Distance: 265 miles from Nauvoo
Here was a major outfitting point for Latter-day Saints and countless
others heading west during most of the overland emigration period.
Across the Missouri River from Winter Quarters, Council Bluffs was
one of the most significant Latter-day Saint settlements during
the late 1840s and early 1850s.
The Latter-day Saints named this outfitting pointoriginally
known as Miller's HollowKanesville in honor of Thomas L. Kane,
an influential ally during their darkest years in Nauvoo. Following
the departure of the Saints, it was renamed Council Bluffs in 1853.
Orson Hyde, Church Apostle and the leading ecclesiastical leader
for the area, ran a newspaper in the community, the Frontier
Guardian, that became an important source of information for
thousands on the move to the West. Up to 90 Latter-day Saint settlements
were scattered throughout Pottawattamie County, Iowa, of which Kanesville
was the most significant.
It was from this location that the members Mormon Battalion began
their long march to San Diego in July 1846.
Both military and historical consensus, says that never in American
history has there been an equivalent march of infantry: 600 men,
women, and children, recruited by the U.S. Army from a mass exodus
of Latter-day Saints then struggling across the plains of Iowa fleeing
religious persecution in Illinois. They never engaged in armed conflict,
yet they played a key role in securing from Mexico much of the present
American Southwest in their 2,000-mile march across half a continent.
Need for a Mormon Battalion
Encamped on the prairies of Iowa in June of 1846, the Latter-day
Saints were met with an unlikely visitor with an unusual request.
Captain James Allen of the U.S. Regular Army rode into the makeshift
refugee camp at Mount Pisgah seeking 500 volunteers for the six-week-old
war with Mexico. The volunteers would be paid standard fare for
their services. At the time, the Latter-day Saints were fleeing
U.S. ambivalence and disdainfor the refuge of the Mexican
Territory, and Allen's approach was at first perceived as absolute
affrontery. Yet Brigham Young, who had long sought redress from
the federal government for losses sustained by his people while
under its jurisdiction, saw in the action the hand of Providence.
Within a matter of months, and due in part to the efforts of the
Battalion, the distant Salt Lake Valley would switch from Mexican
to United States control. And through military pay, the Latter-day
Saints would have additional financial means to launch and sustain
their new community.
Financial Benefits of the Battalion
The Mormon Battalion, though it extracted 500 able men
from the body of struggling Saints, was a boon to the
pioneers financially. Battalion members each received a $42
clothing allowance, paid in advance, for their one-year
enlistment. The bulk of this money was contributed
immediately to a general Church fund from which wagons,
teams, and other necessities for the larger exodus were
purchased. Actual wages paid out over the next year
(collected frequently by Church messengers) came to nearly
$30,000. Later, Battalion members returning from California,
where they were instrumental in the initial discovery of
gold at John Sutter's mill, contributed $17,000 in gold to
the fledgling economy of the Great Basin settlement.
Accomplishments of the Battalion
Battalion members cleared the first wagon road across the southern
desert to California; secured the presidio at San Diego; established
a U.S. presence in Tucson, leading to the acquisition seven years
later of the Gadsden Purchase (in extreme southern New Mexico and
Arizona); and contributed to the building of Fort Moore (in Los
Angeles). Individuals in the Battalion later helped in the discovery
of gold at Sutter's Mill and the blazing of a wagon road over Cajon
Pass and of the route east from California to Salt Lake City.
Battle of the Bulls
Although Battalion troops effectively stared down and intimidated
the Mexican garrison stationed at Tucson resulting in the garrison's
retreat, their only armed engagement of the war was with a herd
of cattle. On 11 December 1846, a number of wild cattle stampeded
into the rear companies, jostling wagons and scaring the pack animals,
whereupon a number of the Battalion's hunters opened fire on the
beasts. The eventual toll from the skirmish, immortalized as the
Battle of the Bulls, was "ten to fifteen bulls killed, two mules
gored to death, three men wounded."
For Those Who Would Follow
While only 2,000 people crossed to the Salt Lake Valley
that first year of the migration, thousands remained on
farms set up in Iowa territory to plant crops, harvest, and
prepare provisions for the coming migration. One entire
village (Kanesville, now Council Bluffs, Iowa) was
established with such "travelers' aid" a primary concern. In
contrast to most other pioneer groups crossing the plains,
the Latter-day Saints cleared roads, built sturdy bridges,
erected way-houses and built and manned river ferries at
numerous points along the trail.
Women and Children on the Trail
The Mormon Battalion's 500 soldiers were divided into five companies.
