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Monday, June 15, 2015

On The California Trail of Captain Joseph R Walker- Mountain Man

My footfalls are softened as I walk among the tilting concrete and wooden stumps of potter’s field. 

The air is warm and sharp with pine and the graveyard is anything but quiet. Sugar pines  sway,throwing mottled shadows against grey granite tombstones, ship horns blare, as the steady rattle of a freight train floats up from below the ridge. This place is alive with sound, color, and  history.
This is not my first visit to the cemetery. I am a frequent visitor here. But today I am looking for a particular man.  I find him buried near the top of the hill, a leader among men; Captain Joseph R. Walker.

Born in 1798, Joseph Rutherford Walker was born in Roane County,Tennessee. How did he come to be buried at a Pioneer Cemetery in Martinez, California? 

Inscribed on his large granite tombstone are a list of accomplishments and a very succinct inscription:
“Camped at Yosemite Nov 13, 1833”

Tombstone of Joseph R Walker.
Photo taken by Sam Colacura

The power of that statement is readily apparent, perhaps more so to those of us living in California; California didn't become a State until Sept 9,1850, 

At the age of fifteen, Joe and his older brother Joel, joined General Andrew Jackson’s Army. It must have been a mighty adventure, especially since Joe was related to Jackson, as well as another hero of the War of 1812; Sam Houston. He learned about horses during this time, as his job was 'horse boy'. It was something that lasted him most of his life. Frequently history records that Joe was traveling with a herd of 100 or more horses, and on one instance he took a herd of 500 into Arizona. 

It wasn’t until Joe was nearing his 30’s that he decided to go west, when asked by Benjamin Bonneville to lead his trapping expedition. It is a matter of some speculation weather Joe was being paid by the U.S. Government to be a scout or a spy. Since Bonneville obtained a passport and visa for Joseph R Walker to enter into the Mexican held Territory of California, I might speculate to the latter.

Joe stayed with Bonneville and his party, making it as far as Green River Wyoming.   In January 1832 Bonneville sent  Joseph and a band of 58 well provisioned men, to scout passage to The Great Salt Lake and the Mormon held territory beyond. He was to return the following summer. But Joe Walker had his own ideas. It was rumored that Joe built his own party to continue into California. Perhaps he was working on behalf of the United States, recording new trails into and out of California. His extensive knowledge of  topography and Native American peoples served him well as he ventured where only two other white men had ever traveled. 

 He and his men traveled down the Humboldt River, camped around the Humboldt Sinks, and then went on to the shores of what is now Mono Lake. Seeking a passage across the mountains, they came across one of the greatest sights known to any man, Yosemite Valley.  Joseph and his men camped on the rim, unable to reach the valley floor. It must have made quite an impression, for every man that was able described it later in diaries and personal papers as one of the greatest sights of their lives. The date- you guessed it- November 13, 1833.

They had to continue South and then over the mountains, an arduous journey that proved to be nearly deadly. Though he never lost a man, the party was reduced to eating quite a few of their horses. Finally they reached the the Sequoia Big Trees, then North to San Juan Bautista where they obtained permission to camp from the Mission  Fathers. They were were 40 miles from St.(San) Francisco and 50 miles from Monterey. 

Over the next 34 years Joseph R Walker continued to criss-cross the deserts and mountains of California. He traveled frequently to the Southwest, selling mules and horses to the Army. He was friendly to the Native Tribes when able, and though he was asked to scout for the Mexican Government, he declined, preferring to travel and trade horses, scout trails and be a free man.  He often traveled with his nephew Frank McClellan. Again and again he traveled the trails from Missouri, across the United States and up and down California, leading Armies, wagon trains and explorers.
Never one to be intimidated by any man, his contemporaries were Capt John Sutter and Capt John C Fremont, Jim Bridger and U.S. Presidents. as well as simple men, He was an  individual that people were drawn to because of his strength of character

Finally with his eyesight failing and old age approaching, Joseph Walker retired to his nephews ranch called Manzinita,in Contra Costa, described as being near the Walnut Creek. It must have been closer to Martinez, because he was buried there after his death  on October 27,1876.
It was by his own request that the inscription was chiseled upon his stone.

View from Joseph R Walkers Gravesite, overlooking the Carquinez Straits
 Taken by Barbara Glenn
All in all Joseph R Walker has a Pass, a lake, a town (in Arizona) a river, a Basin, and a mining district named after him. He carried the first white child over the Continental Divide on his own horse. He risked his life to see what lay over the next ridge, and to make travel into the bountiful land of California safer for settlers.

photo circa 1860.Taken by Mathew Brady

Saturday, June 6, 2015

On The California Trail of...

Howdy Friends- if any of you are still out there!
I've been away from the Blog World for awhile, but I am going to begin again. Before I do, just a quick update~

My Grandson is now 7. He's a little man, raising stock, joining 4-H, hunting and shooting and camping with his Dad. He's growing like a weed and I'm afraid someday soon he will out grow me!

Mommy in Spurs has a full time job. her horse, Bob is 18 now, and she isn't showing him any longer, but she still rides him around the area. He's great for Jr to ride around. Mimi is in love and thinking about getting married.

I am retired from the Auction House- s o that will give me more time to ride and write and do other stuff too.

My newest creation is a series of History articles entitled " On the California Trail of..."
It will be about notorious California personalities, ( mostly Northern California) and retrace some of their stories.  I hope to be able to add photographs of the areas as they are now as well as recount  some history.

