California peak named in honor of wife of battalion member

A mountain peak in eastern California now honors the memory of a Mormon pioneer woman and the "thousands of emigrant women who endured similar hardships in settling the West."

The United States Board of Geographic Names last October named the 9,763-foot peak in the Sierra Nevada mountains in honor of Melissa Coray, the wife of Mormon Battalion Sgt. William Coray. Sgt. Coray was among 45 battalion men who blazed the "highway" through Carson Pass, about 50 miles southwest of present-day Carson City, Nev.To celebrate the naming of the peak and the memory of Melissa Coray and others, hundreds gathered July 30 for a two-part commemoration. The event was sponsored by the Sierra Chapter of the Sons of Utah Pioneers.

The first event was a roadside ceremony on U.S. Highway 88, five miles west of the peak, during which a plaque was unveiled commemorating the "Mormon-Carson Pass Emigrant Trail." Ben E. Lofgren, SUP Sierra Chapter president, said that the trail was designated a National Historic Trail in August 1992 by a Congressional Act, but this was the first service commemorating the trail.

Unveiling the plaque, which also makes reference to the peak, was 8-year-old Melissa Richmond, a fourth-great-granddaughter of Melissa Coray. She is the daughter of Rick and Lind Ann Richmond of the Vienna Ward, Oakton Virginia Stake.

The second part of the commemoration was also on Highway 88, about 12 miles northeast of the plaque. Here several addresses were given in honor of Melissa Coray and others who blazed the Mormon-Carson Pass Emigrant Trail. Joining this event as a culmination of their youth conference were young men and young women of the Fair Oaks California Stake. They had hiked and pulled handcarts along 10 miles of the trail. (Please see article on page 4.)

Among the hundreds attending both services were descendants of not only Melissa Coray, but also of battalion members and other LDS and non-LDS immigrants. Organizations participating in the two ceremonies included the SUP Sierra Chapter, the National Society of the Sons of Utah Pioneers, the U.S. Forest Service, the Oregon-California Trail Association and the International Society of Daughters of Utah Pioneers.

The naming of the peak was the result of a three-year effort. With the cooperation of the Oregon-California Trail Association and the U.S. Forest Service, the Sierra Chapter began working with the California Board of Geographic Names in 1991 to name a peak after Melissa Coray. The California board requested and received approval from the U.S. board in October 1993.

Melissa Coray Peak will appear on future official state and federal maps, said Brother Lofgren.

He told the Church News that the requirements to name a mountain peak were stringent. "The peak couldn't be in or on the boundary of a national wilderness area. It had to have nationwide significance. It had to meet the approval of the manager of the land on which it was situated - in this case the Forest Service - and it had to comply with the regulations of the California board."

In speaking of the naming of the peak and the success of the commemoration, Brother Lofgren became choked with emotion. He said, "The members of the Fair Oaks stake who participated in the event and the hundreds of individuals who attended were all emotionally caught up in the spirit of the occasion."

Among those giving addresses during the commemoration events was Michael Landon, an archivist with the Church's Historical Department in Salt Lake City. He spoke at both services, but more extensively at the second service.

In speaking of the importance of pioneer trail diaries and journals, he said: "As a practicing archivist, I often feel that I am charged with the responsibility of rescuing history from oblivion. If our writing survives us, our immortality is, in a small way, assured. These magnificent trail accounts were written perhaps with no expectation that they would survive generations, but fortunately for us many have survived.

"The dark side is that many have been lost forever," Brother Landon continued. "If the value of journals can be measured by our unending fascination with the trail experience, it underscores the need to preserve these records. Identification, conservation, preservation and access to these accounts should be paramount.

"Ultimately," he said, "it is in the emotional impact of these accounts that their greatest value can be found. A reading of any of these accounts causes us to re-examine our own goals, our own challenges, our own hopes and dreams and, perhaps, our own blessings."

Many speakers spoke of Melissa Coray's life.

The 18-year-old was among about 2,000 Mormon refugees at Mt. Pisgah, Iowa, when she married William Coray on June 22, 1846, according to Melissa's Journey with the Mormon Battalion, by Norma B. Ricketts.

Four days after the marriage, the U.S. Army requested the enlistment of 500 Mormons for the war with Mexico. William Coray was among those who followed Brigham Young's counsel to join. Melissa signed on as a laundress and was assigned with her husband to Company B.

On July 13, 1846, William and Melissa arrived at Council Bluffs, Iowa, with other volunteers, and on July 20, they marched to Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and from there on to California. On Jan. 29, 1847, the Mormon Battalion reached Mission San Diego, Calif. The battalion went on to San Luis Rey, but was later ordered back to San Diego. On March 17, 1847, Company B - which included William and Melissa - arrived in San Diego and took over operation of Fort Stockton. In July, they marched to Los Angeles where the battalion was disbanded.

From there, the discharged battalion members split into several groups for the trip to the Salt Lake Valley. The Corays joined a small party led by Capt. Jefferson Hunt. They traveled up the coast to Monterey. There, on Oct. 2, Melissa gave birth to a son, who died soon after.

According to press releases from SUP, Melissa and William traveled on to Sutter's Fort in central California, and then left for Utah with the Browett-Holmes Company from Pleasant Valley, near present-day Placerville. The company consisted of 45 men, one woman (Melissa), two cannons, 17 wagons, 150 mules and horses and about the same number of cattle. They chose the Carson Pass route to avoid crossing the Truckee River numerous times.

It took them six weeks to build a wagon trail over Carson Pass. These were the first wagons to travel this route and the first to go from west to east, according to SUP press releases.

For Melissa Coray, this had been the second time she had watched the battalion build a road. The first was the last 700 miles to San Diego. Melissa witnessed a third building of a road - the Salt Lake Cut-off just before arriving in the Great Salt Lake Valley Oct. 6, 1848. All together, Melissa witnessed nearly 1,000 miles of road building. William Coray died in March 1849; Melissa married William Kimball in 1851. She had two children with her first husband including the one who died shorty after birth, and six children with her second husband.

During the years of the California gold rush, 1849-56, the preferred "highway" across the Sierra Nevada, which was blazed by discharged members of the Mormon Battalion - accompanied by one woman - was traveled by some 200,000 westbound gold seekers and settlers.

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