Judge David Walker

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David Walker

Birthplace: Todd County, Kentucky, United States
Death: Died in Fayetteville, Washington County, Arkansas, United States
Cause of death: Died after being thrown from a buggy at the Washington County Fair.
Place of Burial: Fayetteville, Washington County, Arkansas, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Jacob Wythe Walker and Ann Walker
Husband of Jane Lewis Walker (Washington)
Father of Capt. Jacob Wythe Walker (CSA); Pvt. Charles Whiting Walker; Mary Walker; Edmund Hawken Walker; Nannie Buckner and 1 other

Managed by: Ben M. Angel, still catching up
Last Updated:

About Judge David Walker

From the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture:


David Walker (1806–1879)

David Walker, a lawyer, a jurist, and an early settler of Fayetteville (Washington County), was the leading Whig in the state’s “great northwest” region for nearly fifty years. He began his career as a member of the convention that wrote the state’s first constitution in 1836. He chaired the 1861 convention, and remained active in politics and law until shortly before his death.

David Walker was born on February 19, 1806, near Elkton, Kentucky, to Jacob Wythe Walker and Nancy Hawkins Walker. The Walkers were a prolific and politically prominent family in Arkansas, Kentucky, and Virginia. In 1808, his father moved to Logan County, Kentucky, where in 1811 Walker first attended school.

In two years, he memorized the grammatical rules of Latin. Thereafter, due largely to the family’s financial problems, his schooling was spotty, with none between ages 12 and 18.

A badly spoiled child, he was known as “Devil Dave.” His father, “an indulgent master and poor farmer” with six daughters and two sons, lost heavily at cards on one occasion, and financial embarrassment clouded Walker’s childhood. Never did he permit even a deck of cards in his home.

Walker’s more advanced education, about eight months of instruction, was done by one of his uncles. He then went to work as a clerk for another uncle, keeping the county fee book and fulfilling part of the duties of the sheriff’s office. In the meantime, he read law, apparently on his own.

His Whig politics put him in competition with his father’s legal business by taking away his clients, and that, together with a failed romance, prompted his 1830 move to Arkansas, where he was examined in law by Judge Benjamin Johnson and Judge Edward Cross. He then moved as far west as his money permitted, stopping in the newly created Washington County and settling in Fayetteville, a new town with fewer than a dozen families.

Walker scored his first legal success in a log cabin courtroom in Crawford County. The struggles of his childhood led Walker to possess an obsessive nature characteristic of Whigs; he avoided dances and parties and devoted himself to acquiring land and, later, slaves.

In 1832, he was elected circuit attorney and, the next year, returned to Kentucky to marry Jane Lewis Washington. In 1834, he was reelected prosecutor and, in 1835, was elected to the territorial legislature. The next year, he was a member of the convention that wrote the state’s first constitution.

Walker’s early success attracted his impoverished relatives (including his father, who, until his death in 1838, was president of the Fayetteville branch of the State Bank), and as he later recalled, had he not been so encumbered, “the purchase of lands would have secured me a very large fortune.”

By Ozark standards, Walker was rich, owning a 1,000-acre farm on the West Fork of the White River, where he raised cattle and grew wheat, corn, and apples. With 23 slaves, he was among the region’s largest slave owners. Walker took into his law office several young men, including Peter Van Hoose and a cousin, James David Walker.

Walker remained an active Whig until the party went defunct in the 1850s. He served as an elector for Hugh L. White in the 1836 presidential campaign. In 1840, he won a state Senate seat.

Walker’s most famous campaign was against another Fayetteville politician, Archibald Yell, in the 1840 congressional race. The charismatic Yell made short work of the reserved and dignified Walker, winning a shooting match on one campaign stop and joining a revival at another. Outside the political arena, Yell and Walker were colleagues in land speculations. Walker later wrote the text for Yell’s tombstone.

Walker reappeared in state politics in 1848 when, as part of a complex arrangement for Whig votes, the legislature elected him one of the two associate justices on the state Supreme Court, where he remained until 1855.

In 1860, Walker was a strong supporter of the Constitutional Union party’s nominee, John Bell.

