About William Holmes Walker
Birth: Aug. 28, 1820, Peacham, Caledonia County, Vermont, USA
Death: Jan. 9, 1908, Lewisville, Jefferson County, Idaho, USA
Burial: Lewisville Cemetery, Lewisville, Jefferson County, Idaho, USA
- Olive Hovey Farr Walker 1824 - 1915
- Mary Jane Shaddon Walker 1830 - 1916
- Olive Louisa Bingham Walker 1844 - 1921
- Harriet Paul Walker 1847 - 1897
- William Adelbert Walker 1859 - 1940
- Winslow Farr Walker 1861 - 1943
- Welby Holmes Walker 1864 - 1947
- Erastus Walker 1867 - 1964
- Lorenzo Walker 1870 - 1912
- John Walker 1875 - 1922
- William Perrin Walker 1882 - 1958
When The Call Came - This is a brief story from the life of William Holmes Walker about how he handled a call from the Lord to serve a mission.
In 1847 William Holmes Walker arrived in Salt Lake with the first company of emigrants. He was 27 at the time. He had spent the previous winter in Ft. Pueblo, CO with a sick detachment of the Mormon Battalion.
That June, he’d met up with Brigham Young and the advance party at the Green River crossing. Upon finding out that his wife was in the group called the Big Company, William declined the invitation to ride into what would become known as the Salt Lake Valley but instead travel back down the trail to meet his wife, Olive. In his journal, he wrote “For several days I had to ride with a pocket handkerchief tied on my foot . My foot was exposed to the sun, as my moccasins, the only thing I had in the shape of shoes were worn out. In this condition I met my wife who drove two yoke of oxen most of the way from the Missouri River and was now sick and worn out with fatigue."
Upon arriving in Salt Lake, William took inventory of their possessions. Through Olive’s “efforts and economy, they had a moderate supply of provisions and some seed grain and she had also preserved nearly all of the crackers that we brought from Nauvoo. About one hundred pounds, In addition to two yoke of oxen and a wagon, I had one Indian pony. This consisted of our entire outfit.”
With “no money to make a home in a new country,” William took the wagon box and made their first home and said that he “lost no time in going to the canyon for logs for a house. Which I put up and moved into in December”, just three months later. He proceeded to plant fields, run out of water, lose his crop, and then plant another crop. This time, he made sure there was enough water, and then the crickets made their appearance in large numbers. He said, “To save my crops, I fought from daylight until dark every day for two weeks. The crickets gained the victory and took possession of the entire crop.”
Prosperity came slowly. In 1849, William got a good crop and traded with Indians and gold diggers on their way to California. His trades brought him a valuable span of horses, a good harness, a two-horse carriage, some useful tools, and a new wagon. By 1851, he had a second farm in Farmington and a two-story adobe house with a full basement cellar, all built of rock, a considerable improvement. Later that year, he partnered with a few men to build a road and bridges up Little Cottonwood Canyon to there build a saw mill. On August 27th, the day before his 32nd birthday, the mill was ready to raise. And he wrote, “I started to Salt Lake City to get men for the purpose of helping raise it.”
Now, I need to pause the story at this point and tell another quick story. In all of their efforts to establish farms, build communities, and raise families, members of the Church did not slacken their efforts to carry the gospel to the nations of the earth. Prior to 1852, a few missionaries had been called to missions throughout the United States, with a few being sent to foreign lands like Hawaii, Chile, Australia, and New Zealand.
Right around the same time that William was ready to raise his saw mill in Little Cottonwood Canyon, a special conference was being held in the old tabernacle on Temple Square, The House of the Lord.
Elder Heber C. Kimball spoke to the members gathered there and said, “We have come together today to hold a special conference to transact business, a month earlier than usual, inasmuch as there are elders to be selected to go to the missions of the earth, and they want an earlier start than formerly. The missions we will call for during this conference are, generally, not to be very long ones: probably from three to seven years will be as long as any man will be absent from his family.” The clerk then read somewhere between 98 and 108 names of individuals who had been proposed for missions, along with their foreign mission assignments.
