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Books by
Jeffery Robenalt



"A Glimpse of Texas Past"

Sam Walker Texas Ranger
and the “Walker” Colt

by Jeffery Robenalt
Jeffery Robenalt

Walker County, Texas, was originally named for Mississippi legislator Robert J. Walker, the Congressman responsible for introducing into the United States Congress the resolution to annex Texas. Unfortunately for Congressman Walker, he later fell out of favor with the residents of Huntsville and the surrounding county when he supported the Union during the Civil War. Reluctant to change the name of their county, residents searched for another, more suitable Walker and decided to rename the county for Texas Ranger Sam Walker. Looking down on the scene from his place in Ranger heaven, Sam was sure to have been both honored and amused.

Captain Sam Walker
Sam Walker
wikipedia

Samuel Hamilton Walker was born in Prince George County, Maryland in 1815, and died during the Mexican American War in 1847, at the small Mexican town of Huamantla. Thirty-two years is not a long life as measured against most men, but Sam Walker’s brief years were an epic adventure filled with Indian battles, wars, public renown, and honor; not to mention being credited with assisting in the design of a revolver that has forever carried his name and altered the concept of side arms.

Little is known of Sam Walker’s early years, but it could be said that his adventures began when he enlisted in the United States Army in May 1836, to fight in Florida against Chief Osceola’s Seminole Indians. During the fighting, Walker was promoted to corporal for “exceptional courage” in the Battle of Hacheeluski. Mustered out of the army in 1838, he eventually ended up in Galveston, Texas, in January 1842, after a stint in Florida working for a friend in railroad construction.

Site of Battle Of Salado Creek today
Site of the Battle Of Salado Creek
Photo by Jeffery Robenalt, February 2011

Several months later Sam joined the Bastrop militia and participated in the Battle of Salado Creek, where a small group of volunteers, militia, and Texas Rangers defeated a much larger Mexican force under the command of French mercenary General Adrian Woll. After the defeat of Woll, Walker’s militia company joined with a small unit of Texas Rangers and for the first time Sam found himself under the command of Jack Hays. The Texans pursued the Mexicans as they retreated toward the Rio Grande, but heavily outnumbered, they had little choice except to return to San Antonio after a few minor skirmishes.

In retaliation for Mexico's incursion, the President of the Republic of Texas, Sam Houston, commissioned General Alexander Somervell to undertake a punitive expedition. Somervell was also granted discretionary authority to cross the Rio Grande. Sam Walker was one of the first privates to sign up for the expedition.

Somervell’s 750 man army arrived at the Rio Grande on the morning of December 8, capturing Laredo without a fight. During the march south there had been a general lack of discipline, but the problem grew worse when some of the men left camp without authority and looted Laredo. In light of the discipline problems and lack of supplies, General Somervell elected to abandon the mission and return to San Antonio on December 18. Not everyone agreed with this decision. Nearly 300 men, Sam Walker among them, voted to quit the expedition, electing William Fisher as their new commander.

On December 23, the small Texas army crossed the Rio Grande and marched on the border town of Mier, defended by 3000 Mexican troops under the command of General Pedro Ampudia. Disregarding odds of more than ten to one, the Texans launched an attack and nearly succeeded until they ran low on powder and ball and were forced to surrender.

Ampudia marched the Texans south to rancho Salado where, led by Sam Walker, they overwhelmed their guards and escaped. Unfortunately, the escapees became lost in the mountainous desert north of Salado and 176 were recaptured and sentenced to death by Santa Anna. Thanks to the good auspices of the American and British ambassadors, the dictator later commuted the death sentence to one man in ten.

In the infamous “Black Bean Episode” that followed, Walker and the other prisoners were forced to draw beans from a jar. Sam was lucky, but the seventeen men who drew black beans were stood against a wall and summarily executed by firing squad. Walker and the remainder of the Texans were marched to Perote Prison outside Vera Cruz where Sam was forced to do hard labor until he escaped. Eventually making his way to the port of Tampico, Walker managed to board a ship bound for New Orleans.

Mier Expedition Black Bean Marker in Monument Hill
“Black Bean Episode” Marker in Monument Hill
TE photo

In New Orleans, Sam publicly vowed revenge against Santa Anna before returning to Texas in January 1844, where he rejoined Jack Hays. Due to the Republic’s wretched financial condition, Hays’s company of Texas Rangers had been reduced to only 25 men and was about to be disbanded altogether until President Sam Houston provided limited funding. However, more important than the money was Houston’s authority for Hays to take possession of the Texas Navy’s supply of Colt Paterson revolvers.

The five-shot, .36 Caliber Colt Paterson was unique in appearance, with no trigger guard and a trigger that appeared only when the hammer was cocked. Although the weapon was fragile, it was the world’s first successful cap and ball percussion revolver and revolutionary in its design. Armed with two repeating Colts and an extra cylinder for each weapon, the Texas Rangers for the first time were more than a match for the Comanches on horseback.