Each company was assigned at least four laundresseswives of
Battalion members also on the payrolland other aides. All
told, 34 women and 51 children accompanied the Battalion when it
left Fort Leavenworth. Most of these were relegated to the winter
camp at Fort Pueblo, but four women and perhaps six children completed
the grueling 2,000-mile march to the Pacific coast. All but one,
who died following childbirth in San Diego, then completed the journey
to Salt Lake City.
America's Longest March
by Clayton C. Newell
"History may be searched in vain for an equal march of
Colonel Philip St. George Cooke
When Captain James Allen of the U.S. Army rode into the makeshift
refugee camp at Mount Pisgah (near present-day Thayer, Iowa) on
26 June 1846, he was met with something less than enthusiasm. Perhaps
15,000 men, women and children, members of The Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints, were filtering through this encampment, driven
from their homes and farms in or around Nauvoo, Illinois by a citizenry
that had turned vicious and a governmentright to the top 1that
had turned the other way.
When Allen presented a request for 500 able men to join U.S. forces
in the war with Mexico, he was regarded with something between ambivalent
distraction and outright disdain. But within days, Allen had his
five companies, plus laundresses, helpers, and a passel of kids.
Thus the United States Army's "Mormon Battalion" was born on the
desolate prairie soil of the Iowa frontier, a region yet six months
away from official statehood. And Captain James Allen had very little
to do with it.
A Place of Safety
Months before, in the dead of winter, Church leaders in Nauvoo
had sent an epistle to U.S. president James K. Polk offering to
build "block houses and stockade forts"2
along the trail to Oregon and California for the benefit of all
future travelers. The possibility of removing to "a place of safety
. . . away towards the Rocky Mountains"3
had been on the minds of Church leaders since 1840. With
the mounting violence in Nauvooincluding the 1844 assassination
of Church prophet Joseph Smiththat time had clearly come.
Yet given the nature of Church membership in this erathousands
of recent European immigrants and others now bereft of most of their
possessionsthe Latter-day Saints were largely destitute. If
the U.S. government would compensate for their efforts, the Saints
would build, then politely abandon, a string of secure shelters
on their way out of The United States of America.
That January of 1846, Polk gave the offer little thought.
To win over what they perceived to be a question of trust, the
Saints then testified as to their patriotism: "We also further declare,
for the satisfaction of some who have concluded that our grievances
have alienated us from our country; that our patriotism has not
been overcome by fireby swordby daylight, nor by midnight
assassinations, which we have endured neither have they alienated
us from the institutions of our country. Should hostilities arise
between the Government of the United States and any other power,
in relation to the right of possessing the territory, of Oregon,
we are on hand to sustain the claims of the United States Government
to that country." 4
Still Polk demurred.
Then on 12 May, the U.S. declared war on Mexico. Polk confided
in his diary entry of 2 June 1846, "Col. [Stephen W.] Kearny was.
. . authorized to receive into service as volunteers a few hundred
of the Mormons who are now on their way to California, with a view
to conciliate them, attach them to our country, and prevent them
from taking part against us." 5
Although the prolonged absence of 500 able-bodied men would severely
challenge the exodus to the West, Brigham Young recognized that
the promised military pay, clothing and supplieswhich Battalion
volunteers would be entitled to keepcould be of great benefit
to isolated pioneers wresting a new life from the untried soil of
a yet-distant home. From the historical record it appears that Brigham
Young's overriding intent with the offering of peacekeeping force,
however, was to win the confidence ofand independence froma
capricious and to-date uncaring U.S. government. (As it worked out,
the move bought them very little in this regard; Albert Sidney Johnston's
army marched to quell the highly publicized but patently imagined
"Utah War" barely a dozen years later.) To Captain Allen, Brigham
Young replied: "You shall have your men, and if we have not enough
men we will furnish you women." 6 Brother
Brigham got enough men; it took him three days.
The March Is On
According to Brigham Young University historian Larry C. Porter,
513 men mustered in on the Battalion rolls on 16 July, five of them
were appointed captains of companies. When, four days later, the
newest contingent of the Army of the West marched out of Kanesville
(now Council Bluffs), Iowa territory under the command of Captain
Allen, it was accompanied by 34 women and 51 children, some of them
employed as laundresses. For many who had already forfeited nearly
everything they owned, bringing their families was part of the deal.
