Mornom Battalion Monument at San Pedro River,
1 mile north of Mexican border, Arizona
When the Mexican War began in 1846, the first Mormon parties had barely started West, destination unknown. They were fleeing from America to found their own realm, Deseret, which was in theory on Mexican territory, but the outbreak of war indicated that it would soon belong to the United States. Brigham Young, clearly saw the trend -- America was coming his way, whether he wanted it or not. So it made political sense for his people to participate in the war against Mexico. It also made economic sense. Soldiers may not have been paid much then, but they were paid in hard gold dollars, and the main Mormon congregation, huddled near modern Omaha after fleeing Illinois persecution in haste, desperately needed the money.
Captain James Allen enlisted the Mormon Battalion in Western Iowa in July 1846. Following Allen's death, Captain Philip Cook took command of the unit at Sante Fé. His men blazed Cook's wagon road from the Rio Grande River in New Mexico and crossed the continental divide at Guadalupe Pass. After briefly entering today's Mexico, the march reached the San Pedro River on December 9, 1846 at present day Palominas, Arizona (see photo of San Pedro River at left) and two days later the Battalion fought its only battle at Charleston, Arizona--with wild bulls. About twenty bulls were killed and two men were seriously injured.
The Battalion drove their wagons down the valley without hindrance by either thickets or arroyos. They then proceeded north to Tucson, creating a US presence there. From Tucson the road led north to the Gila River, which it followed to its confluence with the Colorado River. The road crossed the arid Anza-Borrego desert and then descended to the coastal plains of San Diego.
The Mormons received standard army pay for their year's service in the battalion. The soldiers tramped all over the West during the war, but most of their pay and $21,000 advance clothing allowance went to the church to be distributed among the faithful. Young promised the 500 men in the Battalion that as long as they remained true to the faith, "they would have power to preserve their lives and the lives of their companies and escape difficulties." Although 19 men died from accidents and disease while serving in the army, the Mormon Battalion never faced hostile troops.
Many thanks to Will Bagley for providing some of the above information
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