Captain Sam Walker

Sam Walker

Sam H. Walker

Samuel Hamilton Walker was the son of Nathan and Elizabeth Walker, the fifth of seven children.  He was born on 24 February 1817 at Toaping Castle, Maryland.  What we know about him is mostly third hand, but this doesn’t detract from what must have been a very colorful life.  At the age of 19-years in 1836, Walker enlisted in the Washington City, Alabama Volunteers during the Creek Indian Campaign.  In the next year, he accepted his discharge and worked as a scout in Florida until 1841.  He migrated to Galveston, Texas in 1842, around 25 years of age, and served under Captain Jesse Billingsley in the defense of San Antonio when General Adrian Woll invaded Texas from Mexico.

On 5 March 1842, General Rafael Vásquez (who was then serving at the pleasure of Adrian Woll), led seven-hundred Mexican soldiers into San Antonio.  Their unexpected arrival threw the residents of this frontier town into a panic.  Vásquez’ withdrew his force after a short time, but the invasion stirred up a Texian hornet’s nest.  In the minds of these Texans, Mexico’s invasion of their homeland was an insult that could not be ignored … although it might have been better had President Mirabeau B. Lamar not sent his invasion force to Santa Fe in 1841.

President Sam Houston, recently reelected, knew that Texas could not afford another major conflict with Mexico and tried his best to calm the masses.  Then, on 11 September, a larger force under the direct command of General Woll repeated Vásquez’ feat.  Although Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna signed treaties ceding Texas from Mexican Control in 1836, Mexican forces continued to invade the Republic of Texas in hopes of regaining control of this large territory.  On 17 September 1842, Texans clashed with Mexican troops at Salado Creek, east of San Antonio.  After a couple of successful engagements earlier in the day, an undermanned company of Texas Rangers under the command of Nicholas M. Dawson [1] began to advance on the rear echelon of Woll’s force.  Woll responded to this threat by sending 500 mounted infantry to engage them.  Initially, the 53 Texas Rangers held off the cavalry, but Mexican artillery exacted a terrible toll on the rangers.  The battle ended with 36 dead rangers; fifteen rangers were captured.  History remembers this incident as the Dawson massacre.

Subsequently, Sam Houston could see no alternative but to authorize a retaliatory action.  In November 1842, Houston authorized Brigadier General Alexander Somervell [2] to organize a raid into Mexico.  In order undertake this mission, Somervell was forced to rely on men who were rowdy, somewhat full of themselves, and obnoxious in their deportment toward all Mexicans.  Complicating Somervell’s expedition, his force was inadequately provisioned for any expeditionary action, much less a punitive invasion of Mexico.  To address this scarcity of supplies, the rowdies sacked the nearby town of Laredo.  An appalled General Somervell arrested the men responsible and ordered all misbegotten materials returned to their rightful owners.  Most of Somervell’s men understood his decision, but about 200 of the least disciplined refused to accept it.  They voted to quit the army and return to their homes.

Despite this setback, General Somervell continued his expedition.  In time, however, even he became dubious about his chances for martial success.  The supply situation had not improved, and Somervell found it impossible to take food away from border Mexicans in order to feed his men when they too were starving.

Somervell finally ordered a retreat into Texas —a decision that outraged several key members of the Texian army, among these a young man by the name of Sam Walker.  Of Somervell’s eight captains, five organized a vote among their subordinates to determine whether they should continue the expedition.  Three-hundred of General Somervell’s men voted to continue into Mexico —General Somervell be damned.

It is likely that the bulk of these men were more focused on plunder than achieving satisfaction over General Woll’s “insult.”  These “hardcore” men elected Colonel William S. Fisher [3] as their new leader.  Fisher’s men may not have known at the time that he had visions of creating his own country out of the swath of northern Mexico’s territory.  In any case, Fisher led his men deep into Mexico —among them, Sam Walker.

On 24 December, Fisher seized the town of Mier and, taking the Alcalde as a hostage, ordered the townspeople to bring him stores for 1,200 men.  He had less than a third of that number, but to Fisher, it didn’t matter.  Rather than bringing him stores, however, the people sent a messenger to Mexican authorities, informing them that Mier was under attack by hombres del Norte.  General Pedro de Ampudia responded immediately.  In terms of human life and casualties, the battle that followed was far costlier to the Mexicans than it was the Texians, but the fact was that Fisher had led his men too far into Mexico.  He was in an inhospitable climate, had no allies among the population, and was outnumbered by Ampudia’s forces.  Despite inflicting death and injury to more than 850 Mexicans, Fisher eventually surrendered his 243 men to General Ampudia, who force-marched them to Mexico City via Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Monterrey, and Nuevo Leon.  It was a brutal march and the Mexicans did not treat the Texians very kindly.

General Ampudia was a no-nonsense commander.  Had he known that Fisher was leading an unauthorized army, he no doubt would have had them executed on the spot.  As it was, he thought Fisher was part of an organized, lawful army, and he treated them according to the articles of war.  Unhappily for Fisher and his men, authorities in Mexico City realized that the Mier Expedition was not “authorized” by lawful authority and ordered these men marched to the capital city for trial.  They were no longer considered prisoners of war; they were pirates and bandits.  They would be treated as such.

