The Journal of San Diego History
SAN DIEGO HISTORICAL SOCIETY QUARTERLY
Summer 1979, Volume 25, Number 3
THE MORMON VOLUNTEERS: THE RECRUITMENT AND SERVICE OF A UNIQUE MILITARY COMPANY
By JOHN F. VURTINUS
Professor at Arizona College of Technology
On the Pacific Ocean some thousand miles from home,
Across the rocky mountains I had a cause to roam,
Enlisting for a soldier and leave my native land,
And with my friends and kindred I took the parting hand.
Far from my dear Mother and Sisters I am,
But by the grace of God I will see them again,
And lie in Zions city most glorious to behold,
Whose walls are made of jasper and streets of purest Gold.1
AFTER morning inspection on Sunday, May 23, 1847, Azariah Smith, an eighteen year old Mormon soldier, mournfully wrote this poem. He had already experienced the formative years of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Smith had lived in Mormon communities in Ohio, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, and was seeking asylum in the western wilderness because the people of “the united; (or divided,) States were not willing, for us to remain in peace, continually trying their dexterity, at mobbing; and trying to destroy the Saints from the face of the earth.”2 Despite his past, Azariah Smith completed, on July 16, 1847, a year of service in the United States Army. During the previous year—a momentous one for both the nation and the LDS Church—he had enlisted near Council Bluffs, crossed the Santa Fe Trail to the New Mexican capital, built a usable wagon road from Santa Fe to San Diego, and garrisoned the Southern Military District of California for six months. After this grueling year in military service, Smith was anxious to return to his family, friends, and church. On the other hand, his captain, Jesse D. Hunter, insisted that young Azariah re-enlist for another year. Azariah Smith refused. Of the 314 soldiers in the Mormon Battalion, however, eighty-one re-enlisted for an additional tour of duty. These men were the Mormon Volunteers. Their recruitment and service form a notable portion of history during the pivotal months when, following the Mexican and American War, California became part of the United States.3
While Azariah Smith and most of the soldiers anxiously counted the days until discharge, a few officers resolved to remain in government service. Captain Jefferson Hunt, ranking Mormon officer, personally aspired to form and command a second Mormon Battalion. In a letter to Captain Henry S. Turner, General Stephen W. Kearny’s aide-de-camp, Hunt explained, “it is our intention to settle in the vicinity of the Bay of San Francisco,” and requested, “that we might have the privilege of being continued in the service of the United States.” In addition, Hunt offered to ride to Council Bluffs, the Mormon gathering place along the Missouri River, in order to enlist Latter-day Saints who possessed the skills desired by the federal government. Captain Hunt apparently believed the Mormons would eventually settle near the Bay of San Francisco, and assumed the church could use the money acquired by their continued army service.4 Speaking for General Kearny, Turner replied that the government would permit the men to remain in service, but refused to sanction Hunt’s proposed junket to Council Bluffs.5
The soldiers, on the other hand, held contrary ideas. On April 7 an anonymous man initiated a petition requesting an early discharge because the war in California appeared over. Although approximately two-thirds of the privates endorsed the plea, most Latter-day Saint officers seemed “quite rathy & threatened punishment for those who signed.”6 Calling the men “damned fools” the officers quickly discarded the petition.7
