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California, along with a dozen compatriots of various ranks.

Reaching the wondrous city, which his biographer aptly calls "the
modern Babel, with the confusion of tongues," Gaston, with a manliness
little to be expected in one of his training, betook himself to the
stern duty of earning a livelihood by hard labour. He tried fishing,
which barely earned him bread. As a lighterman he did better, until the
building of a wharf ruined his business. A speculative enterprise for
importing cattle from Lower California proved "more picturesque than
profitable." At this juncture when, in his own words, "a gendarme would
have charged on me at full gallop," so wretched was his appearance, his
friend, M. Dillon, the French Consul at San Francisco, procured him
letters of introduction to Señor Arista, President of Mexico, and
Gaston repaired to the capital of that country, full of enthusiasm. The
banking-house of Jecker, Torre and Co. acting as agents of the
Government, signed a contract with Gaston, whereby the latter pledged
himself to land at Guaymas, in Lower California, a company of five
hundred French immigrants, armed and equipped for military duty,
ostensibly and immediately for the protection of the Restauradora
Mining Company against the incursions of the Arizona Indians, but
really intended to serve as the nucleus of an extensive French colony,
to be used as a barrier against the supposed encroachments of their
American neighbours. Already the expansion of the United States in the
direction of Mexico and the Pacific coast had aroused the jealousy of
Europe. There is no doubt that Gaston's scheme for the protection of
Mexico, befriended as it was by the representative of France in
California and the French minister in Mexico, M. Levasseur, was not
without substantial aid from the home government. The banker Jecker
played a leading part, years afterwards, in the ill-starred attempt of
Napoleon III. to found an empire in Mexico.

As a present reward for his services in protecting the Arizona mines,
Gaston was to have a share in all their profits. He was yet to learn,
as the royal Maximilian did later, that a bargain needs more than two
parties to ensure its fulfilment, in Mexico. Arista was President of
Mexico, but Governor Blanco ruled in Arizona. Arizona is a state of
boundless mineral wealth, and little else. "Ruins of houses, ruins of
churches, ruins of towns, and, above all, ruins of crouching men and of
weeping women," is Gaston's graphic summary of Sonora and Arizona as he
found them in 1852. Two hundred and sixty gallant Frenchmen landed at
Guaymas on the 1st of June, and were warmly hailed as deliverers by the
fickle populace. Governor Blanco, however, showed himself strangely
lukewarm towards his new allies, whom he peremptorily forbade to leave
Guaymas. The reason of his opposition was simple. He was interested in
a rival company to the Restauradora. Vexatious delays followed. The
recruits lost heart and hope. Gaston, chafing at the delay, had gone
forward to Hermosillo, whither he brought his followers, after vainly
awaiting the governor's leave to set out for Arizona. Blanco thereupon
decided to offer these alternatives: "The Frenchmen shall renounce
their nationality, or I shall compel them to leave the country." Gaston
protested vainly in a letter to the French minister, and kept on his
march to Arispe. He wrote also to Governor Blanco, who temporized and
offered new conditions, denationalization of the company, their
reduction to a maximum force of fifty, or a guaranty that they should
not violate an ancient Mexican law forbidding foreigners to own real
estate, mines, or other such property. These propositions were laid
before the company by Gaston, who, at the same time, offered the means
of departure to any who wished to avail themselves of them. Not a man
was found willing to accept the opportunity. Gaston then, in a firm but
temperate note, declined to accede to Blanco's terms, claiming for
himself and his followers the fulfilment of their contract with the
government of Mexico. Blanco threatened to treat the strangers as
pirates and outlaws. To some of them he made secret offers of rich
rewards if they would betray their comrades.

In these straits, harassed also by the savage Apaches, Gaston took up
the line of march back to Hermosillo. On the 30th of September they
encamped at the pueblo of La Madelaine. Here, as elsewhere in Mexico,
the national gallantry of the adventurers, "half-heroes, half-bandits,"
as they were, won them immense favour with the fair Sonoriennes, though
it is doubtful if the latter's graver brethren took so kind a view of
"_fenêtres escaladeés, des maris infortunés, des duels, des processions,
des bals, des representations theatrales_," and the other exploits
faithfully chronicled by the light-hearted chief.

