Garry BrewerMesa County HistorianGrand Junction Free Press

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October 1, 2012
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Mesa County pioneers: Jesse and Sarah Walker - and their seven daughters

On a high desert hill east of Grand Junction, marked by a tall American flag, lie the remains of many Mesa County settlers. They were everyday people looking for a better life, emigrating from other areas of our country. Some came from land abundant with water, green grass and trees.Now they rest under the hard, parched ground, waiting for the call to come forth for the second coming.One of those souls is Jesse Martin Walker, a plantation owner who, with his wife, Sarah Curtis, left the East after the Civil War. They rolled the dice with many other former Confederates who came West.Jesse was born July 2, 1839, in Burke County, N.C., to Daniel Walker and Ann Clark. As a young man he joined the Confederate Army, 2nd North Carolina Cavalry under Captain Tidwell and was at the Battle of Fredericksburg where he was shot in the nose. Jesse also saw action later at Gettysburg.After the war he secured a farm in Union County, Ga. Twenty miles away in Clay County, N.C., was Sarah Lavinia Curtis, the woman he wanted to marry. Jesse was looking for a wife to share his new home and Sarah was proud of the good looking ex-soldier who came to visit on his fine gray horse.Jesse was known for commendable habits, even through the testing experiences of war time, and this added to the favorable esteem in which he was held by the Curtis family. On Feb. 25, 1866, Jesse and Sarah were married in Clay County. After the wedding, the happy couple traveled to their new home on the farm. Through the coming years they had eight children - seven daughters and one son.Post-war reconstruction was a problem for Southerners, and 60 North Carolina families joined in a wagon train bound for Colorado territory, among them Jesse and Sarah Walker. Before leaving, Jesse's father, Daniel, had the family drink from the cold water in his wooden trough, using the gourd dipper.Daniel said, "This is the last time we shall all drink together from the family water trough." Jessie's mother cried, knowing that this was the last time she would see her son and his family in this life. She said to her son, "Jesse, you have a good little wife. Be kind to her and take good care of her and the children."HOME SWEET COLORADOAfter a long hard trip, the wagon train arrived in Colorado and the family camped by Cherry Creek near Denver. There the family ate their first orange, shared by dividing the pieces up. It was so delicious.The family traveled on to southeast Colorado where they camped near Huerfano Creek. They built a home; but during this time Jesse and Sarah's only son, little Danny Walker, became gravely ill. The only doctor available was incompetent and was under the influence of liquor most of the time. The treatment the doctor gave the boy sent him into convulsions and Danny passed away Oct. 10, 1871. He was buried in a new graveyard on a rocky hillside in the area.A poem written by one of the Walker family says:The flowers have shed a pall of petals over his head;The summer shines and the winter snows,Yet little brother sleeps on undisturbedBy nature's laws or human woes. Shortly after this tragedy, the family moved 20 miles away to the Cuchara Valley where they built a second cabin. Soon a log school was built and used as a church on Sunday. Bible stories were read and the seven sisters were comforted knowing where little Danny had gone.During the first year on their land in the Cuchara Valley, the Walker family had about a hundred Ute Indians camp near their home. The tribe was led by Chief Capatan. The Walkers wrote in their memoirs of the long line of Ute riding their wild little mustang and pinto horses; gaudily dressed, faces streaked with paint; long hair in black braids wrapped with fancy bands; and their bodies painted or decorated with fancy feathers. Their clothing was entirely of their own making with buckskin fancifully beaded. This was quite a sight to the new settlers.One day, Sarah was alone in their cabin when an Indian brave came into the cabin and demanded money and food. The only weapon Sarah had at hand was the long-handled fire shovel, which she quickly seized and ordered the brave to "Vamoose!"Sarah later guessed that her courage aroused his admiration because as he left the cabin he was laughingly exclaiming "Brave Squaw." Afterward, the settlers gathered into the local Mexican plaza to "Fort Up" for protection. Much to the settlers' relief the government later moved this band of Ute to a different part of the state. In the spring of 1872, Sarah was home ill with pneumonia and confined to her bed for weeks. One cold day, as the girls were in school, smoke filled the classroom. The teacher had thrown a smoldering log into the yard and the dry grass caught on fire. A strong wind picked up the fire, then the brush. The Walker home was nearby and the brush fire soon engulfed the home. It was totally destroyed, but fortunately Sarah escaped unharmed. The family lost almost everything - the grain, bolts of material for clothing, money, bedding, pewter dishes, pigs and chickens. All that remained was the wagon, ox team, plow and cows that were in the field with Jesse. Thankfully, no lives were lost and neighbors came and helped them rebuild their home.The family experienced many good times while helping build that community. Spurred by drought, the Walkers were forced to move to Telluride, Colo., in 1881.

