CIVILIZATION, NICARAGUA AND HARPER’S WEEKLY
Reports from 1857-1860 on William Walker and Chontales
William Walker exited the cellblock in a trance, walking mechanically, staring at the crucifix in his left hand. Ten Honduran soldiers waited patiently in the plaza under a brilliant morning sky. It was 8:00 a.m., September 12th, 1860, three days short of the four-year anniversary of General Walker army’s first battle defeat at the hand of nationalist Nicaraguan forces and the beginning of his vertiginous downward spiral. Two soldiers with drawn swords walked in front of him and three with fixed bayonets marched behind. The 36-year-old native of Tennessee, self-proclaimed President of Nicaragua, was serene, his face pasty, blank, emotionless as he took his position in front of the firing squad in Trujillo, Honduras. Perhaps the most hated man in the history of Central America spoke in perfect Spanish, just above a whisper, to the gathered audience, “I alone am guilty. I ask pardon of the people. I receive death with resignation. Would that it be for the good of society.” The ten soldiers took aim and fired quickly. William Walker fell, bathed in a chorus of Honduran cheers. Only foreigners would bury General Walker, for Hondurans refused to take part in any ceremony. Walker’s brave, cruel, surprising and bizarre career as would be conqueror of Nicaragua and Central America was soaking in blood, slumped against a stone wall in eastern Honduras.
From 1855 -1857 William Walker was the talk of the town in the United States, a hero for continued growth of a rapidly expanding new world power. Walker the “filibuster” would vanish quickly into US historical obscurity, as unknown today to US school children as he is immortal to students here in Nicaragua. His actions drew praise from the US press when his victory in Nicaragua appeared to be the initial step in the eventual US annexation of Central America, assuring the political and military isolation of Mexico. Walker’s press reviews grew worse with the demise of his promise, until his death brought him media eulogies bathed in pity and dismay. Walker’s life, his attack on Nicaragua, and subsequent battles with the combined Central American forces are the subject of many books, and in the case of Nicaraguan historian Dr. Alejandro Bolaños Geyer, a life of research and study. Alejandro Bolaños, brother of current Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolaños is the world’s foremost expert on William Walker and his five-volume study: William Walker: The Gray-Eyed Man of Destiny is the definitive work on the subject. Thanks to Dr. Bolaños’ research, curious documents have appeared in Nicaragua, ones that shed light on attitudes in the United States at the time of William Walker and conditions inside Nicaragua during the war between Walker’s occupying army and combined Central American forces. One such document was published in Managua in 1976: The War in Nicaragua, As Reported by Harper’s Weekly: Journal of Civilization, 1857-1860. Dr. Alejandro Bolaños compiled and edited the book’s English text, which included many sketches, some of which are reproduced here.
In the first edition of the original Harper’s Weekly magazine, printed on January 3, 1857, Harper’s editors stated the goals for the new 16-page, large format periodical, published every Saturday and offered at five US cents per copy; assuring the reader that “…its constant devotion to the principles of right and justice shall win the approbation of the wise and good. Its object will be to set forth sound views on Political, Social and Moral questions… it will in a word, aim to present an accurate and complete picture of the age in which we live.”
In Harper’s first serious editorial on the subject of Walker’s occupation of Nicaragua, published in January 31, 1857, the editors utilized an ancient parable as their metaphor for the Nicaraguan conflict. General Walker had recently taken power of Granada by force, and then shooting or exiling his rivals, named himself President of Nicaragua. However, at the time the editorial was published, Walker had already lost key battles at a ranch called San Jacinto, the city of Masaya, evacuated with great difficultly the last of his forces from Granada while ordering it to be burned to the ground, escaped to Rivas, where at the time of publication he was desperately searching for more arms and troops in San Juan del Sur. Unfazed, Harper’s Weekly gloats, “The stork has digested the frogs; the Saxon (Walker) has obliterated the native Nicaraguan, and Walker is all in all. The future historian, seeking a striking topic for a monograph, will surely find it in the present position and past adventures of this most enterprising of the Northmen. To found his story, however, a wide retrospect will be required. He will have Nicaragua to tell of as the home of a quarter of a million people, four per cent of whom are whites, the rest a mongrel cross of white, black and olive-colored.”