While the Mormon factions deliberated, the government became increasingly dependent upon their manpower. By the end of April, 1847, General Kearny commanded a total of 1,059 troops in California, but could not depend upon any of them remaining in service after their terms expired.8 The General was eager to depart for Washington, D.C., but in order to defend California adequately needed to leave more troops. During the first week of May, the soldiers learned that General Kearny, accompanied by Colonel Phillip St. George Cooke, John C. Fremont, and a detail of twelve Mormon soldiers, would soon leave California for the nation’s capital. Colonel J.D. Stevenson of the New York Volunteers replaced Colonel Cooke as commander of the Mormon Battalion and Southern Military District.9 Obliged to keep sufficient troop strength in California, the government proposed granting the Mormon Battalion an immediate discharge provided that the men re-enlist as prestigious Dragoons in the regular army.10 Few men gave the proposal a second thought; most spent their spare time buying pack animals and preparing for the journey to join their brethren in the Salt Lake Valley.11
Pressured in opposite directions by the regular army officers and Mormon soldiers, the Battalion’s officers, previously selected by Brigham Young, found it difficult to act. They understood re-enlistment could prove advantageous, but needed support from the church authorities to recruit the rank and file soldiers. In this context, on May 14, Jefferson Hunt wrote to Brigham Young, President of the Mormon Church, for instructions.12 The Captain noted that the Saints had earned a commendable reputation in California, and that General Kearny anxiously wanted them to re-enlist. He added that the men opposed re-enlistment and increasingly resented Hunt’s overbearing leadership. Hoping for Brigham Young’s support, the perplexed Captain explained: “I have. . .done the best I knew and used every endeavor to console the men and make the burdens laid on them by officers of the regular army as light as I could, but every good intention was construed into evil, of all characters I was the most vile.” Despite the internal discord, the officers, impressed with the superb agricultural prospects of the Los Angeles Basin, suggested that the Mormon Church could purchase a valley sufficiently large to accommodate 50,000 families. Uncertain of the proper course of action, Hunt concluded, “We are in perfect suspense here. In two months we look for a discharge and know not whither to steer our course.”13
After General Kearny left California, Richard B. Mason, the new military governor, continued to solicit Mormon soldiers. Mason promised the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel to Captain Hunt if he could re-enlist the entire battalion.14 The governor also ordered Colonel Stevenson to encourage recruits. Not only did Mason want the men to defend California, but he also needed their labor to complete a fort at Los Angeles. Knowing that military construction work was universally abhorred, Mason tactfully warned Stevenson to “say nothing of working on the fort until after they were mustered into service.”15 Neither Hunt nor Stevenson appeared optimistic. While Hunt promised to use his declining influence to enlist men, he also requested that the government provide sufficient cartridges to insure their safety while traveling home. Stevenson personally thought an eighteen cent daily allowance might induce a few men to re-enlist, but was enough of a pragmatist to appeal officially for replacements from the East.16
While the army’s needs were left unfilled, many LDS soldiers openly defied their own Mormon officers. Several factors accounted for the revolt. First, a strong undercurrent of resentment against the United States government existed among most Mormons at this time. Why aid a government that had permitted them to be driven from their homes in Illinois?17 Second, they accused the Mormon officers of being unduly harsh toward their brethren. Rather than act like “fathers” to the soldiers, at times they seemed to be like Gentile-or non-Mormon-persecutors. Third, most of the married men wanted to return to their families in the East. Finally, the military leadership was overwhelmed by several men with less military rank but higher ecclesiastical authority. Quite a few of the men agreed to follow Andrew Lytle and James Pace after the discharge because they were “the only two who have at all times had respect unto the Priesthood of the Son of God, and acted as Fathers to the brethren who were placed under them for 12 months.”18 Ruling through these officers, Levi Hancock and David Pettigrew, the ranking church authorities, actually assumed leadership over most of the men.19 As a result Jefferson Hunt lost control over a badly disunited group of Mormon soldiers.
