COPYRIGHT © 2023 | The Dissident Review, LLC
By Anthony Bavaria
If you subscribe, even remotely, to the great man theory of history, then you cede to the basic fact of a hierarchy amongst men.
Not all of humankind has equal potential; yes, trends and forces aid in elevating certain types of men that are ripe for the occasion, but this truism still speaks to the notion that we are different from each other. We’ve all seen the memes of a burly man that would have once been at the head of some crew of pagan marauders now relegated to a cubicle. Conversely, personalities that were probably once candidates to be eunuchs in the queen’s chambers are now running society. This leads to an understanding that not all men destined for greatness necessarily succeed. Many try and fail, and though their greatness may not have impacted history in a meaningful, long-term way, their cause and effort are no less worth celebrating. One such man was William Walker and his enterprise was filibustering.
The act of droning at a governmental pulpit on behalf of some boring legislature is not what is being examined. Walker was involved with the antiquated, militaristic version of filibustering, also known as freebooting, which is broadly defined as a private individual raising funds and an army to engage in an unauthorized incursion into a foreign country. The goal of something like this can be broad, and the definition immediately likens this act to a plethora of similar activities such as proxy warfare, piracy, the employment of mercenaries, or government-aided coups. What separates freebooting from these other modes of combat is the ideology, relative autonomy, and goals of the filibuster. Today, few ideas are worth fighting for; in this essay, the cause of civilizational greatness and William Walker’s attempt in spreading it by force will be examined.
Before the adventures of Walker can be fully analyzed, it must first be framed in the context of his impressive background. In Filibusters and financiers; the story of William Walker and his associates, author William Scroggs states that Walker’s origins are “somewhat fragmentary.” However, we do know that he was born in 1824 to Mary Norvell, daughter of a pre-revolutionary Virginia family of English heritage, and James Walker, listed only as “a Scotchman who settled in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1820.”  Based on William’s father’s Scottish ancestry and his settling in Tennessee, there’s a decent chance he's of some relation to the storied Walker family of American pioneering lore.
Looking for ways to tame all points of the North American continent west of the Appalachians, early American statesmen were at a loss. Large standing armies were currently out-of-vogue for the new nation that just fought against such practices, so they had to get creative in their conquering; demographic warfare proved to be a viable option. Initially courting lowland German migrants for their can-do, industrious attitudes, our founding fathers were dismayed when, upon their arrival, the Germans looked toward the mountains in the west, shrugged their shoulders, and decided to homestead in the old lands of William Penn; the direct descendants of these settlers are the Pennsylvania Dutch, Amish, and Mennonites. The second pick of the nation’s early ruling class were their old cousins, the Ulster Scots, from which the Walker clan hailed. A people ripped from their homeland in northern England/lower Scotland for colonization efforts in Ireland, they were downtrodden, miserable, and forever yearning for a place of their own. Incentivized with these exact prospects in the new world, the Ulster Scots were shown the east-facing foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and officially unleashed.  Referred to as Scotch-Irish in the U.S., like wildfire they spread clear across the continent and finally achieved their place in the sun. One became president (Andrew Jackson) and another blazed some of the first overland routes to the Pacific (Joseph Walker).
An early Walker settlement was Tennessee. Hailing from Nashville, William was born late in the game, and by the time he was a young man—having successfully practiced medicine, law, and journalism all by the time he was twenty—most of the continent had been tamed; drunk on the idea of Manifest Destiny, however, the young man’s ambitious were yet to be thwarted.
Now living in San Francisco, Walker was employed as a newspaper writer. When he wasn’t pissing people off and engaging in pistol duels—he was in three and wounded twice, once by infamous wild west gunslinger William Hicks Graham—Walker was dreaming. His most grandiose idea was conquering lands to the south of the U.S. to form new “slave states” as buffer zones between America and what lay beyond. Though this sounds absurd, in the context of the era, it seemed within reach of any man that simply put his mind to it. Walker’s kin had just recently taken a continent from wild savages, and his nation invented the locomotive and laid tracks from ocean to ocean… why wouldn’t he be able to take what he saw as rightfully his? A Frenchman, Charles René Gaston Gustave de Raousset-Boulbon had just recently tried it in the Mexican region of Sonora, and now it was Walker's turn. Recruiting piss-and-vinegar men from his native Tennessee and neighboring states, Walker built his army. To finance the expedition, he sold scrips that would be redeemable in his newly established state of Sonora after its conquest.
