The Headline: "Death of Indian Walker," Deseret News Feb. 8, 1855.
In a brief note to Brigham Young, reprinted in the newspaper, David Lewis of Fillmore noted the passing of Ute Indian Chief Walkara or Walker. The chief's last advice to his followers was not to kill "Mormonee" cattle or steal from pioneer settlers, Lewis reported.The chief did not live to see the lands he had ruled declared one of the United States. It would have been the final ignominy for a proud man who watched in frustration as white newcomers flooded into prime valleys, claimed rivers, competed for fish and game and drew lines that defined individual properties where Indians had roamed at will.
Walkara, variously called Wahkara, Wakara, Walker, Yaw-keraw or Cuaka, was one of many Indian leaders who interacted with Mormons and other whites as the American West was absorbed into the Union. But this one chief epitomizes to a large extent what happened as incompatible cultures clashed.
Judged in the context of his own culture, Walkara was a clever, fearless brave who boasted that "I have many scars, and they are all on my front." He looked after the welfare of his followers in ingenious ways while he tried to hold onto a disappearing lifestyle.
Weighed on the scales of white society, he was a thief, a vain opportunist, a cruel enemy and a merciless savage. One writer noted his capacity to switch from "wild-cat fierceness" to a "velvet-pawed" demeanor at will.
Walkara had another name - Pannacarra-Quinker (Iron Twister) - that he assumed after a "vision" he had as a young man that appeared to be a premonition of things to come. In his account of the vision, he said his spirit left his body for a day and a night. He stood in the presence of a god-figure, Shinob, and many angels. Shinob told him he must go back to earth to complete his work and that white friends would come to live with him.
Born some time in the first quarter of the 19th century in the area that is now Utah Valley, he came from a large, polygamous family. His father was killed during a civil war, and Walkara and a brother, Arrapeen, were credited with avenging his death.
Some reported Walkara to be a tall, fine-looking man, a man of imposing appearance, "the very beau ideal of nature's nobility." To others, he was an "ugly-looking specimen for an Indian chief."
The horse came to Utah not long before Walkara did, and the animal became his source of wealth and reputation. A legend says that his father was the first in their tribe to acquire a horse. He tied it to his wickiup and let it starve to death, the story goes.
Horses became Walkara's medium of exchange, and as a young man he ranged throughout the Great Basin, south to what was then Mexico, and west to the Pacific Coast to round up other men's horses and bring them back to central Utah, where he was chief of the Sanpitch group.
By 1840, people in San Bernardino, Calif., complained that "the moon has come again and with it the dread Py-Utahs." The cagey Indian leader learned that he was most likely to get caught on the El Cajon Pass. So he would send his men with small groups of animals into canyons, skirt the pass and meet again at the Mojave River.
One such raid took him to every ranch "south of Santa Ana to the San Juan," a California historian wrote. The raid netted more than 3,000 animals.
On another foray into Mexico, Walkara headed for the Colorado River with a number of stolen animals, the owners in hot pursuit. When the animals refused to go into the river, the Indian chief salvaged the situation by taking some of the horses right back to the owners. Banking that they couldn't identify him as one of the thieves, he told them he had nobly fought with the raiders and lost three men trying to retrieve their horses. He should, he said, have some compensation for saving their property. The owners bought back their own animals.
Capturing and holding Spaniards for ransom provided another source of sustenance for Walkara and his warriors.
Western explorer John C. Fremont on May 20, 1844, described Walkara and his raiders as "robbers of a higher order than those of the great Californian caravans. They conduct their depradations with form and under the color of trade and toll for passing through their country." The Indians made token payment for many of the items they intended to take anyway, he said.
Another early Utah explorer, Thomas L. Kane, said in an 1850 lecture that Walkara dressed "in a full suit of the richest broadcloth, generally brown and cut in European fashion, with a shining beaver hat and fine cambric shirt. To these he adds his own gaudy Indian trimmings. . . . He rides at the head of his troop whose richly cap-arisoned horses, with their embroidered saddles and harness, shine and tinkle as they prance under the weight of gay metal ornaments."
Walkara also was involved in the slave trade that thrived in the Great Basin. In hard times, some of the poorer tribes readily sold women and children in exchange for horses, which they ate.
Other children were acquired through war or raids on their camps. They were sold to Mexican traders, who in turn, offered them as slaves in California or Mexico. The average price for a boy was $100, while girls brought $150 to $200, said Daniel W. Jones, who spent 40 years among the Indians.
Walkara had associations with some of the mountain men who predated the Mormons. On one occasion, he was hunting buffalo with Peg Leg Smith and Jim Bridger when a band of Shoshones showed up in the same area. Walkara called on the two white men to join him in attacking these traditional enemies of the Utes. Peg Leg said he couldn't because he didn't have a horse, so Walkara gave him one - a mount that insisted on being right in the thick of the battle.