While the revolt brewed, Colonel J.D. Stevenson departed Los Angeles for San Diego to raise volunteers among the men in Company B stationed at that port. Entering San Diego on June 22, he delivered a flattering speech which, according to Robert Bliss:
Gave us the praise of being the best company in the Southern Division of California; the most intelligent & correct Soldiers Said we were universally esteemed & respected by the inhabitants & in Short we had done more for California than any other people & gave us an invitation to list again for 6 months.20
Stevenson even consented to Captain Jesse D. Hunter’s request to pay the re-enlisted men while they returned to San Francisco, Bear River, or wherever the Mormons eventually decided to settle permanently.21
While the campaign aroused great excitement in San Diego, it only netted about twenty volunteers. A majority insisted upon waiting for counsel from their Priesthood leaders, Levi Hancock and David Pettigrew. Captain Hunter and a couple of Mormon officers agreed to accompany Stevenson on his return to Los Angeles for the final drive to drum up volunteers.22
At 8:30 a.m. on June 29, the four companies of Mormon Battalion soldiers in Los Angeles assembled to hear Colonel Stevenson’s call for reenlistment. He explained, quite frankly, that it was necessary to keep a sufficient number of United States soldiers in California until others could be transported from the East. If the entire Battalion re-enlisted for a year he promised that the men could elect their own Lieutenant Colonel and offered to discharge them five months early with a full year’s pay which would enable them to return home in time to plant crops. He even offered to send a detachment of Mormon troops to meet Brigham Young and direct the LDS Church to any settlement located in California. So eager for recruits were the regular military officials that Stevenson asked the single men to re-enlist even if the married ones preferred to return to their families.23
After a short break, Captain Hunt reassembled the soldiers on a barren hill outside camp to listen to the LDS officers’ pitch. Captain Jesse D. Hunter, who acted as a semi-official recruiting officer, told the men it was their duty to re-enlist. Captain Hunt pointed out that if the entire command re-enlisted a Latter-day Saint would be the third highest military commander in California. Reminding them of the past exodus from Missouri and Illinois, he suggested this could be helpful should they fall into conflict with other residents. Lieutenant Cyrus L. Canfield perceptively noted that the men would have to spend all their earnings for an outfit home, whereas, if they re-enlisted they could return at government expense. Finally, Lieutenant George P. Dykes cited the fable of a good cow, who, after giving a pail of milk, kicked the pail over thereby losing its commendable reputation. He urged the Mormons not to fall into the same predicament by refusing to aid the United States during its time of need. After this exhortation by the military officers, the men were again dismissed.24
When they re-assembled in a large open tent at noon, Captain Hunt addressed the men a second time and spoke of a previous council the officers held with the Church’s presiding Twelve Apostles in Council Bluffs. He capped his arguments by implying that Brigham Young would counsel the men to re-enlist. In democratic fashion all individuals were granted the right to air their views. After a brief silence, Sergeant William Hyde rose to express his opposition to re-enlistment; … it grieved me to see some of our officers seeking after power and filthy lucre at the bitter expense of their brethren…. But not, for us to enter service for another year for the purpose of gratifying the selfish feelings of any man or set of men, was entirely repugnant to my feelings. We had already served our enemies one year and offered our lives as a sacrifice to save the people of God, according to the council which we had received from those that had a right to council, and we had faithfully fulfilled the requirement…. I remarked that from the best information which we could gain, the government, in whose service we had been was satisfied, and every feeling of my heart said that all heaven was satisfied, and as for me, let others do as they may, God being my helper, I shall return to my family and to headquarters. I was followed by Father Pettigrew and Brother Daniel Tyler and others, and in their remarks the Spirit of God was manifest, and the eyes of those that wished to see were open, and their situations plainly manifest, and the musical instruments of those that were in favor of reenlisting, were entirely unstrung.25
The rebellion against regular and Mormon military authorities had triumphed. The meeting dispersed with only fifteen or sixteen volunteers obtained from the Mormon companies stationed at Los Angeles.
With the ordeal over, Captain Hunt could only rationalize his lack of influence with the brethren. The men anxiously sought news from their families and direction from church authorities before they would reenlist. Hunt continued to believe that a few companies might be secured if Brigham Young encouraged that course before their official discharge.26 Colonel Stevenson, seeing his power base disintegrate, was quite pessimistic in his report to Governor Mason. Once the Mormon Battalion disbanded, he would have only 211 men from the 1st Dragoons and New York Volunteers to guard California’s Southern Military District. After deducting those who were cooks, police, sick, prisoners, and on detached service, southern California would be defended by a total of 114 effective men. The situation was critical.27
On July 16, the day after Company B rejoined the entire command at Los Angeles, the Mormon Battalion was mustered out of service. At 3:00 p.m. Lieutenant Andrew Jackson Smith, an officer of the 1st Dragoons, discharged the soldiers. Beginning with Company A, each of the five companies lined up in alphabetical order. Lieutenant Smith walked back and forth between the rows to inspect the troops. When completed, he uttered in a rather low voice, “You are Discharged.” Of the unpretentious ceremony Azariah Smith observed, “none of the men regretted the Lieutenant’s brevity; in fact, it rather pleased them.”28
Not only did the discharging ceremony represent a break with the United States Army, it also foreshadowed the complete disintegration of the Mormon officers’ influence. Still the military officers believed they had a special charge from Brigham Young to conduct the men to the Church headquarters. Although they planned the return trek, “the soldiers seemed to disregard them & chose to take the course of Br Levi (Hancock) & Father Petagrew (Pettigrew) which was different from the officers.”29 In the end only forty or fifty men followed Captain Hunt’s leadership to the Great Basin. The obligation to defend California and the instructions of military officials selected by Brigham Young proved less influential than the priesthood authority within the church.