More were called to go to Australia. Some would be sent to Prussia (now Germany), Gibraltar, Hindustan (now India), China, Siam (now Thailand), Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Burmah, British Guiana (in the eastern Carribean), Malta, and South Africa. Now back to William. Remember, he was on his way to find men to help him raise his sawmill. He wrote in his journal, “Before I arrived at the city I learned that I had been appointed to go on a mission to Cape of Good Hope, South Africa”. Good news travels fast!
William wrote, “Instead of taking out men to raise the mill, I took one to purchase my interest, and succeeding in this I settled up my business, and got ready and started in fifteen days, without purse or scrip. Neither two coats. Leaving two small children. T he youngest two months old”.
By Sept 15, William was on his way with a company of one hundred elders to his mission field. They traveled back across the plains and reached the Missouri River in roughly 45 days. Fully three months into his mission and still thousands of miles from his mission field, William finally left New York on December 14th for Liverpool England. There, he was called to preach to Saints. He wrote, “It being the first time, it was a task for me, however I complied. When I got through I asked if I had spoken 15 minutes. They said I had spoken over one hour, well. The Lord blessed me with His Spirit.”
President Hinckley wrote of this early missionary effort: "To me it is a thing of wonder that at a time when our people were struggling to gain a foothold in these mountains, they put the spread of the gospel ahead of comfort, security, the well-being of their families, and all other considerations. Across the broad prairie between the mountains of the West and the Missouri and Mississippi rivers there were two bodies of Latter-day Saints moving in opposite directions. Missionaries traveling to the eastern states and Europe passed converts gathering from those lands to the Zion of the West."
Finally in England, William enjoyed more opportunities to teach until February 11th, five months into his mission, when they finally set sail for South Africa. This was a hard time for him. He wrote, “I expected to receive letters and papers from home before I left England, but was disappointed, as I had not heard anything from my family since I left them: but nevertheless I pursued my journey, putting my trust in the Lord, as I had dedicated myself and all I had to the Lord."
Of these early foreign missionaries, President Hinckley wrote: “Their long journeys across the seas were made under extremely adverse circumstances. When they stepped ashore, there was neither friend nor companion to meet them. They had no briefing concerning the conditions they were to meet, no knowledge of the languages of the people among who they were to labor."
William’s journey was no different. After battling severe seasickness and fatigue, he wrote these melancholy lines: “March 15th. It is now six months since I left my home in the valley of the mountains. Last evening we crossed the line under the equator. We are not out of sight of the North Star, but we see the Southern Cross in these latitudes." And then, fully seven months into his mission, he arrived in South Africa on April 18, 1853.
I won’t go into the details of what turned out to be a very hard but very successful mission. With the perpetual emigration fund in place and hundreds of South African converts, William and his companions were faced with the task of gathering them to Zion. With no initial hope of success, they set out to purchase a ship and were clever in securing one. William wrote:
This was a stumper to everybody, that those so style, ignorant Morman elders, had in less than two years after their arrival in this country, without money or friends, had succeeded in exercising such a powerful influence over all classes of people, especially over some of the most wealthy and respectable citizens and have grown to such a power as to purchase a ship. It was something that did not come within the scope of their understanding.
After spending another year traveling back to England, then New York, Nauvoo, and eventually crossing the plains for a second time, William wrote of his return: “I arrived at Salt Lake City September 1st, 1857. Having rode the same mule 400 miles in eight days. Having gone five years, lacking 15 days. I traveled during that time 30,000 miles by water and 10,000 by land. I arrived home in the evening just at dark.” It was customary at the time for strangers to knock at any door with a light on and ask for a meal or a place to sleep for the night. Well, William did just that, playing a practical joke on his family. He wrote, “I asked if I could stop there over night, and was not recognized by my family for some little time." ___________________
Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel, 1847–1868, Source of Trail Excerpt: Walker, William Holmes, Reminiscences. (Trail excerpt transcribed from "Pioneer History Collection" available at Pioneer Memorial Museum [Daughters of Utah Pioneers Museum], Salt Lake City, Utah.
