San Diego Mormon Battalion Historical Sites
“History may be searched in vain for an equal march of infantry. Half of it through a wilderness where nothing but savages and wild beasts are found. Deserts, where for the want of water, there is no living creature. There, with almost hopeless labor, we have dug deep well, which the future traveler will enjoy. Without a guide who had traversed them, we have ventured into trackless tablelands where water was not found for several marches.”
“With crowbar and pick and axe 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.”
– Lt. Col. Philip St. George Cooke
U.S. army of the west The Mormon Battalion
Completing one of the longest mil- itary marches in United States his- tory, the Mormon Battalion army unit entered California under the leadership of Lt. Col. Philip St. George Cooke. After 2,000 difficult miles, this unique group temporarily settled in San Diego on January 29, 1847.
Their sacrifice was immense; they left wives, children, and their hopes of Zion to aid the U.S. government in their war with Mexico. With a protective blessing from Brigham Young, the men, with a handful of women as laundresses, turned their faces west towards an untamed wilderness and a journey only to end at the ocean.
Their accomplishments include building a road from Santa Fe, New Mexico to California; the soldier’s hands built the original San Diego courthouse,the first “fired” brickbuilding west of the Mississippi. Battalion members also toiled to make bricks, dig wells, whitewash buildings, and provided blacksmithing to aid the community ’s many growing needs.
All the while the soldiers main- tained a peaceful military presence with regular marches in the plaza.
Visitors can retrace the historic steps of the Mormon Battalion in Old Town San Diego. A battalion wagon replica can be found in Old Town; there is also a Visitors Center, which shows a brief film of their journey and houses several historic artifacts.
You can also learn of the Mormon Battalion’s epic march with day trips to Mission San Luis Rey, Warner Ranch, Box Canyon, and Vallecito Springs, each a short distance from San Diego.
San Diego Points of Interest
THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS
- Mormon Battalion Visitors Center
Located in Old Town San Diego, the Visitors Center boasts historical arti- facts, video presentations, tours, and artwork. The Center is open from 9 AM to 9 PM, seven days a week; admission is free.
From I-5, take exit 19, and go east on Old Town Ave.; turn left on San Diego Ave., right on Harney; straight ahead to Juan Street. Center is on northwest corner.
- Fort Stockton
The birthplace of Diego Hunter, son of Battalion members Jesse and Lyd- ia Hunter. The fort houses “Charlie,” a bronze statue dedicated to the sol- diers, and a monument honoring the women of the Battalion.
From I-8 take the Taylor Street/Hotel Circle exit; proceed west on Taylor Street; turn left on Presidio Dr. Fort is at top of hill west of Presidio Dr.
- Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery
Here lies the grave site of Lydia Hunt- er and Albert Durham. Both marched with the Mormon Battalion.
Take Rosecrans Street exit (Cal. Hwy 209) from West I-8; go south for approximately three miles to the cemetery.
- Mission San Diego
One of the oldest missions in California, Mission San Diego housed the Mormon Battalion for one night when they arrived in San Diego.
Take I-8 to Mission Gorge Rd. exit; go north on Mission Gorge Rd.; turn left onto Twain Ave., which becomes San Diego Mission Rd. Mission is on right.
- Mission San Luis Rey
This mission, founded in 1798, became an encampment for the Battalion after it had been abandoned and vandalized. The Battalion soldiers helped to repair the damages during their stay. The mission museum offers a monument and writings dedicated to the Battalion.
From Hwy 76, go north on El Camino Real; turn right on Mission Rd. Go .7 miles. Mission is on left.
- Warner Ranch
The Mormon Battalion’s arrival at this site is commemorated with two display markers telling of their trek. The ranch provided food for the hungry soldiers and their animals and was the first sign of water since crossing the Colorado River.
From Hwy 79, take San Felipe Rd. east for .7 miles.
- The Battalion cut a passage through the canyon rock using only axes and hand tools.
Take Hwy 78 east; turn south on S2 (Great Southern Overland Route of 1849); go 8.6 miles to turn-out for Box Canyon.
- Vallecito Springs
Once an encampment for the Battalion, this park has a marker commemorating the Battalion’s presence. The area also became a stagecoach stop after the Battalion passed through. Park is open from September 1st through June 1st.
Take Hwy 78 east; turn south on S2 (Great Southern Overland Route of 1849); go 19 miles to campground.
- San Diego Temple
The San Diego Temple is a beautiful structure; the temple’s white exterior and dramatic spires provide beauty for travelers and patrons. Although entrance is limited to those with recommends, the temple grounds are open to the public; admission is free.
From North I-5, take Nobel Dr. exit east; from South I-5, take La Jolla Village Dr. exit east; then go right on Lebon Dr.; right on Charmant Dr. Temple is on right.