Colonel Stevenson remained in the unenviable position of having to defend southern California without the Mormon Battalion. For obedience, work, and trust the finest potential recruits remained the Mormons. In order to meet Governor Mason’s manpower needs, Stevenson: …most respectfully recommended that the Mormon volunteers should be accepted if they offer their services for since they have been under my Command I have found both officers and men prompt in their obedience to all orders and in every sense of the word faithful to the trust and confidence reposed in them. As Citizens their deportment has been unexceptionable, and as a body of men, they have more valuable and a less number of useless or worthless men among them than I have ever known among the same number of persons associated together either for Civil or Military purposes.30
Despite his exceedingly laudatory praise of the Latter-day Saint soldiers, Stevenson feared that the Mormons hoped to control, or at least dominate, the political and military life of Califonria. In a letter revealing his concern to Governor Mason, Stevenson related some of the current ideas that the Mormon leaders had been freely expressing:
Both before and since they were mustered out of the service, I have conversed with Capt. Hunt and some other leaders, and am satisfied they desire to get the military control of the country, and that from time, to time, they will supply from 100 to 1000 men for the service, until their whole community shall have had some experience as soldiers, and become furnished with arms, which by the time a civil government shall be organized, will give them control as well of the Ballot Box by their numerical strength, as physically, being a corps of many hundred soldiers, well armed and equipped for service in the field. They look forward to the disbanding of my Regiment of Volunteers at the close of the war, as an event that will throw the Military defence and control of this country entirely in their hands, this I know to be their calculation, for Hunt, and his officers have so expressed themselves to me; this may acocunt for the opposition a re-enlistment of the entire Battalion has met with from some of their society leaders; as I am well assured they regard an order or instruction from them as paramount to any other power for at all time I have been told, that if a messenger should arrive with but five lines from one of their chief leaders now on the road to this country, all would have re-entered, and all the officers here confident that Hunt can raise a Battalion if you require it.31
As a Gentile who apparently held few prejudices against the Saints, Stevenson also made some very perceptive comments about their religion. He found them to be dedicated followers of a strange type of authoritarianism and explained:
My intercourse with the Mormons has satisfied me that the great mass of them are a simple minded, ignorant people, entirely under the control of their leaders, and that in every community or association, there is some one man who is the controlling spirit, and that all are under the direction and control of some one Master Spirit. In the Battalion were two men (Levi Hancock and “Father” Pettigrew), one of which was a private soldier—who was the chief men, and but for them, at least, three companies would have re-entered, but they opposed, and not a man would enter and I do not believe we should have succeeded in getting one company, if they had not given it their countenance or at least made no formal objection.32
While Stevenson analyzed his position at Los Angeles, eighty-one of the 314 men discharged from the Mormon Battalion re-enlisted to form a new company named the Mormon Volunteers. This unexpected re-enlistment of these Latter-day Saints pleased the American military authorities in Los Angeles. “Until the day after they were mustered out of the service, there was not the slightest disposition evinced to re-enter,” wrote Colonel Stevenson, “but on the 17th in the Afternoon, Capt. Davis and Lieut. Canfield commenced enrolling and on the 20th all were enrolled,…. “33 Despite their strong desire to gather with other Mormons at Salt Lake, it became obvious that altogether too many ex-soldiers lacked the financial resources necessary to purchase adequate outfits. Why squander one’s savings to reach church headquarters at Salt Lake if a chance existed that Brigham Young might lead the main body of Mormons to California? One recruit, Henry C. Boyle, explained his quandary: … I did not like to re-enlist, but as I had no relatives in the Church to return to, I desired to remain in California til the Church became located, for it is impossible for us to leave here with provisions to last us any considerable length of time. And if I stay here or any number of us, it is better for us to remain together, than to scatter all over creation.34
