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A statue of Chief Walkara at Pioneer Heritage Gardens in Manti, Utah.

Chief Walkara (aka Wakara, 'Wahkara' or Chief Walker) (c. 1808 – 1855) was a Native American leader of the Utah Indians also known as the Timpanogos and Sanpete Band of Native Americans. It is not completely clear what cultural group the Utah or Timpanogos Indians belonged to, but they are currently listed as Utes. He had a reputation as a diplomat, horseman and warrior, and a military leader of raiding parties, and in the Wakara War.[1][2]

He was the most prominent Native American chief in the Utah area when the Mormon Pioneers arrived in 1847.[3] One observer described Wakara in 1843 as: "the principal ruling chief... owing his position to great wealth. He is a good trader, trafficking with the whites and reselling goods to such of his nation as are less skillful in striking a bargain."[4]

In 1865, some ten years after his death, the Timpanogos agreed to go live on the Uintah Reservation under Chief Tabby-To-Kwanah and merged with the Ute Indians to become the Northern Ute Tribe, so Walkara is often considered to be a Ute. The Shoshone and Utes did share a common genetic, cultural and linguistic heritage as part of the Numic branch of the Uto-Aztecan language family, but at the time, Walker may have been Shoshone and his name, Walkara, means Hawk, in Shoshone.[5]

Timpanogos Chief[edit]

Walkara was born along the Spanish Fork River in what is now Utah, one of five sons of a chief of the Timpanogos Tribe. He also had four 'legendary' brothers, who were sub-chiefs under him: Chief Arapeen for whom the Arapeen Valley near Sterling, Utah was named, Chief San-Pitch for whom Sanpete County is named, Chief Kanosh with a town named after him, and Chief Sowiette. He gathered a raiding band of warriors from Great Basin tribes, Ute, Paiute and Shoshone, and often rode with his brothers on raids.[1] Walkara learned to speak English and Spanish and became fluent in several native dialects. His band raided ranches and attacked travelers in the Great Basin and along the Old Spanish Trail between New Mexico and California. Small native bands and tribes in the area paid him tribute in return for protection and assistance.

Walkara created a disciplined cavalry and organized effective raiding campaigns. Sections of his cavalry, under the leadership of his brothers and other trusted band members, were distinguished by appearance, adopting bright dyes and metal ornaments. Walkara's public name, translated as "yellow," was based on the yellow facepaint and yellow leather which he wore.

Some people called him, 'The Greatest Horse thief in History.'[6] In California, especially, Walkara was known as a great horse thief, primarily due to an 1840 campaign through the Cajon Pass into Southern California which resulted in the capture of a large number of horses mainly from the Spaniards, with estimates ranging from several hundred to 6,000 horses. In some of these raids, the band fought Cahuilla leader Juan Antonio. Mountain men James Beckwourth and Thomas "Pegleg" Smith were involved in this campaign and were known to trade with Walkara, providing the band with whiskey in return for horses. In 1845 Justice of the Peace and assistant for Indian affairs in Riverside County Benjamin Davis Wilson was also commissioned to track down Walkara and his marauders and bring them to justice. Their mission was interrupted by the discovery of the Big Bear Lake area and no additional story of the pursuit was ever given.

Horsethief Canyon and Little Horsethief Canyon in the Cajon Pass are named for his thieving exploits. Several men were killed in both canyons.

Ambivalent Relations with the Mormons and Settlers[edit]

When Mormon Pioneers arrived and started to settle and spread through the territory, Walkara was in favor of driving them out by force. However, his brother, Sowiette was in favor of accommodation with the Mormons, and after initial disagreement, his brother's views prevailed, so instead of war, the Mormons initially had peace with the Timpanogos. At one point, Walkara invited Latter-day Saint president Brigham Young to send Mormon colonists to the Sanpitch (now Sanpete) Valley, a valley named after another of Walkara's brothers. In 1849, Young dispatched a company of about 225 settlers, under the direction of Isaac Morley. The settlers arrived at the present location of Manti, Utah in November, and established a base camp for the winter, digging temporary shelters into the south side of the hill on which the LDS Manti Utah Temple now stands. It was an isolated place, at least four days by wagon from the nearest Mormon settlement. Relations between the Mormon settlers and the local Ute Indians were helpful and cooperative. Morley and his settlers felt that part of the purpose of the settlement was to bring the gospel to the Indians. Morley wrote, "Did we come here to enrich ourselves in the things of this world? No. We were sent to enrich the Natives and comfort the hearts of the long oppressed."[7] During the severe winter, a measles epidemic broke out and the Mormons used their limited medicine to nurse the Indians. When supplies ran low, Indians helped settlers haul food on sleds through the snow.

