OCEAN PARK — On Nov. 3, 1907, Service Secret Operative Joseph A. Walker was shot in the back by a shotgun blast while investigating a land fraud deal at a coal mine near Durango, Colo. Joseph Walker was the great-grandfather of Terry Walker Taylor, who has lived with his wife Barbara in Ocean Park for the past 10 years.

Terry W. Taylor approached me and informed me of the case and the peculiarities of his family’s never-ending plight to gain federal recognition of his great-grandfather’s death.

Joseph Walker was born in Port Henry, N.Y., in 1856. On Nov. 19, 1888, he was appointed as an operative with the U.S. Secret Service and assigned to the Omaha district, at a compensation rate of $5 per day. In 1894, he was placed on temporary assignment to protect President Grover Cleveland. Around the turn of the century, homesteading claim frauds spread all over the West. The corruption caused President Roosevelt to activate U.S. Secret Service operatives to investigate. On Nov. 3, 1907, operatives Joseph Walker, Thomas Callaghan and two other agents were dispatched to investigate a homestead claim near Durango. They discovered an airshaft in the ground that had been home-steaded to the superintendent of the Porter Fuel Co. Operative Walker stood guard outside the hole, and the other three slid down the rope to the bottom of the shaft. Inside they found a cavernous coal mine. While the three men delved deeper, they heard gunshots and rushed to the opening. Their rope had been tossed into the hole, and they were trapped. For hours they tried to climb out of the cave; finally one of them made it to the rim and found Walker dead from multiple gunshot wounds.

Though two suspects were arrested shortly after the shooting, the mine superintendent and his associate were both found not guilty because key witnesses refused to testify against them. A year later, both suspects apparently committed suicide.

Operative Walker was the first U.S. Secret Service agent to be killed in the line of duty and his death was not in vain. As a result of the land fraud investigations conducted by the U.S Secret Service, millions of acres of land were returned to the government. These investigations, and Walker’s death, led congress to pass a law prohibiting the Justice Department from borrowing U.S.S.S. Operatives for investigations. As a result, eight U.S.S.S. Operatives were sent to the Justice Department in 1908 to form what is now known as the Federal Bureau of investigation (FBI).

The fact that the government did not offer any compensation to Walker’s widow, she had to pay to have his body returned to his hometown and pay for the funeral, but they did let her collect his wages up until the day he was killed.

There was no federal statute at the time to cover federal employees, Mr. Walker not a rich man and his wife was left with only a small bank account and the government was not, under the law, in a position to pay for funeral charges,

As a result of the killing two new laws were asked for by President Roosevelt: one of these was a pension for families of government agents who necessarily risk their lives to gain evidence for prosecution, and the second was a statute making the killing of an on-duty federal officer, an offense against the United States as well as against the state. 

Operative Joseph A. Walker served in the Secret Service for 19 years. He had a successful career, serving on the security detail of President Grover Cleveland. He was head of the Denver division, in charge of four states when he was tragically shot in the line of duty. At the time of his death, the Secret Service had no policy in place to honor his burial.

Terry Taylor told me, “No one had known the exact location of the unmarked grave for over 100 years until my cousin and uncle foraging through old cemetery records previously undiscovered, found cemetery records that showed the location of the body. This past July when Barbara and I were in Denver, family members decided to chip in several hundred dollars apiece to have a base constructed for the headstone which had yet to be built.”

Michael F. Bennet, U.S. Senator from Colorado, said on Oct. 8, 2010, “His grandson, Robert T. Walker Jr. (Terry Taylor’s uncle), recently contacted the Secret Service hoping to obtain a tombstone with an appropriate marker of Walker’s historical significance. When he didn’t hear back, Robert called my office to see if we could expedite the process to honor this grandfather’s sacrifice.

“After we intervened, the board association of former agents of the U.S. Secret Service contacted the Walker family to inform them that they would provide the installation of a marker on agent Walker’s gravesite at Denver’s Fairmont Cemetery. The Secret Service will work with the Walker family to ensure that work is completed in time for the anniversary of his death.” The extended family gathered at the gravesite on Nov. 3, 2010.

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