Joseph R. Walker

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Elderly man with bear and hat holding a long barrel gun
Joseph Walker may have been the first Euro-American to see Yosemite Valley

Joseph R. Walker[1] (December 13, 1798 — October 27, 1876) was a mountain man and experienced scout.


Walker was born in Roane County, Tennessee. Early in 1832 he joined Benjamin Bonneville's expedition from Fort Osage, Missouri.[2] Next spring, Bonneville sent a party of men under Joseph Walker to explore the Great Salt Lake and to find an overland route to California. Eventually the party discovered a route along the Humboldt River across present-day Nevada, ascending the Sierra Nevada, starting near present day Bridgeport and descending between the Tuolumne and Merced River drainage. Capt. Walker states they camped at Bull Creek above present day Coulterville. Walker's party finally descended to the Central Valley of California and on west as far as Monterey.[3] His return route across the southern Sierra was via Walker Pass, named after Walker by John Charles Fremont. The approach to the Sierra via the Carson River route later became known as the California Trail, the primary route for the emigrants to the gold fields during the California gold rush. Walker was likely the first white man to gaze upon Yosemite Valley.[4]

At Fort Hall, Walker met Joseph Chiles who convinced him to lead half the settlers traveling in wagons with Chiles back to California up the Humboldt River. Chiles led the rest in a pack train party up the Malheur River and on south to California via the Pitt and Sacramento Rivers. Walker's party in 1843 also abandoned their wagons and finished getting to California by pack train.

In 1862-63, Walker led a well-known gold-hunting expedition of 34 men into the mountains of central Arizona, near what is now the city of Prescott.[5] The company struck gold along the Hassayampa River and Lynx Creek, which was the impetus for subsequent white settlement in the area. The village of Walker, Arizona is named for him. He died at his home in Walnut Creek, California, and is buried in the Pioneer Cemetery in Martinez, California.


  1. ^ The R. stood for Rutherford, but is also found as Reddford, Reddeford, and Redeford.
  2. ^ O'Meara, James (1 Dec 1915). "Joseph R. Walker". The Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society 16. Retrieved 15 April 2013. 
  3. ^ R. E. Brammer. "Joseph R. Walker". Retrieved 2011-06-10. 
  4. ^ Francis P. Farquhar, History of the Sierra Nevada (1946)
  5. ^ Jack Swilling and Joseph Walker's Arizona Adventure Part I. Sharlot Hall Museum

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