But so was good behavior. As his "parting blessing," Brigham Young
charged the recruits to ". . . live your religion, obey your officers,
. . . and . . . hold sacred the property of the people, never taking
anything that does not belong to you . . .; always spare life when
possible; if you obey this counsel, attending to your prayers to
the Lord, I promise you in the name of the Lord God of Israel that
not one soul of you shall fall by the hands of the enemy."7
By the time the Battalion reached Fort Leavenworth,
Captain Allen found the unusual demographic makeup of his
entourage the least of his worries. He reached the fort
waning from sickness and died within days. From Leavenworth,
Lieutenant Andrew Jackson Smith pushed the Battalion onward
to Santa Fe. Presumably annoyed with the nature of his
force, Smith employed frequent forced marches and other
inequities with a dictatorial demeanor. One chronicler of
the events stated that any other body of people not already
accustomed to being herded from one place to the next "would
have mutinied rather that submit to the oppressions."
8 In fact, by the time the
Battalion was within Mexican territory, three "sick"
detachments were sent north to Fort Pueblo, Colorado, first
from western Kansas and later from Santa Fe. Against the
contentions of many that families were not to be separated,
these detachments included most of the women and children.
9 Fortunately for the remaining
volunteers, there was a new commander awaiting their arrival
in Santa Fe: Lieutenant Colonel Philip St. George Cooke.
Thus 340 men, four officers' wives (the wives were all commissioned
as privates), and a few children continued and completed the grueling
2,000-mile, 6-month desert march to California, reaching San Diego
on 29 January 1847. Along the way they mapped the country (an effort
which played prominently in the Gadsden Purchase of 1853), opened
a wagon road, and established a U.S. presence that would, two years
later, be officially recognized with the annexing Treaty of Guadalupe
Hidalgo. Of their exploits Commander Cooke offered this example:
"The garrison of four presidios of Sonora concentrated within the
walls of Tucson, gave us no pause. We drove them out, with their
artillery, but our intercourse with the citizens was unmarked by
a single act of injustice,"10 fulfilling
the challenge given months earlier by Brigham Young.
Of the women who completed the journey, only one never
returned to join the Saints in Utah. Lydia Hunter, wife of
Company "B" Captain Jesse Hunter, died in California only
four months after completing the trek and two weeks after
giving birth to a son. He was named James Diego.
The Mormon Battalion's only "battle" was the Battle of the Bulls,
the result of a wild cattle stampede that resulted in the death
of fifteen bulls (shot), two mules (gored), and three wounded men.
When the Battalion completed its march, 15 men turned around and
escorted now-General Kearny back to Fort Leavenworth, 81 reenlisted,
and the rest (about 245) were discharged. Six of the latter were
at Sutter's Mill when gold was discovered 24 January 1848.
The Long Road to Refuge
Though it never fought a battle, the Mormon Battalion earned a place
in the history of the West. Perhaps its accomplishments were best
catalogued by its commanding officer, Colonel Philip St. George
Cooke, in his official summation of the journey for his commanders:
"History may be searched in vain for an equal march of infantry.
Nine-tenths of it has been 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, which the future traveler will enjoy.
Without a guide who had traversed them, we have ventured into trackless
prairies where water was not found for several marches. With crowbar
and pick and ax in hand we have worked our way over mountains which
seemed to defy aught save the wild goat, and hewed a pass through
a chasm of living rock more narrow than our wagons. Thus, marching
half naked and half fed, and living upon wild animals, we have discovered
and made a road of great value to our country."11
A country, ironically, from which the main body of Latter-day Saints
now huddled in dugouts and crude shelters along the frozen banks of
the Missouri River were currently fleeing for their own safety. The
majority of Saints now gathered at Winter Quarters, Nebraska Territory,
were in fact European converts (as were a number of the Battalion
soldiers). Their eventual refuge, the Great Salt Lake Valley, lay
950 miles and seven difficult months to the west. On this January
29 of 1847, that distant refuge was in Mexican Territory. One year
later almost to the day (2 February), and owing in large measure to
the success of the Battalion, it would be American. (Another 48 years
would pass before Utah would be granted statehood.)
There are literally scores of Mormon Battalion
trail markers* between Mt. Pisgah (Iowa) and San
Diego, where the largest and most extensive Mormon Battalion
monument is the Mormon Battalion Memorial and
Visitor Center in Presidio Park, 2510 Juan Street,
Old Town, San Diego, California.
"post-San Diego" sites in California are also
significant. The first is an enormous monument near
city hall in downtown Los Angeles, where the
Battalion erected Fort Moore; the second is found
12 miles northwest of San Bernardino, just off
state highway 138 at the foot of Cajon Pass, where
25 recently-discharged Battalion soldiers blazed a
wagon trail across the Sierra Nevada in their
journey back to their families and their new refuge
of faith in the Valley of the Great Salt
*The best trail
guide for Mormon Battalion markers is Stanley B.
Kimball's Historic Sites
and Other Markers Along the Mormon and Other Great
University of Illinois Press, 1988.