The New York based magazine’s racial focus continues throughout its editorials, which celebrate Walker, the man who tried to bring back slavery to Nicaragua, still legal in the United States in 1857, but abolished in Nicaragua since 1824. “The crisis of Walker’s destiny has passed, and, in the dialect of astrology, his planet will hereafter be found in the house of life, dazzling and ascendant.” Harper’s saw current events as a sign that “… the elements of a future apparently big with the promise of victory and empire. There is nothing in the disjointed, immethodical, cowardly tactics of the Central Americans to forbid this upshot; nothing, perhaps, in the character of the people, their institutions, or their tardy civilization, to plunge us in profound sorrow at the thought of their subjection. We have again and again called Walker a hero. We shall not take it back”.
On February 21, 1857 an even longer editorial on the subject of Walker was printed. This well formed defense of Walker serves also as an argument for the immediate growth of the US Empire to defend its economic interests. It begins by highlighting a London Times story that detailed English adventures in Afghanistan and Persia. Harper’s eyed British expansion with a mixture of envy and admiration, “These are the projects that are now agitating the minds of the sagacious men who, sitting in a little foggy island in the North German Ocean, directly or indirectly influence of control the affairs of half the world. It has been heretofore the fashion to denounce the English progress in the East, and to hold it up as the advance of arrogance, violence and injustice. We do not regard it so.” The editors argued that although admittedly atrocities were committed against the Native Americans during the conquest of the United States, “…let us not be misled into a misconception of their real results. Let us not shut our eyes to the manifest development of the scheme of Providence in regard to this world.” They rhetorically asked their white readership, “Does anyone desire to roll back the planet to the sixteenth century? Shall Massachusetts and Connecticut make way for a new race of Pequods and Nipnucs? “Force is the necessary forerunner of civilization. The brute mind of the savage or the heathen must be reached by the manifestation of power…”
Turning to Walker, the argument reaches its climax, “we believe it is best that he should succeed and we wish him success. Reckless and unscrupulous as he is, we can not see what is to be gained by returning the country (Nicaragua) to the possession of the mongrel banditti (the Nicaraguans)…” The editors’ long and well-crafted logic for eventual US domination of Nicaragua ends by stating their perception of the ultimate value of Walker’s assault. “The conquest of California in 1846, and the discovery of its treasures, opened a new world, and made Central America – which presents the shortest cut to our El Dorado – a mater of first-rate importance. The Isthmus is occupied by a mongrel race of Creole-Spaniards, Negroes and Indians, divided into half a dozen wretched, half-organized governments. How shall the safety of the transit be obtained?”
Through the thick night of editors’ arrogance and racism shines a lone, yet luminous voice. The publication explains little about who Dr. Philip M. Whelpley, but his clear-eyed observations from the time of Walker occupation of Nicaragua contrast sharply with the darkly arrogant, self-satisfied editorials of Harper’s Weekly Journal of Civilization. The lack of decent contributions coming in from Nicaragua, combined with Dr. Whelpley’s elegant writing, must have forced the hands of the editors to print his correspondence. In fact, they found his observations so honest that it was deemed necessary to print a disclaimer as a lead into his report on March 28, 1857. “We do not desire to be understood as sharing the sentiments of the writer in reference to Central American politics generally or the cause of Walker in particular.” Dr. Philip M. Whelpley was a surgeon and secretary for the invading forces of William Walker. As a doctor he wrote of the horrifying health and medical conditions for the soldiers of Walker’s army, of the wretched diet they were afforded, various evacuations of patients, numerous broken promises to the mercenary (or “filibuster”) soldiers with regards to their rewards for volunteering to fight in Nicaragua and on an adventurous horseback expedition into the heart of Chontales. Sadly even the good doctor’s commentary is void of any mention of Nicaraguans by name. His human compassion appears to be reserved (at least in the writings published by Harper’s editors) strictly for his compatriots. In any case, for the time traveler his careful and fluid observations of 19th century Nicaragua are a prize.