On 10 February 209 Texians arrived under guard at Hacienda del Salado.  The spirited Texians began planning their escape almost immediately, but their Mexican captors (most of whom could speak English) learned of the plan and quickly separated Fisher and his senior staff from the rest of the prisoners.  Fisher and his officers were marched to Mexico City.  The next morning, the remaining Texians effected a surprise prison break and immediately headed back toward the Rio Grande.  What ultimately defeated them was the heat of the desert.  What saved these men from madness and wasting away in the desert was a well-mounted Mexican army.  The escapees were chained and marched to Saltillo and placed under the command of General Francisco Mejia.  Antonio López de Santa Anna ordered these men executed, but General Mejia refused to take part in a mass murder.

In Mexico City, British and American diplomats protested Santa Anna’s order and he was eventually persuaded to execute one man in ten (decimation), their fate to be decided by the so-called Black Bean lottery.  Back in Salado, Colonel Domingo Huerta prepared a jar filled with 159 white beans, and 17 black beans.  Huerta ordered the officers to choose first; he had placed all the black beans at the top of the jar.  Whoever selected a black bean would be shot the next morning.  Captain William Eastland, the fourth man in line, was the first to choose a black bean.  Sam Walker picked a white bean.

In time, the surviving members of the so-called Mier Expedition were returned to Texas.  Subsequently, Sam Walker joined the Texas Rangers, serving under John Coffee Hays[4] and was eventually commissioned as a Captain of the Texas Rangers.  During the Mexican American War, Walker led his Texas Rangers in support of Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott.  On 9 October 1847, Sam Walker led his troops in the Battle of Huamantla in Tiaxcala.  Walker was instantly killed when he was struck by a shotgun round fired from a balcony.  Initially buried not far from where he fell, Walker’s remains were moved to San Antonio in 1856.

Walker-Colt 1847

Walter-Colt Revolver (1847)

Despite his many military successes (and a few setbacks) Sam Walker is best known as the co-inventor of the now-famous Walker Colt Revolver.  Walker traveled to New York to meet with Samuel Colt and proposed to him the concept of a sidearm based on the Patterson revolver [5] adding several enhancements which included the addition of a sixth chamber and round powerful enough to kill either man or horse with a single shot, and a quicker reload capacity.  At the time, Sam Colt was no longer in the firearm business, but the promise of a large order for firearms encouraged Colt to establish a new company.  He hired Eli Whitney, Jr. [6], who was already in the firearms business, to produce these new weapons.  The first prototype was produced in 1847, which almost immediately found favor with Texans and resulted in the demand for 1,000 Colt-Walker Revolvers and propelled Sam Colt into an entirely new firearms business.  In 1855, Sam Colt’s business became the Colt’s Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company of Hartford, Connecticut [7].

Isn’t history just great?  By the way, in French word for revolver is “le Colt.”  God created men, and Sam Colt made them equal.  Texas forever.


[1] Nicholas Dawson migrated to Texas in 1834, settling in Fayette County.  He was a relative of William M. Eastland.  Dawson enlisted in the Revolutionary Army in 1836 and within a week was elected to the rank of second lieutenant of Company B, Texas Volunteers.  In this capacity, he participated in the Battle of San Jacinto.  By 1840, he served as a captain of volunteers under John H. Moore and participated in the Indian campaign in Mitchell County.  At the time General Woll invaded Texas, he resided in Fayette County.  He organized a small company of fifteen men from that county, soon enlarged to 53 men from Fayette, Gonzalez, and DeWitt counties.

[2] Somervell (1796-1854) was an entrepreneur and military volunteer whose migration to Texas in 1833 landed him in Stephen F. Austin’s second colony.  He joined the march from Gonzalez to Béxar in 1836, his men electing him as a major in the volunteer force.  After participating in the siege of Béxar, Somervell enlisted in the Texas Army on 12 March 1836.  He was commissioned a lieutenant colonel of the first regiment on 8 April.  He participated in the Battle of San Jacinto, served briefly as the Texas Secretary of War, served in the Texas Congress.  By 1839, Somervell was commissioned a brigadier general in Fort Bend County.

[3] Fisher was tall, well-built, and intelligent.  After serving as Secretary of War for one year, he was appointed a lieutenant colonel of frontier cavalry.  There is no question that Fisher was fearless; he may have also been foolhardy.  He was present at the Council House Fight that prompted a protracted war with Comanche war chief Buffalo Hump.

[4] Hays served as a Captain of Texas Rangers serving in several conflicts between 1836-1848, including forays against the Comanche Indian and service in the Mexican American War.  His war record was almost without peer.  Jack Hays was among the first to use the Navy Colt Paterson five-shot revolver in any conflict.  It was he that dispatched Sam Walker to meet with Sam Colt in 1845.

[5] The Colt Patterson navy revolver, first introduced in 1837, was a quirky weapon because interchangeability of parts was a relatively new concept.  Both the U. S. Marine Corps and Army reported quality problems with the weapon and production of the weapon ended in 1842.

Sam Colt 001

Sam Colt

[6] Eli Whitney, Jr., (1820-) assumed control of the family armory in 1841.  The Whitney Arms Company manufactured muskets for the government through the American Civil War.  Whitney Arms Company was headquartered at Whitneyville, Connecticut.  His first opportunity to become involved in the manufacture of sidearms occurred in 1847 when Sam Colt received a contract for 1,000 revolvers during the Mexican American War.  Whitney’s venture not only helped Sam Colt get back into the firearms business, it also helped Whitney to begin manufacturing his first unique handguns in 1850.  Colt retained the patent on his revolving mechanism until 1857, after which Whitney began to produce revolvers with the same reliable mechanism.  Source: The Whitney

[7] The key to Sam Colt’s success in firearms manufacturing was the recruitment and employment of German workers.

About Mustang

Retired Marine, historian, writer.
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