Old Leo Letters – January 10, 2011

Old Leo Letters
Issue # 3 – January 10, 2011
L.E.O. – Leadership – Education – Oratory!

“Boldness is ever blind, for it sees not dangers and inconveniences whence it is bad in council though good in execution.” Francis Bacon

A question came up recently about ‘infamous’ Masons; could I think of any? My first response was that I could. However, when I had time to think a little bit I began to wonder why looking for Masons that one considers infamous is important, and also I wondered about saying someone is or was infamous: A person that one man considers infamous would not necessarily be considered infamous by anyone else.

Here’s a definition of ‘infamous:’  “Of evil fame or repute; detestable; shamefully bad; in law, deprived of credit and certain rights as a citizen, in consequence of certain offenses.” Using a definition such as that might cut down on the number of people we term as infamous. Possibly using another term such as ‘notable’ might be better, and it could include many who are notable for many reasons.

Masonic Students seem to always learn from studying the lives of those who came before them. Masonic study should, if at all possible, teach us something to help us be the better men we all want to be. It seems that we, as members of the human race have at times served as both good and bad examples at different times in our lives, however, Masons want to serve as good examples.

Below I have an article on one Mason. I’ll leave it to you to decide for yourself if a term such as ‘infamous,’ or ‘notable’ should be used with his name.

William Walker
By Ed Halpaus, FPS

My interest in William Walker was sparked from a local ‘give-away’ newspaper. To quote the one sentence in that paper about him:  “There is only one person born in America who went on to become president of a foreign nation. His name was William Walker, and this journalist, physician, and lawyer added president of Nicaragua from 1856-1857 to his list of accomplishments.”[i]

William walker is listed in many history books including Denslow’s 10,000 Freemasons, (volume 4,) in it he is called “the greatest American Filibuster.” Aside from the obvious meaning we attach to ‘filibuster’ today, it also has a meaning of freebooter, or buccaneer, and also one who engages in an unlawful military expedition into a foreign country to inaugurate or to aid a revolution. In addition it also means an irregular military adventurer. That’s who our Brother William Walker was.

Walker had a relatively short life span. But he packed a lot into his short years. When you hear about everything he did you may not be too pleased about him. He was born May 8, 1824 in Nashville Tennessee.

He evidently was quite a gifted and brilliant student. He graduated from the University of Nashville at the age of 14 and by age 19 had earned his Medical Degree. He practiced Medicine in Philadelphia, studied Law in New Orleans, became part owner of “The Crescent” a newspaper in New Orleans, and in 1850 sold the paper and moved to San Francisco where he worked as a newspaperman for a while and then moved to Marysville, California where he practiced Law.[ii] He was a Charter member of Texas Lodge #46 in San Juan Bautista, California, but he later withdrew as a member of the Lodge[iii], and it appears he never again affiliated with any other Masonic Lodge.

William Walker was a complex man with some complex, goals and ideas. His first adventure was to obtain the independence of Sonora and Baja California for the ultimate annexation to the United States, and for the extension of slave territory so as to obtain a balance of power for the south.

In 1853 he opened a recruiting office in San Francisco. Recruits came; many of whom were adherents of slavery, and the manifest destiny doctrine.[iv]  [That doctrine, simply stated, is that the United States by destiny was entitled to rule the North American Continent.]

Hundreds of people also bought the “Script” Walker issued and sold, which was to be redeemable in the lands of Sonora. With the funds he raised by selling the script he financed his expedition. He sailed October 16, 1853 to the Guaymas and landed 3 weeks later at La Paz where 200 additional men reinforced him; he took the country and proceeded to set up a government. He proclaimed the independence of the “Republic of Lower California” from Mexico, and applied the laws of Louisiana to the newly created government, which permitted slavery, if anyone should care to bring slaves into the country. Because of fights with the Mexicans and the fact that he was facing too much exposure in La Paz he moved his headquarters to Ensenada, abolished the Republic of Lower California, and established the Republic of Sonora; declaring himself President, and his top associates as Vice-President, and Secretary of State.

