by Barbara Patton

Last week’s article left Joseph Walker with his tired and weary men high in the Sierra Mountains facing the formidable Yosemite Valley.  Although they tried, they couldn’t find a way to descend to the valley floor, so they followed the western ridge until they found an Indian path leading down the western side of the mountains.  Now able to find game to fuel their famished bodies and with Walker’s assurances the Pacific Ocean was not far away, the men’s spirits lifted.   

            

Sitting around the campfire one evening, they all reflected on the “natural curiosities” they had seen on their trip.  These natural wonders would include giant Sequoias and the spectacular meteor shower they witnessed on November 12, 1833.  After a few more days traveling west, “the broad Pacific burst forth to view.”

After a delightful winter respite in the hospitable climes of California, most of the men were ready to follow Walker back across the mountains using a southerly route to meet up with Bonneville near Bear River.

Walker spent the next twelve years crisscrossing the Great Basin trading with Indians and whites alike.  The demand for beaver skins diminished, but when many of the trappers left the mountains, the remaining mountain men still were able to trap and trade.  These men like Joe Walker, Jim Bridger and Joe Meek benefitted from attaching themselves to an Indian tribe.  Walker was particularly close to the Snake or Eastern Shoshone tribe.  In 1836 he married a native maiden who was continuously with him through the next ten years.  She accompanied him in 1841-42 when he visited his family in Missouri.  Unfortunately, little is recorded about her, not even her name.

In 1844, bringing some horses from California to Ft. Bridger, Walker met up with John Charles Frémont in southern Utah and helped guide him and his men out of a predicament with some Ute Indians — a situation later exaggerated by Frémont.  Frémont was very impressed with Walker and asked him to guide an exploratory trip into California the next year.  Walker agreed and led Frémont and his group into California in 1845.  However, after Frémont’s defiance of Col. José Castro’s demand that he and his men leave California and Frémont’s subsequent inglorious retreat from an encounter with the Mexican troops, Walker left the “famous pathfinder” in disgust.  Rarely criticizing anyone, Walker stated, “Frémont, morally and physically, was the most complete coward I ever knew.”

In the next couple years, Walker continued bringing horses from California to Fort Bridger, and spent time with his wife’s family near the fort.  Then in the winter of 1846/47, Walker returned to Missouri without his wife or children.  Speculation is they died of the virulent cholera.  Walker never again lived with any Native American tribe.

By this time, many of Joe Walker’s family, including his brother Joel, had moved to California.  During the years of the California Gold Rush, Joe Walker and his nephews prospered in their business of selling beef and freight hauling.

The early years of the Civil War found 65-year-old Walker in Colorado with a group of prospectors.  After the Confederates were rousted out of the New Mexico Territory, Walker led a party of inexperienced greenhorns south down the Rio Grande Valley, then west into the future Arizona Territory.  According to Daniel Conner, the self-appointed historian of the Walker Party, Capt. Walker spent this time training his men in frontier discipline — a prudent move since the native Apaches soon became a problem.

Eventually, they arrived at present day Wickenburg, and despite his failing eyesight, Walker led the men up the Hassayampa River to an area six miles south of present-day Prescott where he thought they might find gold.   After gold was discovered, word was sent back to Santa Fe and from there to Washington. A permanent camp was set up and a governing body and mining district were organized. The men continued to deal with Indian issues, but made further gold discoveries on Lynx Creek.

While camping in the center of today’s Prescott, the men continued to deal with Indian issues, but made further gold discoveries on Lynx Creek.  A permanent camp was set up and a governing body and mining district were organized.

Shortly thereafter, Walker disbanded his expeditionary troop.  Conner recorded Walker saying, “We opened the door to civilization, and now civilization will do the rest.”

Walker left Arizona in 1867 to retire in California.  He lived out the rest of his life comfortably on the family’s Manzanita Ranch east of San Francisco.   He died on Oct. 27, 1876.

For more information about Joseph R. Walker’s life, read Westering Man - - the Life of Joseph R. Walker by Bil Gilbert.

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at www.sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles to dayspastshmcourier@gmail.com. Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at dayspastshmcourier@gmail.com for information.