Dr. Whelpley’s writing was at its best when he described a grueling adventure taken on horseback from Granada to Acoyapa in Chontales and back with Colonel Byron Cole. Mr. Cole was the man who arranged for William Walker’s invasion, which was received with the blessing of Liberal Party chiefs. Walker’s job from the standpoint of the León Liberal Party was to defeat the Conservative Party’s army in Granada. His payoff was to be a large land holding and the post as General of the Liberal Army. Instead Walker took the entire country. Unknown to the Liberals, Walker had a grandiose scheme to establish Central America as one continuous satellite slave state for the United States, a southern release valve for anti-slavery pressure building in the US before its civil war. Colonel Byron Cole was also the commander for Walker’s forces at the famous battle of San Jacinto. In that confrontation Walker’s army suffered their first military defeat in Nicaragua, though Cole managed to escape the scene by fleeing to a nearby farm, where was apprehended and hung two days later on September 17, 1856. The final expedition team for the journey to Chontales, made up of 8 US mercenary soldiers, Cole and Dr. Whelpley and 7 Nicaraguan mercenary soldiers, was undertaken from July 22 to August 8, 1856, less than two months before Byron Cole’s death. Colonel Cole’s dry military account of the trip was published in Walker’s official newspaper of the occupation El Nicaraguense and ran in two parts on August 23 and 30, 1856. However it is Dr. Whelpley’s trip report that appeals to the reader interested in a vivid glimpse of Nicaragua 147 years ago.
The expedition began in Lake Nicaragua, leaving from the dock of Granada with plans to sail to southern Chontales and march overland to Acoyapa, the most important town of the province at the time. The wind would not cooperate however and the crew rested overnight on the beach just west of the mouth of the Río Tipitapa. The platoon tried to set sail again the following morning to no avail and they were forced to land at the mouth of the Río Malacatoya on the shores of Lake Nicaragua. After the slaughter of a calf and a good dinner on the beach, our chronicler Dr. Whelpley noted that the expedition members, “…selected places of repose for the night. I preferred keeping company with the sentries, who relieved each other every two hours. In the dead of the night there was calm upon the lake, not a breath stirring; and yet the air of the forest was alive with mysterious sounds. A continual leafy murmur came up from the ground, made by millions of moving insects. Bats of immense size glided silently to and fro… About two hours before daybreak I fell asleep on a platform of reeds in the one of the cottages, and was wakened at early dawn by a sound so exquisitely musical and delicious it seemed like a dream of angelic harmony. I dared not open my eyes, and lay motionless while it continued. Our native (Nicaraguan) oarsmen were chanting the morning hymn to the Virgin; and in the distance, the purity of the old music of the Church, sung with little art, but by a people whose souls and voices are naturally attuned for melodious worship…”
Dr. Whelpley befriended a mule, which was converted into a pack animal for the expedition along with two horses. The unfortunate animal’s plight proved to be an apt metaphor for the members of the Chontales expedition and William Walker’s forces in general. “The jack, a stout, thick-headed animal… had been attracted to our camp by a purely social impulse, and he paid the penalty for his weakness by being made to carry a heavy load. In that respect, however, he but resembled all other white men who had volunteered in the filibuster service. I had not a doubt that the jackass cursed himself inwardly for his folly in joining the filibusters; for from the time our box of ammunition was set upon his back and his belly divided into two lobes by the strap, he lost heart, and did not venture upon a bray. The party took up their march through the forest about noontime; the jack and the pack-horses following…” When they reached further inland exploration parties were sent out to retrieve more horses and mules and “to leave orders with the owners of the grazing estates to send in each his quota of cattle to Mr. Walker at Granada.”
The expedition then paused four days by the river, as animals were rounded up for the trek into Chontales. This gave our chronicler Dr. Whelpley “… abundant leisure to observe and appreciate the beauties and natural resources of the Valley of the Malacatoya. The river here is a slow moving stream with shallow pebbly rapids; the banks high and earthy, fastened and made solid by enormous trees. The plantations come nearly to the verge of the stream and are invariably surrounded by heavy timber, choked with vines and underwood. Reed cottages, plastered with mud, are the only habitations. Near each cottage there is always a corral, or cattle-pen, of rails. Into this the cows are driven at daylight for milking, the entire family going out with pails made of the joint of a reed or a section of wood laboriously hallowed out.” The technique for convincing the cow to give milk described by Dr. Whelpley is still used today in rural Nicaragua. “The calf is caught with a lasso, and tied close to the left hind-leg of the cow, who allows herself to be robbed under the maternal hypothesis of being milked by her calf.”
