The Real Walker, Texas Ranger

By: Dr. Bruce Winders, Alamo Director of History and Curation

Photo Source: Matthew Brady. Captain Samuel Hamilton Walker, half-length portrait, facing slightly right, ca, 1846. Library Of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2004664222/

Mention Walker, Texas Ranger and the image that most likely comes to mind is that of Chuck Norris kicking some bad guy’s . . . well you get the picture. While not trying to diminish Mr. Norris’ reputation as a man of action, there is another Walker, Texas Ranger whom you should know.

The real Walker, Texas Ranger was Maryland native Samuel Hamilton Walker. Born in 1817, Walker grew up at a time when the young republic reveled in its heroes past and present. Like many young men his age, Walker was drawn to the battlefields where the nation’s history was still being written. In 1837, the twenty year old Marylander enlisted in a local volunteer unit to fight Seminole Indians in Florida. The experience heightened his sense of righteousness, prompting him to publish a pamphlet detailing how the officers of the Regular Army looked down on and abused the rights of citizen-soldiers. Nevertheless, his disappointment at what he saw as an unfair system did not lessen his desire for military adventure.

Walker’s next move led him to Texas, the scene of his most famous exploits. He arrived shortly before the war between Texas and Mexico heated back up. In 1842, Antonio López de Santa Anna sent two separate columns into Texas in retaliation for a Texan excursion into New Mexico. The first, led by Colonel Rafael Vazquéz, did not accomplish much other than angering the Texans. A second and larger raid, led by General Adrian Woll, outraged Texans even more. Walker was present at the Battle of Salado Creek outside San Antonio where a smaller number of Texans bested Woll’s troops. Walker accompanied the Texans to the Rio Grande, trailing Woll to make sure he left Texas soil. Some Texans, Walker among them, wanted more. Several companies agreed to follow William S. Fisher into Mexico to seize the town of Mier. A Mexican column led by General Pedro de Ampudia trapped Fisher’s men in Mier. The fight for the town was fierce and many of the Texans were killed or wounded. On December 26, Fisher and the survivors surrendered and became prisoners.

The Battle of Mier laid the ground work for one of the most famous episodes in the history of the Republic of Texas. The prisoners were put on the road to Mexico City. At the Hacienda de Salado south of Saltillo, the prisoners attacked their guards and escaped into the mountains. Lost and without food or water, most were recaptured within a week. Mexican officials ordered one tenth of the Texans to be executed, employing a lottery system to choose the victims. An earthen jar containing 17 black and 159 white: drawing a black bean signified death while drawing a white bean meant life. Walker drew a white bean and was herded with the survivors deeper into Mexico. Preferring death to captivity, Walker escaped and made his way from Mexico City back to Texas.

Photo Source: General Thomas J. Green. Journal of the Texian Expedition Against Mier (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1845)

A free man once again, Walker returned to the field. He joined the ranging company of Captain John C. Hays. “Jack” Hays was already a legend in 1844. Walker’s service with Hays consisted of fighting Indians. His coolness under fire and ability to inspire those around him marked him as a leader in his own right. On the eve of the Mexican War, Walker commanded his own ranging company on the Rio Grande. At the Battle of Palo Alto, May 8, 1846, Walker’s company guarded General Zachary Taylor’s right flank. Only a few days earlier, Walker had gained renown among Taylor’s troops when he passed through Mexican lines at night to carry a message to the commander of the besieged Fort Brown.

Walker’s exploits and reputation earned him a captain’s commission in the newly formed U. S. Regiment of Mounted Rifles. He returned to the Baltimore-D.C. area to recruit his company. While there, he worked with arms manufacturer Samuel Colt to produce an improved version of Colt’s revolving pistol. This firearm was to become known simply as the “Walker.”

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Walker’s company arrived in Mexico after General Winfield Scott had already marched deep into central Mexico on the campaign to capture Mexico City. An American garrison at Puebla, midway between Veracruz and the Mexican capital, had been under siege since mid-September. The goal of Mexican General Joaquín Rea was to strand Scott’s army by cutting off communication with the coast. Unable to receive supplies and reinforcements, Scott’s army would wither away. General Santa Anna, driven out of Mexico City by Scott, had retreated to Puebla where he joined forces with Rea.

Photo Source: American Army Entering Puebla. McCabe, James D. The Pictorial History of the United States. Philadelphia: The National Publishing Company, 1877. http://ushistoryimages.com/mexican-war.shtm

A relief column marched west from Veracruz intent on lifting the besieged garrison at Puebla. Its commander, General Joseph Lane, learned that Santa Anna planned to ambush the column on its way to Puebla. He decided to act first and marched to Huamantla where Santa Anna was rumored to be marshaling his troops. On October 9, 1847, Lane sent Captain Walker’s company ahead into town. The former Texas Ranger and his men quickly cleared the town of Mexican soldiers. However, a fierce counterattack by the Mexicans turned the tables on the Americans. Without infantry support, Walker and his men were at a disadvantage. Only thirty years old, Walker was killed before help arrived. Walker’s death infuriated Lane’s troops when they reached the town and heard the news that the popular officer was dead. Although Lane may not have condoned it, his men sacked the town in revenge.

Samuel H. Walker’s remains were removed to San Antonio after the war. He is buried alongside his friend Captain Robert A. Gillespie, another former Texas Ranger who died at the Battle of Monterrey in September 1846. Between their two graves are reported to be ashes of members of the Alamo’s garrison, buried there when Walker and Gillespie were interred at the Odd Fellows Cemetery on April 21, 1856.

Samuel Walker’s grave in San Antonio’s Odd Fellows Cemetery. Photo Credit: The Alamo/Ernesto Rodriguez, III

This article originally appeared in the October 2014 edition of The Alamo Messenger, a monthly history publication from the Alamo’s education department.