Walkara negotiated a trading relationship with the colony through Young, and, in 1850, allowed himself to be baptized into the Latter-day Saint religion. However, relations with the Mormon settlers deteriorated rapidly. Walkara's raiding lifestyle was under pressure from an increasing number of federal troops in the Great Basin and Southwest and from the expansion of Latter-day Saint settlements. One conjecture holds that Mormon settlers also strongly objected to the profitable traditional trade in native slaves and interfered in many transactions, although this would seem to be contradicted by the fact that Brigham Young was not, by his own account, an abolitionist.[8][9] In addition, Central and Southern Utah saw increasing numbers of non-Mormon trading expeditions and settlers traveling through the area. Some isolated natives were killed, and Walkara and other leaders became increasingly angry with both the Mormonees and the Mericats, designations used by local tribes to distinguish Mormon settlers from non-Mormon Americans.[10]

Walker War[edit]

These pressures, additional measles epidemics in the 1850s, and the rise of competing bands of Shoshone raiders ultimately led to a brief conflict known as the Walker War. Local historical accounts attribute the outbreak of the war to Walkara's failure to acquire a Mormon wife. However, it more likely began with a July 1853 confrontation with James Walker Ivie in Springville in Utah Valley which resulted in the death of several band members.

The war consisted primarily of raids conducted against Mormon outposts in central and southern Utah and retaliations by organized pioneers. In one case, four settlers driving oxen-drawn wagons to Salt Lake City from Manti were attacked and killed at Uintah Springs on the night of September 30, 1853. Historical accounts indicate that pioneers retaliated for the killings two days later. A recent archaeological dig examined seven bodies of Native American men and boys found in a relatively shallow grave near Nephi. Wounds on some of the remains suggest these Native Americans were executed rather than killed in combat. One skeleton appeared to have been bound by a leather strap at the time of his death. The bodies probably belonged to members of a Utah or Goshute tribe. (Salt Lake Tribune, 8 June 2007)

In a passive defense effort, Young directed settlers to move from outlying farms and ranches and establish centralized forts. In all, casualties during the war probably totaled twelve white settlers and an equally modest number of Indians. In addition, U.S. surveyor John Williams Gunnison and seven members of his party were attacked and killed, apparently by local tribesmen, in the Sevier Valley in 1853.

The Walker War ended through an understanding personally negotiated between Young and Walkara during the winter of 1853 and finalized in May 1854 in Levan, near Nephi, Utah. In his contemporary work Incidents of Travel and Adventure in the Far West (1857), photographer and artist Solomon N. Carvalho gives an account of the peace council held between Walkara, other native leaders in central Utah, and Brigham Young. Carvalho took the opportunity to persuade the Indian leader to pose for a portrait, now held by the Thomas Gilcrease Institute, Tulsa, Oklahoma. Although immediate hostilities ended, none of the underlying conflicts were resolved. Walkara died in 1855 at Meadow Creek, Utah.

At his funeral, fifteen horses, two wives, and two children were killed and buried along with him.[11]

The Wakara or Walkara War was a low intensity conflict between Chief Walkara (Circa 1808-1855) and his Utah band and Mormon settlers in present-day south central Utah. It is sometimes called the Walker War, for no other reason than white recorders of the history could not pronounce Walkara.

The conflict erupted in July 1853 near present-day Springville, Utah when one of Walkara's tribe was killed in an altercation with James Walker Ivie in a trade dispute. Walkara demanded that the killer be turned over to his tribe for punishment, but was refused.

