Biography of Jane Curl Walker

Jane Curl Walker was born in 1806 on a large plantation in Jessamine County, Kentucky, the second child of William Walker and Sarah Holcombe. William Walker was a native of Virginia and moved to Kentucky at an early age with his family. William's father, Colonel George Walker, became a member of the Prince Edward County (Virginia) militia in the Revolutionary War. George died in 1800, leaving behind extensive land holdings in Kentucky and Virginia, including the plantation on which Jane was born. William Walker was a cousin of Jacob Wythe Walker, father of Judge David Walker of Fayetteville. William's great-grandparents, George Walker and Anne Keith, were Quakers and landholders in Elizabeth City County, Virginia, in the mid-1700s. William's great-great-grandfather, Anne's father George Keith, was a celebrated Scottish missionary and Quaker who lived in the New Jersey and Philadelphia areas.

Jane's mother, Sarah Holcombe, was also a native of Virginia. Jane's maternal grandfather, John Holcombe, was a Revolutionary War veteran. He was wounded at the Battle of Germantown in 1777, participated in the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in 1781 as Colonel in the 4th Virginia Regiment of the Colonial Army, and later represented Prince Edward County in the Virginia House of Delegates. Jane was a direct descendant of several Jamestown settlers: Dr. John Woodson through her mother and Pasco Curle and Colonel William Wilson through her father.

We know little of Jane Walker's childhood. Her older sister, Martha Ann, married Robert Howe Paris, a prominent physician in Scottsville, Kentucky, with whom Jane's future husband apprenticed. Jane's brother Algernon Sydney Walker was also a prominent Scottsville physician, as was the husband of her younger sister, Sarah, James Breckenridge Evans. James was also a Baptist minister, and he and Sarah Walker Evans were among the seven founders of the Scottsville Baptist Church, which remains active to this day.

In 1823, Jane married Martin Luther Hawkins, in Jessamine County. Martin was a physician and a veteran of the War of 1812, having served as a Captain in the Kentucky 17th Regiment (infantry). In 1828, the couple moved with Jane's father and several of her siblings and families to Allen County, Kentucky, to settle a new plantation. In 1832, William Walker died, leaving his plantation to his son Algernon. At that point, Jane and Martin Hawkins left Kentucky and moved to Arkansas, where Martin practiced medicine, and he served as Coroner of Carroll County and a term as President of Carroll County.

Martin died suddenly of pneumonia in 1841, leaving Jane as a frontier widow with six children, ages one to 12. Rather than move back in with her siblings in Kentucky, she joined her cousin Judge David Walker in the new frontier town of Fayetteville, Arkansas. As evidenced in contemporaneous letters, Judge Walker offered Jane assistance, including help in purchasing a home. Kentucky probably did not offer her much economic opportunity. Further, cholera, and other serious diseases plagued the populated parts of the state.

In addition, Fayetteville offered an excellent educational opportunity for Jane's four daughters: the Fayetteville Female Seminary. This school was a small oasis of tranquility and opportunity for women in Arkansas, a generally a rough territory in the 1840s, populated by hunters and trappers, and famous for fatal knife and gunfights. Sophia Sawyer, a white activist for Indian welfare, founded the Fayetteville Female Seminary in 1835. She started the school with a class of 14 Cherokee girls, but soon white families were sending their daughters to the school as well.

Jane Walker boarded some of the girls who attended the school including Flora Ridge, the daughter of the famous Cherokee Indian Chief John Ridge, who was assassinated by a rival Indian political faction in Arkansas in 1839. The 12-year-old Flora Ridge is shown living with Jane and her family on the 1850 U.S. Census for Fayetteville.

Jane's four daughters—Lucy, George Ann, Mary Lilburn, and Sarah Holcombe—all married and had large families: 22 grandchildren in all for Jane. Her two sons, however, died at early ages as a result of war.

Jane's third child, James William Walker, was born in 1832. He traveled to California in search of gold with a group of 120 citizens of Fayetteville. They departed from the town square on a snowy day on April 16, 1849, to make the long, arduous overland trek to California. Several surviving letters from James offer detailed descriptions of the life of a California gold miner in 1849-1850. James hoped to find a stake large enough to help support his mother, as well as to woo one Sallie Wilson. He was able to support himself in California but did not find the riches he hoped for.

At some point, James became a mercenary soldier, a "filibustero," which is Spanish for pirate. In the 1850s, thousands of Americans traveled to Mexico and Central America to participate in various small military actions as mercenary soldiers. The adventurers' motivations were many and varied. There was a movement in the South, supported by President James Buchanan, that encouraged seizure of Central American land, even entire countries, in the hopes of extending the slave economy south of the border and building a vast agricultural empire from the southern U.S. through Central America in order to monopolize cotton and sugar trade worldwide. However, the motives for young men like James Hawkins were likely more prosaic: money, adventure, and the companionship of exotic women.

