from the Missouri River to the Pacific, especially anyone following Route 40,
should in all justice pass by statues, historical markers and commemorative
parks dedicated to the memory of Joseph Reddeford Walker, perhaps the most
effective and durable American trailblazer and seat-of-the-pants explorer. This
is not the case, however, possibly because Walker was a very cool, bold,
marvelously ingenuous man who, despite half a century of frontier ventures,
never met with disaster, or became involved in the kind of gaudy failures for
which lesser men have been memorialized.
Joe Walker came
out of the Tennessee mountains in 1819, arriving in Missouri in time to help
lay out the Santa Fe Trail. In the 1820s he was a peace officer in
Independence, bringing the law and maintaining it in that brawling trailhead
community near the Big Muddy. In the '30s he went to the mountains as a beaver
trapper and became more or less the beau ideal of the fabled mountain men. In
the '40s he guided military explorers and emigrants. (In 1843 Walker brought
the first emigrants across the Sierra into California, but they crossed on
foot, not in wagons as the Murphy party did a year later.) In the 1850s Walker
started a ranch in Gilroy, Calif. In the '60s, still restless, he led
prospectors and miners through Apaches and deserts to the Prescott gold fields
of Arizona. He died in 1876 back on the ranch, saying laconically just before
his demise that the thing he was proudest of was that he still had his
During the course
of nearly 60 years on the extreme edge of the frontier, Joe Walker may have
seen more virgin land and laid down more new trail (including a fair section of
what was to become Route 40) than any other American. There is one Walker story
that fairly summarizes what he was and how he was regarded in his own time. A
prospector trying to catch up with Walker in the New Mexico mountains asked at
a trading post what trail he might take to intercept the famous scout.
"Captain Walker does not follow trails," snorted the trader. "He
all over. Interstate 80, the Son of Route 40, ends at Market and Waller
Streets. You come rolling off the Oakland Bay Bridge on I-80, China Town and
the Embarcadero off to the right, and in a few blocks Interstate 80 simply
disappears, swallowed by the city. And since the impetus is there, the thing to
do is to continue west toward the ocean, to Golden Gate Park.
In the park there
are galleries, museums, amphitheaters, a baseball "meadow," a football
stadium, basketball courts, an equestrian ring, rugby fields, a horseshoe
pitch, bike trails, botanical exhibits and more. A UNICEF group of boys and
girls, Orientals, blacks, whites, reds, are taking a cocker spaniel through an
obedience course. A Brazilian student and a linotype operator originally from
New Jersey are playing one-on-one soccer. A lawyer is spending his lunch hour
sailing a lovely schooner in the model-yacht basin. A gnarled old man with
cauliflower ears, pads of scar tissue on his face and a whiskey voice, who was
once a professional welterweight, comes each day to the Anglers Lodge and
plunks away for an hour or so casting plugs in the target rings that float on
the surface of the casting pool.
seem more important than they probably are, since it is no easier to find the
true end of something than it is to fix the beginning. Anyway, you close your
eyes, spin around, point your finger and then set off in that direction to see
what chance and luck bring. They bring Mike Bradford, a Zen archer, practicing,
meditating; slowly and rhythmically he shoots arrows at the butts on the Golden
Gate Park range.
"I grew up in
Columbus, Ohio and I was very competitive in school, in football and
wrestling," he says. "I went to Ohio State. I left because I was having
head trouble but I didn't know what it was. I came out here and brought my
mistakes with me. For two years I was a professional motorcycle road racer,
250-cc. class. I did well enough to earn a pretty good living and I was never
hurt seriously. But I was not enjoying life because I was forcing myself on it.
I was preoccupied with death. There is a connection between forced speed,
forced living and death.
"By what I
thought then was accident I came down here one day and saw the archers. I had
an immediate sense of the essence. I bought a bow and began to shoot once a
day. For the first time I was able to practice genuine self-analysis. Slowly I
learned as I shot that the purpose of sport—in fact, the purpose of life—is not
competition, accumulating power, but achieving harmony between mind and body
and the environment.
"I have gone
back to school. I am not a scholar but the act of opening my mind, letting in
new impressions and thoughts, feels very harmonious. The sense of harmony is
not a means toward some other end, but an end in itself. The joy of harmony
between mind and body that I finally discovered through what we call sport
applies to everything—working, loving, the daily routine."