Brother Parker decided to buy six head of oxen for the plains. He offered to buy four head for me if I would see to buying and training his. I bought ten head and brother Lorin made the yokes. Parker offered to pay Lorins expenses. We purchased a wagon and I drove the ten oxen to Iowa City 150 miles, walking a considerable part of the way.
On arriving we learned that President Daniel Spencer had arrived from England with a company of emigrants and several Elders. Brother Spencer had charge of the entire emigration, for that season. He established an outfitting post and camp. There were besides, the independent companies who had their own teams. There was a company of 500 persons who had to be provided with hand carts. Elder Web had charge of this task.
President Spencer appointed me to furnish conveyances for all of the emigrants from the depot to the camp. Also to provide transportation for all the luggage. All supplies and all the outfitting goods. I was to receive all wagons and provisions and forward them to camp.
I purchased all the supplies that could be purchased at Iowa City and forwarded them to camp. I realized that I had a full sized job. I made it my business to be off at dawn. I could seldom return until late at night. I missed many meals, and often had just a dry lunch, such as crackers and cheese. For two months I knew no rest.
President Spencer now had another pressing problem. He had no means of transportation for the luggage belonging to the Handcart Company. He gave me the responsibility of find[ing] a suitable place for storage. After making a thorough search of Iowa City I reported to President Spencer, there was no available building. I gave considerable thought to this serious problem. It seemed to me that these people should not land in Salt Lake City without their clothes, as there would be no possible way of obtaining these necessities there.
I then went to President Spencer. I asked him if he thought it possible for the company, as a whole, to pay one half of the cost of freighting. If they could, I thought it would be possible to take their luggage that they might have it on their arrival. The next morning President Spencer called me and turned the huge task over to me. I immediately set my sails for putting the task over.
I found that I could not <get> wagons this side of Chicago. I wrote Peter Suttler, ordering ten wagons and asking when I could depend on their shipment. Their reply was satisfactory.
It was now July 1st. I took a young man with me. We took a steamboat on the Missouri River and landed at Atchison. We walked thirty five miles into the country to purchase oxen. I bought one young spirited mule and five head of oxen. I thought I could drive back and buy on my way. I soon learned the price of cattle was much higher: so I returned to Iowa City, buying only one more yoke of oxen.
My arrival at Iowa City was timely as Mr Shuttler notified me the wagons were ready to ship. I went to Chicago and gave my personal note, and had the wagons shipped. I then returned to Iowa City.
Next morning, at dawn, I started for Missouri on my mule, to buy more oxen. I now overtook the man that I sent out ahead of me. We had traveled about 75 miles when we met three men with sixty oxen, two cows and one small bull. I had a drivers whip. Therefore they concluded I was buying cattle. I inquired how many there were in their drove I told him he had more than I needed as I had been down the country and already bought a number. They said they would sell cheap. I looked them over carefully and found that most of them were broke for use. They were number one oxen. Just what I needed; but I didn't have enough money to pay for them. I counted them and the number was correct. I then carefully looked them over again. Then I made them an offer of 2100 dollars . They had been driven three hundred miles and they were tired. They still had seventy five miles farther to the place of delivery. I was told I had a hard face to make a cut of 800 dollars on their price. I replied that you are not deceived in that I know my business: I also know the price of cattle. I mounted and started on. I was called back and they accepted my offer. I then told them I would pay them $1500 in gold and give them my note for $600, to be paid, on delivery of the cattle at Iowa City. I would leave my man to help drive.
I then wrote up a bill of sale for 60 oxen, 1 bull and 3 cows at $2100. Received payment in full. To which they signed their names. I then paid them $1500, and left instructions with my man, Mr. Lorrance. I then proceeded in haste the 75 miles to camp.
