army command, based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, included the new Arizona Territory. Walker told how he with a party of other men had found gold on the Hassayampa River about six miles south of today’s Prescott. Carleton immediately decided to send an army detail to the diggings to protect Americans there from Indian attacks. He chose Robert Groom to guide the army expedition to the gold fields.

Led by Capt. Nathaniel Pishon, the expedition included John A. Clark, Surveyor General of New Mexico. On August 19th the party arrived at Granite Creek, where Prescott is today. Hearing a shot coming from upstream, Bob Groom went to investigate. He soon met the legendary Arizona gold-seeker and guide, Pauline Weaver. Groom asked Weaver if he had seen any sign of the Walker party. Weaver, actually a member of Walker‘s gold-discovering group and a cagey old coot, replied that he hadn’t seen anyone nearby, but he had seen smoke rising further up the creek. Groom and Pishon soon found the Walker and the other men. Because Groom had met Pauline Weaver on Granite Creek, Sharlot Hall, sixty-six years later, would call Weaver “the first citizen of Prescott.” (yet Walker was one of the founders of the town of Prescott.  Walker Road and the town of Walker near the original mining district are named for Joseph Rutherford Walker).  

Pishon’s group soon went back to New Mexico, but Groom remained at the diggings. At about the same time, another member of the Walker party, George Lount, built the first house in Prescott. Soon after, James Sheldon, also from this group, erected a large cabin nearby and generously hosted grateful travelers. In June, another gold-seeker with Walker, King Woolsey, had built a ranch house near the Agua Fria River which other pioneers used as a refuge and way station.

Back in Santa Fe, Capt. Pishon saw Gen. Carleton and confirmed the gold discovery. Carleton then ordered Capt. Pishon to guide a more sizeable expedition commanded by Major Edward B. Willis to go to Arizona and establish an army post there. A number of non-military people joined the caravan. Included were Ed Peck, who later became a prominent Arizona historical figure, and Albert Franklin Banta, who years later wrote a colorful account of his life in the Arizona Territory. Willis reached Del Rio Springs, twenty-four miles north of Prescott on December 23, 1863. Here he located Fort Whipple, a title Carleton had chosen to honor one of the early northern Arizona explorers, Amiel Weeks Whipple, who had only recently been killed in action in the Civil War.

President Lincoln named Ohio ex-Congressmen John A. Gurley as territorial governor; when Gurley died in August 1863 (long before he was to come to Arizona), Lincoln replaced Gurley with John N. Goodwin. Included among the other officials was Territorial Secretary Richard C. McCormick and Associate Judge, Joseph P. Allyn. Gen. Carleton designated Lt. J. Francisco Chaves, New Mexico Volunteers, to escort this gubernatorial party to Arizona.

In late January 1864, Goodwin’s party reached Del Rio Springs. Within a few weeks the governor chose the site south of Del Rio Springs for the capital and decided to call the place Prescott, for the historian William Hickling Prescott, and he relocated Fort Whipple nearby.

To develop the Prescott town site, Bob Groom did the initial surveying. As part of this process, the officials chose street names. Most of the east-west streets were given names honoring the region’s pioneers. These names fell into several categories: early Northern Arizona explorers and guides, U. S. Army officers, Arizona territorial officials, gold-seekers and other Prescott pioneers.

The explorers whose names became part of Prescott included Antoine Leroux, one of the most famous of the Southwest guides; Francois X. Aubry (the Prescott street is misspelled “Aubrey”), a notable Southwest trader and trailmaker; and Joseph Walker. Street names of army officers included Carleton, Whipple and Willis. Prescott’s founders gave their own names to Prescott’s streets: Gurley, Goodwin, McCormick. Other prominent settlers whose names appeared on street signs were Sheldon and Lount. For a short time, the first Fort Whipple, at Del Rio Springs, was renamed Camp Clark, in honor of the New Mexico surveyor general. (Many years later and a way from downtown, the names of King Woolsey and the famous Kit Carson were added to Prescott’s streets.)

