Utah History Encyclopedia


By Brian F. Hahn

David, Joseph, Samuel, and Matthew Walker

Samuel Sharp (1834-1887), Joseph Robinson (1836-1901), David Frederick (1838-1910), and Mathew Henry (1845-1916) - "Sharp," "Rob," "Fred," and "Matt" - Walker were the sons of Matthew and Mercy Long Walker. The family came from Yorkshire, England, and the four brothers were born there: 22 September 1834, 29 August 1836, 19 April 1838, and 16 January 1845, respectively. The family left England in 1850 for the United States, moving to Utah in 1852, having converted to the LDS church.

The brothers got into the merchandizing business and traveled through the Mormon settlements selling notions as employees of William Nixon, a merchant out of St. Louis. In 1859 Patrick J. Hickey, who freighted the goods out of San Francisco, helped the brothers establish a store, Joseph R. Walker and Bros., in Fairfield, Utah, where the U.S. Army had established Camp Floyd as result of the 1857-58 Utah War. The brothers purchased a safe and began to keep gold and other valuables for their customers. By 1860 the safe had become so popular the brothers opened a banking section in the store. At age fourteen Matt became the first teller. As businesses developed in neighboring areas, many companies began using the Walker brothers banking facilities.

By 1860 the brothers had opened their business in "Draft's Old Store" in Salt Lake City. When the army auctioned off the assets at Camp Floyd the next year, the brothers were among those who benefitted by buying up the goods and freighting them to Salt Lake. However, their growing economic success troubled LDS church president Brigham Young, who felt the brothers' financial support of the church was not what it could be. The brothers had regularly contributed to the Perpetual Emigration Fund but refused to pay the ten percent tithing which church leaders began accessing members in 1860. The brothers asked to be removed from the church.

Not only were the brothers excommunicated, but Young issued a proclamation that all "good" Mormons were to spurn the firm of Walker Brothers and Company. But the Civil War years were good for business and the brothers continued to prosper, finding ready customers among the California Volunteers stationed at Fort Douglas. Samuel Kahn, who later went into business for himself, was employed as the brothers' agent in Virginia City, and Benjamin Raybould became their chief assistant in 1864.

In the post-Civil War years, Mormon church leaders intensified the embargo of the Walker brothers and other non-Mormon merchants. However, the brothers developed their banking business and went into other enterprises such as mining.

In 1868 the brothers advanced the owners of the Emma mine in Alta, Utah, money for development in return for a quarter interest. Under Marcus Daly's supervision, the brothers made thousands in the venture and got out before the scandal involving inflated shares sold to English investors broke. Daly and the Walkers developed mining ventures in the Ophir fields and in Butte, Montana; but the brothers shied away from investing in the copper mining at Anaconda which made Daly a fortune.

In 1870 the Walker brothers joined with non-Mormons and William Godbe, another merchant who had been excommunicated from the LDS Church, to establish the Utah Liberal Party. This party worked for the next decades to end Mormon political control of the territory.

The brothers continued to prosper. They built a group of lavish homes on the block between Fourth and Fifth South and Main, invested in horse breeding, created insurance companies, built the Walker House Hotel and the Walker Opera House (1881-1904), which became the important cultural center of the city.

But it was the banking business that continued at the center of the Walkers ventures. When they secured a national charter in 1885, the bank became the Union National Bank of Salt Lake City, but it was as Walker Brothers Bankers that it became incorporated in 1903, purchased the Salt Lake City branch of Wells Fargo in 1905, made important loans to Utah Sugar and Idaho Sugar companies in 1906, built the sixteen-story building at Main and Second South, and took over the McCormick Bank in 1921. By then the Walker Bank topped twelve million dollars in resources.

Sharp Walker died a alcoholic in 1887, leaving seven of eight children surviving and his wife since 1861, Fanny Bascom to handle his real estate business. Fred left the family business in 1884 and went to California with his second wife Althea Hunt, a well-known medium. When he died a poor man in 1910, his six children by his first wife Caroline Holmes, contested the will. Rob left six children and wife Mary Ann Carson when he died in 1901.

It was Matt's son-in-law John M. Wallace who became chairman of the board after Matt's death in 1916. Wallace, whose family was in the oil business, in 1920 had married Frances Glenn, daughter of his second wife Angelena Hague (Matt had married Minnie Elizabeth Carson in 1865). Wallace guided Walker Brothers Bank and Trust to its purchase in 1956 by TransAmerica. In 1981 the name Walker Brothers Bank disappeared into First Interstate Bank.