Before they re-enlisted, however, Colonel Stevenson had to grant several extra privileges demanded by the Mormon Volunteers: (A) Since many men desired to plant crops at Salt Lake next summer, the government agreed to discharge them on March 1, 1848 rather than waiting until a full year’s enrollment ended on July 20th. (B) The company would be kept intact in order to garrison the port of San Diego. (C) The government agreed to furnish pay and rations for the soldiers’ return trek to Church headquarters. (D) Should it be raised, the Mormon Volunteers would be permitted to join a second Mormon Battalion. (E) The Mormon Volunteers were granted all privileges accorded other volunteers. These agreements restated the rank and file uncertainty regarding Brigham Young’s ultimate destination and the possibility of recruiting another battalion of Mormon troops. Stevenson’s acceptance marked not only his desperate need for loyal troops, but that it was also cheaper to muster the Mormons under these terms than to bring other troops to San Diego from the East coast. The Latter-day Saint Volunteers also requested a new supply of government arms, but Stevenson balked and insisted that the men use the guns previously issued while they were members of the Mormon Battalion. The colonel feared the men would forward their government arms to Brigham Young in order to arm the Salt Lake Mormons at government expense.35
Of those enlisted, Lieutenant Ruel Barrus and twenty-seven men were assigned to San Luis Rey. Reaching their quarters on August 13, they found everything peaceful.36 Apparently to break the tranquil bliss, the men spent quite a bit of time hunting, for when Barrus requested additional cartridges from his commander, Captain Davis told him to restrict use of the ammunition to military purposes.37 The tour of duty passed without a major crisis and San Luis Rey remained peaceful until Barrus moved his command to San Diego during mid-February, 1848.38
Jesse D. Hunter became Governor Mason’s Indian Agent for the Southern Military District with headquarters at San Luis Rey. In this calling, Hunter joined two outstanding Californians who had been appointed Indian Agents by General Kearny: John A. Sutter for the Central Valley and Mariano G. Vallejo for the Sonoma District.39 The Indians at San Luis Rey requested an American Indian Agent to protect them from their sworn enemies, the Spanish Californians. Since the former captain decided to remain in California after the Mormon Battalion’s discharge, Colonel Stevenson recommended the well-known soldier because he was “universally esteemed by all” living near San Diego.40 Hunter’s orders required him to secure a correct inventory of farms, horses, cattle, and property belonging to the mission and to guard it from damage or destruction. He was also admonished to encourage the local Indians to return to San Luis where he could protect them from quarreling with other local residents.41 Although the mission had been previously abandoned, Hunter was directed to provide rooms and sustenance from the mission farms to any Catholic padres desirous of returning.42
Lieutenant Robert Clift became San Diego’s Justice of the Peace from June, 1847 until March, 1848. Meanwhile, he also served as the Acting Assistant Quartermaster and Commissary Officer with orders to accumulate a full six months’ supply of rations.43 Since his requisitions were never filled completely, stock-piling of rations remained Clift’s most persistent problem. Although the San Diego garrison nearly ran out of provisions during October, Clift managed the difficult situation well and generally supplied full rations to the men.44 Colonel Stevenson thought highly of Robert Clift, calling him the most competent Latter-day Saint officer in the Mormon Volunteers.45
Commanded by Captain Daniel Davis, “a most excellent and worthy man,” the Mormon Volunteers were generally respected and appreciated by most of San Diego’s residents.46 One of Captain Davis’ first responsibilities was to house his men. Unfortunately the leaky pueblo barracks required remodeling. He therefore secured Colonel Stevenson’s authorization to utilize some tile and a table from the outer dilapidated buildings at the San Diego Mission to furnish their quarters.47 The renovation caused the first mild controversy since Father Vicente P. Oliva, rector at San Juan Capistrano, claimed title to the San Diego Mission. He complained to Colonel Stevenson that Davis’ men removed the San Diego Mission roof and that they were “also removing his table, benches, etc. leaving him entirely destitute of a comfortable home.”48 The problem was resolved when Captain Davis explained that most of the property had been pilfered before the Mormon Battalion arrived in January, 1847, and his soldiers were attempting to perserve the remaining property.49
Another incident erupted over the death of Mr. Charles Soin. This New Yorker ostensibly had been carrying a large amount of cash while waiting in San Diego for a ship destined to the Hawaiian Islands. On August 11, Soin mysteriously disappeared from his boarding house. Later his mutilated body was discovered, and Captain Davis offered a reward for the killer. Alcalde Robert Clift jailed Richard Freeman, a black attendant at the boarding house, on suspicion of murder. Initially no one testified against Freeman and he was released, but when his wife threatened to implicate him in the crime, he was again jailed and forced to work around the garrison. His wife’s testimony, however, proved insufficient for conviction so Freeman secured his release by the end of October.50
