From "Artists in California 1786-1940" (Hughes 1989)
WALKER, James (1818-1889). Painter. Born in Northamptonshire, England, on June 3, 1818.
Walker immigrated to the U.S. with his family in 1823 and settled on the Hudson River at Albany, NY.
Little is known of his art training; he is said to have studied painting in NYC. Upon leaving home in his early twenties,
he went first to New Orleans and then to Mexico where he became interested in the Spanish-American culture.
When war broke out between the U.S. and Mexico in 1846, he was imprisoned there for awhile until escaping
to the U.S. He then became an interpreter for General Winfield Scott in the U.S. Army and began sketching
battle scenes. After the war, he established studios in NYC and Washington, DC, where he became well known
as a painter of famous American battle scenes. Walker completed a number of government-commissioned works,
one of which was placed in the Senate. In the late 1860s or early 1870s he settled into a studio in San Francisco.
There he concentrated on genre scenes of the Mexican culture of early California. His highly detailed paintings
realistically and accurately depict the costumes and gear of the rancheros and vaqueros on the cattle ranches.
Walker died at the home of his twin brother in Watsonville, CA, on Aug. 29, 1889. Works held: LACMA; CHS;
Denver Art Museum; U.S. Defense Dept. Bldg., Washington, DC; Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley.
Har; Fid; G&W; JVN; Sam; AAW; Taft; Honeyman Collection cat.; West as Art cat.
I first saw "The Vaquero" at Rancho Camulos about 15
years ago, sitting in a storage area with several other
similar pictures. All of them were full-sized, printed copies of
paintings by an artist named James Walker. As I was told by
fellow docents, a man delivered them one day, stating that he
had rescued them from a trash heap. He thought the Rancho
might have some use for them at the developing museum.
There were two different stories about their source: one
claimed that they had been in a conference room at the
Newhall Land and Farming headquarters, while the other
located them in the lobby of a bank in Santa Clarita.
We received three James Walker rancho-era pictures. One
was said to depict several Del Valle family members judging a
herd of cattle at Camulos. A second was reported to be del
Valle and Newhall ranch riders corralling wild horses on their
adjacent properties. The third one was "The Vaquero," which
featured a handsome gentleman in full regalia roping a steer
in the traditional vaquero style. However, that one was said to
be set at Rancho Santa Margarita (a rancho near present-day
The copies of these beautiful paintings sparked my interest,
and I scoured the internet to find out more about James
Walker (1819-1889) and the paintings. I learned that he was
a prolific painter noted in his early years for his large scale
and accurate renditions of battle scenes. One of them, the
Mexican-American War "Battle of Chapultepec," hangs today
in the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.
Walker found his way West to California by way of Mexico.
In California, he produced a lot of early California-themed
depictions, reportedly featuring real local people and
capturing their traditions. There was no specific mention of
either the Del Valles or Rancho Camulos in any of the material
I found. However, several citations did mention Rancho Santa
Margarita as the location for "The Vaquero" (1877).
Eventually, the prints were put on display in the main adobe
at the Rancho Camulos Museum. "The Vaquero" was given
a place of honor above the fireplace in the living room of
the adobe that had been added in 1862. Years went by, and
one day, a docent leading a tour noticed something as the
afternoon light hit the painting. He reportedly exclaimed, "If
this is a painting set at Rancho Santa Margarita, why does
the horse have the Del Valle brand?" Different theories were
advanced, such as: the Del Valles did sell horses throughout
a wide area; one of the Del Valle daughters had married into
the Forster family who at one time owned Rancho Santa
Margarita; or perhaps the brand was added as a prank.
Fast-forward to March 2017. A docent from the Pico Adobe
in San Fernando visited and donated a clipping that had been
destined to be thrown in the trash. He thought we might
be interested in it. It was an original page from a printed
document depicting "The Vaquero." I lifted it carefully from
the construction paper it was mounted on and looked at
the back. It apparently came from Westways Magazine,
an official publication of the Automobile Club of Southern
California. I then noticed the caption that had been
cut out and pasted on the picture. "The cattle round-up on
our cover was painted in 1877 by James Walker, famous artist
of early California. The pastoral setting he chose is historic
Rancho Camulos, owned by the distinguished California
family, the Del Valles, and situated above present Newhall.
The painting depicts Ranchero Ignacio del Valle, gracious host
to Walker, who was registrar of marks and brands for Los
Angeles. On page 56 we have reproduced the registration
of the brand on his horse..." Now, that was an amazing
revelation to be explored further.
Thanks to Morgan Yates, the Corporate Archivist for
the ACSC, we now know that the Walker painting was
reproduced on the cover page of the October 1966 edition of
Westways, which was devoted to Spanish-Mexican
California. The description was on the contents page just as
it appeared on the copy we received. The article makes no
further mention of Walker or the Del Valle connection. Ignacio
would have been about age 69 at the time of the painting,
so perhaps this was a romanticized homage to his youth.
However, the tall handsome vaquero does not resemble
the short stocky Ignacio as described and photographed
elsewhere. I could not find a mention of his being the Los
Angeles registrar of brands. Was the Vaquero at Rancho Santa
Margarita or Rancho San Francisco/Rancho Camulos?
So, now my fellow history sleuths, it is up to you. Can you
shed any further light on the story? Who was the mysterious
donor of the copies of the James Walker prints? Where had
they come from, a bank or Newhall Land and Farming? Do
you remember seeing them or have pictures of them hanging
at that location? What about documentation of the people
depicted in the Walker paintings? Where are the originals?
What was the source of the information in the Westways
caption? Is there more to the story of the Walker-Del Valle
connection? Please share your findings and, come see the
Walker prints during a docent-led tour at Rancho Camulos
on Sundays on the hour from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.