In this article I shall be telling the story of a man called William Walker. Anyone from Latin America, specifically Mexico, Nicaragua or Honduras, who is reading this article may already know this name so if I leave anything important out then please feel free to add the information in the comments section at the bottom of the page. There’s a lot to get through so this is going to be a long one I’m afraid.
When researching Mr Walker I found out that he was quite the genius. Born in 1824 in Nashville, Tennessee, by the time he was 25 he had two degrees, one in law and one in medicine. He first graduated the University of Nashville when he was just 14 years old and also studied at the Universities of Heidelberg, Edinburgh and Paris.
For anyone who doesn’t know who William Walker is or what he achieved you might be expecting me to tell you about his contributions to medicine or law right now. Believe it or not he was what is known as a filibuster. A filibuster is a type of irregular soldier who acts (goes to war) without the authorisation of their government with the intention of causing independence or revolution. This is not the same as a mercenary though because while a mercenary works for an employer, a filibuster works for him or herself.
Initially, in 1853, he set off from the USA with fourty five men with the intention of capturing land in Mexico and setting up his own republic. Incredibly, he was successful and named himself president of the new Republic of Lower California (renamed later to the Republic of Sonora). Fortunately for him, by 1854, his somewhat small army had been reinforced by two hundred Mexicans and a further two hundred Americans from San Francisco.
Of course, the Mexican government at the time did not take to the idea of having some of their territory taken in this manner and eventually sent some troops to skirmish with Walker and his men. By this point Walker had also decided to march onwards and claim more territory for his expedition and headed for the city of Senora. He failed due mainly to many (read most) of his men deserting him so much so that by May 1854 he had but thirty five men remaining in his army.
It is at this point he gave up on his expedition and marched the remainder of his force and himself back to the US border. When he arrived on 8th May 1854 (his birthday), he surrendered to Major J. McKinstry of the US Army and was placed under arrest. Long story short, he was tried at a Federal court in San Francisco and acquitted after only eight minutes of deliberation by the jury.
His story doesn’t end here though…
In less than a year he was on the war path once more but this time in Nicaragua. At this point in history, Nicaragua was in the middle of a civil war between the legitimists of León and the democrats of Grenada. León (the losing side at this point) asked him to help them against Grenada. He accepted and he managed to lead León to victory in October 1855 and set himself up as President of Nicaragua. In May 1856 the US government officially recognised his presidency.
Now, one does not simply rampage round Latin America, raising all kinds of hell without making some enemies along the way. One such enemy was Cornelius Vanderbilt (only the most richest and powerful businessman in America) who sent agents to start uprsings, sent supplies to Walker’s enemies and bolstered the armies of unfriendly countries with US mercenaries, particularly the army of Costa Rica. Eventually Walker was again forced to return to the USA where once again he found himself on trial in New York and where once again he was acquitted fairly swiftly.
His story still doesn’t end here…
Immediately after his second trial his raised another army and headed for the Costa Rican coast where he landed his force in Punta Arenas in November 1857. He didn’t get much further though as his efforts this time were stopped by Commodore Hiram Paulding of the US Navy who once more arrested Walker and sent him back to the US where once more he faced a third trial in New Orleans and was acquitted for third time.
I’ll give you three guesses what the guy did next…
Yep, thats right, he assembles another army and heads off once more for Latin America. He wasn’t so lucky this time as the ship he was travelling on struck a reef just off Belize and sunk. Fortunately for Walker, he and his army were rescued by a British warship and sent back to the USA.
This did not stop him from making a fourth attempt to retake Nicaragua though. He landed in Honduras and on 6th August 1859 he captured the city of Truxillo and began his advance to Nicaragua but did not succeed in taking back the country. Instead his force was obliterated by the Honduran Army and he had to be rescued once more by the British Royal Navy, who despite promising him safe passage, instead handed him over to the Honduran authorities who executed Walker on 12th September 1860.