Other than the Oliva and Soin incidents, there were no serious problems between the Mormon Volunteers and residents of San Diego. With minimum garrison duty required, the men spent much free time making bricks and repairing the seaport. “I have also during the winter been engaged in white washing.” wrote Henry Boyle, “I have white washed nearly all the town.”51
Although none of the Volunteers were killed in action, Sergeant Lafayette Frost and Private Neal Donald died of natural causes and were buried onehalf mile southeast of the old pueblo. Fortunately Dr. Alfredo Anseline, a competent and respected physician, tended everyday ailments.52
Archibald Waddell, Dr. Anseline’s hospital steward and member of the New York Volunteers, initiated one of San Diego’s first drug problems under United States occupation. He had been stealing government medicines and selling them to the soldiers. After a careful search of Waddell’s personal property, Davis found a government medicine box and a note of obligation for drugs frorn one of the Mormon soldiers. Charged with embezzling government property, Waddell confessed on October 6 and was sent to Los Angeles for a court martial.53
The most serious and persistent difficulty encountered by the Mormon Volunteers was comprised of recurring threats of insurrection and counterrevolutionary activity led by the former Mexican leaders. The most severe report began September 13, 1847, when an Indian informed Captain Davis that a large body of Mexican soldiers under Generals Jose Castro, Pio Pico, and Jose Flores had marched northward from Sonora and were crossing the Colorado River on their way to re-capture California. Although such reports often came from suspicious sources, Davis sent scouts to the Colorado River to ascertain the truth. Just in case the invasion rumor proved true, Davis also prepared his command for action. Since he possessed artillery but no ammunition, he requested Colonel Stevenson to send powder, ball, and two extra cannon.54 Turning to his detachment at San Luis Rey, he warned Lieutenant Barrus to be on guard and asked Jesse D. Hunter to send some trustworthy scouts to Warner’s ranch as a precautionary measure.55 Hunter, who personally discounted the rumor, replied “if it is the case, we will try and give them the best fight we can.”56 Intensifying the rumor, Barrus learned that the reported Mexican army consisted of 3000 well-armed troops who boisterously proclaimed death to all Americans and Indians who favored the United States.57 As news of the supposed invasion spread wildly through San Diego, Davis described the situation:
The inhabitants here appear much alarmed, and express their fears, that should the reports prove true, you may order us from San Diego, and thus leave them unprotected. I have invariably told them not to fear, that we were amply able with what force we have to defend San Diego from any attack that may he made upon us.58
After several weeks of tension and preparation passed, the presumed Mexican invasion proved to be a hoax, but the Mormon Volunteers had demonstrated a willingness to fight for the United States. Of the situation Captain Davis concluded, “I am inclined to think it is nothing more than Families moving from Sonora, into the Territory, hoping to find here the protection, denied to them at home.”59
Although the invasion rumor proved false, Captain Davis dared not relax his vigilance. He insisted that the Mormon Volunteers remain well supplied with ammunition. Unfortunately the Volunteers’ arms were flint-lock muskets, while the ammunition sent by Colonel Stevenson was primed with percussion caps. Since suitable ammunition could not be procured, they received loose powder and simply had to refill their old cartridges.60
Despite the continued threats of insurrection or invasion of the Southern Military District, Colonel Stevenson found little hard evidence to justify the worries. He seemed to observe the situation clearly when he wrote that an insurrection would “be more for the purpose of robbing the merchants than the hope of driving us out of the district.”61 Despite Stevenson’s confidence, reports continued to reach Monterey that the citizens in San Diego were in arms against the United States soldiers. Should it be necessary to keep the public peace, William T. Sherman granted Captain Davis full authority: … to arrest any person and upon reasonable grounds of suspicion, that if they are engaged in exciting discontent toward our Government, and if any such there be, you should not wait for overt acts on their part, but should arrest and imprison them and if necessary send them here to Monterey by sea.62
While Captain Davis thanked Sherman for the power, he reported that no particular individual had arisen to promote or excite the spirit of rebellion.63 Despite the natural hesitancy for the San Diegans to accept American rule, the Mormon Volunteers did an admirable job of thwarting all counter-revolutionary movements by their responsible behavior.
