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William Holmes Walker

Question: What challenges did William Holmes Walker face after he had served in the Mormon Battalion?

Answer: William Holmes Walker was born on August 28, 1820 in Peacham, Caledonia County, Vermont, the oldest son of John and Lydia Holmes Walker. In 1834, John and Lydia moved their large family from Peacham to Ogdensburg, New York. There, in 1835, William (age 14) and his parents became members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

In 1838, the family traveled to Missouri, just as anti-Mormon troubles were at their height. While en route to Far West, the family stopped their wagon on the main roadway while John walked into the small Mormon settlement of Hawns Mill to ask directions. William records, “While there, the mob came suddenly upon them and massacred men, women, and children.’ John was shot in the arm, but managed to crawl under the edge of a pile of lumber. From there he watched the gruesome slaughter. The family thought John had been killed, as they couldn’t see him anywhere, so they hurried away from the area. They later learned from a Brother Clyde, that John was not dead, but wounded. William rode back to the mill and finally found his father. William writes, “Shortly after, father started with his family for Quincy, Illinois, arriving in April, 1838.’

In 1840, William, now age 20, traveled to Nauvoo where, for the first time, he met the Prophet Joseph Smith who offered him a home and employment. Of this experience, William later wrote, “I worked in the hay field with him mowing grass with a scythe, many a day putting in ten hours work; very few if any were his superiors in that kind of labor…In regard to his private life, as to purity, honesty, charity, benevolence, refinement of feeling and nobility of character, his superior did not exist on earth.’ William lived in the Prophet’s Mansion home, part of which served as hotel, for the next three years.

On Nov. 1, 1843, William, now age 23, was married to Olive Hovey Farr. They boarded at the Mansion House for six months, then moved into a two-story brick home. William’s mother had passed away shortly after the exodus from Far West, his father was on a mission, and five of his younger brothers and sisters were living with the Prophet and Emma, who, according to William, “…treated them very kindly, as if they were their own children.’

When the Prophet Joseph and his brother Hyrum were imprisoned in Carthage Jail, Joseph sent William to quickly bring back a Doctor Adams, who had previously boarded at the Mansion House, to testify in his behalf. “…while taking breakfast with Dr. George J. Adams at Augusta, received the news that Joseph and Hyrum were killed…I concluded to return to Nauvoo with Dr. Adams, when about halfway there, we met a messenger who said that it was true. We arrived Thursday evening, having traveled night and day…The dead bodies of the Prophet and Patriarch were brought, and arrived shortly after I did. It was a most melancholy and trying time for the Saints.’

During the remaining months of his residence in Nauvoo, William worked to help finish the temple, while also making preparations for the departure from Nauvoo to the West. “I assisted in raising the dome on the Nauvoo temple and worked steadily for four months assisting in putting on the entire roof. In December, 1845, my wife Olive H. and myself received our endowments in the Nauvoo temple.‘ Only two months later, on February 21, 1846, William and Olive sorrowfully departed their beloved Nauvoo, crossed the frozen Mississippi River in the bitter cold, and joined the first company of migrating Saints at Sugar Creek.

Following four months of difficult travel through rain and mud, the Saints finally reached Council Bluffs the middle of June. Here, following the request of Brigham Young, William enlisted in the Mormon Battalion. He left his wife made the long, strenuous march to Santa Fe, New Mexico. After lengthy suffering from chills and fever, he was sent with a sick detachment to Fort Pueblo, Colorado, where he spent that long winter. In the Spring, the sick detachment set out from Pueblo to join the Saints. Striking the pioneer trail at Ft. Laramie, they eventually overtook the pioneers at Green River. Ten men were then sent back to help the second company, Daniel Spencer’s Company, of emigrants. William was one of that number.

William recounts, “We met the emigrants near Fort Kearney (Nebraska). We were six days without food of any kind, except for one rabbit, which we divided among the ten of us, and what wild currents and choke cherries we could gather along the river bank. With this company, I found my wife, Olive, sick in consequence of having driven two yoke of oxen all the way from Winter Quarters to this point.’ William resumed the task of driving the animals, and after four more grueling months, they arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on September 19, 1847.

Their wagon box became the first home of William and Olive in the Valley, but William lost no time in going to the canyon for logs to build a house, into which they moved by Christmas time. After their home was finished, William worked on the first grist-mill. He continues, “I then hewed timber and framed a sawmill for Heber C. Kimball.’ (Heber had married William’s sister, Lucy, and thus became William’s brother- in-law.)

On the 28th of April, 1849, William, now age 28, married his second wife, Mary Jane Shadden, with whom he had nine children. Olive was unable to have children. The following year he built a two-story house in Salt Lake City and began opening a road, building bridges, and hewing timber for a sawmill in Little Cottonwood Canyon. He explains, “The mill was just ready to raise, and I had started for Salt Lake to get men to help put it up, when I learned that I had been called on a mission to South Africa.’

Obedient to the call from a prophet, Elder Walker started upon his mission September 15, 1852. On the way, Elder Walker stopped in Illinois to visit his brother, Loren, who had married the eldest daughter of the martyred patriarch, Hyrum Smith. He also visited Emma, widow of the Prophet Joseph. Elder Walker later became the President of the South African Mission and helped many Saints make it to Utah. He arrived back to Salt Lake City on September 1, 1857. “I had been gone 5 years, minus 15 days. In the 5 years I had traveled more than 40,000 miles.’ Scarcely had he greeted his family when he was called to take part in the Echo Canyon War, collecting and forwarding supplies to his comrades on the front.

Returning home from this assignment in July, 1858, he purchased a farm four miles west of Ogden, and on August 30 of that year, at age 37, married his third wife, Olive Louisa Bingham, with whom he had ten children. Shortly thereafter, in 1862, he was called by President Brigham Young to serve a mission to Southern Utah. Here he helped strengthen the pioneer settlements and also began freighting tons of cotton to Deseret Mills in Salt Lake City.

On April 22, 1865, William, now age 44, married his fourth wife, Harriet Paul, who, with her family, had been taught and baptized by Elder Walker in Cape Town, South Africa, and who had later emigrated to Utah. William and Harriet had eleven children, all growing to maturity.

In March, 1875, William began building the first of three houses he would build on Big Cottonwood. When the first house was finished, he fitted up one of the rooms as a school and hired a teacher. Soon, neighbors also began sending their children to the school, which necessitated the building of a larger school house the following Spring.

In April, 1884, William moved with part of his family to Lewisville, Idaho, both to take up land for farming with his four older sons, and to escape the bitter anti-polygamy crusade in Utah. William helped build the Logan temple. In 1891 he worked on the Salt Lake County Seminary building, donating half his labor, following which he was engaged for six months on the Salt Lake Temple laying floors, again donating half his labor.

On May 20, 1892, William was ordained a Patriarch under the hands of George Q. Cannon and Joseph F. Smith. Patriarch Walker passed away at Lewisville, Jefferson, Idaho on January 9, 1908. He was 87 years of age. He was buried in the Lewisville Cemetery.

Source: Excerpts from “Life Sketch of William Holmes Walker,’ by Bruce W. Walker, great-grandson,;

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