I sold the oxen I had previously bought to pay my note: which I had given two days before. When the men arrived with the oxen, cows and the bull, I had the money to redeem my note.
My next move was to procure yokes and chains, then herd them, so that there would be no loss.
The wagons had now arrived at the depot and they had to be set up and gotten over to camp. What was called false tongues had to be made and ironed to facilitate in hitching the oxen more readily. I was now ready to load my ten wagons. The companies had all left. President Spencer along with them.
My brother Lorin helped load the bundles, weighing anywhere from five pounds to three hundred. They were every conceivable size shape and form. This made loading very difficult. Every wagon had to be loaded snuggly, so that there could be no shifting, and must be loaded to the utmost top of the bows, in order to take it all. The lashing had to be done skillfully as every bundle above the wagon bed had to be made secure against shifting or loss.
Our wagons were loaded, the teamsters hired and then our next difficulty was to pair off sixty head of oxen with help who had never even seen an ox hitched up. We were finally ready to start. We had gone only about three miles, when one of the teamsters got his oxen excited and the leaders made a sharp turn and began to run, capsizing the wagon. We were occupied the rest of the day repairing and loading the wagon. This was a bad day we made but three miles progress.
The next day we got along better.
The third day another wagon capsized. Then one night my mule got away and ran back. I had to have him as he was needed in rounding up the cattle, and so another delay.
We had traveled five or six days. Seven out of ten of my teamsters were sick with chill and fever . By this time we were at Winter Quarters. It was Sept 1st. I tried to hire other men but to no avail. I still realized I should make a special effort to get the luggage through. I would leave no stone unturned. I then got Bishop Cunningham to try his luck at getting teamsters but he was without success. I next discussed the situation with Apostle Erastus Snow. As grave as the whole matter really was, he said he would not advise me to go on.
It was now Oct. 1st. Bishop Cunningham let me have a storehouse that belonged to the Church. I had my wagons unloaded but I had more than sixty head of cattle to feed through the winter. I learned there still was some wild hay that could be cut, so I took some of my men and the bishop went with us to show me where I could get it.
I camped on the creek one mile below town. We cut and stacked 100 tons of hay. Built a stable for my mule. Brother Lorin and I built a two room house of willows, plastered it outside with mud and provided ourselves with wood and then concluded that we were settled for the winter.
Winter set in about the middle of Nov. By Dec 1st it was severe.
About Dec 20th, a man from Omaha, passing observed my outfit and inquired if I would like to contract hauling one thousand sacks of flour from St Joseph MO. I told him that I would take it at the right price. That I would be in Omaha next day for business. We drew up a written contract with sufficient money advanced to meet my expenses. This was forthcoming. I returned to camp and fitted up for business. I made a small light sled that my mule could manage. I then hired teamsters and started, Christmas, with five wagons, with three yoke of oxen for each wagon.
I went ahead directing the route. I bought grain and a stack of hay at points I thought suitable for camp sights. I went to St Joseph and returned buying feed for my convenience.
On the second trip there was a heavy snow and extreme cold. I bought five ox sleds and continued hauling. When we got to Omaha we drove across the Missouri River on the ice. I used the sleds until spring.
When the snow went off I hitched on to my wagons and sold the sleds for as much as I paid for them.
I made five round trips from Omaha to St Joseph and lost only one ox. And that was from eating too much corn. My men traveled early and late all winter long. None of us were frost bitten: although many <other people> were frozen. We used no liquor.
In the spring I received a letter from Apostle Erastus Snow. Stating I would have to sell enough of the teams and wagons, before starting, to pay off the note on the wagons, as the Church couldnt pay this.
I had already sold off some of the wagons at a good profit. I lifted the note on the wagons and paid for ten more, which I now had ordered. I also bought 12 head more of oxen. Six oxen had died at Winter Quarters. So starting out on the plains I had one more wagon and six more oxen.
