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Wesley Walker


Posted By: Fran Hunt, Volunteer
Date: 10/3/2001 at 12:27:28

From the Portrait and Biographical Album of Jefferson and Van Buren Counties – 1890
The history of Van Buren County would be incomplete should the sketch of Mr. Walker be omitted, for few have longer been residents of the community and none are more widely or favorable known. In the pursuit of his business he has aided immeasurably in the building up of the county, and with a desire to promote the general welfare, thought himself receiving no benefit, he has supported all worthy enterprises, and, with others, should receive the lasting gratitude of the citizens of the county for ages to come. We can hardly realize what is due the pioneers, yet we can cherish their memory while we perpetuate their lives by written record. They were the founders of the county, and the work, which they performed, cannot be measured by a common standard.
Wesley Walker was born in York County Pennsylvania, on June 11, 1820, and is a son of Joseph and Lydia Bell Walker, who were also natives of the same county, the former born in 1787; the latter in 1788. The grandfather of our subject, Abel Walker, was one of the early settlers of York County. He married Ann Vale, daughter of Captain Robert Vale, who accompanied William Penn on his second voyage to America. For valuable services rendered, William Penn presented him with one thousand acres of land in York County, where the Walkers also owned large possessions. Both families belonged to the Society of Friends, but Joseph Walker was dismissed from the church on account of having served in the War of 1812, the sect being strongly opposed to warfare.
Our subject was one of nine children, all of whom grew to mature years—Joel, who settled in Keosauqua in 1839, died in 1881; John is a carriage-maker, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Josiah has been a resident of Van Buren County since 1860; Wesley is the fourth in order of birth; Abel is still living in his native State; Eliza is the widow of Adam Freeze of Springfield Mass.; Jane, widow of John P. Wolfe, died in Cumberland County Pennsylvania, in 1872; Louisa, who resided in Nebraska, is the widow of John Pyles; Lucinda is the wife of John P. Shively of Cumberland County Pennsylvania. The parents of this family both died in York County, Pennsylvania. There were honest, upright people, members of the Methodist Church, and their consistent lives won them host of friends.
Wesley Walker acquired his education in the subscription schools of the early day, and at the age of eighteen years began learning the carpenter trade. Possessing a natural aptitude for mechanics, he soon mastered the business and became a proficient workman. With a desire to benefit his financial condition, and with the hope of securing for himself a comfortable home, he followed the course of human emigration, which was steadily drifting westward, and in the spring of 1839, landed in Van Buren County Iowa. On June 20, 1839, he made a claim in Des Moines Township, but did not locate upon the land, as he believed it would be to his advantage to devote himself to carpentering. Yearly the number of emigrations increased and his labors were in constant demand. On June 17, 1846, he was united in marriage with Miss Rosa A. Robins, who was born in Lebanon County Pennsylvania in 1827, and was a daughter of William Robins. Three years later, in March 1849, with his father-in-law, he started for California. In Keokuk they were delayed nine days on account of the river being frozen over. At the expiration of that time they boarded a steamer and sailed down the Mississippi to New Orleans and across the Gulf to Panama. On reaching the opposite side of the Isthmus they embarked in a steamer, “Capaka,” but ninety-three days had passed ere they reached Monterey California during that time the supply of provisions was exhausted, and they also suffered from thirst, only a pint of water being allowed each passenger per day. Some idea of the suffering will be obtained from the knowledge of the fact that Mr. Walker on starting out weighed one hundred and sixty-five pounds, but his weight on reaching Monterey California was only one hundred and twenty-five pounds. After some time spent in travel, and three months in which he engaged in mining, he made his way to Sacramento, where he followed the carpenter’s trade. He was in that city at the time of the great overflow, and succeeded in saving the life of his father-in-law, who was sick at the time. They made a claim on the site of the Capitol building and remained in California until the fall of 1850, when they returned by the same route which they had before traveled. On reaching Van Buren County, Mr. Walker once more resumed carpentering, in which line of business he has since continued operations. Many of the important structures of the city and community were erected by him or under his immediate supervision. He built the first frame house in Ottumwa, which at the time consisted of two log cabins, and made the first coffin, in which was laid to rest Mary Ann Hall, the first buried at that place.
Unto Mr. and Mrs. Walker were born five children, yet living—Mary, wife of John McPherron, of Northville, Spink County S.D.; Willie, who is a miller of Keokuk County Iowa; Flora wife of Ed Peterson who also makes his home in Northville; Emma wife of John Rank, of Chadron Nebraska; and Morris who is a resident of Kansas City. The mother of the family was called to her final rest on August 29, 1873. She was a member of the Christian Church and a lady greatly beloved for her many excellence of character. On June 3, 1886, Mr. Walker was again married, his second union being with Mrs. Sarah McNee, widow of William McNee.
In political sentiment Mr. Walker is independent, casting his ballot for the man and not the party. He was honored by his fellow citizens with the office of Mayor, which he filled acceptably and with credit to himself and his constituents. However, he has never sought political preferment as his business occupies his entire time and attention. Quietly and faithfully he performs the duties of citizenship, and by his upright life and honorable course wins the respect of all with whom he comes in contact. As a pioneer he has lived to witness the vast changes which have taken place, has participated in the wonderful growth and development and has the honor of being known as one of the fathers of the county, where for more than half a century he has made his home.
I am not related and I am posting this biography for those who may find this person in their family history.


Van Buren Biographies maintained by Rich Lowe.
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