Fire Lacking Flame

The Misdirection of an American Adventurer
William Walker (1823-1860)

Cole Bolchoz

© Copyright 2006 by Cole Bolchoz


The dawn settled the dust of the previous day. Colonel William Walker faced a churned pink horizon, ready to die. He was about to be executed by a Nicaraguan government. Three smooth, shiny bore muskets aimed for this heart. “Why did it come to this? Will I see Ellen again?” thought Walker. As the sentence of execution was read, the sun peaked cautiously from its cloud haven. Then a sword came slashing forward for the firing squad to quit the prisoner’s life. At 36 years of age, William Walker became a quick legend. The date was September 12, 1860.

 “Hey Billy, are you going to attend the lecture of Platonism in government tonight at the lecture hall,” asked Howard O’Reilly, a classmate. “Right after I send a letter to my folks!” Walker quickly replied. Howard came to Edinborough University as did Walker to study law. Both stood about 5’3” and weighed about 125 lbs. Also neither men were allured by alcohol or card playing. The cold winter wind of Scotland tugged hard on the their wool coats and ties.

 Walker scratched his head as he tried to ensure his exam schedules. At 22 years old, he had attended Pharmacy and Medical Schools, and now began his law studies. The campus was built on an hilly, thick clean green plain surrounded by jagged mountains. It had been only six weeks since Walker stepped off the pier of Brooklyn Harbor to sail for Europe. Always nervous, Walker did not make friends easily. For his mind was always at work. He seemed to sense guilt if he wasted time on trivial card playing or at social gatherings.

 He missed the plainness of the South and of Nashville Tennessee. He thought often of his horses, his mother, his library, and most of all his beloved Ellen. Ellen and he were married for less than six months when she suddenly contracted cholera. It had been nearly a year since her death. In dealing with her death, Walker often wrote her letters to communicate with her. He knew that she was not physically present, but he could sense sometimes a spiritual being standing by him.

 Ellen was only 20 at her passing. Her long curled black locks captivated her “Billy.” She was petite, with calming brown eyes. Even more tantalizing to Walker was the fact that she was mute. To have a conversation with her, Walker began learning to sign. Both were patient with one another, for it was within their eyes, which built a bridge of eternal friendship and of courted love.

At about 7 that evening at the auditorium, Howard, Walker, and Bryan Donneson, a former banker arrived. The speaker was Scottish Revolutionary David Hume. His topic that night dealt with the evolution of Platonism in Governmental Theory. Hume said with his fists pounding on the lectern every so often: “Plato once said the rich and poor are constantly at war with one another. What will you do the shape these course of events? As well as you should be familiar with Socrates, who taught Plato. Socrates stated, “Until the world is governed by sages, there will be no peace!” Hume seemed to look directly at Walker many times during the speech.

 Howard, ever the converser, said looking at his time piece said, “I think one of us tonight will be defined for posterity after hearing those words!” Bryan, the taller one of the three said, “Well, I thought Hume’s suit seemed sullied and wrinkled. I think I am going to grab a pint of ale over at Ben’s Gallery. How about you two, you always hit the library all the bloody time!” Donnelson embraced both of them with his large firm hands. “Well, Bill, Bryan has a valid point. Let’s have a visit to this watery. I haven’t had ale since we left the states.” Walker slowly lifted his gaze from his notes, and smiled, “Alright Howard, you win. But not too late, we have exams in two days.”

 The piano’s notes seemed to carry them to the solid oak doors of the pub and inn. The waitress corsets promoted their ample bosoms, and Bryan ordered three pints for the trio. “You cost me a schilling, you bastard, now what are you prepared to do?” said Tom Bixley, a wrinkled, grey beared mason. “Tommie, now sit down, I’ll buy you a drink, you louse!” said Henry Perryison.

Of the three Byran was the only native to Edinbourough. He was an orphan, had run the tough streets with a few outlawed gangs, and became a banker. Howard was from Tennessee like Wiilliam, and seemed to be a easy going rounded fellow. “I predict that the issue of slavery is going to tear us asunder” said Walker aloud as if speaking to the bar. “Oh Billy, forget the speech, drink your ale, and fancy one of these ladies. I know even you feel more than homesickness at times.” Bryan hit Walker with his palm, emphasizing a point. “If you only knew Bryan, I tell him all the time how he must at least feign recreation,” Howard complained with a laugh.

 Walker lay awake in his study with the King James Version Bible on his chest. Nothing could take away the panged omission of Ellen in his life. “Shall I see her again, oh Lord?” Walker prayed aloud. No matter where he traveled to, Ellen’s memory would not decease. He even tried to read aloud some of the Psalms. But to no avail, the tumult of his stomach would not go unattended. Again he endured another sleepless night to try to get through his life without Ellen.