Walker’s popularity soared; hundreds of men flocked to join his expedition, the newspapers in the United States greatly applauded him in his victory. But then the tide turned and problems arose. For some unknown reason the vessel with the best part of his supplies sailed away, then 200 recruits arrived from San Francisco, and he was forced to send men out on foraging expeditions. The Local citizenry residing in Baja California didn’t want to give their cattle and provisions for Walker’s script. Fights with the Mexicans occurred and some of Walker’s men began to desert: As problems worsened on May 8, 1854 Walker, and his party, crossed the border near Tia Juana, and surrendered themselves to United States authorities.[v]

Walker was arrested and tried for a violation of the United States Neutrality Laws; he was acquitted, and went back to his law practice, but next turned his attention to Central America.

In Nicaragua there were two factions known as the Granada & Leonese; those factions, also known as the Democrats and Legitimists, were fighting each other. The leader of the Democrat faction in Nicaragua invited Walker to bring an army and join in the war with the Legitimists. On May 3, 1855 Walker arrived in Nicaragua with a force of about 60 men to join in the fighting. He quickly won many victories and after the battle of Rivas he was given the title of Generalissimo. He called his army “The Immortals,” which consisted of his original 60 men plus a native rebel force. This force soon routed the Legitimists and Walker captured their Capitol of Granada on Lake Nicaragua, and thus the war was over[vi]

Even though the war had ended there were still troubles; Walker revoked the franchise of the Vanderbilt Steamship Company for carrying passengers and freight on all the waterways in and around Nicaragua and awarded a 25 year franchise to Edmund Randolph[vii]. In the meantime Walker held an election and had himself elected President of Nicaragua. The United States recognized his government, but his enemies continued to cause him trouble. Cornelius Vanderbilt who was seeking control of the San Juan River & Lake Nicaragua from the Caribbean to the Pacific armed Walker’s enemies, and the British attempting to thwart American influence in the region regularly harassed his supply ships. Soon other countries in Central America formed an alliance against him and in mid 1857 he surrendered to a United States Naval Officer and returned to the U.S.

Brother and President James Buchanan in his presidential message condemned Walker as a filibuster, and Walker was again tried for violations of neutrality, and was again acquitted.

Walker was not content with regular private life and he again organized a force and expedition to go back to Nicaragua. He sailed for Honduras landing at Trujillo with the intention of marching overland into Nicaragua, His men began to desert him, and his mission was rapidly failing. He surrendered himself to the Captain of a British Naval Vessel off the coast of Honduras, and instead of protecting him, the Captain handed Walker over to the authorities in Honduras. He was tried by Court-Marshal, put up against a wall and shot on September 12, 1860. His body is buried in the “old Trujillo Cemetery” with a marker showing his name and “Fusilado” In Spanish Fusilado means ‘shot;’ ‘Fusil’ means, “rifle” and Fusilar means, “to shoot.” So, as a Brother of mine says, it means “Death by Firing Squad.”

The final comment on this is that Walker’s actions in Mexico and setting up the Republic of Sonora paved the way for the United States to purchase land from Mexico. This purchase is known as the Gadsden Purchase. It was named for our Brother James Gadsden, who was U.S. Minister to Mexico, because he handled the purchase. For 10 million dollars the United Stated received 45,535 square miles of land containing 30 million acres running south of the Gila River extending to El Paso and west to California. This purchase includes the area where Tucson Arizona is located, and it was the final boundary adjustment between the United States and Mexico.

In Mexico this purchase was a very unpopular. It was so unpopular that Brother and General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, President of Mexico, was unseated from his office, and James Gadsden was recalled as minister to Mexico. Here’s an interesting conclusion to the story: When the citizens of Arizona asked congress for a territorial government in 1854 one of the names suggested for the Territory was Gadsonia, a Latin adaptation of the last name of Brother James Gadsden.

The Masonic Student never knows when something might spark an interest and lead him on a search that proves to be interesting and worthwhile for a bit of Masonic information.

Fraternal regards,
Ed Halpaus
Grand LEO
Grand Lodge A.F. & A.M. of MN

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[i] Tidbits – dist. by Falcon Prince Publishing, Minneapolis

[ii] The Saga of William Walker by Don Fuchik

[iii] 10,000 Famous Freemasons by William R. Denslow

[iv] William Walker by Miss Fanny Juda

[v]  William Walker by Miss Fanny Juda

[vi]  The Saga of William Walker by Don Fuchick

[vii] Not Brother and Founding Father Edmund Randolph, who died in 1813