While the Mormon Volunteers established a constructive rapport with the residents of San Diego, their term of enlistment rapidly approached its end. Although the government’s pledge to discharge the Mormon Volunteers in March, 1848 would be honored, Governor R.B. Mason related that a recent law granted soldiers who remained in the army one full year a bonus of either bounty land totaling 160 acres or treasury script worth $100. This meant the Mormon Volunteers would not receive the bonus if they requested to be discharged prior to serving twelve months.64 Despite the bonus offer the men unanimously decided to retain their March discharge in order to proceed to the Salt Lake Valley as previously planned.65
The government bonus, however raised a new issue. How would the men who had served in the Mormon Battalion for a full year receive their bounty? At the time of discharge the bonus law was unknown in California and the men had been told official certificates of service were not required. Since most of the men in the Mormon Battalion left California immediately after their discharge on July 16, 1847, Captain Davis asked Captain A.J. Smith, the mustering-out officer, how they could acquire the necessary evidence to benefit from the law. Colonel Stevenson personally promised to take every proper step to guarantee the men their benefits.66
Although the Mormon Volunteers relinquished the government bonus, they joyously welcomed Elijah K. Fuller, Orrin Porter Rockwell, and Jefferson Hunt, who brought an “Epistle” from the Church Presidency. Brother Lathrop delivered the “Epistle” in which the Church Presidency counseled the men not to re-enlist but to proceed promptly to Salt Lake. It stated “… our location (the Salt Lake Valley) has been pointed out to us by the Spirit of the Lord, through His servants the Twelve, & is truly delightful & desirable for beauty, for richness of soil, mildness of climate & above all for rest & peace unto us.” The Church Presidency encouraged the men to concentrate all their means, knowledge, and efforts to purchase and bring to Salt Lake all the cows, seed, fruit, mules, and other animals possible.67 In this manner the bounteous environs of San Diego helped to provision the Mormons in Utah.
With Orrin Porter Rockwell to guide them, the soldiers decided to take the southern route via Cajon Pass to Salt Lake. Because of this decision Captain Davis requested that the men be mustered out of service in Los Angeles.68 This request surprised Colonel Stevenson, who insisted that the men be mustered out of service in San Diego. He also warned that the official discharge date might be late. Discharge orders had to be issued directly by Governor Mason, but Colonel Stevenson personally withheld the troop discharge request in the hope that Porter Rockwell and company might persuade the Mormon Volunteers to remain in service the full twelve months. Finally realizing the adamancy in their final decision for early dismissal, Stevenson immediately took steps to discharge the men on March l0th, the target date. Unfortunately, replacement had to be sent from Monterey, and the official paymaster was presently at Mazatlan, Mexico.69
Only about half of the seventy-nine remaining Volunteers heeded the church leaders’ “Epistle.” Jesse D. Hunter replied that the government remained very anxious to raise a second Mormon Battalion for the war’s duration. Despite the optimistic perception of Salt Lake’s climate, he thought California would be a perfect home for the Saints and explained, “There is not a man, woman, or child, but would rejoice at the very idea of our settling in this country.” Should the main body of Saints remain in the Salt Lake Valley, Hunter suggested a Pacific coast settlement where Mormons would have a port for trade. While the church leaders deliberated, Jesse D. Hunter decided to remain at San Luis Rey, in faith.70 If the Mormons would not enlist in sufficient numbers to form a segregated company, Colonel Stevenson encouraged individuals to join. The policy would serve the government in two ways: (A) excellent soldiers would be recruited, and (B) Mormon loyalty to the federal government would be encouraged. Stevenson believed:
These people are destined for some time to come to be the chief reliance of our Government for defence against foreign invasion, and domestic insurrection in this Territory, for at any time their whole male population capable of bearing arms could at a short notice be brought into service and their very fanaticism closely organized as they are making them obedient and devoted Soldiers, and I would therefore respectfully suggest their employment by the Government on every proper occasion where it can be done consistent with the public interest.71