Sensitive visitors to 21st century rural Nicaragua may view arrival to Nicaragua from the overdeveloped world as a form of time travel, noting that many Nicaraguans live suspended in a simpler time, one of year’s past. This sensation appears not to be a recent development. According to Dr. Whelpley in 1856, “In these cottages, buried in the interior forests of Central America, I saw, in their unaltered simplicity, the manners of a people who have undergone no change of life or opinion for at least two centuries. They were as now, when the New England colonists landed on Plymouth Rock. Their costume and manners are intermediate between the Indian of primeval times and Spanish of the days of Ferdinand and Isabella.”
Whelpley describes the idyllic setting for one of these rural cattle ranches in the valley of Malacatoya owned by “…one of the many of the better class who fled from Granada and other cities of Nicaragua into the interior forests to escape the civilities of our distinguished filibuster.” His scene is of an earthly paradise, “Picture yourself an oasis of level land on the bank of a river, surrounded by towering forests, always green, odorous, and impassible; on one side a quiet stream whose current, hardly waved unless disturbed by the rising or the plunge of an alligator, or herds crossing the ford at sunset. On either bank vast solitary trees arose; the mahogany, India-rubber tree, the American banyan and others called cedros, with small shining leaves, towering to such heights they seemed to mingle with the clouds, and sending out long arms against the blue sky, over the water, as if in salutation to each other.”
The beauty of Nicaragua’s countryside enraptured our mid-19th century correspondent. “From these branches depended long vines, like cordage, and lizards of enormous size, called iguanas, lay sunny themselves on the larger limbs, or crept slowly out of the extreme masses of foliage. Birds of brilliant plumage – steel-colored, violet, and green – darted in and out of the under-growth; some, small as butterflies, others, like the noisy larpas (lapa roja or scarlet macaw), flying large, flaming, and conspicuous, across the view. The great congo (mono congo or howler monkey), baboon of America, sounded his tiger-like and terrifying call in the depths of the forest. Companies of apes, stretching down from the saplings, peered at you with human visnomies, full of malice and curiosity. The entire air and soil seemed to be moving with the life of insects; and, to fill out the picture, I saw near the edge of the ford a group of straight-haired Indian girls, nude to the waist, beating the surface of the water with the white clothing which they washed in this primitive style. These gave rather the idea of a more perfect and remote seclusion. To me floating idly in the canoe with one silent companion, it was an absolute and poetical solitude – a land of life indeed, but merely dreamy and ideal.”
The food the good doctor encountered on the ranch almost 150 years ago would not be unusual to find in a country home today in Nicaragua, especially the home-made cheese and tortillas, whose preparation in rural areas of modern Nicaragua remains exactly how Dr. Whelpley described it “…beef roasted on coals (carne asada); plantains or bananas; pressed and dried curd of milk (cuajada); and for bread, the inevitable tortilla, which is a preparation of Indian corn boiled with ashes to remove the outer shell, bruised on a grinding-stone (metate) with water, made into thin cakes, and backed, or rather heated on a dish of red ware (comal), over a open fire.”
The expedition was well taken care of during their stay in Malacatoya, “In this large and wealthy establishment I saw no indications of luxury, but in all things comfort, perfect cleanliness and abundance. Our hostess, a nun of St. Teresa, received us with a grave and dignified hospitality which commanded respect, and should have been for her a sure protection against injury or insult.” Fate and military occupation would dictate otherwise as Dr. Whelpley reported “Two months later, this same cottage was rudely entered by a party of white men – I dare not say Americans – under the command of two officers of the filibuster army. The trunks of clothing and small hoarded treasures of the women were burst open and robbed, and the house itself despoiled of every thing that could be carried away.”
