What kind of man gets a medical degree in Philadelphia, practices law in New Orleans, chases gold in California, duels with a prominent West Coast newspaper editor in San Francisco and eventually raises a private army that fails in an attempt to conquer part of Mexico but succeeds in conquering Nicaragua, installs himself as President of Nicaragua and ends up leading the country for over a year?
William Walker, that's who. Never heard of Walker? You're not alone, but if ever there were a man born to have his story told on the big screen, it's Walker. And he did it all before he was 36 years old!
After bouncing around at various universities and different cities around the United States and Europe, Walker found himself in San Francisco, during its Gold Rush boom in the 1850s. While there, Walker found himself drawn to what was called the "Filibuster Movement". The Filibuster Movement, also known as "freebooters", was a group of men who, in the mid-19th century, took it upon themselves to foment revolution in Central and South America in what they saw as service to the United States. It was their crazy idea that they could help to install leaders that were friendly to the USA and its foreign policies and of course making a good bit of coin for themselves. These guys took the Monroe Doctrine seriously! It was, of course, completely illegal, but that didn't stop William Walker.
Walker first set his sights on Mexico. Specifically, he asked the government of Mexico for permission to set up a colony in the Mexican states of Sonora and Baja. When the government unsurprisingly refused his request, he raised a private army and invaded anyway. He and his army captured the city of La Paz in Baja and he declared himself President of what he named "The Lower Republic Of California." It didn't last long. Just a few months into his self-declared reign, the Mexican Army forced him out and he was forced to return to San Francisco and was put on trial for violating The Neutrality Act Of 1794. Now, in San Francisco at this time, the filibuster movement was very popular and the jury in Walker's trial was sympathetic to his crazy ideas, so they spent no time acquitting him, taking a total of 8 minutes to make their decision.
A free man, Walker again looked at a map of Central America and decided Nicaragua was ripe for exploitation. In a pre-Panama Canal Central America, Nicaragua was the main trading route for US shipping companies going from the East To West coasts using Lake Nicaragua and a combination of roads and rivers to move passengers and goods across the isthmus. Walker saw dollar signs and wanted to control this. He took advantage of long-simmering disputes between the conservative and liberal political parties in Nicaragua and again, with his own private army, joined the liberals and invaded. As luck would have it, the two top leaders of the party died almost as soon as he teamed with them and he was left in charge of the fighting forces. Eventually he pushed back the conservatives and took control of the country, After holding an election that was widely seen as completely illegitimate, Walker was inaugurated as President of Nicaragua in July of 1856.
This time it would last ten months. After facing mounting pressure from the US Navy and fighting military battles with Costa Rica, Walker surrendered himself to the US Navy in May of 1857 and was sent back to the US. He returned to great fanfare and huge popularity. The actions of the US Navy were denounced by the filibuster-loving public and Walker was hailed as hero. He later wrote about his time in Nicaragua in his book "War In Nicaragua".
Walker wasn't finished though, oh no, not by a long shot. In 1860, Walker was contacted by a group of Honduran rebels that were fighting the government of Honduras from their base in the Bay Islands. They wanted Walker's help in forming their own country. Walker being Walker, jumped at the chance, and off he went, traveling back to Central America to stir up more trouble. But, alas, he would not make it far. Shortly after arriving in the city of Trujillo, Honduras, he was captured and arrested by the British Royal Navy. They were tired of his behavior also and instead of simply returning him to the United States, they decided a more permanent solution was possible if he were turned over to the Honduran authorities, so he was. He was immediately put on trial and found guilty of insurrection and sentenced to death. On September 2nd, 1860, William Walker, doctor, journalist, lawyer and freebooter, was shot dead by a firing squad, ending the life of one of the craziest Americans that ever stormed the earth.
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