In the summer of 1855, James Hawkins enlisted with a group of 85 filibusteros who were to sail from San Francisco on the ship Archibald Gracia to join an infamous adventurer, William Walker, who had gone earlier to Nicaragua and had declared himself President of that country. [This William Walker was probably not a relative of Jane Walker's.]

At the last minute, before the filibusteros sailed from San Francisco, they were convinced to change their destination by the Italian adventurer Juan Napoleon Zerman, who planned to intercede on behalf of General Juan Alvarez in Mexico, who was fighting Santa Anna. The Archibald Gracia set sail on October 11, 1855, to sail to La Paz in Baja, Mexico.

When the ship arrived, it was captured, and all the men were taken prisoner. They were eventually marched to Mexico City under harsh conditions. Finally, in the early summer of 1856, the prisoners were taken to the Gulf port of Vera Cruz for repatriation to the United States. James Hawkins was put on a boat bound for New Orleans.

When James arrived in New Orleans, he was mortally ill with yellow fever. He was admitted to Charity Hospital in New Orleans on July 27 and died four days later, at the age of 24.

Four years later, as the Civil War dawned, Jane Walker's cousin, Judge David Walker, served as President of the Arkansas Secession Convention in Little Rock. The Convention first met in March 1861. Judge Walker was deeply concerned about the consequences of war for the South and successfully steered the Convention to vote for Arkansas to remain in the Union. However, after the Federal cannon attack on Charleston, South Carolina, during the battle at Fort Sumter in April 1861, passions escalated across the South. The Arkansas Secession Convention reconvened in May 1861, and this time Judge Walker convinced almost all of the emissaries from Washington County to change their votes in favor of secession, providing the decisive margin: Arkansas voted to join the Confederacy.

Jane's youngest son, Martin L. Hawkins Jr., who was born in 1840 shortly before his father died, enlisted in June 1861 with the Pike Guards, a unit of the Arkansas State Troops, CSA. The early summer was quiet in Arkansas, but in the beginning of August, 12,000 Confederate troops, including Martin's unit, marched into southern Missouri with the intent of engaging a large Union army based in Springfield. On August 10, 1861, the Union army attacked the Confederates at Wilson's Creek, setting off the first major battle of the Civil War west of the Mississippi. During the battle, a minie ball struck Martin on the forehead and killed him. Six days later, Judge Walker's daughter Mary wrote to her father: "Poor Aunt Jane is inconsolable, upon hearing of Martin's death I went to see her, and found her almost heartbroken."

Jane's son-in-law, Lucy's husband Edward Freyschlag, also served in the CSA with the Arkansas State Troops, in a mounted company under Captain Americus V. Rieff. Edward was present at the Battle of Wilson's Creek where his wife's brother, Martin, was killed and probably had the task of traveling back to Fayetteville with the awful news.

Edward was the son of early settlers of Fayetteville, George and Suzanne Freyschlag, who built and ran the mill six miles northwest of Fayetteville. The Freyschlag mill was the only mill that operated continuously through the Civil War.

We believe that Jane's house burned during the Federal occupation of Fayetteville during the Civil War. In any case, by 1870 she was living with her daughter and son-in-law Lucy and Edward Freyschlag on their farm, where she remained for the rest of her life.

Jane lived to see the birth of several great-grandchildren, including five next door. Edward and Lucy Freyschlag's oldest child, Sophia Freyschlag, married William Madison Mullins in 1871. The young couple farmed tobacco between the Freyschlag farm and the farm of William's parents, Thomas Jefferson Mullins and Matilda Mims Mullins. William and Sophia Mullins had five children during Jane's lifetime, between 1873 and 1881. Their sixth child, Thomas Clinton Mullins, was born in 1885. T.C. Mullins graduated from the University of Arkansas in 1906 and is the honoree of the Thomas C. Mullins Professorship Chair in the Department of Computer Science and Computer Engineering, University of Arkansas.

During her lifetime, Jane Walker saved more than 100 letters that were written to her by family members: these letters survive as the Jane C. Walker Letter Collection, which the Mullins family donated to the University of Arkansas Library. From the Jane Walker Letters, we know that Jane pursued several legal actions during her lifetime: she applied for, and was granted, bounty land based on her husband's service in the War of 1812; she applied and was granted a pension based on her husband's service; and she pursued reparations from the Mexican Government for the death of her son James. This last case dragged on for more than 20 years, finally settled in 1878 for a small sum of money. The arbitrator ruled that the Archibald Gracia prisoners had been mistreated but, on the other hand, were not innocent players.

Through the Jane Walker Letters, we know that Jane kept in close touch with her siblings, children, and grandchildren as her family spread throughout the Midwest and South. We learn much about her family members, as they speak in their own voices in their respective letters. Unfortunately, we have uncovered only one letter written by Jane herself: letter #65, a brief note to Washington D.C. regarding her bounty land application. We hope someday to find more letters written by Jane herself, so we can hear her speak of the events of her life in her own voice.

Jane Curl Walker Hawkins died at home on the Freyschlag farm on May 26, 1884.

Browse The Jane Walker Letter Collection.