Who was Joseph Walker?
Joseph Rutherford Walker was one of America’s greatest Mountain Men, scouts and trailblazers. Artist Alfred Jacob Miller used Walker as a model for some of his Old West paintings.
Born in Tennessee on December 13, 1798, Walker first headed down the Santa Fe Trail to New Mexico Territory when he was 22, trapping the beaver streams of the Southwest.
In 1832, he accompanied Benjamin Bonneville into Wyoming. The next year, Walker led a winter expedition over the daunting Sierra Nevada range, becoming the first to accomplish that feat and the first white person to see what became Yosemite National Park.
Around 1836, he married a Shoshone girl, who would bear him several children. They spent the winter of 1837 trapping in central Arizona Territory along the Mogollon Rim.
During the 1840s, he and Kit Carson scouted on two of John C. Frémont’s historic expeditions to California.
In 1862-63, in his mid-60s, Walker led his final expedition: a party of gold
seekers to the rugged and remote mountains of central Arizona Territory. They found placer gold in the streambeds at the headwaters of the Hassayampa River in the Bradshaw Mountains. One tributary, Lynx Creek, became the richest streambed in Arizona history.
In 1867, Walker returned to California, where he died on October 27, 1876. For more information, I recommend you read Bil Gilbert’s excellent biography, Westering Man: The Life of Joseph Walker.
Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian and vice president of the Wild West History Association. . His latest book is Arizona’s Outlaws and Lawmen; History Press, 2015. If you have a question, write: Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org