However, not all of these people ever visited Prescott. Leroux, Aubry and Kit Carson did their trailblazing in other parts of Arizona. Gen. James Carleton administered the army activities in Arizona from Santa Fe. Whipple was killed and Gurley died before the gubernatorial party had started its trip to Arizona. Historian William Hickling Prescott, who died in 1859 at age sixty-three, never knew about his influence on Prescott’s history.

For several prominent people in Prescott’s early history there is no street name at all: Nathaniel Pishon, who commanded the first two military groups to the Prescott area; Ed Peck, who developed and then lost a rich mine in the Bradshaw Mountains; and J. Francisco Chaves, who led the governor’s party to this area and then found a better way back to New Mexico which became known as the Chavez Trail. Joseph P. Allyn, one of the first persons to write about Prescott, and Daniel Ellis Connor, who later wrote more than a thousand pages of manuscript about Prescott and Arizona are missing, too. There is a Franklin street, but it is unclear if it is attributed to Albert Franklin Banta, whose colorful memoirs about the early days in Prescott can be found in the Sharlot Hall Museum’s archives. At one time there was a Weaver Street, named for Sharlot Hall’s First Resident of Prescott, and who now lies buried on the Museum grounds. But years ago this street name disappeared in favor of an extension of Goodwin Street.

The U.S. 1864 census shows Bob Groom, who led the first military expedition to Prescott from New Mexico and who was the first man to connect with the Walker party to be a miner and a resident of Prescott. Prescott’s 1870 census indicates that Groom, who was the first person to survey Prescott’s town site, who was elected to preside over the initial effort to appraise and sell the town’s lots, and who was elected to serve in the first Arizona Territorial Legislature, still lived in Prescott. Groom Creek, five miles south of Prescott, bears his name, but the founders of the town and the residents since have omitted him when choosing names for Prescott’s streets.

How the state of Arizona got its name

John Huff (a volunteer at Sharlot Hall Museum) writes:

President Lincoln finally declared Arizona a separate territory from New Mexico on February 24, 1863. Other names, including “Gadsonia,” “Pimeria,” “Montezuma.” “Arizuma” and “Arizonia” had been considered for the territory. However, when President Lincoln signed the final bill, it read, “Arizona.” The importance of declaring it a territory of the United States was known shortly afterward, when the Walker party found gold in the Bradshaw Mountains, contributing greatly to the Union effort for the Civil War. The question that remained was whether or not our state was a Piman Indian word as put forth by many writers. A Western historian, Hubert Howe Bancroft, wrote in 1889 (“History of Arizona and New Mexico”) that Arizona was a Pima-Papago (now Tohono O’odham) word. A number of place name books and travel guides stated that the name was Spanish for “arida zona” (arid zone) for the climate. This did not appear to be a convenient solution since the correct Spanish word would have to be “zonarida.”

Years later, on February 14, 1912, President Taft declared Arizona a state. The historians, guide books and common usage still proclaimed the Indian translation. In 1979, William Douglass, director of Basque (northern Spain) Studies at the University of Nevada, published an article that questioned these earlier explanations. He wrote that for “ali shonak” (presented in Part I) to become “Arizona,” the “1” has to become “r”, “sh” to be “z” and the “k” had to be dropped. If it were a Piman Indian word, then the Spaniards would have called it “Alizona.” Dr. Douglass decided that it must be a Basque word.

Donald T. Garate, a Basque native in Arizona and former Superintendent of Arizona’s Tumacacori National Monument, had spent more than 10 years researching archives in Spain and the Americas in order to write a book in 2005, “Juan Bautista de Anza: Basque Explorer in the New World, 1693-1740,” and has concluded that Arizona is “aritz” (oak tree) and “ona” (good or valuable). The Basque translation is then the “good oak tree.” Garate was familiar with the words since there are many oak trees in the Pyranees Mountains of the Basque country. The Basque settlers in New Spain were aware of all the oak trees in their new surroundings of Sonora and southern Arizona. Garate also notes that the place name “Arizona” can be found in Central and South America where the Spanish, including the Basque, settled and where Tohono O’odham/Pima names are unlikely to be found.