MESA COUNTY BY WAY OF TELLURIDEAs their daughters got older, Jesse and Sarah found that Telluride, while still a beautiful place to live, was not a proper place to raise seven daughters. Many saloons in the area did not provide the best atmosphere. Jesse and Sarah had heard about the opportunities in Mesa County and moved their family there for a better life and climate. Jesse and a couple of the sisters moved in 1884 to prepare a home for the rest of the family.Jesse bought a cattle ranch in Kannah Creek and in 1885 Sarah and the rest of the family joined them in their newest home. The girls all worked the ranch and were just as tough as the ranch hands in running the cattle. Education for their children was important to Jesse and Sarah. The "sisters," as Jesse lovingly referred to his girls, all wanted to be educators. One by one, Jesse and Sarah sent each of their daughters to Denver to college to become teachers. As the girls returned home, each taught school in Mesa County.At that time, teachers were to be unmarried women, and would have to give up teaching when they married. All the sisters had a chance to teach before they married young men of ability and good standing in Grand Junction. These fine young ladies and their husbands were: Olive and Lawrence Barnard, Nellie and Carl Washburn, Laura and Charles Newton, Georgia and George Pickett, Minnie and Thomas Noel, Elizabeth and G. Frederick Hinton, and Mattie and William Green.Jesse Walker's great ambition to secure a good education for his children was realized. As a matter of fact, daughter Elizabeth Walker Hinton became the first woman Superintendent of Schools in Mesa County.Jesse went on to be elected and served as County Assessor from 1893-1895. As assessor, he had the reputation of being efficient, competent and in all respects he was an upright, conscientious and patriotic citizen. His service in the Confederate Army for the "Lost Cause" no way affected his love of country and desire for the betterment of his fellow man.Jesse died at the age of 59 on Jan. 6, 1898. He is buried in Whitewater Cemetery. His wife, Sarah, died in Grand Junction on Nov. 8, 1923, and is buried next to her daughter, Elizabeth Hinton in the Orchard Mesa Cemetery. Jesse and Sarah still have many descendants living today in the area.EPILOGUEThe Walker family came a long way from the Green Hills of North Carolina and Georgia to find a new home in the West. Was it hard? Was it tough? Was it worth it? I think Jesse and Sarah would give a resounding YES!This fine pioneer family helped to mold the Mesa County we see today; a bright spot in the desert wilderness, a wonderful place to live.Jesse and Sarah's seven daughters said their father would always tell them: "May life be kind to my seven sisters." And it was.Garry Brewer is storyteller of the tribe; finder of odd knowledge and uninteresting items; a bore to his grandchildren; a pain to his wife on spelling; but a locator of golden nuggets, truths and pearls of wisdom. Email Garry at brewer62@bresnan.net.Sources and photos: Kate Barnard; Unpublished book "Seven Sisters" by Laura Walker Newton; Wanda Allen; Debbie Brockett; Museum of Western Colorado, Loyd Files Room; Michael Menard & David Bailey; Grand Junction News; Daily Sentinel files; Snap Photo; Mesa County Library; Bill Buvinger; and, of course, my sweet wife, Barbara, who has to listen to the endless pieces of history as bit by bit is found and read with each draft until finished.


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The Post Independent Updated Oct 2, 2012 04:06PM Published Oct 1, 2012 12:08PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.