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Chief Walkara and the Walker War

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Chief Walkara and the Walker War

Chief Walkara was one of the greatest Indian chiefs in Utah history. He was feared and reveared by many. Although he was not born of the great chiefs he became a great chief of the Ute Indians because he was a wise and powerful leader. He was a friend and foe to the Mormon pioneers and led his people to war against them. Unfortunately the Indians of Utah did not keep the same records as the pioneers did, which makes it more difficult to get both sides of the story. The purpose of this paper is to present the facts of the war and the famous chief and let the reader form their own opinion of the famous Indian chief.

Chief Walkara There is no exact date of birth for Chief Walkara, but some sources say he was born between the years of 1808 and 1815 in the a Timpoanogos village on the Spanish Fork River.[1] Walkara was born of Ute heritage to a man who was the head of a divided Ute clan, and to a woman who was one of many of the Ute leaders’ wives. One explorer wrote that Walkara had thirty brothers of which four were from the same mother; his brothers were Arapeen, San Pitch, Ammon and Tabinaw (Tabby).[2] There is no information on the number of sisters he had, however knowing there were thirty brothers there must have been some sisters mixed in there somewhere. After meeting Walker, Thomas L. Kane wrote about his appearance and personality,

‘… a fine figure of a man, in the prime of life. He excels in various manly exercises, is a crack shot, a rough rider, and a great judge of horse flesh. He is besides very clever, in our sense of the word. He is a peculiarly eloquent master of the graceful alphabet of pantomime, which stranger tribes employ to communicate with one another. He has picked up some English, and is familiar with Spanish and several Indian tongues. He rather affects the fine gentleman. When it is his pleasure to extend his riding excursions into Mexico, to inflict or threatened outrages, or to receive the installment of his blackmail salary, he will take offense of the people there fail to kill their fattest beeves, and adopt their measures to show him obsequious and distinguished attention.”[3]

Walkara was described as being six feet tall, having a pointed chin and nose. He was known as Napoleon of the Desert because of his skills in leadership, however he chose the name Hawk of the Mountain for in the “swoop and size mode of warfare it was doubtless more apt, for in him was more bird-of-prey than tactical officer.” [4] The following portrait shows the attributes described above. The original painting was done by William Warner Major during a journey with Brigham Young. In Wilford Woodroof’s journal on May 4th, 1852 he wrote, “Brother Major our Artist took the likeness of an Indian Chief.”[5] It was later published in a book by Frederick Hawkins Piercy in 1855. In his book he notes that he sketched their portraits “from a painting in possession of the late Elder W. W. Major.”[6]
Early Life Again there is not much information on the life of Chief Walker before the white people came but we have a few accounts of his life as a young boy and death of his father. Paul Bailey tells of Walkara's first encounter with horses as a young boy. He remembered, as a little boy, the first horse he had ever seen. His father had brought it into the Timpanogus village. It had been a strange and wonderful beast. His father had tied it to the teepee so it would not run away. There the barefoot Walkara had admired it, felt of it, and dreamed of the day he too would posses one. But neither his father nor the tribal elders had known much about horses. They had not realized the animal must have food and water- like men and women must have food and water. So, even as it was admired, the creature had sickened, gotten down on its belly, and no longer could be coaxed or forced to stand up. Then one morning Walkara had gone out for his early look at the great beast. And he had found the horse cold with death. [7]

