Cyrus Walker was born on Nez Perce lands at Wailatpu in 1838. He was one of the first children born to two white parents west of the Rocky Mountains, and grew up on their mission of Tshimakain, where he learned to speak the native Spokane language fluently. After the family's friends and fellow missionaries the Whitmans were killed, the Walker family moved to a secure location west of present-day Portland, Oregon. There, the Walkers helped found the school that would later become Pacific University. In 1859, Cyrus graduated from Tualatin Academy and moved to become a farmer for the next five years. During this time he met and married his first wife, Lucy Maria Tanner.