When taking the fundraising efforts into consideration, a contemporary reader can easily deduce motives of personal financial gain from Walker’s venture. The earlier mentioned concepts of piracy and guns-for-hire offer easy comparisons. However, the role of a mercenary is simply to make money and the endgame for a pirate is merely to steal booty; throughout history, few in these roles ever possessed illusions of state-building. In fact, the only community pirates and soldiers of fortune have ever created were usually intentionally devoid of any of the foundations of structured society, since scruples would only impede their wealth-attaining efforts.
Walker’s first foray southward began in 1853. Leading a small army of only 45 men with himself as their Colonel, he invaded Baja California and captured the local governor. Lowering the Mexican flag in the region’s capital of La Paz, Walker and his army raised their own. He unofficially claimed his conquered land as The Republic of Baja California, with himself as President. Further success was achieved when a Colonel in the Mexican Army came to replace the now captured governor; he too was taken into custody by the filibusters. Enticed by initial success, without having moved off the Baja peninsula, the Colonel preemptively added the land east of the Gulf of California to his newly named “Republic of Sonora.” Cabling his exploits and new claims back to the U.S. had the benefit of attracting new recruits to the cause; roughly 200 additional men made their way south.
Unfortunately, a lack of supplies and increasing resistance from the Mexican Army forced Walker to retreat and ultimately abandon his newly acquired state. Now back in the U.S., the self-appointed Colonel was put on trial for breaking the Neutrality Act of 1794. This presents another opportunity to dispel any notions that he was acting on behalf of third party or financial interests. If the U.S. government was interested in furthering their control southward, they would have been aiding Walker, not putting him on trial. Washington had just recently finished a war with Mexico in 1848, and clearly wanted to avoid further conflict rather than stoke it in a way they would become skilled at, time and time again, in the following century.
As it is with most times throughout Western history, there was a massive disconnect between the people and their rulers. Though he was tried for treason, Walker’s jury unanimously motioned for acquittal; he was a hero, not a villain. In Mercenaries: A Guide to Private Armies and Private Military Companies, author Alan Axelrod states, “Without question, he was guilty, but in an era when national expansion was overwhelmingly popular both in the South and in the West, no jury would convict him. After retiring for a mere eight minutes of deliberation, the jurymen returned with a verdict of not guilty.” 
Undeterred, his sights were now set on Nicaragua. Civil war had erupted in the Central American country, and Walker sought to exploit. Allying himself with the Democratic Party against the Legitimists, Walker convinced the Democratic President to grant him and his freebooters the status of “colonists” (to avoid again violating the Neutrality Act) with an additional clause that they had a right to bear arms in service of the government. He and 60 men landed on the shores of their Central American target, received reinforcements of local troops, and quickly sought out action against Legitimist forces. The Battle of Rivas ensued; on the action, Scroggs states, “Rivas was attacked at noon on the 29th. Walker’s native troops fled at the first fire, leaving his fifty-five Americans opposed to a force of over five hundred. The falanginos (a Spanish term derived from what Walker called his men: The American Phalanx) took refuge in several houses, where they were surrounded by the enemy and held at bay for four hours.”  Though the filibusters ultimately withdrew from the town – they were outnumbered 6:1 – they inflicted disproportionately heavy casualties on their foe, killing 70 while only losing 11 of their own.
It’s worth noting that by no means was Walker a rear-guard leader. At another encounter, the Battle of La Virgin, the freebooter leader was grazed in the neck and also shot in the chest; the only reason he survived was the bullet luckily passing through a series of folded papers in his breast pocket. Again outnumbered almost 6:1, Walker and his men inflicted heavy losses, killing 60 while losing only two native fighters. Victorious at La Virgen, the army proceeded to Granada where he took control. Initially via a provisional president, Walker, now a self-styled General, was in command of Nicaragua. On 20 May 1856, American President Franklin Pierce officially recognized Walker’s regime.
