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AS WE learned yesterday, the original meaning of the word “filibuster” meant a person, an irregular military adventurer, not a political stalling ploy as we commonly use it today. And, for good reason, William Walker was known as “the King of 19th Century Filibusters.” Today in Part 2, we pick up on Walker’s ambition to take over complete countries.

In October 1853, Walker gained control of La Paz, Baja California, and set himself up as President of the Republic of Lower California. He put the region under Louisiana law, thus making slavery legal.

Baja Calfornia. Image from

Fearing Mexican attacks, Walker moved the capital from La Paz, first 100 miles south to Cabo San Lucas and then, to another extreme, 1000 north to Ensenada. This was where he declared a (false) victory and proclaimed himself President of the Republic of Sonora.

His presidency didn’t last long. Walker fled to California where he was then tried for violating the U.S. Neutrality Act of 1794. However, what with Manifest Destiny and all, the jury took only eight minutes to acquit him.

Image from Filibusters and Financiers, 1916.

Next, Walker turned to Nicaragua, already in civil war. At the time, American Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt also had an oar in the water, through his Accessory Transit Company. Active in California Gold Rush trade, its route across a narrow portion of Nicaragua included Lake Nicaragua and a Vanderbilt-funded Transit Road to the Pacific.

Battle of San Jacinto, Nicaragua, 1856. Image from

In 1856, Walker became commander of a conflicting Nicaraguan faction, then proclaimed himself President of the Republic of Nicaragua. On May 20, 1856, U.S. President Franklin Pierce recognized the Walker regime.

Residence of William Walker, Granada, Nicaragua. Image from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, March 15, 1856.

Matters soon disintegrated. Walker and Vanderbilt had a falling out. Other Central American countries had had enough of filibustering. Armies from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras took roles in defeating Walker’s troops. A cholera epidemic didn’t help.

On May 1, 1857, Walker surrendered, under pressure of Central American forces, to the U.S. Navy. He returned to the U.S., where he blamed the Navy for his overthrow and was greeted as something of a hero. Within six months, he went off on another adventure, but was again stopped by the Navy and returned to the U.S.

In 1860, Walker yet again returned to Central America in support of British colonists in a Honduran squabble. This time around, it was the British Navy that got involved. Walker was turned over to Honduran authorities and executed by firing squad on September 12, 1860. He was 36.

Noted by Wikipedia:, “In Part Five, Chapter 48, of Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell cites William Walker, and ‘how he died against a wall in Truxillo,’ as a topic of conversation between Rhett Butler and his filibustering acquaintances.” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2018

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