The sesquicentennial of the Mormon Battalion

On a "perfect San Diego day" - meaning the temperature was nearly 80 degrees F. and the blue sky was unblemished by clouds - some 2,400 people joined in a six-mile trek to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Mormon Battalion's arrival here.

A crowd, estimated to be about the same number as the marchers, gathered Jan. 18 in a public plaza of San Diego's Old Town and applauded the marchers, who had walked from Jack Murphy Stadium, as they filed by at the opening of a program of music and speeches. The event was in honor of the battalion's epic 2,000-mile journey that began July 16, 1846, from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to San Diego, arriving here Jan. 29, 1847.San Diego Mayor Susan Golding, in a proclamation read to the assembly in Old Town by assistant Ronald McKeown, decreed Jan. 18 as "Mormon Battalion Day" in recognition of the battalion's entry to the area and the contributions of its members in helping to build this part of California.

A tape-recorded message by President Thomas S. Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency, was presented as part of the program. (See page 3.) Also speaking were Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve and Elder Loren C. Dunn of the Seventy and president of the North America West Area.

San Diego California East Stake Pres. Robert L. Chambers conducted the program, which was as much a civic celebration was it was a LDS commemorative event. Monsignor I.B. Eagen, former pastor of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Old Town and a professor of history at the University of San Diego, offered the invocation. Sheila Amdor, who was co-chairwoman of the Grand Encampment Celebration last July 12-13, spoke as a representative of Council Bluffs Mayor Thomas Hanafan. Jeff Van Deerlin, representing San Diego City Councilman Byron Wear, whose district includes Old Town, also participated on the program. William Hartley, a descendant of battalion member Edward Bunker, offered the benediction.

Much of the atmosphere of the event was set by music provided by the Southern California Mormon Choir. The choir's 100 singers, directed by Doug Custace and accompanied by Mary Gray, presented a concert before the program, and musical selections between speeches. It's renditions of "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "When the Saints Go Marching In" brought the crowd to its feet, applauding as uniformed members of a contemporary organization, Mormon Battalion Inc., led marchers onto Old Town's public plaza.

While most who participated in the early-morning hike were from stakes in the San Diego area, many traveled from far away places to participate. Some were descendants of the original battalion. One family visiting from Nigeria joined the trek. Some babies were pushed in strollers, and youngsters, teenagers, young adults, middle-aged men and women and older people walked side by side. A few marchers were in their 80s. Verda Mawson, who will be 90 in February, walked about 11/2 miles. Her great-great-grandfather, Reynolds Cahoon, joined the Church just six months after it was organized in 1830; her great-great-grandmother, Thurza Stiles Cahoon, was a charter member of the Relief Society when it was organized in Nauvoo in 1842. Sister Mawson's great-grandfather, Andrew Cahoon, was the civil engineer who laid out the city of San Bernardino.

Local chapters of Daughters of Utah Pioneers set up booths demonstrating pioneer-era crafts and lifestyles, including quilting, tatting and churning butter. "Mountain men," including four Latter-day Saints who preceded the marchers into Old Town, set up various demonstrations of frontier craftsmanship and skill.

During the program, speeches and a dramatic reading recounted some of the battalion's history. (See highlights of Mormon Battalion history on page 10.)

Elder Scott said "some wonderful scholarly meetings" had been held regarding the Mormon Battalion, one of which was a meeting of the Mormon History Association in cooperation with the San Diego Historical Society, which convened at the San Diego California Stake Center the evening of Jan. 17. (Excerpts of some of the addresses will be published in the Feb. 1 Church News.) Elder Scott said that many people have devoted much effort to document the growth of the San Diego area and how it relates to the Mormon Battalion. "I thank them," he said.

He made some suggestions on "how to translate the values that these men and women who accompanied them had in their minds and hearts and why they did it, and how each of us can benefit personally from that." Elder Scott encouraged members to get maps of the Mormon Battalion's march, or of the pioneers' exodus from Nauvoo, then establish 10 or 12 goals for this year. (See box on this page.)

He said that the pioneers and members of the Mormon Battalion did not undertake their journeys for the purpose of seeking a fortune. "It was because they held values," he said. "They saw the importance of being able to worship God, to know of His teachings and to live them. They honored the value of family - husband and wife, bearing children and teaching them truths and providing a way for them to be educated and to live in peace and happiness.

