Will Walker, father of at least 24, ‘took care of all these kids,’ descendant says
By Linda Braden Albert | (email@example.com)
He was a legend in the mountains, a massive man with the keen eye of a marksman, a man whose swarthy complexion earned him the name “Black” Will Walker.
In 1859, Will Walker settled what came to be known as Walker Valley with his wife, Nancy Caylor, along the Middle Prong of Little River in the Great Smoky Mountains. They were the parents of seven children. A few years later, in 1864, Walker took his second wife, Mary Ann Moore, who bore him seven children, as well. Years later, Walker took his third wife, Moll Stinnett, with whom he had more children. Estimates are that he sired 24 or 25 children with these three women — to whom he was married concurrently.
One of Black Will Walker’s descendants, Terry Dickenson, stopped by to chat with me the other day. Dickenson descends from Moll Stinnett, whose daughter, Martha Stinnett Myers, is Dickenson’s grandmother. His mother is Mildred Myers Dickenson.
“People always joke about all his wives,” Dickenson said. “But what a lot of people don’t realize is that he took care of all these kids. He fed, clothed and educated them.”
Walker’s legal wife, Nancy, and her children bore the Walker name. The common law wives and their children did not. Dickenson said Walker took care of all of them, though. He built each wife her own cabin and provided her with a field of corn there in Walker Valley, and as a proficient hunter, he kept meat on the table — legend has it that he killed more than 100 bears in his lifetime. He kept bees, milled corn, worked his fields, grew his crops.
I asked Dickenson if the wives and their children had any jealousies. He said, “No, they all got along. From what I understand, Nancy taught them all.”
Walker was determined the children would get an education, and Walker Valley School was the result. Also, Dickenson said, “A lot of the kids went to college at Maryville College. That was back in the day when an eighth-grade education was something.”
He said the clergy didn’t approve of Walker’s lifestyle and it got him “churched,” a term used locally to describe when a person is dropped from the rolls when they don’t conform to the church’s tenets. Walker didn’t care. He and his legal wife knew the Bible and they felt that having concubines was in perfect accord with Scripture. When the preachers would try to show Walker the error of his ways, Dickenson said, “He’d quote the Bible and tell them all about Solomon’s concubines.”
Dickenson said that’s not the point he wants to make. That Will Walker fed, clothed and educated all those children is the important thing to remember about him, he said.
Dickenson has fond memories of family gatherings at his grandmother’s house.
“One Christmas, I counted over 100 people,” he said. Reunions once drew a number of relatives, as well, including one set they didn’t know about — Will Walker had a third concubine, who was black. They also had children together.
Walker died in 1919 at the age of 80. Although the valley where he had hunted, farmed, milled and raised all those children is now more inaccurately known as Tremont, his descendants know where their roots lie — in Walker Valley.
Linda Albert is Sunday Life editor and a staff writer for The Daily Times. Her column runs every Sunday in the Life section. You may contact her at 981-1168 or (firstname.lastname@example.org)