A sterner welcome met them in another summons from Blanco: "Surrender
your arms, or prepare to be treated as outlaws." Gaston, feeling that
either choice promised little of mercy, proceeded to force the issue at
once by hastening his march upon Hermosillo. By striking there a
decisive blow he expected to rally around his standard the always
numerous body of disaffected citizens, and so prepare the way for the
independence of Sonora. Despatching an emissary to California for
recruits, he set out, on the 6th of October, by the southerly road for
Hermosillo. Fifty leagues from that city Blanco lay at Arispe,
uncertain of his enemy's plans. Gaston's force numbered two hundred and
fifty-three men, including forty-two horsemen and twenty-six marine
veterans detailed to serve the four small cannon of the little army.
Among them were many old soldiers of Africa and barricade veterans of
Paris. Four or five months of sojourn in the Arizona deserts had not
improved their looks. But with a good-natured patience truly French
they made light of their troubles, jested at their sorry attire, and
when their boots gave out made sandals of hides, or trudged along
barefoot. In such guise and manner they marched to Hermosillo, but a
few hours too late, for Blanco had distanced them by forced journeys,
and thrown a body of twelve hundred men into the town. Gaston, without
waiting to rest his weary followers, gave orders to attack. In less
than an hour he was master of the place, and General Blanco was flying
with the remnant of his command to Ures. Yet the latter could better
spare his two hundred killed and wounded than the little band of
adventurers could afford their loss of forty-two. To the filibuster
there are no reserves.

But a greater calamity awaited the expedition. Gaston was stricken down
with sickness in the hour of victory, and, feeling the insecurity of
his position, gave reluctant orders to march to Guaymas. His malady,
dysentery, grew worse as they advanced. Within three leagues of Guaymas
they halted at the rancho Jesus Maria. Envoys from Blanco met them
there and treated for a parley between the two commanders, of which
nothing came but a short-lived truce. That evening Gaston was
delirious, nor were suspicions of poison wanting. The French camp
became panic-stricken, so that M. Calvo, Vice-Consul of France at
Guaymas, and himself a partner in Blanco's rival mining company, easily
persuaded the subordinates to sign a treaty resigning the contract and
agreeing to leave the country. Gaston awoke from a three-weeks' stupor
to find himself without an army. He was permitted to leave the country,
and returned to San Francisco with his ambition only whetted by his
late trials.

There was to be no mistaking the nature of his future operations. The
next expedition should be made up solely of Frenchmen and soldiers, its
avowed end the independence of Sonora. "These men shall be fully warned
that they go to Sonora to fight; that their fortunes rest on the points
of their bayonets; that if they be conquered they shall infallibly
perish as pirates; that it is for them a matter of victory or death."

His friend, President Arista, had resigned his office, in the face of
civil war, on the 6th of January, 1853. Mexico was in worse than its
normal state of anarchy. A dictatorship was proclaimed, and Santa Ana
recalled to govern the wretched country. One of his first acts was to
send for De Boulbon, who, upon promise of a safe conduct, visited the

The interview was dramatic between the old, crafty, and cold-blooded
butcher of the Alamo, and the young, romantic, hot-headed conqueror of
Hermosillo. The latter was in the prime of manhood, of medium size,
well-proportioned and graceful, erect, broad-browed, with open, frank
eyes, and fair hair and beard. Santa Ana, versed in the thousand wiles
of Mexican diplomacy, and rightly appreciating the skilled courage of
his guest, would have enlisted his talents in the dictator's personal
service. Gaston steadily besought a confirmation of the original
contract. Four months were spent with all the tardiness of Spanish
negotiation in realizing that object. At last a treaty was prepared,
binding the Count to garrison Arizona with five hundred French
soldiers, who were to receive a total compensation of 90,000 francs,
the Government advancing 250,000 francs for outfit and other expenses.
The treaty was solemnly signed, attested, and annulled within a
fortnight! Gaston was furious. The dictator blandly repeated his offer
of a regiment and personal service at the capital, an offer which the
Count spurned as an insult. "You offer me," he said, "a favour that is
personal, when I ask for justice to myself and my brave men. Should I
accept, what would be your opinion of me? what the opinion of those
whom I should command? General, I have the honour to be a Frenchman.
When I pledge my word I keep it." So the two adventurers parted in the
halls of Montezuma.