On starting, some twenty wagons of emigrants were added to my company. Captain David Evans handcart company started. Many things happened some, unpleasant. We also learned that Johnsons army was on its way to Utah. We were traveling in the Platte Region. I drove over to the Platte River and camped. The handcart companies camped at the springs. Next morning Capt. Evans sent me word that their oxen had stampeded and had all run off with the buffalo. He had no way of recovering them, and could I give them assistance. I sent teams to move the company to our camp. I also succeeded in getting oxen from those not too l[h]eavily loaded. I was able to haul some of their flour. Others took on whatever they could. We took the entire company along with us.
Many in our company were very accommodating in letting the sick and weary ride. All went on nicely for a few days, then some in our company had lost some of their oxen and wanted theirs back from Capt. Evans. Finally nearly half in my company rebelled at the slow progress, we were making on account of being so burdened. They were determined to go on and leave the handcart company. I tried to reason and prevail on them not to leave them on the plains to starve. I was finally obliged to insist that no team should leave camp until arrangements were made. Yet the leader of this faction hitched up and drove out others followed.
I rode in front of their teams and said without threats, though plainly and positively "not a team can leave this camp until all arrangement are made to take care of these people. I had a pair of revolvers on my saddle which I carried at all times. The leader said he was not afraid of my pistols. I told him no one need be afraid; but he nor any other man could go until arrangements were made to take the entire handcart company along.
We took them along until we had crossed the Black Hills and the last crossing of the Platte River. Here the handcart company obtained assistance. It was here that some brethren were building a station in the interest of the B.Y. Express.
Here I put Thomas E. Rise in charge of my train. I started on my mule alone for home. I was warned of the danger of traveling alone. I got to Ft Bridger. I took plenty of chances and also used more precautions.
I arrived in Salt Lake City Sept 1st 1857. I had been gone five years minus 15 days. I had ridden my mule 400 <miles> in 8 days. In the five years I had traveled more than 40,000 miles.
On arriving I went to my home and asked if I could get accommodations over night, for my mule and myself. It was just dusk and I was not recognized for some little time.
My wagon train arrived Sept 10. __________________________
Source of Trail Excerpt: Walker, William Holmes, Reminiscences and diary, 1843 September to 1897:
So that in starting out on the plains I had one more wagon and six more oxen than I had last season, and all paid for. I got my provisions and supplies for the journey on credit. On starting some 20 wagons of emigrants were added to my company. Capt. David Evans, handcart company, started about the 3rd.
I had traveled three days, when Br. E. [Erastus] Snow overtook me on horseback. He sent a man into camp to see who was there before he came in. About this time there was considerable excitement all along the frontiers with regard to the army being sent out to Utah and the brethren were a little anxious to know whose company they fell into. Br. Snow had a very bad leg, much swollen and a running sore, very much inflamed. I made him welcome in my private wagon. I procured cow poultices and dressed his leg several times a day. He slept with me.
I traveled about eight days when Br. John Taylor and four or five others overtook us, with light wagons and mules, going through on an express. Br. Snow was now much better and could walk about comfortably. They called a meeting and gave us some good instructions. They wanted to get another horse for one of their guard to ride. I offered them my mule, which they would not accept. Said I needed it and would not take it from me. There were others that could spare one better than I could.
We were then camped five miles from the Platte River. Br. Snow informed Br. Taylor that a man by the name of Buttler, was traveling and camping alone with 4 boys. Br. Taylor gave me instructions with regard to them. This Buttler was a very long faced pious man. Prayed every night and morning, both loud and long. A few days before he drove up to some well ahead [of], Captain Evans company, and insisted that his oxen should have water before those that were drawing their handcarts over sandy roads. As the Capt. Did not allow him to do this, he cursed him and all the people, making some hard threats and drove on, and would not camp near us as he had done before, and had driven his oxen to our herd to be guarded, as he did not like to guard at all. As Br. Taylor passed him on the Platte he advised Buttler to come back and travel with me. He would not be advised. Two of the boys came to my camp. The Indians were very bad and they were afraid they would be killed.
