March 11, 2018

A Union Spy in the Joseph Walker Camp

Joseph Rutherford Walker, circa 1860
It is well understood that Fort Whipple was established to protect anglos around the Prescott area. However, there is evidence that initially the federal government was not so much interested in protecting the miners as it was in protecting the minerals.

Previous to 1862, central Arizona was nearly a blank to anglos. Lt. EF Beale had opened the Beale Road in 1857, but little else was explored and much of the area feared. "No expedition had thoroughly explored this area until the old trapper and hunter, Capt. Joseph R. Walker, led his expedition into Central Arizona in 1861." However, "his party was so harassed by Indians that they continued east into New Mexico and hence to Colorado with an Indian hunting party under the famed Kit Carson."

AF Banta, a bull-whacker who arrived with the first Ft. Whipple soldiers pointed out: "Captain Joe Walker, with a few followers, started eastward from California, gathering new members in route, until he reached Colorado. He had no intention of going to Arizona when he left California; otherwise he would've gone south from California and entered Arizona either at La Paz or Yuma, and certainly would not have gone eastward through several states and territories if Arizona had  been his subjective point of destination."

It was Union Gen. James H. Carleton (for whom the street in Prescott is named,) who held jurisdiction over central Arizona. His interest in the Walker party began in 1862 when they were preparing to leave Pueblo, CO., supposedly to prospect for gold in central Arizona.

On May 17, 1863, Carleton wrote Maj. Gen. SR Curtis an official letter in which he states concern about the possible march of Confederate forces:
"General: we have circumstantial intelligence that a rebel force from Texas is moving toward this territory, with a view to its conquest, and to the conquest of the territory of Arizona as well. I have spies and scouts out to ascertain the strength of the enemy."
"Military authorities were then suspicious of Capt. Walker's purpose, and thinking they might be seeking to effect a junction with the Confederates, Gen. Carleton employed AC Benedict to accompany the expedition for the purpose of watching its movements and reporting the same." It was Benedict who was Carleton's spy.

The true story of the Indian War raid on a stage stop in Yavapai county in November, 1866. The locale, known previously as Mount Hope would be renamed Fort Rock when a dozen anglos held off 100 Hualapai warriors.

Fred G Hughes, a soldier who made the initial trip to Del Rio Springs to found Fort Whipple stated: "Gen. Carlton...decided to locate a fort there (Walker party vicinity), ostensibly to protect the miners against the Indians, but in reality to guard against organization in our rear, for it was known that most of the people going to the new discovery were sympathizers with the Confederacy.'"

Daniel E. Conner, last surviving member of the Walker party, insisted years later that there was no possible need for the Union Army to take such a precaution. However, this seems to ignore the fact that Walker's party also included one Jack W Swilling who had served under Capt. Hunter and his Confederate troops which captured Tucson before the Union forces under Gen. Carleton forced the rebels to flee. "It was the same Jack Swilling, who as a lieutenant in charge of the Confederate detachment, engaged in the only skirmish between Confederate and Union troops on Arizona soil."

The Union had reason to be suspicious. "If Carleton's statement says the purpose of the rebel force was believed to be 'the conquest of the territory of Arizona as well,' then who else might be suspect but the Walker party since their expedition was the only organized body of armed men in central Arizona at that time? Carleton, as a responsible military commander, must've been concerned about the intent of the armed Walker party to the west and rear as well as to those rebel forces that might attack his Eastern front."

Indeed, Confederate General Sibley "had undertaken the conquest of New Mexico, and the capture of Fort Union, the great depot of supplies of the US Government. However, the defeat of the Sibley expedition at Apache Canyon changed the aspect of affairs." This defeat "was an unexpected event which Walker had not thought possible, and Sibley's complete evacuation of New Mexico left the territory in the hands of the Union troops."

"Capt. Walker, feeling that his movements were under military surveillance, decided to make a strategic movement and hoped by the ruse to deceive the US military. Instead of going down the Rio Grande, he struck westward from Albuquerque over the old Immigrant Trail leading from that place to Los Angeles."

Having reached the present site of Flagstaff, Walker turned southward and discovered a vast amount of gold, "which was merely an accidental incident," according to Banta. "The Walker party were loath to leave the 'real thing' to go gallivanting after such an unsubstantial product as (the) 'empty glory'" of the battlefield--particularly when the main Confederate force had abandoned the territory. Indeed, Walker had enough on his plate simply dealing with the Indians.

It was then the Walker party truly metamorphosed into a "prospecting party."

The theory that Fort Whipple was initially founded not to protect the southern-leaning miners, but, rather, to keep an eye on them is bolstered by the fact that in the early years, Fort Whipple troops did little to protect them. DE Conner complained "that the military gave them no aid and that when the Walker party did meet with a few small elements of the military in the wilderness, the soldiers were there 'not to fight the savages, but to detect any possible seeds of organized rebellion against the government.'"

For the first few years of Fort Whipple's existence, the limited number of troops stationed there demanded the majority of them protect only the fort itself. As months turned into years and Prescott grew larger, this became a matter of contention and consternation among the citizenry. During that time, the need for civilians to protect themselves was palpable.


A comprehensive primer of military posts in Yavapai County during the Indian Wars. Included are dates, locations and the reason behind each post's name.

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The History of Fort Whipple, by Phillip D. Yoder; 1951. Pages 7-10. (His Masters Thesis for the University of Arizona.) Available at the Prescott Public Library.

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