Walkara grew up among tribal hostilities between the Utes and the Shoshones. Walkara was about twenty years old part when some of his family members left the tribal and joined the Shoshones who then fought against the Timpanogos Ute tribe. Walkara’s father now refused to fight because he did not want to fight against his family.[8] Madoline C. Dixon explains “this desertion was not condoned by their former tribesman so, in revenge, a few of the braves were sent to the lodge where Walker’s father sat smoking. They shot him in the back and escaped.”[9] Walkara became the head of this father’s band and his first mission was to avenge his father’s death. Along with his brother, Arapeen, Walkara snuck into the Shoshone village, killed and scalped the four Indians who had killed their father. Walkara then took his father’s family, including wives and siblings, and joined the Paiutes, turning his back on the Ute nation. After awhile the Paiute tribe became wary of Walkara’s presence. Eleanor Lawrence explains that “Walkara made his power felt by a kind of terrorism, not hesitating to take the life of anyone for the most trivial offense. The Pah-utes universally detested him and all agreed that he deserved death, but none could be found courageous enough to attempt its accomplishment.” [10] After two years with the Paiutes, Walkara led his people back to their native land and gathered a gang of men who would stand by his side through the coming years of horse raids. Horses became Walkara’s passion. Horses showed affluence and power in the white-man’s world as well as for the Indians. In the west, horses were a must for the pioneers, the trappers and traders, and the farmers. The more horses to sell or trade, the more powerful a man would become. Walkara was known as the most successful businessman in horse trafficking. He gathered horsed from California, Mexico, and Utah.[11] John D. Barton tells of Walkara’s pastures ranging from the Sevier River to the Green River. Barton also notes “one of the most successful horse raids in western history, Walkara and a mountain man, Peg Leg Smith, stole over one-thousand horses from California ranchers at San Luis Obisbo and drove them swiftly across the desert to escape pursuit.”[12]

The Mormons About a year after his father’s death it is said that Chief Walkara had a dream about the white people coming and the Lord told him to be their friends.[13] As a child, Walkara must have heard of the white men because of the Dominguez-Escalante expedition, his people knew they would return because of the promises the Catholic priests made. The Mormon’s were welcomed at first, the Indians had no idea how many people would come and settle the valley. From the LDS Collectors Library writing we learn that Walkara was baptized a member of the Mormon Church on March 13th, 1850 along with his brother Arapeen and two other Indians. Afterwards they were ordained as elders of the church by Brigham Young and other prominent church leaders. Apparently during this time Dimick B. Huntington, an interpreter, received life stories from Walkara himself. [14] On April 28, 1852 William Clayton wrote in his journal, “Soon after our arrival President Young Kimball and others went to visit Arapene who is laying very sick. They laid hands on him and blessed him.”[15] For these accounts we can determine that Walkara and the Mormons were on peaceful terms.

