Come take a walk back in time with me along a trail less traveled. During the 1800s, settlement of the western American frontier was fraught with unrest and religious persecution, driving Mormon pioneers west to uncharted territory where they could practice their religion and find some measure of peace. Although many were immigrants to the American continent, they came to gain citizenship and were willing to defend their new country, since most planned never to return to their native lands from where they had come.
By 1847, members of the Mormon Battalion had arrived on the shores of the Pacific Ocean and the conclusion of their march of 2,000 miles. In a journal kept by a commanding officer, it stated that history may be searched in vain for an equal march of infantry; nine-tenths of it was through wilderness, where nothing but wild beasts were found, and in some great stretches of trail no water for any living creature. Stopping to dig wells helped sustain their life. With crowbar and pick, they worked their way over mountains, which seemed to defy wild goats and hewed passage through chasms of rock for their supply wagons drawn by mules.
Marching half clothed and half fed, living upon wild animals on the grueling march from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to San Diego, Calif., the infantry’s discoveries made a road of great worth to the country. They helped the U.S. secure much of the American southwest, including new lands in several western states as they opened the wagon route to California. Veterans of the Battalion went on to play significant roles in America’s westward expansion.
The Spanish garrison that occupied much of what is now Arizona was driven out with their artillery, while the citizens not being disturbed were allowed to continue living where they had made their homes, providing they took an oath to remain peaceable and attend to their crops and herds. That not an onion or a pepper would be disturbed, providing allegience be sworn to the U.S.
The Mormon Battalion was the only religiously-based unit in United States military history, serving from July 1846 to July 1847 during the Mexican-American War. A volunteer unit of about 559 Latter-day Saint men were led by Mormon company officers, commanded by regular U.S. army officers.
According to a journal account, an early day Mormon pioneer and American frontiersman who served with the Mormon Battalion until the group was mustered out of service later returned to the Salt Lake valley where he became a military leader in the Nauvoo Legion in Utah Territory. During that time, the President and U.S. Senate chose to remove then governor Brigham Young from office based on reports from federal officials assigned to Utah who had abandoned their assignments and returned to the east. Young’s replacement was escorted by a contingent of 2,500 troops as part of what was called the Utah Expedition. The army’s orders included using force as necessary if resistance was met. This military leader of the Nauvoo Legion hoped to delay the arrival of the troops in hope that a diplomatic breakthrough could be reached before the troops arrived with intent to displace the Mormons. He led a group of Nauvoo Legion rangers east across Wyoming and found the Union wagon train and destroyed several wagons, thus not only delaying the troops but causing them to winter near Fort Bridger until spring when more talks and better communication was attempted between the Mormons and the U.S. government.
Early immigrants to the Americas brought strength and wisdom to their new land, providing a legacy of patriotism. They shared and gave valuable aid to their new country, and as volunteers exhibited high and essential qualities of veterans. Their descendants have served in every war for freedom throughout the world and should receive great and undying respect and appreciation from the American people.