Church President Heber J. Grant, whose own parents walked
across those bitter plains, spoke of the episode more than
70 years later:
"When the Latter-day Saints were being driven from their homes,
. . . driven from the confines of the United States [onto] Mexican
soil . . . [t]he [U.S.] government called on
Brigham Young for 500 men to help fight Mexico. . . . Show
to me, if you can, in all the history of the world another case
of a people being expatriated, being driven from their own country,
from their own lands which they had purchased, . . . the last remnant
of them crossing the Mississippi River in the dead of winter, on
the ice, nine babies being born during the night of that terrible
expulsion, with no shelter . . ., going forth on their journey of
a thousand miles in the wilderness, after having appealed to the
president of their republic, who could only say: "Your cause is
just, but we can do nothing for you" [see Endnote 1]show me
another people, I say, who under like circumstances would have furnished
500 men to fight their country's battles! Show me greater patriotism
and loyalty to country than this! It can't be done."12
And yet it could not have possibly been loyalty to country that impelled
many of the Mormon Battalion soldiers, wives, and children. They
walked half a continent. They blazed a road. They etched their names
This was a conquest of faith.
approached by Joseph Smith in 1839 seeking financial redress
for the injustices suffered by the Saints in Missouri,
President Martin Van Buren replied, "Gentlemen, your cause
is just, but I can do nothing for you. If I take up for you,
I shall lose the vote of Missouri." Documentary History of the Church, 4:80.
2. "A Circular of the High
Council," Times and Seasons,
15 Jan. 1846, 1096.
3. Ronald K. Esplin, "'A Place
Prepared': Joseph, Brigham and the Quest for Promised Refuge in
the West," Journal of Mormon History,
4. "A Circular of the High
Council," Times and Seasons,
15 Jan. 1846, 1096.
5. James K. Polk, Polk:
the Diary of a President, 1845-1849,
ed. Allan Nevins (1929), 109.
6. Quoted by Heber J. Grant, in
Oct. 1919, 33.
of a Pioneer, Being the Autobiography of James S. Brown,
8. Daniel Tyler, A
Concise History of the Mormon Battalion in the Mexican War: 1846-1847
9. The following spring, Battalion
Company "C" Captain James Brown led these Saints north and then
west, ushering them into the Salt Lake Valley on 29 July 1847, just
five days after Brigham Young's party.
10. In "March of the Mormon Battalion,"
B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History
of the Church, 3:120.
11. Philip St. George Cooke,
"Cooke's Journal of the March of the Mormon Battalion, 18461847,"
in Ralph P. Bieber, ed., Exploring Southwestern Trails, 18461854
12. In Conference Report, Oct.
"Arrived at Council Bluffs. Here Coronel Allen, a goverment officer,
was enlisting volunteers for the Mexican War. Brighams folks did
not want me to enlist for I had been with them as chief cook and
bottle washer, or as a necessary evil. . . . I told them I was going
and all the kings oxen could not hold me. There was five hundred
enlisted in this place. [They were] called [the] Mormon Battalion
and started to Ft Leavenworth to fit out for the war" (Frontiersman:
Abner Blackburn's Narrative, ed. Will Bagley , 39).
Government of the United States were at this time at war with Mexico,
and not being satisfied with either having assisted, or by their
silence acquiesced in driving and plundering thousands of defenseless
men, women and children, and driving them from their pleasant and
lawful homes, and of actually murdering, or through suffering causing
the death of hundreds, they must now send to our camps, (While we,
like Abraham, by the commandment of Heaven were enroute for a home,
we knew not where; and after having expelled us from their borders),
and call upon us for five hundred young and middle aged men, the
strength of our camp, to go and assist them in fighting their battles.
When this news came I looked upon my family, and then upon my aged
parents, and upon the situation of the camps in the midst of an
uncultivated, wild Indian country, and my soul revolted. But when
I came to learn the mind of the Lord, and on learning the offering
had to be made, or the sequel was not yet opened between us and
the Government; when our beloved President came to call upon the
saints to know who among all the people were ready to offer for
the cause; I said, 'Here am I, take me'" ("The Private Journal
of William Hyde," Family and Church History Department Library,
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 18).
was quite a hard pill to swallowto leave wives and children
on the wild praries, destitute and almost helpless, having nothing
to rely on only the kindness of neighbors, and go to fight the battles
of a government that had allowed some of its citizens to drive us
from our homes, but the word comes from the right source and seemed
to bring the spirit of conviction of its truth with it and there
was quite a number of our company volunteered, myself and brother
among them" (Autobiography of Zadok Knapp Judd, [1829-1909], typescript,
Family and Church History Department, The Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints, 24).
courtesy of Infobases, Inc.