Walkara

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Chief Walkara (aka Wakara or Walker) (ca. 1808 - 1855) was a Native American leader of the Timpanogos Tribe, with a reputation as a diplomat, horseman and warrior, and a military leader in the Wakara War.

Ute Chief[edit]

Walkara was born along the Spanish Fork River in what is now Utah, one of five sons of a chief of the Timpanogos Tribe. He gathered a raiding band of warriors from Great Basin tribes, Paiute and Shoshone. Walkara learned to speak English and Spanish and became fluent in several native dialects. His band raided ranches and attacked travelers in the Great Basin and along the Old Spanish Trail between New Mexico and California. Small native bands and tribes in the area paid him tribute in return for protection and assistance.

Walkara created a disciplined cavalry and organized effective raiding campaigns. Sections of his cavalry, under the leadership of his brothers and other trusted band members, were distinguished by appearance, adopting bright dyes and metal ornaments. Walkara's public name, translated as "yellow," was based on the yellow facepaint and yellow leather which he wore.

In California, Walkara was known as a great horse thief, primarily due to an 1840 campaign through the Cajon Pass into Southern California which resulted in the capture of a large number of horses mainly from the Spaniards, with estimates ranging from several hundred to 6,000 horses. In some of these raids, the band fought Cahuilla leader Juan Antonio. Mountain men James Beckwourth and Thomas "Pegleg" Smith were involved in this campaign and were known to trade with Walkara, providing the band with whiskey in return for horses. In 1845 Justice of the Peace and assistant for Indian affairs in Riverside County Benjamin Davis Wilson was also commissioned to track down Walkara and his marauders and bring them to justice. Their mission was interrupted by the discovery of the Big Bear Lake area and no additional story of the pursuit was ever given.

Horsethief Canyon and Little Horsethief Canyon in the Cajon Pass are named for his thieving exploits. Several men were killed in both canyons.

Relations with the Mormons[edit]

Walkara invited Latter-day Saint president Brigham Young to send Mormon colonists to the Sanpitch (now Sanpete) Valley. In 1849, Young dispatched a company of about 225 settlers, under the direction of Isaac Morley. The settlers arrived at the present location of Manti, Utah in November, and established a base camp for the winter, digging temporary shelters into the south side of the hill on which the LDS Manti Utah Temple now stands. It was an isolated place, at least four days by wagon from the nearest Mormon settlement. Relations between the Mormon settlers and the local Ute Indians were helpful and cooperative. Morley and his settlers felt that part of the purpose of the settlement was to bring the gospel to the Indians. Morley wrote, "Did we come here to enrich ourselves in the things of this world? No. We were sent to enrich the Natives and comfort the hearts of the long oppressed."[1] During the severe winter, a measles epidemic broke out and the Mormons used their limited medicine to nurse the Indians. When supplies ran low, Indians helped settlers haul food on sleds through the snow.

Walkara negotiated a trading relationship with the colony through Young, and, in 1850, allowed himself to be baptized into the Latter-day Saint religion. However, relations with the Mormon settlers deteriorated rapidly. Walkara's raiding lifestyle was under pressure from an increasing number of federal troops in the Great Basin and Southwest and from the expansion of Latter-day Saint settlements. One conjecture holds that Mormon settlers also strongly objected to the profitable traditional trade in native slaves and interfered in many transactions, although this would seem to be contradicted by the fact that Brigham Young was not, by his own account, an abolitionist.[2][3] In addition, Central and Southern Utah saw increasing numbers of non-Mormon trading expeditions and settlers traveling through the area. Some isolated natives were killed, and Walkara and other leaders became increasingly angry with both the Mormonees and the Mericats, designations used by local tribes to distinguish Mormon settlers from non-Mormon Americans.[4]

Walker War[edit]

These pressures, additional measles epidemics in the 1850s, and the rise of competing bands of Shoshone raiders ultimately led to a brief conflict known as the Walker War. Local historical accounts attribute the outbreak of the war to Walkara's failure to acquire a Mormon wife. However, it more likely began with a July 1853 confrontation with settlers in Springville in Utah Valley which resulted in the death of several band members.

The war consisted primarily of raids conducted against Mormon outposts in central and southern Utah and retaliations by organized pioneers. In one case, four settlers driving oxen-drawn wagons to Salt Lake City from Manti were attacked and killed at Uintah Springs on the night of September 30, 1853. Historical accounts indicate that pioneers retaliated for the killings two days later. A recent archaeological dig examined seven bodies of native American men and boys found in a relatively shallow grave near Nephi. Wounds on some of the remains suggest these native Americans were executed rather than killed in combat. One skeleton appeared to have been bound by a leather strap at the time of his death. Historians assert that these victims, probably members of a Utah or Goshute tribe, were likely innocent of the initial attack. (Salt Lake Tribune, 8 June 2007)

In a passive defense effort, Young directed settlers to move from outlying farms and ranches and establish centralized forts. In all, casualties during the war probably totaled twelve white settlers and an equally modest number of Indians. In addition, U.S. surveyor John Williams Gunnison and seven members of his party were attacked and killed, apparently by local tribesmen, in the Sevier Valley in 1853.

The Walker War ended through an understanding personally negotiated between Young and Walkara during the winter of 1853 and finalized in May 1854 in Levan, near Nephi, Utah. In his contemporary work Incidents of Travel and Adventure in the Far West (1857), photographer and artist Solomon N. Carvalho gives an account of the peace council held between Walkara, other native leaders in central Utah, and Brigham Young. Carvalho took the opportunity to persuade the Indian leader to pose for a portrait, now held by the Thomas Gilcrease Institute, Tulsa, Oklahoma. Although immediate hostilities ended, none of the underlying conflicts were resolved. Walkara died in 1855 at Meadow Creek, Utah.

At his funeral, fifteen horses, two wives, and two children were killed and buried along with him.[5]

Mormon baptisms[edit]

After the Walker War had ended, on July 27, 1854, under the direction of stake president Welcome Chapman 120 members (103 males, 17 females) of Wakara's tribe were baptized members of the LDS Church in Manti's City Creek.[6] Wakara was possibly re-baptized at this time.[7][8]

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