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

Chief Walkara (c. 1808 – 1855; also known as Wakara, Wahkara or Chief Walker) 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]

He was the most prominent Native American chief in the Utah area when the Mormon Pioneers arrived in 1847.[2] One observer described Walkara 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."[3]

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.[citation needed][4]

Timpanogos Chief[edit]

Walkara was born approximately 1808 along the Spanish Fork River in Utah. He was one of the five sons of a chief of the Timpanogos Tribe. Walkara could communicate in Spanish, English, and native languages.[5] His brothers included Chief Arapeen, for whom the Arapeen Valley near Sterling, Utah was named; Chief San-Pitch, for whom Sanpete County is named;[6] Chief Kanosh with a town named after him, and Chief Sowiette.[7] He gathered a raiding band of warriors from Great Basin tribes, Ute, Paiute and Shoshone, and often rode with his brothers on raids. 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 was often distinguished by the yellow face paint that he wore. [5]

Some people called him, 'The Greatest Horse thief in History.'[8] In California, especially, Walkara was known as a great horse thief, due to his stealing around 3,000 horses in Southern California in the 1840s.[5] 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.[citation needed] 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, but never suceeded.[5] Their mission was interrupted by the discovery of the Big Bear Lake area and no additional story of the pursuit was ever given.[9] Horsethief Canyon and Little Horsethief Canyon in the Cajon Pass are named for his thieving exploits. Several men were killed in both canyons.[citation needed]

Ambivalent relations with the Mormons and settlers[edit]

When Mormon pioneers arrived in what is today known as Utah, they were caught between the Shoshones and the Utes: both tribes claimed the Salt Lake Valley. The settlers refused to pay the Shoshones for the land, knowing that they would have to pay the Utes as well. Brigham Young, the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, recommended that the Mormon settlers not trade with Native American tribes. At this time, the Ute bands of Indians were divided, but Walkara's band was one of the most influential groups. Walkara recognized the opportunity for trading with the settlers to allow his band to become more powerful. However, Utes were angered by the Mormons building a permanent settlement in the area, and Walkara was in favor of driving them out by force.[10] 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.[citation needed]

The first act of violence between the Utes and the Mormon settlers occurred on March 5, 1849. Some Utes had disregarded their leaders instruction to not steal from the Mormons and had killed and stolen livestock from the Mormon settlers. In retaliation, the settlers set out to find those responsible, and an ambush broke out in which six Utes were killed, known as the Battle Creek massacre. Later in April, Walkara supported Ute attacks on Fort Utah; nevertheless, Young and Walkara entered into a peaceful relationship by May. [10] In late 1849, Walkara met with Young and requested that Young send men to help settle Ute land, and upon that request settlers including Welcome Chapman went to the Sanpete Valley.[11] 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."[12]:104

During the severe winter, a measles epidemic broke out and the Mormons used their limited medicine to nurse the Indians, and likewise when Mormon supplies ran low, the Utes shared their food supply.[13] In 1850, Walkara allowed himself to be baptized into the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints with his son. However, Walkara practiced trading women and children as slaves in order to trade for horses, guns, and ammunition. Mormon settlers tried to stop this practice, but only angered the tribe for encroaching on their Indian slave trade.[14] 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.[15][unreliable source?][16][unreliable source?] 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.[17]:272

Walker War[edit]

Growing tension between the Mormon settlers and the Ute Indians resulted in a brief war known as the Walker War. The war was sparked on July 17, 1853 by a confrontation with James Walker Ivie in Springville in Utah Valley which resulted in the death a band member, Shower-O-Cats, a relative of Walkara. The Indians were looking to trade goods near Ivie's home, when Ivie tried to intervene in an argument over a trade between a Ute and his wife. Ivie wounded several of the Indians and one of them was killed. When Ivie would not comply with Indian requests for compensation, believing that what he did was an act of defense, tension between Mormon settlers and the Ute Indians reached its peak.[10]

A militia unit went to Walkara's camp in Payson to work out a peaceful resolution; however, no arrangement was agreed upon. The Utes demanded retribution in the form of the death of a Euro-American. When the Mormons refused,[18] Alexander Keel was shot and killed by Utes on July 18, 1853 in Payson, Utah; this event was the tipping point in the relations between the two parties. Indians engaged in other violent acts in nearby cities. By July 25, it was reported that Walkara was gathering Utes for a war. Mormon colonels Peter Conover and Stephen Markham rounded up men and called for volunteers to pursue the Utes, and families were advised to fort up their houses, store their grains, and protect their livestock. In a passive defense effort, Brigham Young directed settlers to move from outlying farms and ranches and establish centralized forts,[10] and the travel routes between Mormon settlements were heavily guarded.[14]

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.[10] Historical accounts indicate that pioneers retaliated the next day, and fighting continued until early November.[19] In December of that year, Brigham Young, president of the LDS Church, offered amnesty to all the Utes, although no response from the Indian tribes was given and hostile acts were committed for several more weeks. On March 24, Young 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."[19]

The Walker War ended through this understanding personally negotiated between Young and Walkara that was finalized in May 1854 in Levan, near Nephi, Utah.[10] 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.[20][page needed] Walkara died of "lung fever" on 29 January 1855 at Meadow Creek, Utah.[10] At his funeral, fifteen horses, two wives, and two children were killed and buried along with him.[20][page needed] 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.[1]

In all, casualties during the war 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.[10] An archaeological dig in 2007 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.[21] A rock monument was built in Memorial Park in Payson to commemorate the death of a settler during the war,[14][22] and another monument was built in Spanish Fork, Utah at the site of the Old Palmyra Fort.[23]