Gaston, burning with indignation, easily fell into sympathy with some
of the every-ready malcontents conspiring against the new government.
The plot was found out, but Gaston received warning in time to put
fifty miles of hard riding between him and the fatal anger of Santa

He returned to San Francisco, his old sense of wrong aggravated by this
new grievance. With singular inconsistency we find him writing to a
correspondent in France, in bitter complaint of the apathy shown
towards his scheme by the "intelligent and rich" Americans, at the same
time that he warns his compatriots against the designs of the United
States on the territory of Mexico and the world at large. His gloomy
forebodings must awaken a smile, in view of the actual results, yet
they speak a sentiment which was powerful enough, ten years later, to
work out the imperial tragedy of Maximilian.

"Europeans," he says, "are disturbed by the growth of the United
States, and rightly so. Unless she be dismembered, unless a powerful
rival be built up beside her, America will become, through her
commerce, her trade, her population her geographical position upon two
oceans the inevitable mistress of the world. In ten years Europe dare
not fire a shot without her permission. As I write, fifty Americans
prepare to sail for Lower California, and go perhaps to victory.
_Voila les Etats-Unis!_"

On the 2nd of April, 1854, three hundred French military colonists
sailed from San Francisco, upon a formal invitation from the Mexican
consul, to perform the duty formerly allotted to De Boulbon; the latter
had been declared an outlaw by the Government. Nevertheless he resolved
to hazard a descent upon Arizona, counting on the fidelity of those
colonists and the moral support of the French Government, still uneasy
over the ambitious designs of the United States. On the 24th of May
he sailed from San Francisco on the little schooner _Belle_. His
departure was hurried, as the United States authorities, warned of his
purpose, had taken steps for his arrest and detention. In his haste he
was forced to leave behind a small battery which he had bought for the
expedition. The captain of the _Belle_, an American, hesitated to
put to sea, but Gaston (so says his biographer) promptly put him in
irons and took command of the vessel himself. His avowed object was the
carrying out of the original contract of 1852, namely, the protection
of the mines of Arizona; but Arizona had meanwhile become American
territory, under the Gadsden treaty of 1853. Hence the present attempt
of Gaston was filibustering, pure and simple, if not something worse.

The voyage was long and tedious, lasting thirty-five days. On the 27th
of June they came in sight of Guaymas. Landing at Cape San José, he
sent two of his men to the city to prepare the three hundred Frenchmen
there for his coming, and to concert a plan of action. The envoys were
recognized and thrown into prison by General Yanes, who had succeeded
Blanco in the governorship of Sonora. An amicable but fruitless parley
followed between the commandant and Gaston. They arranged a sort of
armed truce, which lasted until the 8th of July; but it needed only a
small spark to explode magazines of such fiery material as formed the
two rival garrisons of Guaymas. The French company, overweening, vain,
and quick-tempered, met and jostled the dark-browed peons, jealous,
revengeful, and proud. Both were armed, both quarrelsome as gamecocks.
The French put faith in their national valour, the Mexicans in their
national odds of eight to one. At the first outbreak, some petty street
brawl, the native soldiers sounded the general alarm. The French rushed
to their quarters, whence they sallied, fully armed, and met the
irregular attack of the enemy with a resistance as unmethodical as
intrepid. For three hours the battle raged on the rocky streets of
Guaymas. Gaston, always a gentleman by instinct, refused the proffered
leadership, as that honour belonged to Desmarais, the commissioned
chief of the three hundred. He commanded a company, however, and fought
with splendid courage, until, twice wounded, his men in retreat and
everything lost, he broke his sword over his knee, and led the remnant
of his force to the French Consulate, where they formally surrendered
to their country's representative. An hour later they gave up their
arms, upon the pledge of M. Calvo, backed by the promise of General
Yanes, that their lives should be spared. Gaston was thrown into
prison. Ten days later he was taken before a court-martial, tried, and
condemned to death as a traitor and rebel. "Mark that they did not name
me once as a filibuster," he wrote home.

