by Polla Horn
for The Frostburg Express
William Walker: A Family Legacy Grows in America
Agnes, Christine, George & William "Wally" Walker
When we imagine our immigrant ancestors coming to America, visions of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty pop into our minds. However, the Statue of Liberty was not dedicated until 1886 and Ellis Island was not open to immigration until 1892. Prior to this time, the more than eight million “incomers” that arrived in New York City were processed at Castle Garden Immigration Depot. William Walker was one of them. William was born in 1854, in Motherwell, Scotland, the son of Fisher Walker and Christine Wardrobe Walker. He married Agnes Spiers, the daughter of James Spiers and Elizabeth Letham Spiers, on April 2, 1875. Three children were born to William and Agnes in Scotland, prior to William setting sail for America by himself. Agnes soon followed him, with all three of their children in tow: four-year-old James, two-year-old William “Wally,” and two-month-old Elizabeth. Agnes and the children arrived at Castle Gardens aboard the ship Buenos Ayrean on February 4, 1881. The family settled in Midlothian, MD, where four additional children were born: Christine, in 1882; Agnes, in 1883; John, in 1885; and finally George, born on January 11, 1888.
William was employed as a miner at the Koontz Mine, one of the oldest mines in Allegany County. Dating back to around 1853, it was a large mine, with workings advancing over a mile from the entrance. By 1880, it was starting to be mined out, and miners were removing the pillars that held up the roof. On May 28, 1888, William Walker left for his job in the old Koontz Mine. He was in the process of shoveling coal into a car when the breast and top of his room fell, burying him under four tons of slate and coal.
That same morning, after William left for work, Agnes saw her older children off to school and placed the younger ones with relatives. Wanting to visit a sick friend, she took five- month-old George with her to the depot to await the train. Before it arrived, a messenger came to tell her that her husband had been injured in a mining accident. Overcome with dread, Agnes collapsed, dropping the infant face first to the ground. Family lore tells us that George’s mouth was injured in the fall, causing him to lisp and drool for the rest of his life. Agnes was taken to her home in Midlothian to await the arrival of her husband. He arrived there at half past noon. Agnes took her place by his side, watching and praying as her husband clung to life. He suffered for two and a half hours before taking his last labored breath at 3:00. William was 34 years old. Thirty-three-year-old Agnes buried her husband in the Old Coney Cemetery. She raised her seven children alone, and welcomed the joy of grandchildren. She died on September 11, 1919 and was laid to rest beside her husband. William and Agnes left quite a legacy in the Frostburg and Midlothian area. They were the grandparents of 38 children, many of them coal miners. A plethora of great-grandchildren continue to live in the area, and black coal dust still runs through their veins.
The Coal Miner Memorial Statue Fund is accepting contributions for the placement of an educational memorial near the crossroads of state Route 36 and the National Road in Frostburg. A bronze statue will honor all our Georges Creek miners and name those who perished while mining.
Tax-deductible donations can be mailed to the
Foundation for Frostburg CMMSF
P.O. Box 765
Frostburg, MD 21532.
We welcome updated information and encourage your participation.
Contact Polla Horn at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bucky Schriver at email@example.com
to share your thoughts and stories. Be on the lookout for future “Miner Recollections.”