Walkara proceeded to raid Mormon settlements in retaliation and the conflict spread. However, not all Utes were united in the controversy. In March 1854, Brigham Young, president of the LDS Church, sent major E.A. Bedell, the federal Indian agent, to meet with Walkara and other Ute leaders. Bedell was to inquire if they would make a treaty with Young for the sale of their land. During the meeting with Bedell, Walkara stated that "he would prefer not to sell if he could live peacefully with the white people which he was anxious to do."

Shortly thereafter, the conflict died down. Walkara died of pneumonia on 28 January 1855. The story of his body being buried with his goods, including horses and young Indian slaves, has become the stuff of legend.

However, tensions remaining from the conflict and some who refused to accept the peace eventually resulted in another incident which precipitated the longer and more costly Ute Black Hawk War a decade later.

Mormon baptisms[edit]

After the Walker War had ended, on July 27, 1854, under the direction of stake president Welcome Chapman 120 members (103 males, 17 females) of Wakara's tribe were baptized members of the LDS Church in Manti's City Creek.[12] Wakara was possibly re-baptized at this time.[13][14]

Slavery and Child Sacrifice[edit]

There is controversy over whether Chief Walkara was involved in slavery and human sacrifice. His descendants report that such activities were never cultural with them, and would have been considered dishonorable.[15] However, there were contemporary reports of such activities.

"Walkara also was involved in the slave trade that thrived in the Great Basin. In hard times, some of the poorer tribes readily sold women and children in exchange for horses, which they ate. Other children were acquired through war or raids on their camps. They were sold to Mexican traders, who in turn, offered them as slaves in California or Mexico. The average price for a boy was $100, while girls brought $150 to $200, said Daniel W. Jones, who spent 40 years among the Indians."[16]

At first, Mormon leaders encouraged Walkara's slave trade.[17] Apostle George A. Smith gave him talking papers that certified "it is my desire that they [Captain Walker and Peteetneet] should be treated as friends, and as they wish to Trade horses, Buckskins and Piede children, we hope them success and prosperity and good bargains."[18] Brigham Young encouraged the saints to "buy up the Lamanite children as fast as they could".[19]

"The chief’s daughter was sick, and he had ordered that if the child died, an Indian woman must be killed to accompany her spirit to the next world. This was no idle threat, for Walkara, on at least one previous occasion, had had two captive children killed in the hope of relieving his own pain. At times the Utes even buried live children with a corpse to keep it company and to be servants in the next life. When Walkara did die eight months later, two Indian women, three children and twenty horses were slain and entombed, along with one live boy, as Walkara’s companions to the ‘Happy Hunting Ground.’" [20]


Walkara died after a lingering illness, possibly pneumonia, on January 28th, 1855, while at Meadow Creek, Utah Territory. As Chief of the Timpanogos Utes, he reportedly had a rather elaborate burial and was entombed in a small canyon in the mountains, along with animal and human sacrifices.[21]

"Purportedly, at his funeral, fifteen horses, two favorite wives, and two of his children were killed and buried along with him. Since he had several wives and several supposed "concubines", it is impossible to identify which wives and children were killed and which were spared from the ritual.

"Elder Isaac Morley, his long time friend, had promised Walkara to speak at the entombment [interment is burial in the ground - entombment is encasement within an existing cave or opening]. Morley later described the terrible ordeal and reported that he dare not object to the ceremony for fear of causing an uprising in the already delicate relationship between Walkara's brothers and the white settlers.

"In addition, two living Piede slave children were said to be sealed inside the tomb to keep "watch" over Walkara and his treasures. Their mournful crying was meant to scare away animals and possible enemies, until the spirits of the departed had three days to make their journey to "Towats".[22]

"His body securely bound upright on his horse, Walkara made his last ride to the head of a canyon, where his body was laid on blankets in a rocky excavation. His weapons and ammunition were placed beside him. All of his personal horses and two squaws were killed to keep him company on his journey. In his hand as the pit disappeared under a covering of pickets and stone was his last letter from Brigham Young. A live Paiute boy and girl were put in a cairn on top of the burial pit. Their assignment was to watch over Walkara until they, too, died. The panicked boy worked his head through the pickets, and some cattlemen working nearby heard his cries for water and moved to interfere. Warning bullets from Indian guns put them on notice to leave Walkara's burial to long custom."[16]

See also[edit]