Sam Walker helped prove the worth of the Paterson in June of 1844, when he rode with Jack Hays at the Battle of Walker’s Creek (not named for Sam). During a running fight on horseback, the Comanches suffered 23 dead and 30 wounded compared to the Rangers who had only one dead and four wounded. The victory was widely reported, and the Texas Rangers and their Colts became famous. Unfortunately the publicity came too late to save Sam Colt. His business had gone bankrupt in 1842.

Samuel Colt
Samuel Colt
19th Century Engraving
wikipedia

After Jack Hays resigned from active Ranger service in August 1845, Sam Walker rode for a time with his good friend Ad Gillespie’s Ranger Company. However, with the dawn of the Mexican American War, Sam arranged for a meeting with General Zachary Taylor headquartered in Corpus Christi at the mouth of the Nueces River. Walker offered his services to a United States Army facing an unknown enemy in unfamiliar country, stating to Taylor that his men knew both the Nueces Strip where the fighting was likely to begin, and the Mexican cavalry with whom they had been skirmishing for years.

In 1845, the United States Army did not have a cavalry branch. Instead, General Taylor was authorized mounted infantry referred to as dragoons. Dragoons rode to battle, but they were trained to dismount and fight on foot when they engaged the enemy. Taylor soon learned his dragoons were a poor substitute for cavalry when sixty of them were easily captured by the highly mobile and well-mounted Mexicans. As a result, Sam Walker was given authority to raise the Texas Mounted Rifles. During the remainder of the war, Walker’s men, and later the Texas Rangers would serve as the army’s cavalry.

General Taylor called on Walker's Texas Mounted Rifles to keep his lines of communication open between the army and the supply depot at Port Isabel, and between him and the small detachment at Fort Brown on the Rio Grande across from Matamoras. The Mounted Rifles accomplished their mission, and more importantly, discovered that Mexican General Ampudia had crossed the Rio Grande with the main part of his army and was preparing to launch a surprise attack on the unsuspecting Americans.

Making a daring night ride directly through Mexican lines, Sam Walker and his men arrived in time to warn Taylor, and the General’s forces were waiting for Ampudia’s army at Palo Alto, a thorny, chaparral covered plain north of the Rio Grande. The Americans won the day after a hard fought battle, and then routed the Mexicans the following day at Reseca de La Palma, a dry lake a few miles south of Palo Alto. Ampudia was forced to retreat across the Rio Grande. The fame of the Texas Rangers spread far and wide, and Sam became celebrated as a national hero.

Battle Of Palo Alto, Painting by Carl Nebel
Battle Of Palo Alto, Painting by Carl Nebel
Wikimedia Commons

In June 1846, Walker was appointed a regular Captain in the United States Army and authorized to raise a volunteer company. However, he served as a Ranger until his enlistment was up in October when he and Jack Hays returned to San Antonio from Mexico. After a whirlwind of parties and banquets held in their honor, the Rangers sailed for New Orleans. The duo’s arrival in Louisiana created a sensation and they were received as honored visitors. From New Orleans, the Rangers went their separate ways, with Jack Hays heading for Mississippi and Sam for Washington D.C. to recruit, equip, and train his new command. Walker spent the next six months in the east raising money to buy arms and equipment.

In November, Walker met with Samuel Colt in New York and the two men soon became good friends. The bankrupt inventor also found an enthusiastic buyer for his invention, but Sam pointed out that the Paterson had a few problems and offered some solutions. First, he said the Patterson was too fragile and the emerging trigger was more suited to a parlor gun than a working weapon. The need to remove the barrel before reloading was also a serious drawback. Eager to make a sale, Colt readily agreed to everything Sam suggested and added a few additional improvements on his own.

The result was the most powerful handgun ever made, until the introduction of the .44 magnum revolver more than a hundred years later. The six-shot “Walker” Colt had a longer cylinder than the five-shot Paterson, capable of holding a greater charge of powder. The revolver was manufactured in .44 caliber rather than .36, and it had a lever attached underneath the nine inch barrel for easy reloading. With a standard trigger and guard, the weapon weighed in at nearly five pounds, but the big revolver was as accurate as a rifle out to 200 yards. Truly a weapon made for the Texas Rangers.

The next step was to convince the government to purchase the powerful handguns in sufficient quantity to justify their manufacture. Sam Walker went straight to the top. Traveling to Washington D.C. in January 1847, he relied on his new found fame to secure a personal meeting with President Polk. When the now celebrated Texas Ranger explained the need for the new revolver, the President immediately ordered his Secretary of War to purchase 1,000 “Walkers” at twenty-five dollars each. Sam Colt contracted with Eli Whitney to manufacture the weapons. The Walker Colt’s adaptability to Texas Ranger style warfare would forever change the way in which mounted men fought.