Partly because of his brash, courageous style of leadership, it should be no surprise that Walker’s filibuster army attracted quite the array of wild men. Backgrounds of soldiers and supporters alike varied wildly: “Charles Frederick Henningsen, the European soldier of fortune, Domingo de Goicouria, the Cuban "liberator," Bruno von Natzmer, a Prussian cavalry officer, Frank Anderson, of New York, and Charles W. Doubleday, of Ohio; when he was induced to go to Nicaragua by Byron Cole, a New Englander; and when his enterprise was first chronicled and he himself greatly lauded by another New Englander, William V. Wells, a grandson of Samuel Adams.” 
Sadly, this is where the waters become muddied; outside interests began to apply their weight. Going behind the big man’s back, two underlings (C. K. Garrison and Charles Morgan) of railroad and shipping magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt underwrote Walker’s expedition under the pretext he would seize Vanderbilt’s steamboats that serviced the shipping lanes of Lake Nicaragua (a major pre-Panama Canal shipping route) and hand them over to the conspirators. Vanderbilt discovered the plot and immediately dispatched spies to neighboring Central American states to rouse support for a war against General Walker. Eventually, Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador, and factions within Nicaragua would all join together and take up arms against Walker’s regime. Within two years, a series of battles and defeats culminated in the end of the freebooter state. On 1 May 1857, the General surrendered, indicatively, to a U.S. Navy Commodore. Though his native country's military took him away from his hard-won state, he was repatriated, of all places, to New York City, where he was greeted by the people as a hero.
After writing a book on his exploits, forever undeterred, Walker returned to Central America. With rumblings of a new filibuster crusade, annoyed British authorities—who had financial interests in the area—took him to a Royal Navy ship and put him under arrest. Rather than sending him home, the British naval officer in charge handed Walker over to the Hondurans, who promptly executed him by firing squad.
In addition to this man’s entire life, what's amazing is the fact that established history on the saga openly admits “Because of this act (Walker seizing Vanderbilt’s steamships), and others of a similar nature, revolts began to break out, fostered by Commodore Vanderbilt… Costa Rica declared war against him (Walker).”  Histories sympathetic to the Central American perspective on the subject love big business intervention here, but bemoan it in the following century. This basic fact, coupled with the British role of arresting Walker for fear of associated financial detriments clearly indicates that the money changers—the same groups that would soon be instigating coups in Central America and elsewhere throughout the globe via governmental agencies—were a direct impediment to the establishment of a grandiose ideal, where open martial prowess and the cementing of a way of life took priority. This competing-motives sentiment is best summarized by Brigadier General Smedley Butler:
“I helped make Mexico… safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house for the Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916…” 
And the list goes on. With the above-mentioned oligarchical mindset becoming the prevailing one, it’s no surprise that modern depictions of Walker, or men of his ilk, are overwhelmingly negative. It makes obvious sense that he’d be portrayed in a bad light in places like Nicaragua and Mexico; paintings of him losing battles abound, and there’s even a giant statue of him sheepishly fleeing in Costa Rica. The truly depressing realization is that his legacy is equally besmirched in his home civilization. Brady Harrison’s excellent book Agent of Empire: William Walker and the Imperial Self in American Literature actually catalogs all media that portrays Walker, directly or indirectly. The most absurd might be Alex Cox’s film Walker. Known for his safe-edgy, art-house critique of Reaganism and other Conservative Inc. ideals (Repo Man is his most well-known), Cox intentionally presents silly depictions of militarism, to include tanks and helicopters, in his 1850’s set movie about Walker. This is exemplified when Harrison states that Cox and others “dive into the darkest currents in American culture and represent imperialism as a spiritually and ethically twisted and deforming process.”  When contemporary representations of Walker are juxtaposed to the opinions of him from his era, its clear things have changed. The best summary of the man comes from one of his officers that fought alongside him:
“I do not wish to be understood as expressing the belief that General Walker in all things was a model of infallible wisdom. Like all of us, he was only human, and subject to errors of judgment as are other men… His unconquerable, yet calm courage; his contempt of danger; his exalted moral and intellectual character, and his supreme detestation of everything low or mean, are traits that won for him the respect and admiration of honest and sincere hearts that at the same time may have withheld approval of his purposes.” 