Conflicts Leading up to the War The war between the Mormons and Chief Walkara’s people did not happen quickly. There were several conflicts that began to flare up and worsen. Authors such as Madoline C. Dixon speculated that the Walker War might have broken out because of Walkara baptism. She wrote, “For a time Walker listened to the preachings of the whites… He was a ‘good’ Indian. But he had been stripped of the habits he had known all of is life. He stood in poverty. He had ceased his slave trade. He had no horses with which to barter with the white traders. His people took to begging from the white men.”[16] As Governor of the territory, Brigham Young did outlaw the practice of buying and selling Indian women and children for slaves. The trading was permitted by the Superintendent of Indian Affairs for New Mexico who gave the Indians licenses and allowed the Spanish Mexicans to engage in trading with the Indians. But Young would not allow this in his territory and so Walkara must have had to cease this practice in order to be baptized. In one instance Arapeen and his band offered to sell some slave children to some Mormons, who then refused to trade. Arapeen became upset and took one of the slave children by its feet, using the child like a club; he struck the ground with the child’s head, killing him instantly. Then Arapeen explained to the Mormons that they had no heart or they would have made the trade and spared the child’s life. [17] The more Mormons came to settle in the valleys the less room there was for the Indians. The settlements displaced the Indians and disturbed the natural habits the Indians relied on for food, shelter and clothing. Howard A. Christy explains that “angered at the loss of their lands, rapidly becoming impoverished, having no other place to go, and refusing to take up the white man’s farming methods, the natives increasingly relied on theft for survival. Their steeling and expressions of hostility lead to bloody reprisal on the part of the Mormons, who felt that the land rightly belonged to those who would develop it.”[18] Christy also noted that the Indians were happy with their way of life and making a living on horses and slaves while the white-men were happy with their family way of life. Neither party had real compassion or understanding for each other. The straw that broke the camel’s back was an incident resulting in the death of Shower-O-Cats, one of Walkara’s relatives. On July 17th, 1853 there was a group of Ute Indians near the home of James Ivie in Springville. One of Indian woman was successful in trading fish for flour, but her husband was unhappy with the amount of flour traded so he started to beat her. Ivie saw this and defended the woman and killed her husband in self-defense.[19]
The Walker War The word spread across the Ute camp like wild fire, a Mormon pioneer had killed an Indian. Walkara believed that in order to receive retribution, the settlers should hand over a white-man to be put to death. The settlers refused to do so and retreated. Arapeen took matters into his own hands and killed a guard named Alexander Keel and fled up Payson Canyon, fearing that this action had caused a great battle with the settlers. Along the way the Indians fired at cabins and stole livestock. The persistent threat of the Indians caused the Mormons to build forts and the outlying areas gathered to form larger communities for protection. The forts were located in Manti, Ephraim, Harriman and Holiday.[20] The Mormons believed that the Indians were not a match to their military training and the large forts. Because the Indians did not fight the way the white-man instead the Indians wore down the settlers by begging, stealing and attacking people who dared venture out alone. There were many incidents reported of Indians attacking small groups. Albert Antrei and Allen D. Roberts wrote, “During the first week of October, 1853, four unarmed men haling wheat from Manti’s harvest to Salt Lake City were brutally mutilated at Uintah Springs, now Fountain Green, and two others were killed at a Grist Mill near Manti.”[21] The next day eight Indians were killed and others captured.[22] Other conflicts occurred in the cities of Payson, Santaquin, The Goshen Marshes, Park City, Spring City, Spanish Fork and Clover Creek.[23] Walkara was feared by the Mormon settlers, children were told ‘Walker will get you” when they misbehaved. On the other hand the Mormons thought of Brigham Young as a Saint. In a tabernacle sermon which was published in the Desert News on October 15th 1853, he states, “How many times have I been asked in the past week, what I intend to do with Walker. I say let him alone severely. I have not made war on Indians, nor am I calculating to do it. My policy is to give them presents, and be kind to them. Instead of being Walker’s enemy, I have sent him a great pile of tobacco to smoke when he is lonely in the mountains. He is now at war with the only friends he has upon the earth, and I want him to have some tobacco to smoke.” Along with the tobacco Young sent a note that read: Captain Walker: I send you some tobacco for you to smoke in the mountains when you get lonesome. You are a fool for fighting your best friends, for we are the best friends, and the only friends you will have in the world. Every body else would kill you if they could get a chance. If you get hungry send some friendly Indians down to the settlements and we will give you some beef cattle and flour. If you are afraid of the tobacco which I send you, you can let some of your prisoners try it first, and then you will know that it is good. When you get good natured again, I would like to see you. Don’t you think you should be ashamed? You know I have always been your best friend. Brigham Young. [24]

The gift from Brigham Young did not stop the torture by the Indians. They continued to burn down sawmills and gristmills, steal livestock, and kill. The Gunnison Massacre happened shortly after Young wrote the letter. Bailey stated “Walkara bore the blame [of the massacre] until time proved it otherwise.”[25] A group of emigrants on their way to California passed through the area where John W. Gunnison and his men were camped. The emigrants were approached by Pahvant Indians who began to beg. The emigrants were afraid of the Indians because of rumors so they started a fight where the Indians resisted. Mashoquop, the war chief and friend of Walkara, was killed by gunfire. The Pahvants were outraged. The morning of October 26th, 1853 John W. Gunnison and his group of seven topographical engineers were massacred. Until a later investigation proved it was the Pahvant Indians, Mormons believed it was Walkara’s doing. In the spring of 1854 the Indian Chiefs wanted peace. In May, Chief Walkara formally requested peace with Brigham Young. Young met Walkara at Chicken Creek in Juab County on May 11, 1854. At this meeting one of Walkara’s daughter was ill; Brigham Young and George A. Smith gave her a blessing of healing. This began peace negotiations which were finalized on May 23, 1854.[26] The war claimed 19 settlers and 27-recorded Ute warrior’s lives. [27]

