By Bill Patterson
Editor’s Note: during the month of May, Vevay Media Group will be sharing a series of articles about Allen Walker, a native of Switzerland County who went on to earn the Medal of Honor while serving this country. The articles are written by Bill Patterson, who is the great grandson of Allen Walker, and lives near Louisville, Kentucky. Allen Walker is buried in a cemetery in Laredo, Texas.
Welcome back! I am thrilled and honored that you have decided to join me for the second installment of the life and times of Allen Walker.
The date is August 19th, 1884. It is a Sunday afternoon. The events contained here are from a letter written by Allen Walker to his sister Edith Walker Wilson on February 7th, 1948. I am indebted to my cousin Tom McKee shared his transcript of this letter along with his knowledge of riverboats and riverboat travel.
Jim Wilson, Edith’s future husband, is at the house. Allen has had a saucer of ice cream but has hardly spoken to Jim. He is preoccupied with executing his plan to enlist in the army. After finishing his ice cream he finds his mother, kisses her goodbye and sets out for Patriot on foot. This would have taken about 2 ½ hours to walk. His intent is catching the riverboat in Patriot and go to Cincinnati to enlist in the Army.
He is leaving Switzerland County and never coming back. This seems rather harsh, but apparently his arguments with his father over what he was going to do with his life had added to his sense of urgency.
He arrives in Patriot and purchases deck passage to Cincinnati leaving him with 25 cents in his pocket. In his letter he states that the riverboat was the “U.P. Shank”. My cousin Tom McKee could not find a boat by that name. The closest he could find was the U.P. Schenck, which was running in that time period.
Riverboat travel was not fast, about 2 to 3 miles per hour running upstream against the current, so the trip to Cincinnati was fairly long. There was no entertainment except for an occasional prize fight. As luck would have it, there was a young African American man amongst the crew who had already won several such fights. Members of the crew took one look at Allen Walker and urged him to fight. They were sure he would win. Since he had little cash, fighting seemed like a good solution.
After what he described as the hardest fight of his life, Allen Walker emerged victorious. His money worries were over. The winners share of the purse from the betting pool was $18.50. An amount which was about $5.25 more than a month’s pay in the Army.
The next morning Allen Walker got off the boat in Cincinnati, went to the Army recruiting station and enlisted for five years in the infantry. He told the recruiting officer he was 21 and was accepted. It seems that 21 was not only the age to vote, but also to get married and enlist in the service without parental consent.
This marks the beginning of a new life of service to his country in Texas and later in foreign lands.
Our next installment will explore army life and events leading to his being awarded the Medal of Honor.