As a final encouragement, Colonel Stevenson wrote to Brigham Young on February 8, 1848, expressing a need for soldiers in California, praising the Mormon troops, and requesting a re-enlistment for the duration of the war with Mexico. Stevenson assumed the Mormons desired to settle in California and believed that the Saints needed to mingle with the Californians to overcome the prejudice against them: … much of the prejudice and persecution to which you have been subjected has arisen from the ignorance of the people among who you resided and of the general character of your people; and permit me to say that I believe such prejudice will ever exist in any community against a people who shut themselves out from any association with the world in which they live … I am assured from the best authority that there was universal feeling of indignation among the people of the Country, native as well as foreigners against the U.S. for receiving your people in the service and for a long lime after I assumed the command of this District in May last this same prejudice existed so strongly that the inhabitants of this town absolutely shunned your people when they met them in the streets and this prejudice as well among the intelligent and respectable as the ignorant and vulgar. . . .subsequent observations enabled me at all times to combat the prejudice of those with whom it was my daily custom to mingle and who subsequently by cultivating a more general acquaintance with the officers and soldiers of the Battalion stationed here soon became satisfied that their prejudices were wrong and had been excited without justifiable cause and at the time the Battalion was disbanded there was a general feeling of regret in this town. . . .I therefore ask you if it is not a matter of the utmost importance to the future peace and happiness of your community that this feeling of respect and regard for them acquired by their own correct deportment while mingling with the people of this new country among whom they and their progeny for generations must reside, should be continued and I would further ask if any more effectual means can be used to preserve and perpetuate it than by acting as their guardians and protectors as well against Indian depredations as domestic insurrections and perhaps at no distant day against the attacks of a foreign foe under the Banner of our common country.72
California possessed advantages for the Mormon settlement with fertile soil, accessible water, and a sea coast to take their surplus to the nations of the world. Brigham Young, however, had decided to keep his Saints isolated and gathered in the mountain fastness of the Salt Lake Valley and no colonel or governor of the United States could change his mind. Decades would be required to “Americanize” the Mormons.73 The question soon became moot, however, for on September 17, 1847, Santa Anna surrendered at Mexico City and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which ended the war between the United States and Mexico was signed on February 2, 1848, unbeknown to the military officials in California.
The Saints in the Mormon Volunteers were discharged on March 14, 1848 and received their pay the following day. They left San Diego on March 21 and travelled to Williams’ Ranch where they worked until starting their journey to Salt Lake. Under the guidance of Porter Rockwell, thirty-five of the original eighty-one Saints of the Mormon Volunteers left Williams’ Ranch on April 12 with one wagon and 135 horses and mules. After a long, arduous journey they arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on June 5, 1848, having brought the first wagon that ever passed over the southern route linking Los Angeles via the Cajon Pass to Salt Lake City.74
The Mormon Volunteers played a unique role in the history of the American Southwest. The United States government needed the presence of troops to occupy California until a peace treaty with Mexico could be negotiated and courted the Mormon Battalion with unprecedented concessions. Meanwhile the faithful Mormons not only rejected the government’s request but also rebelled against their own officers previously selected by Brigham Young. Ecclesiastical authority within the battalion triumphed over military duty. After all seemed lost to the federal officers, eighty-one men unexpectedly re-enlisted as the Mormon Volunteers. Their history depicts a willingness to defend California and a relatively peaceful transition to American rule. California offered a cosmopolitan, worldly, life style for the men, but Brigham Young chose to isolate his people and create a unique culture in the Great Basin. Given this choice less than half chose to return immediately to Church authority. Whether their descendants became Californians or Utahans all can take pride in the accomplishments of the Mormon Volunteers.