 The quick pace was of students going to class the next day caught Walker’s hung-over eyes. “What time is it? Where are my books?” Walker muttered to himself. “Let’s go Billy!” said Howard. “Dr. Stevens is going to make an example of us if we do not hasten our steps!” Without shaving, both students came in the lecture hall five minutes late. All eyes hit them with guilty stares. “So my dear lads, is this how we greet our professors now?” said the short red haired elderly Stevens.

 Walker decided to take a job at a hotel in the valley near the brooks of Edinborough. He was a night bellman. Many nights he peered into the sky and dreamed of adventures, of discovery. “There must be more to life than this!” he said to himself. Often a loner, Walker cared little for small talk. He had designs on ideas, money, and trying to maintain a personal order. “Mr. Walker, please run down that carriage for the Watley’s,” said Elizabeth. Elizabeth was a firery hotel clerk with autumn red hair. Billy fancied about her, but was too genteel he surmised for her taste

 Many calls such as these required Billy to run. He stayed in shaped by exercising after his classes. He also enjoyed hiking near the bluffs of the crystal green mountains. “Only God could make these caverns of life!” Walker said to Howard on a hike. “Billy you really ought to enroll in the seminary. Your mind is always on a religious crusade.” Bill replied with “Well, my father and mother were stout Methodists. I was taught as a child to fear the Lord, and put him above earthly desires.” Walker said as he wiped sweat from his forehead. “I know Billy, but you have to live, and to try to vary your activities.”

 Billy and Howard set up a camp fire on a nearby bluff. The evening glow of palisades of pink painted the sky. “Did you bring those stogies from the hotel, I mean the long, thick ones? Inquired Howard. “Yes, and the rum for you!’ Billy yelled back from the nearby cave. The cave was situation in the chest of the spiraling cliff. Bill and some of his classmates used that spot as a cavern of socializing. “You think it might rain tonight or sprinkle” Howard again asked. “We’ll see, my friend. Bring me the timber from the cave!” Billy said almost as if asking a question.

 Leaving Scotland for Home!

 Walker decided after a year of studying aboard that he must go home. Letters from his mother indicated her decaying health. Her daily fevers had grown to huge migraines of powerful pains. After many weeks at sea, his ship ported at Hell gate port in New York. From there it might mean six weeks before horse and carriage could transport him to his family’s home outside of Nashville Tennessee. Walker decided he need to make some more money, so he ventured to Philadelphia.

 On a cold morning in December, Walker felt the razor wind chill flap his overcoat. The dew dropped from the leaves of the magnolia trees. The crisp winter smell of fireplaces pitching small patches of clouds over the snow. It was 1846. James K. Polk was President. Texas was officially apart of the United States. The huge mansion, which Walker paced towards, belonged to his late beloved Ellen. His fiancé who was mute. But for Walker, her countenance filled his soul like a good meal.

 Two years before, in order to communicate, Ellen and William worked out a series of hand signals. Sometimes they wrote poems or sonnets to each other. But even while they held hands tenderly, Walker knew he was lacking a character that he longed to play in life. At this point he was 22 years old. He had pursued studies in medicine, the law, journalism, and philosophy. “My God if I only knew what to do with this relentless energy that rages inside of me!” he thought. Ellen often calmed her lover’s temper with caresses of touches. Sometimes she stroked his thin brown hair. Other occasions she whispered, “I love you forever, my William!”

 Walker wrote some articles for the New Orleans Gazette. Like in Philadelphia two years hither, he defended westward expansion for the United States. His politics was based on growth, and support of Polk’s policies. But through his writing, he began to smile gleeful about the unknown jungles of Nicaragua. He knew shipping magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt aimed at providing a passageway transit line through about a 15 mile inlet.

 Episcopalian by birth, Walker romanticized about living a life of heroic virtue. A life that would be marked by adventure, tested by circumstance, and lived liked a chivalrous knight. He knew that the traditional nineteenth century marriage life was not a fit for finality. Only with faith, virtue and by taking chances would Walker be duly content in life. As he looked around the city with couples walking around the promenade, that he desired something deeper.

 “Ellen, my dear, would you wait for me if I ventured westward? We could have a mansion of our very own. I have read articles that with the right amount of money, your silence to sound may be eliminated. There are postings of deeds to open spaces of land in the Lower Baja Peninsula of California.” “What do you want for yourself deep down my darling? For it does not matter what I think. No matter your wanderings, I long to be in your company every day that providence allows.” Ellen responded combing her hair while looking at the long oval Victorian mirror.