Today, the same place described in the 1736 documents by Juan Bautista de Anza I, a Basque explorer, near Planchas de Plata Canyon, was and is known today as Arizona. It is located just SE of Nogales. The 2009 Google map of Sonora shows “Arizona,” the location of Rancho Arizona of 1736. Many Basque settlers, such as the great de Anzas (father and son), had settled in the Sonora region. Their presence is more proof to Garate that the name originated from the Basque language. But, what happened to the “c” in the original “Arizonac”? Garate explained that it would make it plural: “the good oak trees,” so it was dropped.

Richard Sims, former director of Sharlot Hall Museum, visited the Sonora “Arizonac” region in 2003. He wrote that the place name Arizona was first known by the locals when mentioned in Juan de Anza’s report of the 1736 silver strike. The Arizona rancheria was owned by Bernardo de Urrea and was the locale of the famous silver deposits. Sims also quoted Don Garate’s writing that no Pima Indians had lived in that area. Sims pointed out that the Arizona name is found in Argentina and Brazil where a large percentage of population in those regions was settled by the Basque people.

The bottom line to all this narrative is that “Arizona” appears to translate as “the good oak tree.” A trek in the woods around Prescott right now reveals an unbelievable bed of fallen oak leaves, reminding us as we walk how our state got its name.

Law in these parts started in the mines

Jody Drake the director of the Blue Rose Theater at the Museum writes:

Before the appearance of man the only law was that of balance, prey and predator. In early human existence we can only surmise man adhered to this balance. However, once individuals began to master their environment the concepts of property came into light. Once possession is questioned, protection is necessary, thus the law. Once laws are established, we have outlaws. This is an oversimplification granted, but a truth in fact.

A Babylonian King named Hamerloly put the first recorded laws in history into writing. There were two hundred and eighty two law decisions and one hundred and sixty seven of those dealt with property dispute. It was a fairly simple outline, and eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. As Shakespeare put it ” There is nothing either good or bad but what mans thinking makes it so”.

When we jump ahead to the early settlement of the west, in particular that of Arizona, we see an interesting diversification in the Territory. In the southern part of the region in 1860’s we see the absence of formal law and the existence of vigilante action. The miners were the first to settle the Arizona Territory, with them a support system was soon to arrive and capitalism was in full swing. Once there were merchants, they were in need of protection. With no established legal outline of action, it was left in the hands of those affected, primarily the businessmen. The some common forms of punishment included lashing, head shaving, and ear cropping. The ultimate punishment of lynching was saved for the worst crimes. Contrary to popular opinion lynchings were not practiced with joy or glee, it was thought to be a responsible act, and usually carried out after a confession had been given. There are documented lynching in Yuma 1866, Phoenix 1873, and St. Johns 1879 Globe 1880, Tombstone 1884, and Holbrook 1885.

As I am sure you noticed Prescott is missing from the above list. No white man had been born or raised in this wilderness capitol during the early years. Citizens had all come from somewhere with an existing established order. On May 10, 1863 when Joe Walker and his 28 miners arrived on the headwaters of the Hassayampa, they built a corral to protect their livestock and then sat down to write the first mining laws. The territorial government would soon arrive and with them the military and marshal law (The first organized government law of the territory). Civilization marched into Arizona with the first territorial command. When we examine the composition of the first governor’s party we find a group of men all well versed in legal procedure. They came to this unsettled land with a will to set in motion a system that was well written and executed with pride. Because of the early foundations laid, law being at the top of the list, Prescott was given all the ingredients for growth and prosperity.

As we examine our legal structure today and look back on it’s noble roots, we take inspiration from the footsteps of our forefathers and try to understand and improve a system with such highborn beginnings. Of course, there are challenges, but one should never stop trying to improve something so important and look to solutions. Remember it only takes a small group of inspired individuals to move a mountain. History has shown this time and again.

In recognition of the legal system, the Sharlot Hall Museum’s Blue Rose Theater will hold the fourth annual law day celebration. We will gather on this Friday, April 27 in the County Courthouse at 4 p.m. to recreate an 1895 Grand Jury hearing that found a legal loophole that set a murderer free. Come early since this will be a first come, first seat basis.” 