Peg Leg grabbed a war club from a Shoshone and fought for his life. At the end of the fray, Walkara offered him as many of his squaws as he wanted. "Being a very modest man, I only took three," Peg Leg reportedly said of that event.
The occasional mountain man was one thing. When hundreds and then thousands of Mormon pioneers began to pour into the area, with every appearance of settling in for the duration, that was something else.
Mormon leaders were fortunate in selecting the safest possible place for their first settlement. Salt Lake Valley lay in a no-man's land between Ute and Shoshone territories.
News that whites had settled in the valley reached Walkara in Spanish Fork Canyon. His first reaction was a resolve to drive the intruders out. He fought with a half-brother, Sowiette, who preferred peaceful co-existence. Sowiette prevailed, after whipping Walkara with a rawhide whip. Throughout their lives, Sowiette and Walkara had several clashes, always over the same issue.
From then until his death, Walkara vacillated between "using" the Mormon immigrants and threatening them when he couldn't get his way.
In June of 1848, after waiting in vain for Brigham Young to come to him, Walkara went to see the leader of the whites. He invited Young to send settlers to his home grounds in what became Sanpete County.
On March 13, 1850, Manti Bishop Isaac Morley baptized Walkara. Membership in the LDS Church, however, did not change Walkara's basic nature. He traded on the membership when it was convenient. His ties to the church, he concluded, entitled him to two things - priesthood "medicine" and a white wife. Several years passed before Walkara and three other Indians were ordained elders in the church priesthood organization.
He was not so successful in obtaining a white wife. At one juncture, he decided that Bishop Lowry's daughter, Mary, was a good choice. He dressed to the nines and went to the Lowry home when he thought Mary would be alone and placed a blanket, some moccasins, a beaded headband and other items on the table, followed by a crude proposal. He offered her furs and cowhides with hoofs and long horns - even a "white man's teepee."
Terrified of antagonizing the chief, Mary blurted that she was promised to another man. The name that came to mind was her brother-in-law, "Judge Peacock," who had married her twin sister. Walkara, according to several accounts, plunged his knife hilt-deep into a table and said he would take the matter to Brigham Young.
Young, in fact, promised Walkara that if Mary "is not already married, you may have her." Young knew what the chief did not - that Mary and her brother-in-law had rushed to Nephi immediately and wed. With polygamy in full sway, it was a logical solution to the problem.
As more whites filled the mountain valleys, building walls that were intended specifically to keep the likes of Walkara out, the chief became increasingly frustrated.
"We cannot shake hands across walls," he complained.
In the summer of 1853 in Payson, an Indian was killed by a white, who was trying to defend the Indian's wife.
The Walker War was on. The chief's men simultaneously attacked four settlements, Spring-ville, Pleasant Creek, Manti and Nephi. But the Mormons were prepared. A militia sped through the settlements warning of the Indian attacks, and the Indians' only victims were people who were away from their forts for some reason.
In all, 10 whites were killed and an unknown number of Indians. Walkara, confused and increasingly stymied in his attempts to arrive at some common ground with the enemy, went to spend the winter with the Navajos in New Mexico.
The following spring the chief and Young were to meet for peace talks. The meeting was awkward, and Walkara refused to talk the first night. He said he wanted to speak with the Great Spirit before speaking with Young.
The following day, he confessed that he had no more heart for war with the whites. The peace pipe was passed, and it was agreed Walkara would be awarded 40 acres of land - small compensation for a man who had ruled over thousands of square miles. He accompanied Young on the rest of the church leader's tour of southern settlements.
Again spending much of the winter south of the Colorado, Walkara returned to Utah a sick man. In late January, he was camped on Meadow Creek when he received Young's assurance of continuing friendship, along with a promise of two beeves. Walkara invited the messenger, David Lewis, to return the following day, but during the night of Jan. 29, 1855, Walkara died.
According to Ute custom, his people wailed their loss, accenting their cries with the rhythmic rattle of gravel-filled gourds. The circle gathered around the chief's body, swayed back and forth while a warrior occasionally rose to repeat one of the chief's exploits or deeds.
His body securely bound upright on his horse, Walkara made his last ride to the head of a canyon, where his body was laid on blankets in a rocky excavation.
His weapons and ammunition were placed beside him. All of his personal horses and two squaws were killed to keep him company on his journey. In his hand as the pit disappeared under a covering of pickets and stone was his last letter from Brigham Young.
A live Paiute boy and girl were put in a cairn on top of the burial pit. Their assignment was to watch over Walkara until they, too, died.
The panicked boy worked his head through the pickets, and some cattlemen working nearby heard his cries for water and moved to interfere. Warning bullets from Indian guns put them on notice to leave Walkara's burial to long custom. His passing spared him the fate of other Indians who, over time, were assigned to reservations.