Meanwhile the editors of Harper’s Weekly, A Journal of Civilization in New York City were still hoping for a turnaround in the war for Walker’s mercenary army against Nicaragua and her allies. One battle reported published on April 11, 1857 looked promising, a rout for American forces that occurred in San Jorge, near Rivas. An update sent by one Walker soldier gloats, “Of course you want to know how many we killed. Wilson began to count them, and got up to 320, and said he thought it was wasting the precious hours of a probationary state to spend any more time on dead greasers. It is certain that we finished at least 500…”
Despite select, desperate last stand victories; desertions from Walker’s army were numerous, yet both Harper’s Weekly and Walker’s faithful in Nicaragua denied them. “It is astonishing what astounding stories are told of desertions from Walker’s army. One would suppose there were not men enough left to beat a drum for retreat. I can assure you”, wrote one of Walker’s officers, “that not one good man has left the army.” In reality the starving and disease wrecked army was suffering numerous desertions and Walker’s bloody adventure in Nicaragua was nearing its close. Readers of the Journal of Civilization would have had little clue at the time. According to a report that was credited to General Walker’s number one commander Major-General Henningsen, “Our victory is decisive, and breaks up the allies completely; and in a few weeks all fighting within the boundaries of Nicaragua will be over… Our army is in high spirits.” According to Harper’s the US government was on the side of General Walker’s mission, “The administration are said to be disposed to aid, in every fair way, the civilization and pacification of Central America, not only from motives of humanity, but with a view to extend American commerce…”
On April 25, 1857 Harper’s readers were updated on Byron Cole and Dr. Whelpley’s expedition to Chontales of the year prior. Leaving the Río Malacatoya also meant leaving behind part of the original expedition team who were sent back to Granada and William Walker with 52 head of confiscated cattle. The original force of 16 American and 13 Nicaragua mercenary soldiers was reduced. The American part now consisted of 8 American soldiers led by Coronel Byron Cole and followed by our narrator Dr. Philip M. Whelpley. The Nicaraguan contingent were down to “five or six natives attended us as guides and cattle-drivers” as Dr. Whelpley referred to them indifferently, but identified by Coronel Cole in Walker’s Granada newspaper El Nicaraguense as “reduced to seven native soldiers, including their officer”. The mission for the group of 17 was “to penetrate one hundred miles into the interior of hostile territory, which acknowledged no government at that time.”
The explorers suffered the first of a series of horrifyingly long days of mounted travel, arriving at Catarina, “a cattle estate buried in immense forest.” Whelpley mused, “The road was the worst I have ever seen. The animals sometimes floundered and fell over in the mud pits and sloughs; the branches of trees knocked us off the saddle: the entire party would sometimes dismount and lend a hand to pull one mule out of a slough. Two miles an hour was our average rate of travel…” Upon arrival the group was treated with the usual Nicaraguan rural tradition of warm hospitality and generosity to visitors, “The women at Catarina seemed to be immensely amused and gratified by our arrival. They spread a supper of cheese, tamales, tortillas, boiled plantains… sold us a bottle of aguardiente – very good! – for four dimes.” Aguardiente is home made sugar cane liquor and even today, bottled Flor de Caña rum and all Nicaraguan liquor is still popularly called “guaro”.
Traveling the following day through wetlands and over steep mountain terrain the expedition party rode-off guaro hangovers. Dr. Whelpley noted two Nicaraguan staples fruits on this day, jícaro, which makes an excellent country canteen still used in rural Nicaragua today, along with traditional drinking cups, bowls and a juice from its seeds and the pitahaya, a cactus flower that is used to make an equally delicious and spectacularly purple fruit juice. “We moved eastward along a tableland, perfectly level, covered, for eight or ten miles, with deep, strong grass, in hummocks, with groves of thorny trees, and orchards of the ever-recurring calabash or “hickory” (jícaro) of this country, a fruit like a gourd, but much harder, growing close upon the thorny limps, which gives an open grove of these trees the appearance of a moss grown apple orchard. Here I saw the fruit of the great climbing cactus (pitahaya), which is like a pear, but inwardly blood-colored, and of an excellent flavor.” The soldiers slept at another cattle ranch, this time at Masapía, where the party, “ate enormously and drank all the aguardiente we could buy, beg or steal.”
