August 08, 1983 12:00 PM

by Bil Gilbert

The subject of this biography was a frontiersman who, because all he had was good sense, stalwart character and modesty, has faded into obscurity. Gilbert, author of five books and a national prize-winning contributor to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, became fascinated with Walker’s life and the time in which he lived (1798-1876). Since the subject was not a Daniel Boone or a Davy Crockett, Gilbert doesn’t have a lot of debunking to do. In fact, Walker left no tall tales of fantastic exploits at all. He lost his one journal, and very few letters have survived. But he did come from a large clan of Scotch-Irish immigrants who played important roles in settling this continent. Walker was the first white man to see the Yosemite Valley and the first to lead a wagon train to California. Gilbert tells his story by a careful—often brilliant—reconstruction of the period and the Scotch-Irish pioneers’ background. The result is a richly detailed book with the flavor of the best historical novels. How rugged an old cuss was Walker at the end? In an interview shortly before he died, he told the reporter, who asked how he felt about his Indian fighting days, “I still wear my hair.” (Atheneum, $17.95)

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