Samuel Hamilton “Sam” Walker is a Texas Ranger legend and is one of only about three dozen Rangers who are in the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame. Sam was born in Maryland on February 24, 1817 and served as a soldier for most of his adult life. His first recorded term was with the Washington City Volunteers (now Washington, D. C.) in a campaign against the Creek Indians in 1836. It is believed that he then lived in Florida where he took a railway job until he moved to Texas in 1842. He joined John Coffee “Jack” Hays’ Ranger outfit that same year, serving as a scout under Capt. Jesse Billingsley.
Though Texas had become a republic, there were frequent clashes between Texas and Mexican forces, the Mexican Army extending as far as San Antonio. Walker enlisted in the Somerville Expedition which began in retaliation for the so-called Dawson Massacre of September 17, 1842 near Salado, Texas in which the dozen Texas militia were killed by Mexican Army soldiers led by Gen. Adrian Woll. Walker also participated in the ill-fated Mier Expedition of William S. Fisher. Both events occurred along the Rio Grande River and concerned control of the land along the border, extending to the Nueces River, which was then sparsely populated.
Once the Somerville Expedition was concluded, and Laredo and the Mexican town of Guerrero had been captured, Somerville ordered his men to disband. However, a number of them disregarded his order and organized an attempt to take the Mexican village of Cuidad Mier located across the Rio Grande in December, 1842. They first took the village, resupplied and returned across the Rio Grande. After the Texans vacated Mier, scouts later learned that the Mexican Army had positioned itself in the village with their number thought to be 700. Once they engaged the Mexican Army, the Texans learned that they had greatly underestimated the Mexican Army presence there and they were soundly defeated. Walker was captured along with the other survivors, numbering just under 250 men.
Once captured, they were forced to walk toward Mexico City. Walker, along with about 180 others escaped in February but most were recaptured near Salado, Tamaulipas, Mexico. They were first confined in the prison at Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico and then moved to El Rancho Salado. Gen. Santa Anna ordered the 176 survivors to be executed, but Gen. Francisco Mexia countermanded the order. Santa Anna continued to press his command, but compromised by saying that one in ten would be killed, with their numbers to be drawn by lot. In the “Black Bean” incident, Walker and 158 others drew white beans from a pot while seventeen of the other captives drew black beans and were executed by a firing squad. The survivors, including Bigfoot Wallace, continued their march to Mexico City. Some accounts say that Walker escaped, and some captives did indeed escape. The remainder were released by Santa Anna in 1844.
Walker continued to serve in the Texas Rangers under Jack Hays during the remaining years of the Republic of Texas. During this period, he took part in numerous events involving battles with Comanche and other tribes in Texas. At the outset of the Mexican-American War, General Zachary Taylor was recruiting scouts to serve in the U. S. Army in the Rio Grande Campaign. Walker enlisted as a private and later formed his own company the following year, continuing to serve under Taylor until that enlistment ended.
At the outbreak of the Mexican-Amer War, around 1846, he reenlisted as a Lt. Colonel under Gen. Winfield Scott and took part in battles in the interior of Mexico. It was around this time that he began to collaborate with inventor Samuel Colt in the invention of the “Walker” Colt .45 revolver.
Colt had earlier been inspired by watching a ship’s wheel, giving him the idea of a revolving cylinder that would rotate with each shot and present the user with another previously loaded charge, ready to fire. He patented his design in England in 1835 and in the United States in 1836. The first incarnation of his revolver, a five shot weapon manufactured in several calibers, was the Paterson Colt, taking its name from the town in New Jersey where it was manufactured. It was first carried locally by the Texas Navy and later given to the Texas Rangers (thus coming to the attention of Walker) after the Navy was disbanded in 1843. However, the overall sales in general were not enough to keep the line company in business and the company faltered.
Walker and Colt had met in New York as Colt was recovering from the financial downturn. The product of their collaboration was the new weapon which, despite early design problems, was considered to be a considerable improvement over the rifles and pistols then in general use, many of which were still single shot weapons. The new Colt was a six shot .44 caliber revolver compared with the former Paterson Colt that fired five shots. It measured 15.5 inches in length and weighed 4.5 pounds. It was loaded one chamber at a time and each frame had a built in loading lever. The hammer was manually cocked and the trigger caused it to connect that chamber’s percussion cap. In all, only about 1,100 “Walker” Colts were made, making them extremely valuable today, but they became quite popular in the west. Although it was manufactured only for a couple of years ending in 1847, it remained the most powerful handgun produced for many decades.
Walker returned to Texas and after some training, embarked for Mexico in May of 1847. The troops made their way to Vera Cruz where a shipment of the new Colt revolvers reached them. They later reached the old Perote Castle where Walker and the rest of the Mier captives had once been held. Legend had it that when he had been a captive there, Walker had buried a dime at the prison flagpole, vowing to return at some later date to replace the Mexican flag with one of his own, which he did.
Walker and his men continued on, hoping to engage Texas’ old foe, Santa Anna. A few months later however, Walker was mortally wounded on October 9, 1847 as he led a charge into Huamantla, Tlexcala, Mexico. At the time of his death, he was only 30 years old. Walker was first buried on site at a residence there in Mexico, but in 1848 his remains were removed to Texas and he was officially interred in San Antonio in 1856 on April 21, the twentieth anniversary of San Jacinto Day.
Walker County is located in southeast Texas. It was initially named for one Robert J. Walker of Mississippi, who had introduced the U. S. congressional resolution to annex Texas into the United States. Robert Walker earned the ire of some Texans for his support of the Union in the Civil War. Accordingly, in 1863 the Texas Legislature officially renamed the county for Samuel Walker. In 1936, in connection with the Texas Centennial, a granite marker was erected just northwest of Huntsville, the county seat, to commemorate the renaming of the county for Samuel Walker.
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