Walkara’s death Within a year after the ending of the war, Chief Walkara became ill. His tribe was wintering at Parawan and he ordered them to return to Sanpete Valley. In a letter to Brigham Young, David Lewis describes his meeting with Walkara during this time. I arrived at Fillmore on the 28th [January], and started next morning for Walker’s lodge, and met the Utahs coming with Walker and supporting him on a horse. He held out his hand and shook hands and seemed very glad to see me. He asked if Brigham Young talked good…I showed him the letter that you [Brigham Young] sent to him, and gave him all the articles you sent him. He seemed greatly pleased and wanted me to come next morning to Meadow Creek and read the letter to him. He died during the night, but his last words to his people were not to kill the Mormon’s cattle nor steal from them. He was in his senses, and greatly desired to live. He possessed a good spirit and shook hands twice with me. As I was starting for the fort, he pressed my hand, and said ‘come see me again tomorrow, for I wish to have a long talk with you, but I am too sick to talk now.’[28]

The week long mourning period Walkara’s death began. For one day and one night Indians from all different tribes paid tribute to the chief. Braves would stand and shout in Indian tongue brave deeds their leader performed. Squaws may have been saddened because some of them would be sacrificed and buried with Walkara’s body. “The Utah’s killed two squaws, two Piede children, and about fifteen of his best horses. He was buried with all his presents and trinkets, and a letter which he had received the previous day from President Young.”[29] His brother Arapeen succeeded him as chief.[30] The facts presented in this paper are to help the reader obtain their own opinions about Chief Walkara. The Indian nation and many white-men had great respect and honor for Walkara for his great leadership and friendship. Others may have viewed Walkara as a coward and murderer. And some may have just gone through life not even knowing about Chief Walkara. Was he the “good natured” person, as Brigham Young insisted he should be or was he a murderous thief?


Primary Sources
B. H. Roberts Comprehensive History of the Church. . 3:464-465.

Frederick Hawkins Piercy. Route from Liverpool to Great Salt Lake Valley. The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1962.

Wilford Woodruff’s Journal. 4 April 1852, 4:137.

William Clayton. An Intimate Chronicle-Journal of William Clayton, ed. Smith, 1991.

Secondary Materials
Alexander, Thomas G. Utah the Right Place 2nd ed, Layton: Gibbs Smith, 2003.

Antrei, Albert C.T and Roberts, Allen D. A History of Sanpete County. Salt Lake City: Utah State Historical Society, 1999.

Bailey, Paul. Walkara Hawk of The Mountains. Los Angeles: Westernlore, 1954.

Barton, John D. Ute Lands And People.

Dixon, Madoline C. These Were the Utes. Provo: Library of Congress. 1983.

Ellsworth, S. George. The New Utah’s Heritage. Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith, 1985.

Holzapfel, Richard Neitzel. A History of Utah County. Salt Lake City: Utah State Historical Society. 1999.

McCormick, John S. and Sillito, John R. A World We Thought We Knew. Salt Lake City: University of Utah, 1995.

Peterson, Margory. Our Roots Grow Deep, a history of Cedar Valley. American Fork: Utah, 1990.

Sillitoe, Linda. A History of Salt Lake County. Salt Lake City: Utah State Historical Society, 1996.