The expedition pushed on, “…we rode along the prairies within five or ten miles of Lake Nicaragua, fifty miles: a journey of three days, stopping at night at the haciendas, most the property of priests. The grass was everywhere fine and good for cattle, the hills inland upon the left of us covered with timber, cedar, mahogany, etc. Here we saw superb crested pheasants of Chontales and killed them in the trees with our rifles; but they are indifferent eating. The men (Nicaraguans) called them turkeys (chompipes). Small rivers, flowing through beautiful copses, and bowered with vines, gave extraordinary grace to the scenery. The waters were crystal-pure, flowing over pebbles.”
Leaving San Lorenzo they entered the mountains of Chontales. The ride from outside Comalapa and on to Camoapa was one that our correspondent would not soon forget. “Scenery magnificent. Southward the Lake, Mombacho, Volcano of Masaya and the Island of Ometepe: before us a sea of hills. Ascending from one of the most beautiful grassed valley in the world, we scaled the steep edge of the great table-land… resting our weary animals we remained for half an hour, in a silence broken only by exclamations of wonder and delight, gazing upon a prospect, that, for the extent and magnificence, has not its parallel on the continent. At a distance of twenty-five leagues west and north, rose up against the sunset the wonderful Matagalpa chain, its immensely high, isolated, and bare peaks, like shark’s teeth, apparently without foothills, rising from a bid of unbroken forests, undulating and misty. Before us the grassland stretched fair and level from our feet, sinking gradually on the left, and on the right rising at a distance of four miles, into hills covered with foliage. I do not think that we saw less than ten thousand head of cattle from this point, and countless herds of horses.”
The platoon of soldiers and our doctor remounted and pushed on, “In the centre of this grassy level we could just discern the Indian village of Camoapa buried in orange and mango trees. The alarm-horns sounded as we rode into the village, but the people were not armed.” Coronel Byron’s expedition was given a warm welcome by the town mayor and “a procession of the citizens, all dressed in loose white jackets and trousers with bare feet and straw hats. The alcalde (mayor) made a ceremonious speech of welcome; informed us that we were the second party of white men who had ever penetrated so far into the interior.” The doctor and Coronel were shown to the village guesthouse by the mayor who “brought us food with his own hands, attended by a procession of Indian boys, each with a dish.” Dr. Whelpley considered the villagers to be “innocent and harmless” and noted that the “wealth of these broad-featured, flat nosed Indian tribes is in corn and cattle. They are rich in the fruits of the earth”.
The next morning the expedition continued in what would be the hardest day of riding. After 30 miles on desolate mountains trails that not even the people of Camoapa were familiar with, they arrived at Juigalpa, today’s center of commerce and capital of the Chontales province. Dr. Whelpley called Juigalpa “the Switzerland of Chontales” for its mountainous scenery, though they sensed that they were less than welcome, as a band of American deserters from Walker’s army had passed through recently, “seizing without ceremony whatever they could carry away. Saddles, bridles, spurs, blankets, clothing, tobacco, rice, ponchos, choice horses and mules, nothing portable had come amiss to these robbers”. In fact the expedition team would find that their welcome had run out completely when they finally reached the military and civil capital of 1856 Chontales, Acoyapa; a grueling 21 miles of mountain passes beyond Juigalpa. Cole and physically drained expedition were wined and dined in Acoyapa. Despite the relatively lush party and dinner they enjoyed, no rest was to be found. Byron Cole soon discovered (thanks to being tipped off by the leader of his Nicaraguan faction) that “two hundred armed natives and the twenty-five deserters” were waiting just two miles outside of Acoyapa to attack his 17-man platoon.