I had laid over for the day at the Springs. After a while the old man came over for the boys, inquired of me where they were and made a great many threats of shooting, etc. As the old man went out to hunt the boys I asked some of the brethren to entertain him. In the meantime I sent two men to fetch his team back, which drove up just at dark. When he saw that the team had come back he went on in a terrible rage, threatened to shoot. Finally when he did not succeed in scaring anyone he wanted to take the team off to one side so that he could worship. I told him he might worship as long and as loud as he pleased, if he would go out to one side so as not to disturb the camp. That he could have provisions that would do him; but it would be necessary for the team to remain in camp to haul provisions for the boys. He had previously struck two of the boys with a gun, which was not an uncommon thing.
I drove over to the Platte River and camped. The handcart companies camped at the Springs. Next morning Capt. Evans sent me word that their oxen had stampeded and all run off with the buffalo and he could not recover them, and wanted assistance. I [sent] teams to move the company up to our camp.
As I had got poison ivy so that I could not sit on my saddle to ride, I lent my mule to Capt. Evans, and some men went to assist him in trying to recover the oxen, but they could not find them.
I succeeded in getting some oxen of those that were not very heavy loaded and took on some of their flour. As also some others did, and took the company right along with us, and many were very accommodating in letting the sick and weary ride.
We took them all quite comfortable for a few days until nearly all had lost from two to three head of their cattle, consequently they demanded theirs back from Capt. Evans. Finally the crisis came. About half of my company were not only willing, but determined, to go on and leave the handcart company. I tried to reason and prevailed on them not to leave them on the plains to starve. As they had only provisions enough, at best, to do them if no delay. I was finally obliged to insist that no one should leave camp until arrangements were made. Yet the leader of this faction hitched up and drove out and others followed. I rode out in front of their teams and said, without any threats, though, plainly and positively, that not a team can leave this camp until all arrangements were made.
I had a pair of Colt revolvers on my saddle which I carried all of the time, and never thought of using them. The leader said he was afraid of my pistols. I told him I did not want him to be afraid; but he could not go nor no other man, until arrangements were made to take the whole company along.
I finally succeeded and took the company along till we crossed the Black Hills and the last crossing of the Platte River. Here we met quite a number of the brethren building a large station and working in the interest of the B.Y. Express Company. Here the handcart company obtained assistance.
I made arrangements with Br. Thomas E. Rise to take charge of my train. He being an old experienced hand and competent.
I started alone and rode 100 miles. Came to a station that Br. Stephen Markham had charge of. The night before I ate some sardines that were a little stale, which made me very sick. Br. Markham got me something to eat and I felt a little better. Next morning he informed me that the Indians were very bad between here and Fort Bridger. That it was dangerous to travel alone. That I would have to be very cautious. There had been one man killed lately. Therefore I stopped in daylight on some eminence where I could see a long distance in every direction and only off saddle to let the mule roll, then saddle up again and hold the mule to eat and not camp any where I might be seen and off the road.
I arrived at Fort Bridger. Got something to eat. I had a little dry bread with me, and no change to buy anything more.
I met one Indian. He wanted to see my pistol. I took it out and let him see it. They were new and bright and attracted his attention. He wanted to take on[e], I said no sir, you can’t. I arrived at Salt Lake City, Sept. 1, 1857. Having rode some 400 miles in eight days. Having gone five years, lacking 15 days. I traveled during that time 30,000 miles by water and 10,000 by land. I arrived home in the evening just at dark. I asked if I could stop over night, was not recognized for some little time.
William Walker's Timeline
August 28, 1820
Peacham, Caledonia, Vermont, United States
April 28, 1850
Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Ut
May 8, 1851
Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Ut
July 6, 1852
Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah
August 30, 1858
Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, UT, USA
November 5, 1859
Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Ut
October 10, 1861
Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah
January 8, 1864
Big Cottonwood, (Holliday),Salt Lake, Utah
July 7, 1865
Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Ut