A Young Folks' History of the Church by Nephi Anderson - HTML preview

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The Mormon Battalion


During the summer of 1846 the United States was at war with the republic of Mexico. A number of battles had been fought in Texas. What is now California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona belonged to Mexico, and as President Polk desired to get this large district of country for the United States, he sent soldiers westward to the Pacific ocean.

The "Mormon" people traveling from Nauvoo had asked President Polk for assistance in their journey to the west. They said they wanted to remain under the protection of the government, and were willing to aid in holding the western country for the United States.

In the month of June, 1846, Captain James Allen, an officer of the United States army arrived at Mount Pisgah, Iowa. What he wanted was five hundred men with which to form a battalion and march across the continent to California, and take part in the war with Mexico.

This was startling news indeed. The Saints had not expected this kind of "help" in their journeying through the wilderness. Many of the Saints looked upon the call as a plan to destroy them. You can hardly blame them for that, can you, knowing some of their past history?

But President Young and the leading brethren told the officer he should have his men. They thought it was a test to see if they were true to their country. Though it was a pretty hard test, thus to take their best and strongest men away from such a camp as theirs, yet the "Mormon" people would show to the government and to the whole world that they were loyal to their country, even though that country had failed to protect them in their rights to live in peace and worship God.

At a meeting held at Council Bluffs it was decided to raise the men asked for. Brigham Young and the Twelve took an active part in getting volunteers. Word was sent to the different settlements of the Saints. The stars and stripes were hoisted to a tree top, and the work of enrollment began. Within three days the little army was organized and ready for the march. Then they had a grand farewell party, held, not in some beautifully lighted ball room, but in a bowery, where the ground had been packed hard by the tread of many feet. There fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters and sweethearts said their goodbyes to each other.

And then the long, dreary march began. The story of that march would fill a book, so of course very little of it can be told here. If you would like to read more about it, you will find it in Brother Tyler's "History of the Mormon Battalion."

There were five hundred and forty-nine souls in the Battalion. Captain James Allen was the commander. They started on their march July 20, 1846, to Fort Leavenworth, where they received their guns and other things necessary for an army. At this point Captain Allen died, which made the men feel bad, as he was a good, kind officer.

The Battalion began to move from Fort Leavenworth on the 12th of August. You may see their line of march by looking at the map on page 128. After suffering much hardship, they reached Santa Fe, October 9th. Here Colonel Cooke took the command. As many of the soldiers as were too sick to go on were sent to Pueblo, where they remained all winter, and traveled to Salt Lake valley the next summer. The main body of the Battalionleft Santa Fe, October 19th, for California. At Tucson they expected to have a battle with some Mexican soldiers, and prepared for it, but they marched through the city without being disturbed. From Tucson they continued over the deserts, and arrived at San Diego, January 29, 1847, where they saw the broad, blue, ocean, many of them for the first time.

The Battalion remained in and around San Diego for about two weeks. As there was no fighting to be done, the men built houses, dug wells, made brick, and helped build up the town. On March 19th most of them marched to Los Angeles, and on the 16th of July they were mustered out, having served their full time—one year.

Of this great march Colonel Cooke their commander wrote:

"History may be searched in vain for an equal march of infantry; nine-tenths of it through a wilderness, where nothing but savages and wild beasts are found, or deserts, where for want of water, there is no living creature. There, with almost hopeless labor we have dug deep wells. Without a guide we have crossed the wilderness, we have ventured into trackless prairies, where water was not found for several marches. With crowbar and pickax in hand we have worked our way over mountains, which seemed to defy aught but the wild goat, and hewed a passage through a chasm of rock, more narrow than our wagons."

After their release, most of the men took up their march for home. Perhaps it would be more correct to say to find their families and friends, as they did not have any home yet. They journeyed northward in California and then crossed the mountains to Salt Lake valley where most of them arrived in October, 1847. From there many went right on to Winter Quarters to their families.

A number of the Battalion men remained in California to earn a little money. Some got work with a Captain Sutter who had a large ranch on the American fork of the Sacramento river. The "Mormons" with some others were set to work building a mill, and it was here while digging in the mill race that gold was discovered in California. Some of the brethren carried away a few hundred dollars' worth when they went to Salt Lake Valley the next summer.

Topics.—1. The call for the Mormon Battalion. 2. Its march. 3. Discovery of Gold.

Questions and Review.—1. Who was Captain James Allen? 2. What did he want of the "Mormons?" 3. What was the Battalion wanted for? 4. What did President Young say? 5. What did many of the Saints think of the call? 6. Why was it a hardship on the Saints at that time to furnish five hundred soldiers? 7. Describe the line of march of the Battalion. 8. How long did it take them? 9. How far was it? 10. What kind of journey was it? 11. What did Colonel Cooke say about it? 12. What did the Battalion men do in California? 13. What happened at Nauvoo in the summer of 1846, when the Battalion was on the march?