The Mormon Battalion

During the halt of a part of the main body of the Mormons at Mt.

Pisgah, an incident occurred which has been made the subject of a

good deal of literature, and has been held up by the Mormons as a

proof both of the severity of the American government toward them

and of their own patriotism. There is so little ground for either

of these claims that the story of the Battalion should be

correctly told.

When hostilities against Mexico began, early in 1846, the plan of

campaign designed by the United States authorities comprised an

invasion of Mexico at two points, by Generals Taylor and Wool,

and a descent on Santa Fe, and thence a march into California.

This march was to be made by General Stephen F. Kearney, who was

to command the volunteers raised in Missouri, and the few hundred

regular troops then at Fort Leavenworth. In gathering his force

General (then Colonel) Kearney sent Captain J. Allen of the First

Dragoons to the Mormons at Mt. Pisgah, not with an order of any

kind, but with a written proposition, dated June 26, 1846, that

he "would accept the service, for twelve months, of four or five

companies of Mormon men" (each numbering from 73 to 109), to

unite with the Army of the West at Santa Fe, and march thence to

California, where they would be discharged. These volunteers were

to have the regular volunteers' pay and allowances, and

permission to retain at their discharge the arms and equipments

with which they would be provided, the age limit to be between

eighteen and forty-five years. The most practical inducement held

out to the Mormons to enlist was thus explained: "Thus is offered

to the Mormon people now--this year --an opportunity of sending a

portion of their young and intelligent men to the ultimate

destination of their whole people, and entirely at the expense of

the United States; and this advance party can thus pave the way

and look out the land for their brethren to come after them."

There was nothing like a "demand" on the Mormons in this

invitation, and the advantage of accepting it was largely on the

Mormon side. If it had not been, it would have been rejected.

That the government was in no stress for volunteers is shown by

the fact that General Kearney reported to the War Department in

the following August that he had more troops than he needed, and

that he proposed to use some of them to reenforce General Wool.*

* Chase's "History of the Polk Administration," p. 16.

The initial suggestion about the raising of these Mormon

volunteers came from a Mormon source.* In the spring of 1846

Jesse C. Little, a Mormon elder of the Eastern states, visited

Washington with letters of introduction from Governor Steele of

New Hampshire and Colonel Thomas L. Kane of Philadelphia, hoping

to secure from the government a contract to carry provisions or

naval stores to the Pacific coast, and thus pay part of the

expense of conveying Mormons to California by water. According to

Little, this matter was laid before the cabinet, who proposed

that he should visit the Mormon camp and raise 1000 picked men to

make a dash for California overland, while as many more would be

sent around Cape Horn from the Eastern states. This big scheme,

according to Mormon accounts, was upset by one of the hated

Missourians, Senator Thomas H. Benton, whose Macchiavellian mind

had designed the plan of taking from the Mormons 500 of their

best men for the Battalion, thus crippling them while in the

Indian country. All this part of their account is utterly

unworthy of belief. If 500 volunteers for the army "crippled" the

immigrants where they were, what would have been their condition

if 1000 of their number had been hurried on to California ? **

* Tullidge's "Life of Brigham Young," p. 47

** Delegate Berahisel, in a letter to President Fillmore

(December 1, 1851), replying to a charge by Judge Brocchus that

the 24th of July orators had complained of the conduct of the

government in taking the Battalion from them for service against

Mexico, said, "The government did not take from us a battalion of

men," the Mormons furnishing them in response to a call for


Aside from the opportunity afforded by General Kearney's

invitation to send a pioneer band, without expense to themselves,

to the Pacific coast, the offer gave the Mormons great, and

greatly needed, pecuniary assistance. P. P. Pratt, on his way

East to visit England with Taylor and Hyde, found the Battalion

at Fort Leavenworth, and was sent back to the camp* with between

$5000 and $6000, a part of the Battalion's government allowance.

This was a godsend where cash was so scarce, as it enabled the

commissary officers to make purchases in St. Louis, where prices

were much lower than in western Iowa.** John Taylor, in a letter

to the Saints in Great Britain on arriving there, quoted the

acceptance of this Battalion as evidence that "the President of

the United States is favorably disposed to us," and said that

their employment in the army, as there was no prospect of any

fighting, "amounts to the same as paying them for going where

they were destined to go without."***

* "Unexpected as this visit was, a member of my family had been

warned in a dream, and had predicted my arrival and the

day."--Pratt, "Autobiography," p. 384.

** "History of Brigham Young," Ms., 1846, p. 150.

*** Millennial Star, Vol. VIII, p. 117.

The march of the federal force that went from Santa Fe (where the

Mormon Battalion arrived in October) to California was a notable

one, over unexplored deserts, where food was scarce and water for

long distances unobtainable. Arriving at the junction of the Gila

and Colorado rivers on December 26, they received there an order

to march to San Diego, California, and arrived there on January

29, after a march of over two thousand miles.

The war in California was over at that date, but the Battalion

did garrison duty at San Luis Rey, and then at Los Angeles.

Various propositions for their reenlistment were made to them,

but their church officers opposed this, and were obeyed except in

some individual instances. About 150 of those who set out from

Santa Fe were sent back invalided before California was reached,

and the number mustered out was only about 240. These at once

started eastward, but, owing to news received concerning the

hardships of the first Mormons who arrived in Salt Lake Valley,

many of them decided to remain in California, and a number were

hired by Sutter, on whose mill-race the first discovery of gold

in that state was made. Those who kept on reached Salt Lake

Valley on October 16, 1847. Thirty-two of their number continued

their march to Winter Quarters on the Missouri, where they

arrived on December 18.

Mormon historians not only present the raising of the Battalion

as a proof of patriotism, but ascribe to the members of that

force the credit of securing California to the United States, and

the discovery of gold.*

* "The Mormons have always been disposed to overestimate the

value of their services during this period, attaching undue

importance to the current rumors of intending revolt on the part

of the Californians, and of the approach of Mexican troops to

reconquer the province. They also claim the credit of having

enabled Kearney to sustain his authority against the

revolutionary pretensions of Fremont. The merit of this claim

will be apparent to the readers of preceding

chapters."--Bancroft, "History of California," Vol. V, p. 487.

When Elder Little left Washington for the West with despatches

for General Kearney concerning the Mormon enlistments, he was

accompanied by Colonel Thomas L. Kane, a brother of the famous

Arctic explorer. On his way West Colonel Kane visited Nauvoo

while the Hancock County posse were in possession of it, saw the

expelled Mormons in their camp across the river, followed the

trail of those who had reached the Missouri, and lay ill among

them in the unhealthy Missouri bottom in 1847. From that time

Colonel Kane became one of the most useful agents of the Mormon

church in the Eastern states, and, as we shall see, performed for

them services which only a man devoted to the church, but not

openly a member of it, could have accomplished.

It was stated at the time that Colonel Kane was baptized by Young

at Council Bluffs in 1847. His future course gives every reason

to accept the correctness of this view. He served the Mormons in

the East as a Jesuit would have served his order in earlier days

in France or Spain. He bore false witness in regard to polygamy

and to the character of men high in the church as unblushingly as

a Brigham Young or a Kimball could have done. His lecture before

the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in 1850 was highly colored

where it stated facts, and so inaccurate in other parts that it

is of little use to the historian. A Mormon writer who denied

that Kane was a member of the church offered as proof of this the

statement that, had Kane been a Mormon, Young would have

commanded him instead of treating him with so much respect. But

Young was not a fool, and was quite capable of appreciating the

value of a secret agent at the federal capital.

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