The American consul, Major Roman, pleaded earnestly, but vainly, for
mercy. M. Calvo would not interfere. Gaston in the hour of trial bore
himself with manly fortitude, begging only, and not in vain, to be
spared the indignity of dying with bound hands and bandaged eyes. The
faith of his childhood returned to him, and his lifelong unrest shaped
itself into perfect peace and resignation. The "old nobility," too,
spoke out in his farewell letter to his brother, a curious blending of
worldly pride, Christian humility, and philosophic fatalism. "It is my
loyalty to my word that has dug my grave.... A mysterious chain,
beginning at the cradle, leads to the tomb, and life is but a link
thereof.... M. Calvo will bear witness that I died as became a
gentleman.... To-morrow morning I shall have burned my last cap and
fired my last cartridge.... Tell your children that Uncle Gaston died
with a priest at his side, and that yet Uncle Gaston was a brave
man.... If any wonder that I submit to this death, you may say that I
look upon a suicide as a deserter.... I go to death a gentleman, and I
die a Christian." The philosophy of this dying chevalier throws a
little light upon his strange character. He died with touching and
simple bravery, on August 12, 1854, at the age of thirty-six. Eleven
years afterwards another and more imposing filibuster, lured to Mexico,
partly by the intrigues of the same commercial house which had held the
glittering bait before the eyes of poor Gaston, died with equal
firmness at the hands of his executioners. Maximilian of Austria, Prim
of Spain, and Napoleon of France, all played with fire, like the
ill-fated Count Gaston Raoulx de Raousset-Boulbon, and all, like him,

But another and stranger being had witnessed the bootless expedition to
Guaymas in 1852, and drawn his own false moral from the example before
him - with what results will be told hereafter.


William Walker - Boyhood and education - Doctor, Lawyer, Journalist -
Goes to California - Personal appearance and characteristics - Departure
of the Sonora Expedition - A government proclaimed - Stern discipline -
Retreat from Sonora - Bad news at San Vincente - The adventurers cross
the boundary - Walker resumes the pen.

While De Boulbon, resting upon his fruitless victory of Hermosillo,
awaited at San Francisco a chance to profit by the turn of the cards in
Mexico, he was offered, and declined, a subordinate command in an
expedition planned and conducted by the greatest of modern filibusters.

William Walker was the son of a Scotch banker who emigrated to
Tennessee in 1820, marrying there a Kentucky lady named Norvell.
William, their eldest son, was born in the city of Nashville, on May 8,
1824. His parents intended to give him a profession, preferably that of
the ministry, and, though his taste led him otherwise, the gravity of
the kirk always pervaded his manner, and theological speculations
interested him through life. His boyhood was marked by a reserved and
studious disposition, yet romantic and venturesome withal. His name
appears in the graduating class of 1838 of the University of Nashville.
The curriculum of that institution covered a wide course of study,
including, besides the branches of common education, mathematics,
astronomy, chemistry, navigation, belles-lettres, geology, moral and
mental philosophy, logic, political economy, international and
constitutional law, oratory, natural theology, the classics, and many
other studies. It was not the fault of his _alma mater_ if he failed
to prove as eminent in statesmanship as he was in arms. Duelling, the
carrying of arms, and all wrangling were prohibited by the rules of the
college. Cock-fighting was "especially forbidden." The cost of tuition
and board was between two hundred and fifty and three hundred dollars a
year. Altogether there is no reason to doubt that the University of
Nashville, "authorized to grant all the degrees which are or may be
granted by any college or university in Europe or America," was quite
able to teach a young and ambitious student the elements of a sound
education. The moral guidance of youth seems to have been well provided
for, and a healthy desire to check extravagance in personal outlay is
particularly noted in the regulations.

Having a liking for the medical profession, young Walker made a course
of study at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was a class-mate
of Dr. Elisha Kent Kane, the famous Arctic explorer. He afterwards
visited and studied at Edinburgh, in France, Germany, and Italy,
spending two years in travel, and gaining, together with his medical
education, a fair knowledge of the languages and laws of those

