Sunday, April 6, 2008

Steampunk Notables: William Walker, Filibuster



William Walker

Born 1824, Died 1860

Age 32, 5’8", 130 lbs. A slight, unimpressive-looking man with very light blonde hair, gray hair, and a soft voice.

Advantages: Collected, Comfortable Wealth, Reputation (Champion of the Oppressed, among non-political Nicaraguans), Strong Will

Disadvantages: Enemy (Legitimist Army), Overconfidence, Reputation (A pirate, among American authorities and Nicaraguan political factions), Stubbornness

Quirks: Believes his conquests are for the benefit of the locals; Doesn’t drink alcohol or swear; Gives himself titles of rank ("Colonel", "President", "General", ect…), Somewhat Meglomaniac, Strongly focued on his own cause.

This is Walker in 1856, after becoming President of Nicaragua; it is a modest, middle-of-the-road depiction of him.




Era illustration of William Walker

Biography
William Walker was born in Nashville, Tennessee on May 8th, 1824 and spent much of his unremarkable youth taking care of his ailing mother. Walker studied to become a doctor, then briefly moved to New Orleans to practice law, and finally moved to California, becoming a journalist. Taking an interest in local politics, he met a group of men wanting to establish an American colony in Sonora, Mexico. Walker agreed to lead this endeavor, which amounted to taking a boatload of troops to secure land for the new colony. The doctor-lawyer-journalist now added to his list of occupations the title of filibuster, a term of the time for such military adventurers.

His invasion failed and Walker and his cohorts were put on trial for violating neutrality laws. Speaking in his own defense, Walker achieved nationwide fame by convincing the jury to find him not guilty when they had convicted his backers and officers. This brought him to the attention of Cornelius Vanderbilt, railroad baron and entrepreneur. A civil war in Nicaragua was endangering a crucial rail line Vanderbilt possessed there, and so his agents arranged a deal between Walker and the Democratic rebels. Vanderbilt would covertly fund Walker to assist the Democrats in restoring order, and Walker’s men would be allowed to settle in Nicaragua.

In 1855, Walker and his small army of the "fifty-six Immortals" sailed to Nicaragua, and received more soldiers and supplies from his local allies. Striking out independently, his force engaged in several battles with the Legitimist army, inflecting heavy casualties, and finally taking their capitol in Granada. Then the situation changed. Vanderbilt’s agents in Nicaragua had decided to double-cross their employer and struck a new deal with Walker; he would seize Vanderbilt’s assets in the country and turn them over, and they would bring in more recruits from the United States. Walker agreed, but after Vanderbilt got wind of the scheme and began to take action, his supply shipments began to grow scarce.



Illustration of the Battle of Granada

However, Walker found new strength from the Nicaraguans. His gray eyes coincided with local superstitions and the indigenous tribes rallied to him; his declaration that he was "a friend to the oppressed and a protector to the helpless, and unoffending" won over the rest. Though some areas were still held by hostile political factions, Walker has the most might and support. He declared himself President of Nicaragua on July 12, 1856.

He soon had to contend with multiple invasions by neighboring countries. Financed by a vengeful Vanderbilt, they eventually besieged Granada with a force of 3,000 men. Though the town’s population (including Walker’s men) was only about 400, they managed to hold out for 17 days and then escape. Walker was forced out of the country, and returned to the U.S. in 1857. He spent the next three years making several attempts to return with no success. His final excursion was intercepted by a British ship and Walker was handed over the Honduran government. He was executed in Honduras six days later.




Statue commerating William Walker in Nicaragua

Walker in History
The "Grey-Eyed Man of Destiny" was the most successful filibuster in a time when many Americans were acting on their feelings of Manifest Destiny. Except for more extreme proponents of expansion, Walker was looked upon, by both contemporaries and historians, as a power-hungry scoundrel. Even those critical of him, however, admit that his desire to create a better nation for the locals he assumed power over was an honest one. He is considered in Central America to be a major figure in the history of the region, and his writings on Nicaragua were long considered to be the definitive history of that country despite the hatred which he was remembered.

Taylor, J. (1999) - Gurps Who's Who II, pg. 88-89, SJG:Austin
[edited for removal of game specific content]

Further Readings
Scroggs, William: Filibusters and Financiers
Walker, William: The War in Nicaragua

Internet Resources
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Walker_(soldier)
http://www.sfmuseum.org/hist1/walker.html
http://www.nndb.com/people/125/000049975/

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