Joseph Rutherford Walker’s name survives today on Walker Lake (now sadly drying up), Walker River, Walker Valley, Walker Pass, Walker Canyon, Walker Peak, Walker Trail, Walker Mining District (Bradshaw Mountains), the town of Walker, California and Walker, Arizona (now a summer cottage area SE of Prescott).

Somehow there has to be a movie about Walker.   Hugh Glass’ movie was the Revenant.  Hugh Glass became famous for a singular Hurclean event.   Not to diminish Glass’ amazing and difficult trek, an impossible story of survival, what Walker accomplished over his half-century – one odyssey after another just has to tweak the Redefords, Eastwoods, or Iñárritus.

The Territorial News Vol. 28 No.1 has a story written by Richard W. Kimball The Death of Mangas Coloradas.  I enjoyed this article but felt there were a couple of inaccuracies.   That is the thing about history.  Most authors attempt to do the necessary research to make sure the story they are writing is accurate.   Some facts are actually legends that have become facts!  “when the legend becomes fact…print the legend!”



  1. Very interesting and well assembled history of the man. I’m 4 time great grandson of Barbara Walker and grand nephew of Abraham McClellan. My 3 time great grandfather Colonel john McClellan was his brother and a son of Captain William McClellan and Barbara Walker. I’m also very interested in our extremely strong family tradition of being related to Samuel rutherford and the Alliene family of Protestant Reformers. It has literally just struck me that our families played a big role in the founding of that Kansas City/Independence Missouri area.

  2. Great history!! I wonder if you might have any information on Martin (Martrom) Lewis. It is said that he was a member of Walker’s outfit, particularly in Arizona. He came from Missouri and was born in 1816. I simply cannot find out where he ended up at the end of his life.

    1. Hi Shannon, since I’ve replied via e-mail, I won’t repeat here albeit if you are able to make it to Sharlot Hall Museum, Prescott, AZ, there’s a plethora of archival history of the Walker Party. You might find some insight to your ancestor.

  3. Very Cool. Joseph Walker is one of my Relatives also. My Great Great Great Grandfather. We live in Sonoma County California. Funny, never knew the Blacksmithing connection as it is one of my hobbies.

  4. Hello, It was known, Capt. Joseph Rutherford Walker had a Shoshone wife/partner. Learning he fathered children is a surprise. Maybe with dna and ancestry websites their descendants will be found. I read- He lived with his nephew, James Toomey Walker’s family on the Manzanita Ranch till his death. James Toomey Walker was the son of ‘Samuel S. Walker and Barbara Rebecca Toomey’. Barbara’s maternal grandmother- Barbara Walker is the sister of Joseph Sr., James Patterson Walker, and Joel Pickens Walker married Mary Young. they were the parents of several children, they moved from MO. to CA..
    Joseph Walker I.’s brother James Patterson Walker is my ancestor. Connie from MO.
    I have enjoyed reading ‘The Westering Man and your Writings.

  5. Such a fine piece of written history! I appreciate your effort! My main interest has to do with the Walker Party’s journey across southwestern Arizona from the Gila River placer field to the Discovery and mining of Lynx Creek Placer and birth of Prescott. I first dipped a pan and recovered my first gold nuggets and gold-bearing ore in the Bradshaw Mountains near mt. Union. I’ve traveled Walker Road through the community of Walker numerous times.But it is the history of the journey and the discoveries made that is such a fascinating story!! But thats all i knew about Capt Joseph Walker until now. Such an incredible life!! This man is an unsung early American GIANT, perhaps the finest of the historic mountain men! Thank you for the wonderful history!

  6. I loved reading this. Joseph R. Walker is my ancestor as well. I grew up listening to stories from my grandfather Thomas Walker about the great mountain man we Descended from. I remember him taking us to yosemite when I was a kid to see the plaque dedicated to him. I even wrote a report on him in elementary school. My daughter is now learning about the explorers of california and she was very delighted to know that she is related to him as well. Thank you again and feel free to contact me if you’d like.

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