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 Walkara's tribe were baptized members of the LDS Church in Manti's City Creek.[24] Walkara was possibly re-baptized at this time.[25][26] After his baptism, he was renamed Joseph Walker.[25]

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.[27] Walkara supposedly was involved with the slave trade in the Great Basin. The custom of the Ute tribes allowed for them to sell women and children in exchange for supplies and horses, which they did eat. Some children were acquired for trading through war raids, and then were sold to Mexican traders who sold them as slaves in California or Mexico. A boy could typically be sold for $100, and girls were for $150 to $200.[28]

At first, Mormon leaders encouraged Walkara's slave trade.[29] 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."[30] Brigham Young encouraged the saints to "buy up the Lamanite children as fast as they could".[31]


Walkara was said to have been involved in human sacrifice. It was also a tradition of the Utes to bury children alive with the recently deceased to be servants and to keep the person company in the next life. This belief seems to have motivated Walkara to have two captive children killed to relieve his own pain. At the time the Walker War ended, Walkara's daughter was sick; he said that if his child died, an Indian woman must be sacrificed so that his daughter's spirit did not travel in the spirit world alone. Upon Walkara's death, a sacrifice of two Indian women, three deceased children, and twenty horses, and one live boy were buried with him.[32]


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.[33] This burial scene involvedcarrying his corpse to the rocky entombment site by binding his courpse so that it sat upright on a horse. Walkara's weapons and ammunition were laid beside him and his personal horses were killed to company him on his journey to the next life. He had a letter from Brigham Young in his hand. A live boy and girl were placed on top of the burial pit in order to watch over his grave until they joined Walkara in the afterlife. Thy boy broke free and cried for help. Although nearby settlers heard him, gunfire from the Indian tribe warned them not to interfere.[28]

"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.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b Utah History To Go The Walker War, State of Utah 
  2. ^ "Chief Walkara". Monuments and Markers Database. Utah Division of State History. 
  3. ^ Kelley, Tina; MacKay, Kathryn L. "Walkara". Utah History Encyclopedia. 
  4. ^ "Our Timpanogos Ancestors". Timpanogos Tribe. 
  5. ^ a b c d "Walkara - Walker War Leader". Native American Legends. Legends of America. Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
  6. ^ Kappler, Kathryn J. (2014). My Own Pioneers 1830-1918. Outskirts Press, Inc. p. 588. ISBN 978-1-4787-3701-8. Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
  7. ^ Van Leer, Twila (12 Mar 1996). "Chief Praised by Indians, Whites Alike". Deseret News. Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
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  9. ^ "How Big Bear Got its Name...". Big Bear Visitors Bureau. Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
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  11. ^ Hoyt, Myrna (Dec 1993). "Grandpa Welcome". The Friend. Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
  12. ^ May, Dean L. (1987), Utah: A People's History, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bonneville Books, ISBN 0-87480-284-9 
  13. ^ Tucker, Spencer; Arnold, James R.; Wiener, Roberta (September 2011). The Encyclopedia of North American Indian Wars, 1607-1890 3 Volume Set: A Political, Social, and Military History: The Encyclopedia of North American ... A Political, Social, and Military History. ABC-CLIO. p. 188. ISBN 9781851096978. Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
  14. ^ a b c Stott, Lee (25 Jul 1975). "Monuments Only Visual Reminder of Walker War, 1853". The Daily Herald. Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
  15. ^ "Brigham Young Interview by Horace Greeley". 
  16. ^ "Brigham Young's Speech on Slavery, Blacks, and the Priesthood". 
  17. ^ Allen, James B.; Leonard, Glen M. (1976). The Story of the Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company. ISBN 0-87747-594-6. 
  18. ^ Alexander, Thomas G. (September 2016). "The Walker War". Utah History to Go. 
  19. ^ a b Christy, Howard A. "The Walker War: Defense and Conciliation as Strategy" (PDF). Utah Historical Quarterly: 395–420. Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
  20. ^ a b Bailey, Paul Dayton (1954). Walkara, Hawk of the Mountain. Los Angeles: Westernlore Press. OCLC 1832187. 
  21. ^ Foy, Paul (8 Jun 2007). "Nephi Indian grave yields details of 1853 killings". Deseret News. Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
  22. ^ "Markers and Monuments Database". Utah Division of State History. Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
  23. ^ Roach, Shirlene (30 Jan 1953). "Monument Marks Site of Old Palmyra Fort". The Daily Herald. Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
  24. ^ Hoyt, Myrna (December 1993). "Grandpa Welcome". The Friend. p. 10. 
  25. ^ a b Fox, Lillian H. Armstrong (1995). "Sanpete's First Public Institution: The Manti Council House" (PDF). Saga of the Sanpitch. 27: 34. 
  26. ^ Findlay, Linnie M. (1989). "Welcome Chapman" (PDF). Saga of the Sanpitch. 21: 111–118. 
  27. ^ "Timpanogos Leader Walkara". Black Hawk Productions. 
  28. ^ a b VanLeer, Twila (21 February 1995). "Chief Watched Way of Life Vanish". Deseret News. 
  29. ^ Ronald L. Holt. Beneath These Red Cliffs. USU Press. p. 25. 
  30. ^ Richard S. Van Wagoner and Steven C. Walker. A Book of Mormons. 
  31. ^ American Historical Company, American Historical Society (1913). Americana, Volume 8. National Americana Society. p. 83. 
  32. ^ Kimball, Stanley (1986). Heber C Kimball Mormon Patriarch and Pioneer. University of Illinois Press. p. 194. ISBN 9780252012990. 
  33. ^ "Land of the Yuta (3) Markers". Markers and Monuments Database. Utah Division of State History. 

Further reading[edit]