He opposed the summoning of the Secession Convention in March 1861 but won a seat on that body and was made president. The convention rejected taking immediate action at its first meeting, but after the firing on Fort Sumter, Walker could not resist the pressure to re-call the body. On May 4, 1861, a motion to secede from the Union passed overwhelmingly. Walker asked the five opponents to change their votes, but only four agreed to do so.

(Ben M. Angel notes: the Virginia connection through his wife's family may have had something to do with his attitude in the second convention - as Virginia went, perhaps, so went Walker.)

Walker’s abandonment of his Unionist sensibilities was not taken well in some quarters. After leaving Fayetteville in 1862, he accepted an appointment as colonel assigned to a Confederate military court whose death-sentence decisions raised legal issues that carried over into Reconstruction.

At the end of the Civil War, Walker returned to Fayetteville, bereft of his slaves but not his property. Walker received a pardon for his wartime activities from President Andrew Johnson that had been expedited by Governor Isaac Murphy.

In 1866, after the state Supreme Court overturned a loyalty oath intended to keep ex-Confederates from voting, Walker was elected chief justice of the state Supreme Court. His most notable case, Hawkins v. Filkins (1866), sustained the legality of Arkansas’s wartime government (and hence contracts and other legal proceedings). After Arkansas (and all other Southern states except Tennessee) refused to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment, Congress placed Arkansas under military control. Murphy remained governor, and Walker’s court was permitted to function except in areas of civil liberties involving freed people. The creation and ratification of the Constitution of 1868 brought his term to a close.

Walker remained an important behind-the-scenes player in the tortuous course the Democrats took in the next five years of Republican rule. In 1872, he supported Joseph Brooks over Elisha Baxter for governor, in large part due to Brooks’s Liberal Republican Party promises, and continued to believe that Baxter’s party had stolen the election.

In 1874, when delegates to a new constitutional convention were being chosen, Walker expected to be selected. However, a Granger revolt against taxes was also underway, and his failure to be chosen was a personal embarrassment. His return to the high court as an associate justice in 1874 came as recompense.

His most important ruling, State of Arkansas v. Little Rock, Mississippi, and Texas Railway Company (1877), voided one third of the state debt, holding that the election authorizing the granting of railroad bonds was void and, hence, the bonds had never been legal. In 1876, Walker represented Arkansas at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, giving a well-received eulogistic address.

In his last years on the court, Walker’s physical and mental health declined; he resigned in 1878. His death on September 30, 1879, came after he was thrown from his buggy at the Washington County Fair. He was buried in the Walker family cemetery. Walker was one of the few Arkansans to be included in the Dictionary of American Biography (1930).

Walker was a prolific letter writer. During the Civil War, he wrote a series of autobiographical letters that reportedly covered his life up to 1865. The pages covering 1840 to 1865 were lost.

His oldest son, Jacob Wythe Walker, a captain in the Confederate army, died in the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry. A second son, Charles Whiting Walker, also served in the Confederacy and survived his father. One daughter, Mary, married James David Walker. This Walker, who had served as a colonel in the Confederate army, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1879, frustrating the comeback attempt of antebellum senator Robert Ward Johnson.

Walker’s life exemplified Whiggery, both in politics and personality, and his postwar legal acumen reflected the endurance of those characteristics even after the political party’s demise.

For additional information:

  • Lemke, Walter J., ed. The Life and Letters of Judge David Walker of Fayetteville: Justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court, 1848–1878. Fayetteville, AR: Washington County Historical Society, 1957.
  • The Walker Family Letters. Fayetteville, AR: Washington County Historical Society, 1956.
  • Thompson, George H. Arkansas and Reconstruction: The Influence of Geography, Economics, and Personality. Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1976.

Michael B. Dougan

  • Jonesboro, Arkansas
  • Last Updated 4/4/2011


From the Arkansas Toothpick:


At the top of Rock Street in Fayetteville, among the huge trees that cover Mount Sequoyah, is the final resting place of one of Fayetteville’s founding families, the Walker family. Because of the historical significance of this small burial ground, the descendents have decided to pass on ownership of this hallowed ground and entrust its care and restoration to the Southern Memorial Association of Washington County.