[1] In the book by Paul Bailey, Walkara Hawk of the Mountains, states that “it can be fairly accurately established that his birth occurred about the year 1808”. However in Milton r. Hunter’s book, The Utah Story, it is stated that Walkara was born about the year 1815.
[2] Dixon, These Were the Utes, 53.
[3] Thomas L. Kane Journal History March 26, 1850. Quoted by Dixon in These were the Utes, 54-55.
[4] Bailey, Walkara Hawk of the Mountains, 14.
[5] Wilford Woodruffs Journal, 137.
[6] Piercy, Route from Liverpool to Great Salt Lake Valley, 276-277.
[7] Bailey, Walkara Hawk of the Mountains, 29.
[8] Ibid, 20.
[9] Dixon, These were the Utes, 54.
[10]Lawrence, Touring Topics, May, 1932, p. 18. Quoted by Paul Bailey in Walkara Hawk of the Mountains, 21.
[11] Ellsworth, Utah’s Heritage, 138.
[12] Barton, Ute Lands and People, 6.
[13] Dimick B. Huntington wrote, “He [Walkara] died and his spirit went to heaven. He saw the Lord sitting upon a throne dressed in white. The Lord told him he could not stay; he had to return to earth. He desired to stay, but the Lord told him he must return to earth, that there would come to him a race of white people that would be his friends, and he must treat them kindly.” (See Dixon, These were the Utes, 55.)
[14] LDS Collectors Library- B.H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church, 3:464.
[15] An Intimate Chronicle- Journal of William Clayton, 402.
[16] Dixon, These Were the Utes, 61.
[17] Petersen, Our Roots Grow Deep, 2-5.
[18] Christy, Open Hand and Mailed Fist: Mormon-Indian Relations in Utah, see A World we Thought we knew by John S. McCormick and John R. Sillito.
[19] Alexander, Utah The Right Pace, 113-114. In Gottfredson’s History of Indian Depredations in Utah, George McKenzie further explains, “James Ivie, at the time had built a cabin, and was living in it with his wife and one child about half a mile north and west of where the Indians were camped…The squaw had three large trout which she wanted to trade to Mrs. Ivie for some flour. Flour being very scarce at that time, Mrs. Ivie called her husband in to get his views on the trade of that kind, he being at work digging a well. When he saw the trout, he said ‘They look mighty good to me,’ and suggested that Mrs. Ivie might give three pints of flour for them, if the squaw would trade that way. He then went out of the cabin to resume his work. Just after Ivie left two more Indians came into the cabin, one of whom seemed to be the husband of had some kind of claim on the squaw who ha closed the trade with Mrs. Ivie. When the Indian saw the three trout, and the small amount of flour received in exchange, he became enraged and began beating the squaw, knocking her down, kicking and stamping her in a brutal manner…Mr. Ivie came to the cabin, and while the Indian was still beating the squaw he took hold of the Indian and pulled him away, the squaw lying prostrate on the floor. When the Indian came, he left his gun standing by the door, and as Ivie pushed him out he grabbed his gun, and tried to get in position to shoot Ivie. Ivie got hold of the muzzle of the gun, and in the struggle the gun was broken. The Indian retaining the stock and Ivie the barrel…Ivie dealt the Indian a hard blow on the head with the barrel of the gun. The Indian fell to the ground, apparently dead, but did not expire until some hours later.
[20] See Sillitoe, A History of Salt Lake County, 51 and Antrei & Roberts, A History of Sanpete County, 71.
[21] Antrei & Roberts, A History of Sanpete County, 72.
[22] Bailey, Walkara Hawk of the Mountains, 143.
[23] See Holzapfel, A History of Utah County, 40 and Alexander, Utah The Right Place, 115.
[24] Bailey, Walkara Hawk of the Mountains, 145.
[25] Ibid. 147.
[26] See Alexander, Utah the Right Place, 116 and Dixon, These Were the Utes, 61.
[27] In Ellsworth, Utah’s heritage, 173 it is noted that 19 settlers were killed but in Holzapfel, A History of Utah County, 42 it says that eleven of them were militiamen. Hozapfel notes the amount of Indians killed as well.
[28] Dixon, These were the Utes, 62. Quoted extensively in Journal History under date of January 29, 1855.
[29] Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church, vol. 3 ch. 90, p 464-465.
[30] Ibid.

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