William Walker (1800-1881)
The following biographical information was provided by Margaret Summitt for the book Full of Life Now: A History of the Eugene Masonic Cemetery. It is reproduced here with her permission.
William Walker, Lane County pioneer of 1853, was born 17 April 1800 in Knox County, Tennessee. He was orphaned at about the age of 11, at which time John Love, Sheriff of Knox County, became the legal guardian of William and his sisters Polly and Jane. John Loves periodic reports of his expenses on behalf of the children include shoe leather and a hat for William in 1812 and a saddle for his sister Jane in 1821, as well as school supplies and school fees for all three during this time. Sister Polly married Robert D. McReynolds, 11 June 1823. Later that year sister Jane died, and John Love distributed her share of her fathers estate between William and Polly. By that time William had married John Loves daughter Mary Ann "Polly" Love, 5 October 1820.
For the next eight years the family lived in Knox County. They had three sons and a daughter, but little John Love Walker died at age three in 1827. Between 1828 and 1830 the family moved to McMinn County, where William Thomas Walker was born, 23 February 1830, and Mary Love Walker died, 6 February 1831.
Within a year William remarried, to Mary "Polly" Shields, daughter of Banner Shields and Margaret Weir, and granddaughter of the Revolutionary War soldier William Shields of Frederick County, Maryland. In 1832, hearing that former Cherokee Indian land was available through the sixth and last of the land lotteries in northwest Georgia, William applied for and was granted a 160-acre tract in the original Cherokee County, later Murray County. The plat map shows that a William Walker owned plot no. 300 in the 12th District, third section of Cherokee County. Lot 300 was on the east side of a ridge running north and south, which may not have been to his liking, if this is the same William Walker. In addition to farming, he practiced the trade of carpentry, building furniture, houses, and grist mills. The first three children of the second family, all daughters, were born in Georgia. For whatever reason, by 1840 the family moved back to east Tennessee. Little Eliza Ann, five years old, remembered that year, when they all caught "chills and fever" and managed to cure themselves by living all summer upon the top of Lookout Mountain, near Chattanooga.
Land hunger was still with William, however. He may have heard of migration to Oregon in the early 1840s and decided to make Oregon his ultimate goal, but at that time he may have thought Oregon was too remote, or not settled enough, to emigrate immediately. In 1844 he took the intermediate step of moving to Greene County, Missouri. All the household goods were loaded into wagons and, when they reached the Mississippi River, onto a flatboat. While crossing the Mississippi, William caught a large catfish, the biggest fish little Eliza Ann had ever seen. Upon arriving in Greene County, they settled at Cave Springs, north of Springfield, and lived in tents for the first year while William built a log house.
Along with them came Polly Shields Walkers younger sister, Ann Eliza Shields, who married John Killingsworth, also from Tennessee, in Greene County in 1844. Here the children of the first marriage were to marry, also to new arrivals from Tennessee and other states. And here the Walkers were to become acquainted with families who were to be their companions on the Oregon Trail and neighbors in Lane County: the Gays, the Renshaws, and the Reids. Eliza Ann Walker was to remember the interior of their rude church: a fire in a dirt frame in the middle of the room, onto which coal, which smoked less than wood, was piled. On cold Sunday mornings, one person at a time would go stand by that fire. Candles on the walls shone through tin lanterns punched with holes, which sufficed for light when there was no wind. The song leader, a red-headed man, lined out the hymns two lines at a time. "When we got to singing with books, we didnt like it at all," she remarked. Other details of life in Greene County at this time appear in the diary of Martha Gay Masterson; the Mastersons were neighbors of the Walkers both in Missouri and Oregon (the diary is published as One Womans West, ed. Lois Barton).
Apparently in 1851 the Renshaw family, into which Williams daughter Mary Jane had married, made the trip to Oregon. Then, in 1852 William Walker, his older children and their families, the Killingsworths, and several other neighbors started for Oregon. One of their companions on the journey was George Stowell, whose sister Rebecca married Williams son Mathew Eagleton Walker. George Stowell later wrote an account of this journey. They traveled as far as the Kaw (Kansas) River before hearing how bad the cholera was on the Oregon Trail that year. It was decided to turn back and try again next year.
In April of 1853 they set out again. Here I must relate a couple of stories, oft repeated, that show William Walkers personality. Twice on the Oregon Trail he played practical jokes on Indians, and twice the jokes backfired. One afternoon the emigrants were making camp when some Indians rode up. Eliza Ann, age eighteen, and her sisters admired their bead-covered buckskins, and William, in jest, asked the Indians how many ponies they would give for his daughter. "Seven," they said, and rode off to get them. When the wagon leader heard this, he ordered everyone to break camp and get out of there at once. On another occasion, William offered to an Indian as a gift a pillbox, which probably contained some kind of purgative, and again the emigrants had to break camp and depart in a hurry, lest the pills all be taken at once and make the Indian sick, and his companions seek revenge.
Farther along the trail, probably in the great sage plain between the Sweetwater and Bear rivers, he awoke one morning to find that three of his oxen had died. This was an area with alkali pools known to kill stock. According to an flowery and highly romanticized sketch of Eliza Ann published in the Brownsville Times in 1914, her father asked his family to get on their knees and pray for deliverance. Soon afterward a man came riding up and said he had some cattle he wanted to send to the Willamette Valley, seemingly a direct answer to prayer.