"Walker" Colt Model 1847
"Walker" Colt Model 1847
Wikimedia Commons - Author Older Firearm

While the new Colts were being manufactured, Sam Walker’s Company C, First U. S. Mounted Rifles boarded ship and arrived at Vera Cruz on May 10, in time to join General Winfield Scott’s invasion of Mexico. The first shipment of Colts arrived in June, but they sat crated and forgotten in a Vera Cruz warehouse. Meanwhile, the men of Company C fought their way inland as far as Perote to gain a foothold for Scott’s army beyond the support of the Navy’s guns.

Although they were officially a part of the United States Army, as far as Walker’s men were concerned, they were Texas Rangers. This assertion ruffled the feathers of many regular army officers, but the Texans silenced their critics by distinguishing themselves far beyond any other unit in Scott’s army. Engaging both Mexican army units and guerrillas, the Texans skirmished with tenacity and skill, provided intelligence, and kept General Scott’s supply lines to Vera Cruz open.

On October 4, Walker, as usual, was riding at the head of General Joseph Lane’s Division when a courier delivered a personal gift from Sam Colt; two engraved “Walker” Colts. He and his men had fought for the first few months using personal and army issue weapons, and thanks to an inept supply system, the Colts still languished on the Vera Cruz docks.

General Scott, having attacked and occupied Mexico City, was pressing General Lane to advance on Puebla where a small American force was besieged by 4000 Mexicans under the personal command of Santa Anna. After conferring with Walker on October 8, Lane decided to attack the Mexican advance force at Huamantla. The Rangers would lead the assault, and with an obsession to capture Santa Anna, Sam Walker would have had it no other way.

The following morning, Lane ordered Sam to remain within support distance of his main force as he began a cautious approach on the small town. Within minutes Walker’s scouts reported the Mexicans deploying to ambush General Lane’s approaching troops, and disregarding Lane’s order to stay close, Sam immediately ordered his 250 Rangers to attack a weak point in the enemy’s lines. The Rangers drove deep into the Mexican lines, but their lightning advance left them open to a counterattack by Santa Anna. Fighting became close and vicious with no quarter being asked or given by either side.

Battle Of Vera Cruz, Painting by Carl Nebel
Battle Of Vera Cruz, Painting by Carl Nebel
Wikimedia Commons

When Lane and his reinforcements arrived, nearly an hour after the fight had started, the enemy was in total disarray. The Mexicans suffered 461 casualties during the intense battle and the Rangers had 47 wounded and 27 dead, among them Sam Walker. Though he had been killed, his victory over Santa Anna was complete. The remainder of the Mexican troops at Huamantla fled the field, only to be hunted down like animals over the next two days by the vengeful Rangers, many of whom were Sam’s long-time friends from Texas. Santa Anna somehow managed to elude the Texans and ended up exiled in Jamaica, but his government was shattered.

On October 12, General Lane moved his forces into Puebla, breaking the siege, and most of the regular Mexican Army units ceased hostilities. However, guerilla activity continued against Scott’s supply line to Vera Cruz until the arrival of a regiment of Texas Rangers under the command of Jack Hays. Finally putting the “Walker” Colt to the use Sam had envisioned, the Rangers devastated the guerillas with the weapon’s overwhelming firepower.

The War with Mexico officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo on February 2, 1848. Sam Walker’s fame had spread far and wide by the end of the war, and his passing was headline news in every newspaper in America. Walker’s body was returned to San Antonio for burial.


© Jeffery Robenalt
"A Glimpse of Texas Past" July 1, 2012 Column
jeffrobenalt@yahoo.com

References
About Jeffery Robenalt

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References for "Sam Walker Texas Ranger and the “Walker” Colt"

  • Bauer, Jack K. ; Johannsen, Robert W. (1992), The Mexican War, 1846-1848, New York: Macmillan.
  • Dunn, Betty, Texas Ranger Samuel H. Walker, Texas Center for Regional Studies, www.texascenterforregionalstudies.com/texas-ranger-samuel-h-walker, retrieved April 10,2013.
  • Hosley, William (1996), The Making of an American Legend, University of Massachusetts Press, ISBN 979-1558490437.
  • Levinson, Irving (2005), Wars within Wars: Mexican Guerrillas 1846-1848, Fort Worth, TX: Texas Christian University Press.
  • Nieman, Robert, Texas Ranger Dispatch Magazine, Issue 9, Winter 2002, http://texasranger.org/dispatch/9/Walker.htm [4/30/2009], retrieved April 10, 2013.
  • Spurlin, Charles D., Walker, Samuel Hamilton, Handbook of Texas Online, http:/tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fwa23, retrieved March22, 2013, Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
  • Witt, Gerald, The History of Eastern Kerr County, Austin, Texas, Nortex Press, 1986, pp. 100-106.
  • The Occupation of Mexico, May 1846, July 1848, http:/history.army.mil/brochures/occupation.htm , retrieved April 10, 2013.


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