Exhausted beyond repair, they urgently remounted their horses and mules fleeing towards the coast of Lake Nicaragua. The rebel group gave chase but followed the mountain route, losing the trail of Dr. Whelpley and Byron Cole’s expedition. In four days they would be back in Granada unharmed. Dr. Whelpley would live to return to the United States, though Colonel Bryon Cole’s luck would soon run out in the battle at San Jacinto on September 15, celebrated every year since in Nicaragua as a second day of national independence (in addition to Nicaragua’s 1821 independence from Spain, celebrated every September 14). Before his death, Bryon Cole’s final report was published in El Nicaraguense on August 30, 1856. Cole finished his trip summary by sharing his dream of Chontales as a part of the United States, “After visiting every part of Honduras and Nicaragua, I am led to prefer Chontales before all others as a field for colonial enterprise. It combines all the best features of an agricultural and grazing country, and not many years may be required to cover its vast plains and fertile terraces with fields of grain or herds vying in quality with those of England or Massachusetts. The waters of the lake offer every facility for commercial intercourse, and the present elements of discord and danger in Chontales, require only a sudden and forcible check to suppress them altogether.” Two weeks later he would pay with his life for underestimating the will and determination of the Nicaraguans.
On May 5, 1857, the self-proclaimed President of Nicaragua, General William Walker, evacuated Nicaragua in haste, leaving from the bay of San Juan del Sur and setting sail for Panamá three days before is 33rd birthday. Despite Walker’s defeat, the editors at Harper’s Weekly Journal of Civilization remained confident that the United States was on the proper course and that destiny was on the side of continued conquest of new lands for the burgeoning world power. On May 16, 1857 they drew a parallel between English “progress in the East” which they considered the “progress of civilization, and as such must command our interest and sympathy in every point of view” and US expansion in the Americas. They explained that “To render Canton inhabitable to foreigners” was to “break down the wall of Chinese ignorance and insolence” and that the “progress of our people (of the USA) will surely and steadily be to occupy and cultivate, to civilize and to bless, all those portions of this Continent which are fit for the occupancy and enjoyment of the white race.”
Walker was unflinching in his will to return to power in Nicaragua and he managed to land at San Juan del Norte, attacking with an army of 150 mercenary soldiers on November 25, 1857. He was forced to surrender to the US Navy on December 8, 1857. General Walker was put under military arrest and shipped back to the US. The United States was now growing weary of Walker’s adventures. General Walker was said to have cried like a baby when he boarded the USS Saratoga in surrender, but when he arrived to port in New York City on December 27, 1857, Walker was already planning his third attack on Nicaragua, though he would have to wait 2½ years to attempt it.
On January 16, 1858 Harper’s Weekly published an editorial titled “The End of Walker” quoting US President James Buchanan’s opinion of Walker’s second expedition to Nicaragua. “It well deserves the severe punishment inflicted upon it by our laws. It violates the principles of Christianity, morality and humanity, held sacred by all civilized nations, and by none more than by the people of the United States. Disguise it as we may, such a military expedition is an invitation to reckless and lawless men to enlist under the banner of any adventurer to rob, plunder and murder the unoffending citizens of neighboring States who have never done them harm.”
After writing his memoirs of the battles in Nicaragua and escaping prosecution for violation of US neutrality laws, Walker set sail once again, hoping to land again at San Juan del Norte, Nicaragua in July of 1860. He never made it that far south. With dwindling supplies and unfavorable winds he decided to attack Honduras. Walker landed with a force of 92 mercenary soldiers on August 6, 1860 near Trujillo. Exactly one month later he was under arrest, captured by the British Navy after a fruitless month-long adventure. Walker was handed over by the British to Honduran authorities. Six days after his arrest, on September 12, 1860, he was unceremoniously executed and buried in Trujillo, Honduras.
On October 13, 1860, editorial amnesia set in at Harper’s Weekly Journal of Civilization. The magazine called William Walker “one of the most wrong-headed but bravest men of the age” and the periodical proclaimed “No one regrets that he has received the merited penalty of his repeated infractions of the law and sacrifices of life and property. He has lived by the sword, and by the sword he has perished – as was fit. One may pity him, as one may pity any wrong-doer who is justly chastised; but no one can say that, in his case the chastisement was undeserved or inappropriate, or that the world would have been a gainer had he escaped his doom. Mankind and civilization acquiesce in his death”.