Though Walker’s type is a rarity, he wasn’t alone in his quest for greatness. Nearly 70 years later, another exceptional man took on a comparable initiative. Upset with Italy’s outcome in the aftermath of the Great War, poet Gabriele D’Annunzio spearheaded a new movement of ultranationalism. His cause had an eerie likeness to Walker’s idea of American nationalism, and his goal—forcefully taking a city with armed troops not in a time of war—was similar to Walker’s Central American freebooting. On 12 September 1919, D’Annunzio marched 2,000 Great War veterans and irregular soldiers into the Adriatic city of Fiume and declared it the Italian Regency of Carnaro; obviously, he claimed the title of “duce” for himself. Just like Walker, this was not for money or ulterior third-party motives, it was for the glory of himself and his people.
William Walker wasn’t delusional; he was merely a great man at the end of a great age and the beginning of a terrible one. In a way, he was the inverse of what Michel Houellebecq refers to as “precursors” in The Elementary Particles; he states, “Well adapted to their time and way of life on the one hand, they are anxious, on the other hand, to surpass them by adopting new customs, or proselytizing ideas still regarded as marginal.”  How on earth could Walker have known that Manifest Destiny wasn’t an ever-growing idea for the average Westerner to stake his claim, but was now exclusively the privilege of financiers, mega corporations, and governments? Even Harrison admits, “What the filibusters sought in the 1850s… the White House and Congress were able to achieve on a much grander scale in the 1890s.”  They even stole the term; the modern-day usage of the word filibustering being associated with the boring, running-out-the-clock technicality of killing a piece of legislature was somehow retconned from bold men invading entire countries on their own initiative. Maybe Walker was doomed to fail, one of Savitri Devi’s men against time. Is standing defiantly against the tide an act, in and of itself, worth celebrating? According to the heroes of our civilization’s lore—yes, it is.
Luckily, some influential people are sounding the alarm for a return to these seemingly extinguished attitudes. Bronze Age Mindset has much to say on the subject. Regarding our ancients: “The modern world is a killjoy, in short. But the ancient Greeks were quite different… What they admired was a carelessness and freedom from constraint that would shock us, and that upsets especially the dour leftist and the conservative role-player.”  This is coupled with the idea of, “The free man is a warrior, and only a man of war is a real man.” 
These quotes are highlighted without suggesting that the reader necessarily needs to form his own army and invade their neighboring country, however, it brings to mind the idea of the reclamation of space, of which much has been written about in dissident spheres. Though a lengthy summarization of mental/ideological space as well as physical—ranging from cities, forests, to average hang-outs—can be undertaken here, it’s best to leave the interpretation up to the reader, with the emphasis of using the story of Colonel/General/President of Nicaragua William Walker as inspiration. In his book, The War in Nicaragua, Walker begins with the following dedication:
To My Comrades in Nicaragua
This essay was published in Volume I of The Dissident Review, which is available in paperback on Amazon.
1. Scroggs, William. Filibusters and financiers; the story of William Walker and his associates. (New York: The Macmillan Company), 1916, p. 9.
2. Gilbert, Bil. Westering Man: The Life of Joseph Walker. (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press), 1985, p. 13-24.
3. Axelrod, Alan. Mercenaries: A Guide to Private Armies and Private Military Companies. (Washington, D.C: CQ Press), 2013.
4. Scroggs, William. Filibusters and financiers; the story of William Walker and his associates. (New York: The Macmillan Company), 1916, p. 109.
5. Ibid., 7-8.
6. Juda, Fanny. “William Walker.” The Museum of the City of San Francisco, http://www.sfmuseum.org/hist1/walker.html.
7. Butler, Smedley & Parfrey, Adam (Introduction). War Is A Racket: The Antiwar Classic By America's Most Decorated Soldier. (New York: Feral House), 2003, p. 10.
8. Harrison, Brady. William Walker and the Imperial Self in American Literature. (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press), 2004, p. 171.
9. Jamison, James. With Walker in Nicaragua or Reminisces of an Officer in the American Phalanx. (Columbia, MO: E. W. Stephens Publishing Company) 1909, p. 162.
10. Houellebecq, Michel. The Elementary Particles. (New York: Vintage International), 2001, p. 20.
11. Harrison, Brady. William Walker and the Imperial Self in American Literature. (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press), 2004, p. 191.
12. Bronze Age Pervert. Bronze Age Mindset. 2018, p. 117.
13. Ibid., 112.
14. Walker, William. The War in Nicaragua. (New York: S.H. Goetzel & Co.), 1860.