The Execution of William Walker

by John J. Miller on September 12, 2010

in Blog Posts

  • Sumo

Today is the 150th anniversary of the death of William Walker, the American filibuster who organized private military expeditions in Central America. He was briefly president of Nicaragua. On September 12, 1860, a firing squad in Honduras killed him.

In The First Assassin, Walker comes up in conversation between a pair of secessionists:

The men exchanged greetings. Hughes eventually took a seat and picked up a book on a table beside him. He flipped to the title page: The War in Nicaragua, written by William Walker and published by S.H. Goetzel & Co. in Mobile. On the facing page, a picture of Walker made him look harmless, even effeminate. It was hard to believe this man had led a small army of American adventurers into Nicaragua and briefly became the little country’s president. …

“It arrived last fall, around the time of Walker’s death,” said Bennett. “He wrote it to raise money for that final expedition—the one that killed him.”

“I was sorry to hear what had happened,” said Hughes. “There was a time when you and I believed he held promise. His success might have changed recent events for the better. If some part of Spanish America had been integrated into the Union, we might have averted this whole secession crisis.”

“We did what we could. Yet we were foolish to think the Northern states would ever permit a filibuster like Walker to succeed in one of his conquests—and let Nicaragua, Cuba, or any part of Mexico into the Union as a slaveholding state. I am coming to believe the North actually wants this calamity.”

Hughes set the book back on the table where he had found it. “How exactly did he die? All I heard was that he was executed.”

“The Brits caught him in Honduras plotting a new incursion. They handed him over to the locals, who put him in front of a firing squad.” Bennett lowered his voice. “After they had riddled his body with bullets, the captain walked over to his slumped form, placed the barrel of his musket in Walker’s face, and pulled the trigger. The shot obliterated his features.”

The image made Hughes cringe. “You might have spared me that detail,” he said, shifting around in his chair. He noticed the pleasure Bennett seemed to take from his discomfort.

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