The Southern Memorial Association of Washington County was founded by about 40 Fayetteville women in 1872 and is the oldest non-profit, continuous organization founded by women in the state of Arkansas. It was this association which purchased the present cemetery grounds from the Walker family in order to establish the Confederate Cemetery in 1873, and for over 138 years area women have worked tirelessly to provide a beautiful resting place for over 600 Confederate soldiers whose remains lie in this now historic cemetery. It was the women of the Southern Memorial Association who organized the removal of the bodies of the soldiers from mass graves at the battlegrounds of Prairie Grove, Pea Ridge and the Battle of Fayetteville as well as from the roadsides and the woodlands where they fell and then their re-interment in the Confederate Cemetery. Most of the soldiers reinterred in the cemetery remain unknown, but the founding ladies did record the names of 121 men whose bodies rest in the cemetery they worked so hard to obtain.

Buried in the historic Walker Cemetery is David Walker. He was born in 1806 in Kentucky. It is he who has left the largest imprint on the history and development of Fayetteville, Washington County, and the state of Arkansas.

David first came to Fayetteville in 1830 with very little but grit and determination, but used them both with such fortunate results that in 1833 he returned briefly to Kentucky to marry Jane Lewis Washington, the granddaughter of President George Washington’s first cousin, Warner Washington.

David and Jane Walker settled down in Fayetteville, where they proceeded to raise six children. His law practice grew quickly because he was a man that people instinctively trusted.

Jane’s mother, Rebecca Smith Washington, like David’s parents, immigrated to Arkansas from Kentucky in 1836. These family members lie buried with their kinsmen within the grounds of the Walker Cemetery.

David Walker was a member of Arkansas’ first constitutional convention. He was an Arkansas State Senator in 1840. He became a member of the Arkansas Supreme Court three times, twice serving as Associate Justice and once as Chief Justice.

In 1861 Judge David Walker was a pro-Union delegate to the State Convention that met to decide whether to secede from the Union or not. He was chosen president of that convention, and fought for the preservation of the union up to the last hopeless hour.

He gave in to the inevitable and offered his services to the new Confederacy. He was commissioned a Colonel in the Confederate Army, serving in South Arkansas as a Judge of the Military Court in General Sterling Price’s Army.

After the ravages of the War Between the States, Judge Walker managed to rebuild most of his business and legal affairs. He, like many, lost much during the war, including a son.

He was a member of the Building Committee to secure the University of Arkansas for Fayetteville in 1871. He was the spokesman for Arkansas at the 1876 centennial of the United States of America which was held in Philadelphia. It can be said that Fayetteville owes much of its importance in early state circles to Judge David Walker, who epitomized public-spirited leadership, judicial wisdom, and lifelong respect for education.

To quote Walter J Lemke, founder of the Washington County Historical Society and the first Dean of the Journalism Department at the University of Arkansas, “His influence on our state’s development far transcends that of many of the politicians, soldiers, and others who are featured in Arkansas school histories…He gained fame and fortune for himself and a better life for his fellow-citizens”.

David Walker lived to be 73 years old and died in 1879. His monument is the largest in the Walker Cemetery. Also buried there are two of the founding ladies of the Southern Memorial Association, David Walker’s daughter, Mary Walker and her daughter Miss Sue Walker.

The Southern Memorial Association will accept the deed of ownership to the Walker Cemetery property on August 6, 2011 at 9:00 am. The event will take place at the Walker Cemetery and the public is cordially invited to attend the brief ceremony.

The Southern Memorial Association’s purpose has always been to maintain a beautiful resting place for the Confederate dead and acquiring the Walker Cemetery, its purpose will also be the same, to maintain a beautiful resting place for the Walker family members.

The Southern Memorial Association receives no public funding and has no financial support from any foundations or endowments ever in its history. It continues to exist only by its membership dues and gracious donations from individuals.

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Judge David Walker's Timeline

February 19, 1806
Todd County, Kentucky, United States
April 2, 1833
Age 27
Probably Todd County, Kentucky, United States
December 24, 1834
Age 28
December 1837
Age 31
Fayetteville, Washington County, Arkansas, United States
Age 33
Fayetteville, Washington County, Arkansas, United States
December 24, 1843
Age 37
Fayetteville, Washington County, Arkansas, United States
February 1847
Age 40
Fayetteville, Washington County, Arkansas, United States
September 30, 1879
Age 73
Fayetteville, Washington County, Arkansas, United States
Fayetteville, Washington County, Arkansas, United States