Some of the notables on my list are:

         Capt Joseph R Walker
          De Anza
         Captain John C Fremont

               John Muir  

                    Mark Twain
                  Bret Harte
                  John Steinbeck

Artists      Maynard Dixon
                  Ansel Adams
                Black Bart
               Capt Jack
               Joaquin Murietta
               Tiburcio Vasquez


                Joe Dimaggio

This list will keep me busy for quite awhile!

I hope you will join me as I work my way forward in this new adventure!


Sunday, August 3, 2014

Fight Fire with Actions

Here in the West it is Fire Season. Not nearly as much fun as Holiday Season, I'm sure you will agree. But since we have a few more months of serious drought and severe fire danger, I thought maybe you all would like to know how you can begin to prepare your barn and livestock for a disaster. Remember, the time to formulate a disaster plan isn't the first hour of the event.

1. Make a plan.  Now I mean REALLY think about it. Think about how many animals you have to account for. How many can you move right away? How long will it take you to hook up your trailer? How much food can you throw on the truck? Do you have cages,crates,boxes for your dogs cats,chickens and rabbits? Who is available to help you? Important to remember- the Fire Crews  care about your safe removal from an evacuated area, they can't worry about loss of animals as well. IF YOU THINK YOU MIGHT BE EVACUATED START RIGHT AWAY. Better to be loaded and gone, able to return, than not loaded and gone and burned up in the process.

HINT: Put small bags of pet food and a bottle of water (and any meds your pet might need) in each crate or cage you will be using. Store them in an area where you can get to them right away.( NOT behind the shed, under the old fencing materials etc.) Add those noose type leashes to the crates as well in case you need to lead them somewhere in a hurry.

2. Talk to your friends and have a place to go OUTSIDE your general neighborhood. You may not have to stay long,but it is a good to have a safe haven for everyone. Hotels might take a dog, but not usually chickens, goats etc.

HINT: Talk to your County Animal Control or Sheriff - find out if they have Sheltering sites listed. If they have a disaster plan, they will be able to get you in touch with volunteers during an event. Contact them now to see how they are able to help, or you are able to help them.

3. Try to make your home or ranch a defensible position. ( It is not always possible) That means that should a fire or flood sweep the area and you couldn't get out, you could defend your home with limited resources. It is a good idea to have graveled driveways, cut the brush away from fences, mow or plow burn strips between roads and houses. Remove trash, old wood, dead trees etc.  Have hoses at the spigots. Have good rakes and shovels close at hand.

HINT: Try to get your neighbors to work in tandem with you in this, a bigger swatch of defensible ground is always better.

4. Clean up your barn on a regular basis. No one likes sweeping the spider webs from the rafters, or walls of the stables, but spider webs trap grass, hay and flammable materials. Once lit, they can set a barn ablaze in no time. Make that unpleasant job a top priority. Have working fire extinguishers at the barn door and mark the area so anyone could find and use them. It seems silly to even mention this - but don't store flammables in your stable area. Motors with diesel fuel,gas cans, paint cans, paint thinner, and anything that is a fire hazard should be stored in a separate area.

5. Mark your dogs collars, your horses halters and your crates and cages with your name, and a phone number. If you are feeling froggy- take a picture of your animal and tape it to the side, the bars, inside your trailer doors or anywhere you think you could access it easily. It might be the way someone IDs your pet or livestock if you aren't home during the event. Disasters don't always happen on the weekends when we are home!

HINT: Dog tags can be engraved with a phone number and attached to a horses halter or crate wire too.

So there are FIVE do-able things to help you prepare for a disaster. It will only take you a little time out of your day to do any of these things, and it might save the life of  your animals.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Winter Day ~ California Cowgirl Style

Remember back in September when I went to the Draft Horse Classic? There was  30% chance of rain. I said, " Oh, 30% means we will be fine!" I ended up buying a coat, freezing my hiney off and going home early because the 30% chance turned into a downpour of epic proportions. 

A few years ago, in March, I went to the Gold N Grand Show at Rancho Murietta? My friends said," Oh, don't go! It's going to rain!" I said, " I'm not made of sugar. I'm going and it will be fun. A little bit of rain won't stop me." It ended up being one of the worst weekends of my life! The rain poured down like God had forgotten to turn off the tap. Along with driving wind and a spooky horse, my RV almost flooded. 

It is January now. There is nary a drop of rain to be seen. The hills are barren and parched. So I've made a list of a few fun things to do on a California Winters Day.

Krisy and Diva

1. Practice your Showmanship. One good thing about having no rain is there is also no mud to dirty up a perfectly white mare.

2. Spend the day in your jammies watching old movies. So what that it isn't raining! Take some time just for YOU!

3. Curl up on the couch with something you love. A new toy, a big dog...whatever makes you happy.

 4.Go to the Coast (we don't call it the Beach this far North.) 

5. Take this opportunity to have a water fight. since we've officially been declared a 'disaster', water is soon to be rationed. Anyone remember the 70's and the rationing we endured then? Seven long years of  watering your plants with grey water, dirty trucks and, " If it's yellow, let it mellow". 

6.Play Dress-Up! You are NEVER too old to play Dress-up!


7.Go out and chase a few cows. Somehow that makes me feel a little better.


8.Enjoy a refreshing drink with a friend. I like Vodka and water and then I leave out the water.


9. Practice your Play Day moves. You never know when you'll need to keep an egg on a spoon.

10. Take a long slow trip. Why not? It's not like it's going to rain and spoil your day.

There are no rain clouds on the horizon, just big empty skies.

But I have a sure fire solution of how to make it rain in my neck of the woods....

 I just have to go to a horse show. That always seems to work!