Mexican War hero rests in peace with help of Alamo brethren

January 19, 1995|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Sun Staff Writer

Capt. Samuel Hamilton Walker, who was killed in 1847 during the Mexican War leading a company of mostly Maryland recruits, finally can rest in peace.

The remains of the Maryland-born war hero, who contributed to the design of the Colt six-shooter, have been spared a fourth reburial. An agreement last week also has averted a Texas-sized furor over the possible remains of the defenders of the Alamo.

The city of San Antonio agreed to remove trash and address other problems that have marred the site of Walker's grave. In return, the Walker family abandoned its attempt to transfer the soldier's remains to the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame in Waco.

Archaeologists got a chance Monday to sift dirt ripped from Walker's grave by a backhoe on Jan. 4 before a court order halted the exhumation. They found human bone fragments that will be studied to determine whether they could be those of Texas' most famous martyrs -- the men who died during the Mexican assault on the Alamo in 1836.

Local accounts suggest that some cremated remains of the Alamo dead may have been buried with Walker's remains in 1856 when his coffin was transferred to the Odd Fellows Cemetery from a burial site near the Alamo.

San Antonio will clean and close off several streets adjoining the cemetery, while volunteers will restore and maintain the gravesite, said Ron Darner, director of the city's parks department.

"I'm thrilled, I really am," said Nancy Walker Bouvier, 63, of Upper Marlboro, who is the great-granddaughter of Jonathan Thomas Walker, Captain Walker's brother. "I feel sure any family member would be very happy he's going to be taken care of."

Walker was born in 1817 in what is now Greenbelt and was killed on Oct. 9, 1847, in Huamantla, Mexico. He died leading Company C of the 1st U.S. Mounted Rifles Regiment in the final battle of the war. He recruited part of the unit during a weeklong visit to Baltimore in February 1847. His arrival was noted in The Sun, which said his "gallantry on the Rio Grande is in the mouths of all the people."

He won his fame with one of the Texas volunteer militias that retaliated against Mexican attacks in 1842. During one fight, he was captured and imprisoned. He escaped, was recaptured and imprisoned, then escaped again.

By the time Texas was annexed by the United States in 1845, Walker was bent on revenge against the Mexicans and joined a mounted volunteer unit called Hays Rangers.

John McWilliams, a 25-year-old bail bondsman and antique photo collector from Stockton, Calif., is writing a biography of Walker that he will title "Avenging Ranger."

"Every battle he went into he got wounded," Mr. McWilliams said, "He had horses shot out from under him. His own men said he was too brave for his own sense."

Walker later accepted a commission in the regular Army and was leading the 1st U.S. Mounted Rifles when he was killed. He was buried twice in Mexico as his unit withdrew. His body was later shipped back to San Antonio and reburied near the Alamo.

Walker was buried beside his friend and fellow soldier, Capt. Robert Addison Gillespie, a Kentuckian killed at Monterrey. By 1856, commercial development was encroaching on the Alamo cemetery, so both graves were moved to the new Odd Fellows Cemetery.

Time has not been kind to the cemetery, said Mr. McWilliams, who became a spokesman for the family while researching his book.

"It's near . . . the very worst part of town," he said. "People dump their trash in the cemetery and do the men no honor." Ten limestone cannons that mark the site have deteriorated.

San Antonians awoke Jan. 5 to a newspaper photograph of mounds of dirt dug by a backhoe from Walker's grave. An article said his remains were being moved at his family's request to a better-kept cemetery at the Ranger museum in Waco, 160 miles north.

The Former Texas Rangers Association, the Alamo Battlefield Association, the Descendants of Mexican War Veterans and others were up in arms.

San Antonio resident Lee Spencer obtained the order halting the exhumation. She is president of the Alamo Defenders Descendants Association and the great-great-great-great-granddaughter of an Alamo artilleryman.

"I have documents showing that when Walker and Gillespie were moved to the Odd Fellows Cemetery . . . with them were buried some remains of the Alamo garrison. That's why I was horrified."

All 180 Texan defenders of the Alamo were killed in 1836, and their bodies were burned and the remains buried.

When the Walker and Gillespie remains were exhumed at the Alamo in 1856, according to the eyewitness account of a man who was 6 at the time, charred bones came out of the soil with them. The man said the bones were buried between the two soldiers' coffins at the Odd Fellows Cemetery.

If so, the charred remains would be the only known remains of the Alamo defenders. The rest vanished when the Alamo pyre site was excavated and developed.

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