Jane McKechnie Walton: Early pioneer martyr
GIANTS OF SAN JUAN
Jane Walton was the beloved wife of Charles E. Walton, who was one of the four founding fathers of Monticello. Her life and tragic death are legendary in San Juan today. She was the first person buried in the Monticello Cemetery.
She was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on July 16, 1847, just eight days before Brigham Young led the first pioneers into the Salt Lake Valley.
She was the daughter of John McKechnie and Jean Tinto Bee. Her father died when she was 18 months old. Her distraught mother gave birth to the McKechnie’s only son several months after her husband died.
The next year, Mother McKechnie met the Mormon missionaries. She gained a firm testimony of the restored gospel and was baptized on February 21, 1850. A few months later, Jane’s grandmother, uncle and aunt were also baptized. By September of that same year all the baptized members of the McKechnie family, including Jane’s brother and sister, set sail for America.
They sailed to New Orleans and then came up the Mississippi to St. Louis, where they spent the winter of 1850.
Jane’s mother worked in the St. Louis area for two years under the most trying of circumstances. Finally, she earned enough money to buy a small wagon, a team of horses and the supplies to go west .
They joined the Thomas Howell Wagon Company in 1852. Mother McKechnie’s wagon was loaded to the max with supplies and there was no room for anyone to ride, so six-year-old Jane and her little brother walked most of the 1,100 miles to the Salt Lake Valley barefooted.
Their diet on the plains was mostly corn bread and corn mush, with an occasional bit of buffalo. The McKechnie’s arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in September of 1853.
Jane grew into a beautiful young woman in Salt Lake. She witnessed the Utah War years. She followed the events of the Civil War as closely as news of the era would allow. In 1867, she married Charles Eugene Walton. The young couple was called by Brigham Young to help settle the Woodruff, Utah area.
When she was a young mother, she had a strange and disturbing experience. She said her father, whom she had never known, appeared to her. He told her that she was needed on the other side and that he had come to take her there.
Jane did not want to go and told him that because her young children needed her she would not agree to go with him until they were grown. He said he could not force her to go, but that “I will come for you again when you are 45.”
Several years later, the Waltons were called, along with other members of the Church, to the southeast corner of Utah to befriend the Indians and settle the area. They sold their home and farm in Woodruff and traveled to Parowan to join the expedition in l879.
Their arduous trip through the Hole-in-the-Rock has been called by many writers and historians the most challenging pioneer trek, mile for mile, ever undertaken during the settlement of the West.
In Bluff, the Waltons lived in the Bluff Fort and dealt with the renegade outlaws and the Indians.
On one occasion, Jane had a confrontation in her garden with Chief Posey. He threatened her with his rifle and, without thinking, she whacked him over the head with her garden hoe. He dropped like a rock and Jane was afraid she had killed him. She walked a few steps away and sat down to gather her thoughts.
In a few minutes she heard her dog growling, She turned to see Posey climbing on his pony with her dog clinging to the seat of his pants. Posey rode away and was not heard from again for several weeks. The pioneers feared that Posey might return and exact retribution for the treatment he had received on the losing end of Jane Walton’s hoe.
About a month later, Jane was in her kitchen baking bread when she heard her door creaking. Posey’s hat, on the end of a long stick was thrust through the door, and was followed by Posey’s head. They eyed each other and Posey said, “me no mad. Me just want biscuit.”
Jane invited him in and told him to wait until the bread was baked and she would give him some. From that day on Jane and Posey were friends and she never experienced anything but respect from him for the rest of her life.
One of Jane’s fondest memories was the first day the U. S. Mail arrived by horse in Bluff. The pioneers had worked for two years, six months and 20 days to get mail from the outside world. The joyous occasion occurred on October 26, 1882. After mail service began, the little band lost in the vast reaches of Canyon Country felt less isolated and were able to communicate with loved ones much more easily once again. One of the most anticipated events in the lives of the occupants of the Bluff Fort was the arrival of the mail each week.
Jane Walton was called to be the first Relief Society President in the San Juan Stake, which covered parts of three states. She visited every group of Relief Society sisters once or twice a year throughout the enormous San Juan Stake, including Moab, Mancos and Cortez, Colorado and the wards and branches in Northern New Mexico. It required a 300-mile round trip by horse and wagon.
Sometimes she would accompany the stake leaders and/or the Primary President on what was usually a month-long journey. If her schedule did not allow her to go with them because of the birth of a child, or some other event, she would find a son, husband or a friend to accompany her.
