Joseph Reddeford Walker

December 13, 1798 - November 13, 1872

Walker, Joseph Reddeford, mountain man (Dec. 13, 1798-Nov. 13, 1872). Born in Tennessee, Joe Walker, who became one of the great mountain men, moved with the family to Missouri in 1819 and journeyed with a party of hunters and trappers to New Mexico in a year or two. Arrested, he was soon released to help the Spaniards in an Indian campaign. He accompanied a U.S. survey party, charting and marking the Santa Fe Trail as far as the Mexican border. he entered western Missouri politics briefly, reportedly giving the name to Independence, seat of Jackson County, Walker being elected its first sheriff. He served two terms of two years each. In February 1831, he embarked upon a trading venture to the Cherokee country, and at Fort Gibson encountered B.L.E. Bonneville, an army officer planning a fur-trading operation in the Rocky Mountains. Walker became Bonneville's subordinate, the party of about 110 men leaving Fort Osage May 1, 1832, reaching the Green River, then moving on to winter on the Salmon River. Walker, leaving Green River July 24, 1833, embarked upon his controversial exploration trip to California, uncertain because the instructions given him by Bonneville are not precisely known, nor is the ultimate objective and motive of the expedition entirely clear. But the expedition itself was an outstanding success. The party of 40 men, with perhaps a score of free trappers along in addition for the adventure of it, gained the Humboldt by a course later to be followed by countless emigrants and Forty-niners, engaged in a murderous attack upon Digger Indians, accused of theft of traps and being general nuisances about the camp, and from Carson Lake accomplished a very difficult three-week crossing of the Sierra Nevada, descending between the Merced and Tuolumne rivers. On November 13 Walker discovered Yosemite Valley and the giant sequoia trees. Walker's party reached the coast and wintered at Mission San Juan Bautista. Well supplied by Mexican stockmen, Walker's men moved up the San Joaquin Valley, crossed the Sierra by Walker's Pass, followed the Owens Valley north until they struck their former trail and followed it back to the rendezvous having added much exact geographical knowledge that would be incorporated in future maps of the West. Walker trapped next season in the upper Rockies, then since Bonneville had returned to the states, joined the American Fur Company as a brigade leader. Painter Alfred Jacob Miller completed two pictures of Walker while accompanying William Drummond Stewart to the 1837 rendezvous. Walker is reported to have visited Arizona about 1837-1838, where he may have made a gold discovery, and in 1839 was at Fort Davy Crockett in Brown's Hole, Colorado. Here he and other noted mountain men stole back horses that less-principled trappers had stolen from Snake Indians to recoup losses from horse thieves of some other tribe, and returned the animals to the Snakes. Walker, following the demise of large-scale Rocky Mountain Fur operations, engaged in horse and mule trading trips to California, trapped and traded out of Fort Bridger, sometimes guided California-bound parties, worked for Fremont on his second expedition, and then on the first part of his third (when Walker Lake was named in Joe's honor). He engaged in numerous other frontier activities. In 1850 he headed and expedition to the upper Virgin River and in 1851 took New Mexico sheep to California. Walker ranched in California for several years, was interested in railroad surveys of the west, explored the Mono Lake region of California, and in 1859 guided troops in a campaign against the Mohaves along the Colorado River, and in 1861 organized the group that would open up central Arizona. It left the Kern River by way of Walker Pass, touched southern Colorado, dropped down into New Mexico and moved west, being instrumental in the capture of the noted Apache chief, Mangas Coloradas (who subsequently was assassinated) enroute. Walker's group entered southern Arizona and moved up the Hassayampa River to Granite Creek in the vicinity of later Prescott, Arizona. Gold was struck on Lynx Creek. There and in the vicinity "Walker diggings" a rush developed swiftly, leading to a nucleus of settlement that shortly would incorporate the first major capital for the new Territory of Arizona. Joe returned to California in 1867, to live the rest of his life with his nephew, James T. Walker, on a contra Costa County ranch, where he died. His impact on the west was immense, his life replete with significant deeds, and Walker was a man of integrity, vision, intelligence, fortitude and great worth. He was buried at Martinez.


Douglas Sloane Watson, West Wind: The Life of Joseph Reddeford Walker. Los Angeles, p.p. by Percy H. Both, 1934, reprint by Old West, Vol. III, No. 2 (Winter 1966), 72-96; Daniel Ellis Conner, Joseph Reddeford Walker and the Arizona Adventure. Norman, Univ. of Okla. Press, 1956; Conner, A confederate in the Colorado Gold Fields. Norman, 1970.