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Wednesday, April 4, 2007 02:33 pm

Degrees of separation

Walkers were kin to man who helped put Lincoln in the White House.

David Davis Walker
Untitled Document The Bush side of the presidents’ family receives nearly all of the attention from historians; the Walker side, by comparison, is almost anonymous to history. But the mostly forgotten Walkers of central Illinois merit consideration if the heritage of the two-presidents Bush is to be more comprehensively assessed. George E. and Harriet Walker, direct-line ancestors of two presidents, had a large family — eight sons and two daughters. Seven sons were born in Maryland plantation country, before the down-on-their-luck Walkers lost their land at Cecil County, pioneered to    central Illinois, and settled on a 64-acre farmstead at Blooming Grove in McLean County, a few miles southeast of Bloomington. Three sons died in Maryland, early in childhood.
The surviving sons traveled west with their parents in the fall of 1838: John Mercer Walker, the firstborn, served in the Mexican War at Santa Fe. Soon after, he caught “gold fever” and went overland to California in 1849. His first cousin, Circuit Judge David Davis of Bloomington, helped stake his adventure. John stayed in the Sacramento Valley and farmed 160 acres in Yolo County for more than two decades before returning to Illinois to manage a Davis farm near Maroa. He retired sometime around 1883 and lived with the Davis family in their Clover Lawn mansion at Bloomington until he died in 1888, at age 65.  
Thomas S. Walker died in 1845, at age 19. Nothing else is known about him, except that he is buried in the pioneer Woodlawn (Rhodes) Cemetery in rural Bloomington Township. George W. Walker married Mary Lilly and farmed for the rest of his life near other Lilly family members in Tazewell County’s Mackinaw Township. They had five children and also reared a son of a Walker brother who died tragically in an 1876 farm accident. Mary’s parents built and operated the Lilly Inn, where lawyers such as Abraham Lincoln sometimes stopped in when Davis was holding court in Tazewell County. Letters in the David Davis Papers — archived at various locations, including Springfield — affirm that George lived and worked for extended periods at the David and Sarah Davis home in Bloomington while growing up. Family members relate that George often took care of the Davis horses. He was being paid about $12 a month by Davis in 1852. George occasionally drove the judge’s carriage when Davis was riding his judicial circuit. According to family lore, Lincoln is believed to have ridden along with them at least once — and maybe more often. George died in 1896, at age 63. Edward S. “Ned” Walker also was regularly found at the Davis home in Bloomington during the 1840s and 1850s, the same years in which Lincoln would drop by to visit the judge. Ned returned from Civil War service in the spring of 1865, several months after the death of his father, and took charge of the family farm at Blooming Grove. He married Sarah Bay of Bloomington. His mother Harriet lived with them until her death, in 1869. Ned died in 1876, at age 40, when he accidentally fell to his death in a farm well. Sarah and her three young children soon left the farm that had been in the Walker family for about four decades. Three children were added to the family after the move to McLean County: David Davis Walker was born in 1840. Letters in the David Davis Papers show that with the assistance — and at the insistence — of the judge, D.D. Walker attended the Beloit College preparatory school in Wisconsin for two years.
Young Walker then journeyed to St. Louis in 1857, soon after his schooling, for employment as a clerk in the wholesale dry-goods firm of Crow, McCreery & Co. Wayman Crow founded the business in 1835. He was a longtime friend of Davis and partnered with the judge in various land transactions across the Midwest. D.D. Walker quickly learned the dry-goods business. He had his own company by the 1880s and was living exceptionally well — though sometimes in poor health — in St. Louis. Around the turn of the century, his six children were marrying into some of the most influential St. Louis families, such as Lambert, Filley, Papin and Wear. He and wife Martha had a summer home at Kennebunkport, Maine, and a winter home at Santa Barbara, Calif. Later, in 1921, granddaughter Dorothy Walker — a daughter of George Herbert and Lucretia (Wear) Walker — married Prescott Sheldon Bush. Bush was elected to the U.S. Senate from Connecticut in 1952 and served two terms. Former President George Herbert Walker Bush is one of his sons. President George Walker Bush and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush are two of his grandsons. D.D. Walker died at Kennebunkport in 1918, at age 78. Rosetta Walker had 10 children with husband Thomas LeRoy Ijams. They farmed in the LeRoy area in DeWitt County. She died in 1919, at age 77. Like her siblings, Rose sometimes lived away from the family farm during her younger years, helping out at the always-busy Davis family home at Bloomington. Sarah Davis Walker began occasionally living with the Davis family as early as 1853, when she was about 8 years old. Sarah married Samuel Raley in the mid-1860s. They farmed and had four children. The Raleys first lived in Illinois, near LeRoy, then in Kansas, Missouri, and Texas. Sarah died in 1915, probably in Wharton County, Texas, at age 70. Even after his death, on June 26, 1886, Judge David Davis continued to assist the less successful of his Walker cousins — just as he had regularly helped them and their parents across earlier decades of the 19th century. Decatur’s Daily Review newspaper reported on Aug. 4, 1886, that the will of the late circuit judge, Supreme Court justice and U.S. senator had been “offered for probate” and that it included “comfortable support for his poor relations. . . . ” Among the “poor relations” were all but two — D.D. and George W. — of his Walker cousins. He provided lifetime annual legacies for some of them and one-time bequests for others. Also, he gave “my horse ‘Whoodlebug’ and my Washington buggy” to John Mercer Walker. Shortly before the judge died, D.D. Walker visited Clover Lawn to pay respects to a first cousin who had, about three decades earlier, helped put Lincoln in the White House even as he was also giving the young Walker a life-changing jump-start to future personal and family success.
Neither man knew that someday there would be two U.S. presidents in the family.

Contact Roger Hughes at rdhughes@insightbb.com.

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