The people she visited with marveled at her dedication and wondered how she did the things she did. Her reply was usually something like, “compared to walking a thousand miles across the plains to Salt Lake as a barefoot, six year old child, who had little to eat, a trip like this is nothing at all.”
Sister Walton was a happy, cheerful person. She loved to dance. She loved the pioneer gatherings on special occasions.
Her husband, Charles, was one of the four original pioneer settlers who were called from Bluff and Verdure to go to the east side of the Blue Mountains and start a new settlement.
Charles helped survey the original Monticello town site, and in 1887, moved his family from Bluff to Monticello. The pioneer leaders needed the water, timber and grazing that the mountains provided in the summer. But by locating at Monticello, they came into increased conflict with the large cattle companies who were already grazing thousands of cattle on Blue Mountain’s lush grass and who claimed they owned all the water which came off the mountains.
Indeed, the headquarters of the Carlisle Cattle Company were just six miles north of Monticello and drunken, rowdy, armed cowboys became one of the great challenges of the tiny new settlement.
Other men were called from Bluff to move to Monticello and assist in building the town and standing up to the cowboys and Indians that were a constant challenge.
At the 24th of July Celebration in Monticello in l891, one of the saddest and most shocking things that happened in early Monticello took place in the shooting death of Jane Walton.
From an article contained in Volume 10 of the Blue Mountain Shadows written by Jane’s great great grandson, Stephen Allen, we read:
“The 24th of July Celebration in 1891 occurred just eight days after Jane’s 45th birthday. The family attended a dance held in the log church. Charles Walton Sr. fiddled and his son, Charles Walton Jr., played the organ. John Rogerson called the square dancing.
“Tom Roach, a cowboy who lived with his wife, Minnie, in a house close to the Walton’s and was considered a friend of the Walton’s, came to the dance in a drunken, surley mood. He took a partner and rudely tried to push another couple from their place on the dance floor. Frank Hyde, a local man, intervened. Roach drew a knife and stabbed Hyde, wounding him superficially.
“Bill McCord, a Texas cowboy who had a reputation of being a peacemaker among Carlisle’s men, took Roach by the arm and led him outdoors. Roach drew his six shooter and killed McCord on the spot. Men tried to leave the building but Roach commanded them at gunpoint to stay where they were.
“William C. Walton, a grandson of Jane Walton, said, ‘Jacob Adams, a boy of about 18 years, slipped away from the dance and went down to my grandfather’s home, picked up a rifle from above the fireplace and came back to the crowd. His intention was to shoot Tom Roach.”
Eyewitness accounts differ on what followed: Some say Roach pulled Jane in front of him for his protection. Some say he jumped behind her. Others say Tom Roach had no bullets left in his gun. But a shot was fired, which hit Jane in the upper torso. Roach fled, left the country and was never heard from again. Jane was carried to her home, where she died.
The entire county was shocked and heartbroken. Pearl Walton wrote, “Jane’s death was mourned by all, for she was respected and loved. The Ute Indians showed their respect for her by cutting off their long hair, as was their custom in grieving. Jane was the only pioneer to lose her life at the hands of the outlaw cowboys.”
Chief Posey asked permission to lead a posse to catch Tom Roach, but Roach was never apprehended.
As to who actually killed Jane Walton… the only tangible evidence was the hand written diary of Charles E. Walton Sr. who recorded, “Between twelve and one o’clock Roach started a row and killed a cowboy. Jane was accidentally killed by Jacob Adams, a drunken Mormon boy, with my own gun, a 35-70 caliber. The ball passed through her body, just under the arms, killing her instantly.”
The men carried her home and laid her on the floor in front of the fire place. The blood stains on the floor lasted as long as the home stood.
Because the Walton family knew that seeking retribution would not bring Jane back and because they realized it was a terrible accident, no charges were ever made against the killer, whether you believed that person to be Tom Roach or Jacob Adams.
The event provided an eerie ending to the experience she had had years earlier when her father appeared to her and told he had come to take her to the other side. When Jane had refused to go, he told her he would return for her when she was 45. Jane was killed just eight days after her 45th birthday.
Jane’s grave was the first one in what is today the Monticello City Cemetery. Her small gravestone sits by itself, away from the Walton Family’s plot. The peacemaker, who tried to defuse the situation that night and who was murdered in the process, was buried a short distance away.
Jane had accomplished as much in 45 years as most of us accomplish in a lifetime of twice the years. Those who know her story will not pass that tiny grave marker in the future without pausing in profound respect for the memory of one of San Juan’s great women.