 “It is my destiny to become a leader of a state or land of which I have jurisdiction over. My legal studies will provide me ample background on how to govern. My knowledge of medicine will ensure my explorers are given ample care. And most of all my faith in a compassionate God will settle my soul. You will be my royal governess and our children will be heirs to either a throne or office of which I may hold.” “Where do you want to ultimately rule?” Ellen wrote on the long piece of paper. “Nicaragua due to its extensive route from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Vanderbilt wants this passageway, but does not have the stomach to take it. Walker wrote this, and emphasized his point with a thud of his right palm on her coffee table.

 “My love, go and do what you must. But I fear that your heart will betray your mind and your body. With all of your academic pursuits, why can you not be full with what God has thus far provided? Why should you tempt the fates of chance?

In 1848, two years into his newspaper career, he decided to head west into lower Sonoma California. Tales of gold, plunder, and untested waters gave Walker a sort of fever enthusiasm to riding or sailing west. Being much shorter than the traditional stature, Walker decided to sail. He and 12 other men from various walks of life embarked on a three week journey.

 As the sun briskly banked off the horizon, Walker tasted the moist salt sea air. His temples busted with ideas of expanding the U. S. “Do we have enough provisions captain?” barked Walker to Captain Stanley. This old irish seaman skin resembled an old map. The lines of his forehead told of storms at sea, and barroom brawls. “Ah, you might say we are a bit afar from what we projected!” As he snarled his pipe, he pulled his wool cap down over both brows and spun the ship starboard.

Call the crew to attention, I need to address them,” Walker said in a hush tone to his Master at Arms enforcer Hernando Rojas. Hernando was a seasoned sailor who previously worked for the Vanderbilt shipping company. At 6’1” with bulging biceps, and coal black hair, he was one not to be challenged. “Crew be to quarters!” thundered Rojas. The 36 men ran up the stairs to answer the call. Most were journeymen not fortunate in any line of work.

 Walker strode over the cargo containers near the main mast. “Men of mine, Listen well, we are destined for glory, spoils, and land. We do not claim to be a Cortez of old. Our hope is to establish a colony in Nicaragua. You will be plantation owners, and your children as well as theirs, will thank you for that. Ask yourselves what is it that you want in this new land of promise. Can we create a Manifest Destiny for our prodigy? As he walked to the captain’s quarters, the crew pounded their fists into the air.

 Walker boarded the armies the ship under bleak murky clouds. He was heated, and wanted a whisky shot. But due to his mission and beliefs of temperance, no drinking would befit him. He thought of Edinborough where he studied almost 10 years ago. It seemed the stone maze of streets, the clash of revolutionary ideas, and its damp climate came to him in a daydream fantasy.

 Again he appeared to be searching inward for his purpose or calling in life. Adventure was his first thrill, and then academics. Rifles, swords, and maps laid strewn throughout his quarters. Walker then picked up his long dueling pistols, and inspected the barrels. He adjusted the oil wick lanterns. Questions fumbled about to him in the dead of the night. “Do we have enough provisions? Will the men hold together? Can we prevail democracy upon Latin America? Do I have the courage to carry out these bold ambitions?”

 Authorities all over California were pursuing his party of marauders. Very temper mental and passionate in his command style, Walker gave another emotional filled speech: “Men today we make history. Sam Houston declared Texas as part of the Union in 1845. Louis and Clark mapped the entire North American continent. We go forth to Nicaragua. This land is a place where the government is not supported strongly by its people. I warn you, once you embark with me, I cannot promise an easy journey or rich spoils. But I can promise you will be better off tomorrow shaping your future with mine!”

 Once again Walker surveyed the long over hill path to the small ship. His men were fatigued, hungry, and ready to leave. Walker beat his leather fold over hat upon his palm. Then he called the troops together. “Comrades do not hesitate in battle, fire before being fired upon. Slash and thrust your sword before you are attacked. Be brave and be quick to gain a victory in battle!”

 The candle lit lamps were waning in defiance of the sea air. The tossing of the bow caused Walker nausea. He slipped out of his bed trying to regain balance. “Why did I not get Vanderbilt to spend more money on a frigate with sea worth. Bet I will cost him some trading rights to Nicaragua if he attempts to thwart my efforts there!” Walker said to himself.

 The next morning Walker and his 47 immortals dregged their way across the muddy banks to the inner port of Caroga off the North Eastern tip of Nicaragua. Years later Walker would recall that first encounter with fish as big as spears and foliage as green as those plains in Scotland. But as he faced muskets with the hammer locks cocked, he prayed with his heart beating wildly: “Our Father forgive me for I did not know what I had in” …, and the musket balls hit with sending him down against the firing wall. William Walker passed away at the tender age of 36. He was from Nashville Tennessee, and known as a filibuster or an adventurer.

***The end of a beginning***

This story is unpublished and not yet submitted for publication. It is an introduction to a larger written manuscript.

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