I decided I would like begin including a regular feature on this blog highlighting the Mormon pioneers. If you have an ancestor who was a Mormon pioneer, and would like to share their story, please email me. I would like to begin by highlighting the "Mormon Battallion".
President James K. Polk, recognizing the need for soldiers in the Mexican war, instructed the secretary of war, Stephen W. Kearney, to enlist 500 Mormons for this purpose. The saints were hesitant to help the government because of the persecution they had received. Missouri Governor Lilburn Boggs had issued an "extermination order" against the saints which drove them out of their settlements in Missouri. Some of the saints weren't so willing to help a government who had turned against them. But Pres. Brigham Young encouraged the saints to join saying, ""Brethren, you will be blessed, if you will live for those blessings which you have been taught to live for. The Mormon Battalion will be held in honorable remembrance to the latest generation; and I will prophesy that the children of those who have been in the army, in defense of their country, will grow up and bless their fathers for what they did at that time. And men and nations will rise up and bless the men who went in that Battalion. These are my feelings in brief respecting the company of men known as the Mormon Battalion. When you consider the blessings that are laid upon you, will you not live for them? As the Lord lives, if you will but live up to your privileges, you will never be forgotten, without end, but you will be had in honorable remembrance, for ever and ever." He went on to tell them that he felt this assignment was from above, and that it would help the church as a whole to gain better standing with the U.S. government.
Accordingly, some volunteered, including 15, or 16 families. Some of the officers took their wives and children, and some of the women were hired to do the laundry for the company. One of my relatives, although but a teenager, helped to care for the horses. The men were outfitted for the journey, and were given the opportunity to keep their weapons at the end of their discharge. They traveled a total of 2,000 miles from Council Bluff, Iowa to San Diego, California.
"The battalion's march and service was instrumental in helping secure new lands in several Western states, especially the Gadsden Purchase of 1853 of much of southern Arizona. The march also opened a southern wagon route to California. Veterans of the battalion played significant roles in America's westward expansion in California, Utah, Arizona and other parts of the West." (wikipedia)
Here is a journal entry from one of the participants, Zadock Knapp Judd, Company E
"After traveling about twenty-five days a bearing was taken with instruments. It was found we were a long ways from California. We had until now been eating our provisions as though we would get to California, where there was more, in sixty days, but it was now decided it would take a much longer time, so our rations were reduced one-fourth less. This began to tell hard on the men, yet we kept pushing ahead until another fifteen or twenty days and then another reckoning was made and found we would yet have to travel a long distance, so our rations were reduced again to one half and we were a long ways from any place where more provisions could be had. Our best and only show was to push ahead and we did.
About now we came to some half-breeds, Indians and Spanish. From them a few of us as individuals could trade for a little dried meat, which we then called very very good. We were now getting quite hungry and we learned from these people it was but three days travel to a Spanish town where we could get provisions. It was off from our route but a good wagon road to it. Copper ore had been hauled on the road many years. Our colonel said; "Let us go down and get provisions. It was going right among our enemies but we were all willing to go to get something to eat."
So next morning we started on the copper mine road for the Spanish town all rejoicing. After traveling three or four miles the colonel ordered his bugler to call a halt. All hands wondered what was the matter. After a moment's breath the colonel turned to his staff, officers and pilots and said: "Gentlemen, I started for California and damned if I ain't going there. Pilot, you hunt a road for the wagons on the course we have been traveling and go ahead and find a camp ground." So we turned our course about right angle and started for California.
We afterwards learned that the Spaniards had been closely watching us and they expected we would go down to that town and had therefore, collected a large force of their soldiers at that point, and no doubt if we had not turned our course we should have had hard fighting to do and perhaps many of us would have lost our lives, but the Lord controlled the colonel's mind and we came out safe." source: (The Mormon Battalion experience)
Brigham Young's prophecy has come true, and today we in the church still honor them for their willingness to serve, despite former persecutions.
Mormon Battalion association
Sanpete county.org Utah Pioneer Stories
Mormon Battalion monument: Presidio Park, San Diego, California