"They learned the importance of duty, the need to set out noble objectives and work hard to meet them. Each of us, in our lives, can do the same on our scale. They did not give up when the difficulty was great. . . . They did not give up when they personally were challenged; I think many times they would have loved to have returned to the side of their dear ones they had to abandon. They believed in this nation. They believed in its Constitution. We as a Church believe that that document was inspired of God and needs to be protected to provide the opportunities that the concepts in it give for personal growth and contribution. We continue today to support that."

Further, Elder Scott said, "May we, as we contemplate this heroic and noble march, remember that this was not an area that had been traversed in that way before. They did not know what they faced. They knew there was a possibility of peril,

perhaps ofT their very lives, to stand for principle. I pray that when the world closes in around us and we're tempted to give up . . . that we will not give in, that we will remember the Savior, Jesus Christ, and continue to believe and to live His teachings."

Elder Dunn pointed out that the march of the Mormon Battalion not only made history but also made a statement about who members of the Church are "and what we're about and what we're doing."

He spoke of three of the major movements in Church history that took place in 1846-1847 that affected the whole of western America. "One of them was when the Latter-day Saints as a body moved out of Nauvoo and began their overland trek. The second movement was when some of those who didn't have the means and lived in the East were authorized by the Quorum of the Twelve to lease or rent a ship and sail around through the Cape [Horn] and come up from there, arriving [after six months] in San Francisco in July 1846 on the ship Brooklyn. The third major event that took place was the arrival of the Mormon Battalion in San Diego.

"The arrival of the ship Brooklyn and the arrival of the Mormon Battalion in San Diego and some others who found themselves in the state meant at one time that there were more Latter-day Saint Anglos in this state than there were anyone else. When I say that, I'm quick to salute and recognize that we were strangers and foreigners because the Indians and the Mexicans were here first. We also honor them for that part of their heritage."

Elder Dunn said further: "The men of the Mormon Battalion did not look like soldiers, and as the residents of San Diego were soon to learn, they also would not act like a conquering army. The spit and polish of the army uniforms of a victorious army were missing. They had been replaced by a quiet industrious group of men who would treat the people of San Diego with benevolent consideration. They arrived in San Diego tired, weary and poorly clothed. Some were wearing canvas wrapped around their feet instead of shoes. The money originally allocated to the battalion for uniforms six months earlier at Ft. Leavenworth had not been spent on uniforms. Instead, the thousands of dollars collected as pay and allowances had been sent back to Council Bluffs for supplies, medicines and equipment to prepare their families and loved ones for the trek that they would begin the following year. As the battalion was marching into the warm footlands of San Diego their families and loved ones were fighting the brutal weather at their winter quarters in Iowa and Nebraska.

"San Diego, California and Latter-day Saint histories of the mid-1800s are intertwined. And one cannot study one without being drawn to the other."

Elder Dunn spoke of Col. Philip St. George Cooke, who took over the battalion at Santa Fe as permanent commander and led the group into San Diego. "During the march . . . Col. Cooke would learn of the strength and capabilities of his Mormon Battalion," he said. "After arriving in San Diego he issued an order of praise regarding the battalion, which said: `. . . History may be searched in vain for an equal march of Infantry.' "

Elder Dunn said that he was sure members of the Mormon Battalion would be "totally surprised to think that such a celebration was going on in honor of their heroic march."

He cited a phrase from some words written in the Nauvoo Temple just before the Mormon Pioneers began their trek west: "God has seen our sacrifice. Come after us."

Elder Dunn said, "I don't know quite what that message was supposed to mean, but in many respects it could be a message from one generation to another, from those who went ahead of us, the men of the Mormon Battalion, the men who suffered so much to establish what we look to as our heritage today. And, surely, we can say something of the same thing. We honor those who went ahead of us. We honor the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ that they held so dear that they were willing to sacrifice in this manner so that they could worship God according to the dictates of their own conscience. As they pass this heritage on to us - this heritage of gospel principles and Church and God - certainly how we live and how we act and how we uphold the gospel that we hold dear, should be strong enough in our lives so that . . . we might also pass on our heritage so that some day [we] might say, `God has seen our sacrifice, now you come after us.' "

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