William Walker, his elder sons, and the Killingsworths signed the roster at the Umatilla Agency on the same day, September 27, 1853. This step, taken at the eastern edge of the Oregon Territory, meant that they had officially arrived in Oregon and could now apply for donation land claims in the Willamette Valley. They still had hundreds of miles ahead of them. When they finally got to Lane County, they all took adjacent claims, and started improving them so as to claim ownership in one year. The claim was officially settled on the first of November. The land that William Walker acquired proved no better for farming than had the land in Georgia. It was marshland, at Camas Swale south of Spencer Butte. The first year or so must have been difficult. Once again, the family lived in rather primitive conditions while William built their log house. The three cows they had brought with them furnished the familys cream and butter and Dutch cheese. There being no grist mill nearby, Mrs. Walker ground flour in a coffee mill that she had brought across the plains. Her husband took an ox team to Marion County so that he could buy flour and bacon from Isaac Cook, whom he had known in Missouri, and who had come to Oregon in 1845. Game and wild berries and fruits were plentiful enough. Even so, William may have been a bit relieved when Rev. Robert Robe came calling in the summer of 1854 and, without warning, announced before the whole family that he wanted to marry Eliza Ann. As a wedding present, her mother gave her a glass serving bowl, "Roses in Snow" pattern, that had been brought across the plains.
After four years William sold that property and moved to Eugene, where he opened Walkers Drug Store. His first store (in which the family also lived) was on Ninth Street (now Broadway); this was later moved around the corner to Willamette Street. He sold groceries and patent medicines (he was the agent for Dr. Jaynes Celebrated Family Medicines) as well as shoes, writing supplies, and oilcloth. At about the same time, after giving up the business of sheep raising on his homestead, John Killingsworth opened the Star Bakery in Eugene, the first bakery in Lane County. Killingsworth and his son were to improve Eugene by planting nearly all the towns shade trees. The Peoples Press, an early Lane County newspaper, contains advertisements in 1859 for Walkers Drug Store. But in 1861 he sold the drug store and bought farm and river land; for the next ten years he was ranching in the Springfield and Pleasant Hill area. In 1868, his son Albert Shields Walker, who was to be the first mayor of Springfield, married Sarah "Lizzie" Higgins and at this time the Walker household contained William, Polly, son Albert and wife Lizzie and their infant son Alva, and youngest daughter Tryphena. Daughter Martha married William Winter and the Winter family were living next to the Walkers in 1870.
The following year William Walker purchased a farm at Pleasant Hill where he was to live nearly the rest of his life. In 1881, the year of his death, he sold the Pleasant Hill property and moved back to Springfield. The 1880 Federal Census for Lane County, the year before his death, notes that both he and Polly Shields Walker were suffering from "paralysis," perhaps as the result of strokes.
On December 28, 1881, William Walker died in Springfield. His body was interred the following day in the Eugene Masonic Cemetery, according to his obituary in the Eugene Weekly Guard. His sons Hugh Marion and Mathew Eagleton Walker are also interred there. The Portrait and Biographical Record of the Willamette Valley, Oregon mentions that in his youth William Walker had been a Whig and afterwards affiliated, probably as a Republican, with the abolitionists.
According to my research to date (1997), William Walker has 313 descendants; if spouses are included, the number is 472. These resided mainly in Oregon, California, Washington and Idaho. This family history is written in hopes that I might contact others researching this family, and to give those interested in the history of Lane County some account of their contributions.
Letter from Eliza Ann Walker Robe to her grandson Donald Marsters, Brownsville, OR, 1925-26.
Portrait and Biographical Record of the Willamette Valley, Oregon (Chicago: Chapman Pub. Co., 1903), p. 1121 (biographical sketch of Albert Shields Walker).
"Eliza Ann Walker Robe," by I. L. Hilleary, Brownsville Times, Friday, 10 April 1914.
Walker Family Bible in possession of Mrs. A.R. Tiffany (D.A.R. member), 2045 Potter St., Eugene, OR (Salt Lake Family History film #893732).
A Journey Across the Plains with an Ox Team, by George Stowell. Unpublished typescript in collection of Lane County Historical Society. Includes George Stowells account of the 1852 attempt to reach Oregon.
Genealogical Material in Oregon Donation Land Claims, Genealogical Forum of Portland.
Knox County, Tennessee Orphans and Guardians Court Records
Knox County, Tennessee Marriage Records
Peoples Press (Eugene, OR), 8 March 1859, p. 4, col. 4; 1 October 1859, p. 3, col. 5.
Eugene Weekly Guard, 31 December 1881 (obituary of William Walker).
Greene County, Missouri Marriage Records
One Womans West: the Diary of Martha Gay Masterson, ed. Lois Barton (Eugene, OR: Spencer Butte Press, 1992).
Barton, Lois. Spencer Butte Pioneers (Eugene, OR: Spencer Butte Press, 1982).
Lane County, Oregon Marriage Records
Smith, James F., The Cherokee Land Lottery (Baltimore: Genealogical Pub. Co., 1969).
U.S. Federal Census, Greene County, MO., 1850.
U.S. Federal Census, Lane County, OR, 1860, 1870, 1880.
Shields, John Edgar, A History of the Shields Family (Harrisburg, PA: Shields, 1969).
Robe, Hermon Linn. Oregon Pioneer Tales: Poems (Eugene, OR: Robe, 1955).
Carey, Charles Henry, History of Oregon (Chicago & Portland: Pioneer Historical Pub. Co., 1922), vol. 3 pp. 362-363 (biographical sketch of William Milton Killingsworth).
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