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Joseph Walker

Joseph Walker in 1877

Joseph Walker in 1877, courtesy of the family.

  • In 1907, Joseph Walker was the first Agent in Charge of the Secret Service's Denver field office. The Secret Service Division of the Treasury was created after the Civil War to investigate widespread counterfeiting. By the early 1900s, the Division was also involved in investigating land fraud in the West. That was what brought Agent Walker to the Durango area.
  • On November 3, 1907 Agents Walker and Callaghan went west of Durango with two locals to investigate a possible fraudulent homestead claim. They found a suspicious air shaft and three of the men went down it to investigate. Agent Walker stayed behind.
  • The three men found the shaft led to a working coal mine owned by John Porter. When they had gathered enough evidence, they made their way back to the air shaft to leave.
  • There they found their rope had disappeared. They called to Walker but he didn't respond. One man precariously climbed out of the shaft and helped the others out. They found Agent Walker's body nearby. He had been shot in the back at close range with a shotgun.
  • On the way back to Durango, Agent Callaghan met two men in a buggy with a shotgun, William Mason and Joseph Vanderweide. They claimed to be out hunting for rabbits but later confessed to killing Agent Walker in self-defense.
  • The murder trial was one of the largest in Colorado history. It was also one of the first trials in the United States to use forensic evidence to show that Walker did not fire his gun and therefore the murder was not in self-defense. In spite of all of the evidence, Mason and Vanderweide were found not guilty.

As a result of the Walker assasination:

  1. It became a federal crime to assault or kill a government agent.
  2. Pensions were paid to the family of officers killed in the line of duty.
  3. President Theodore Roosevelt transferred eight officers to the Justice Department to continue investigating homestead fraud issues. This became the nucleus of the Federal Bureau of Investigation or F.B.I.

To learn more about Durango's wild history, visit the Law and Disorder exhibit at the Museum.

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