Of his professional experience we know little, save that he practised
for a time in Philadelphia and Nashville, but, finding the profession
unsuited to his health, he went to New Orleans and studied law. He was
admitted at the bar in that city, but did not devote himself long to
his new pursuit. He obtained a place on the _Crescent_ newspaper, and
gave himself up to the fascinating business of journalism with all the
ardour of a novice. That a man should have tried three professions so
different as those of medicine, law, and journalism, before reaching
his twenty-fifth year is not remarkable in our country. It was equally
in keeping with the character of the man of 1849, that he forsook this
latest fancy to join the host of restless spirits bending their steps
towards California. Arriving there in 1850, he became an editor on the
_San Francisco Herald_ and took sides with the faction of which David
C. Broderick was the leader. His literary style was not ill-adapted to
the journalism of the day and place, and ere long Walker the advocate
found occasion to defend Walker the editor upon a charge for contempt
of court. The lawyer failed to save the writer from the penalty of a
brief imprisonment and a fine of five hundred dollars. The same
pugnacious qualities involved him in a more serious quarrel with a
Philadelphian, named William Hix Graham, and appeal was taken to the
court of honour. The combatants met on a sandy lot outside of the city
limits. Shots were exchanged, apparently without damage to either man,
and the seconds were about to give the signal for another fire, when
one of them perceived a pool of blood at Walker's feet. The doughty
fighter had received a wound in the foot, and, in order to gain another
shot, had tried to hide it by throwing sand over the spot with his
other foot. The seconds, however, decided that honour was satisfied by
the flow of blood, and the duel went no further. After this Walker
retired from journalism, and practised law for a time in Marysville,
with success enough to satisfy the ambition of anybody who aimed at
law-expounding rather than law-making.

Walker was now (in 1852) only twenty-eight years of age. Nature had not
dealt lavishly with this man, whose ambition grasped at no less a prize
than the conquest of an empire. His figure was slight, though shapely;
he stood about five and a half feet high, and never weighed over one
hundred and thirty pounds. His closely-cut, sandy hair was thin and
almost whitish; his face was freckled and beardless, giving him a
boyish appearance. The lower half of his visage was plain, almost
commonplace, but his large, rounded forehead and keen gray eyes were
strikingly fine. When his usually cold nature gave way to emotions of
anger or excitement the eyes dilated and kindled with a greenish light,
like those of a bird of prey; the thin, short upper lip became
compressed, and the slow, quiet voice rose sharp and short. He never
showed other sign of emotion; but, says one who knew him well, "those
were sufficient to awe the most truculent desperado into a submission
as abject as that of the maniac before his keeper." Add to these a rare
frugality of speech, a morality ascetically pure, and a temperance
equally patent in word and action, and we know as much of the outward
man as did the thousands of men who feared and loved him and died for
his sake.

Joaquin Miller in his poem, "With Walker in Nicaragua," paints the
Filibuster Chief, with

"A dash of sadness in his air
Born maybe, of his over-care,
And, maybe, born of a despair
In early love."

Henningsen, who knew him intimately, was unaware of any romance in the
career of his chieftain; yet there was one, the only one of his life
and it has been given to the world, within a few years, by a near
relative of Walker. The object of his love was Helen Martin, a
beautiful New Orleans girl, whom he met in Nashville after his return
from Europe. She is described by Mr. Daniel Francis Barr, who had the
story from Walker's cousin, as "a most attractive woman - the loveliness
of face and form being enhanced by that endearing charm which
helplessness to beauty lends. For nature, so lavish in her other
endowments, deprived this beautiful creature of two most essential
faculties - she was a mute. Strange as it may seem, these two young
people, in appearance and character the apparent antithesis of each
other, allowed friendship to ripen into an ardent and lasting
affection. When Miss Martin returned to New Orleans, Walker soon
followed, and as lawyer and journalist, gained distinction in the
Crescent City. Just before the date fixed for their marriage the breath
of pestilence poisoned the Gulf breezes, and the dreaded yellow fever
became epidemic in the coast cities. Among the first to fall victim to
the scourge was Miss Helen Martin, and her death changed the entire
life-current, if not the heart of William Walker. From the ashes of a
buried love ambition rose supreme."

The Ishmaelite nature urging him to travel again, his "destiny," as he
called it, carried him to Sonora, at the moment when De Boulbon's first
expedition was nearing its vain catastrophe. No longer a lawyer, a
doctor, or an editor, he returned to California with dreams of martial
glory, crude as yet, but, to a man of his unyielding courage, full of
unlimited promise. People now spoke of "Colonel" Walker. The conferring

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Online LibraryJames Jeffrey RocheBy-Ways of War → online text (page 4 of 17)