Native Americans remembered for help to Mormon Battalion

As the sesquicentennial year of pioneer celebrations winds to a close, a group of people were remembered and honored in Arizona for their kindness, help and enduring influence upon the members of the Mormon Battalion.

The Casa Grande Arizona Stake presented Gila River Indian Community officials with a plaque on Dec. 13, commemorating the friendly meeting between the Pima and Maricopa Indians and the Mormon Battalion in December 1846.Those who spoke at the program, held at the Gila River Indian Community's museum, located southeast of Phoenix, related stories of how the Mormon Battalion's path crossed with the Native Americans of the Gila River area a few days before Christmas and the example it can serve for Church members today.

Elder Daryl Garn, an Area Authority Seventy, said battalion members and the Indians "met each other in this country and they learned to love each other as brothers."

In 1846 the Mormon Battalion, on its way to San Diego, had left the Tucson area a few days earlier. When the more than 350 battalion members and several women reached the Pima villages on Dec. 21, they were exhausted, hungry and thirsty. They had walked 62 miles in two days and had been without food and water for 26 hours. The men, many who were barefoot, were so weak that they could travel only a short distance before stopping to rest and some were unable to continue traveling.

The Pimas, who numbered nearly 4,000, were friendly to the members of the battalion. History relates that they filled a ditch of water for them and traded food for buttons and worn clothing. Many of the Indians went back along the trail to aid those who were too weak to continue.

The Indian chief, Antonio Azule, was recorded as a "great influence for good." In gratitude for the Indians' help and compassion, the battalion commander, Col. Philip St. George Cooke, gave Chief Azule several sheep as a parting gift.

Two days later the battalion reached the Maricopa villages where they rested and washed clothes and traded with the Indians. The members also took with them a knowledge and first-hand observation of how desert farming and irrigation was used. This knowledge would prove invaluable later on as the Saints settled communities in many areas of the Southwest.

Arlene Allison of the Papago Ward, Mesa Arizona Lehi Stake, is a descendent of Pima Chief Azule. She said the program helped her to understand the details of her ancestors meeting with the Mormon Battalion. "I had heard bits and pieces of how my people traded with the Mormons," she said, "But now I have learned the details."

Sister Allison said that prior to the plaque presentation, she became interested in finding out more about Chief Azule, her great-great-great-grandfather. She was able to find out where he is buried and visited his grave just recently.

"This is very special," she said, "I felt a very special spirit here today."

Urban L. Giff, community manager for the Gila River Indian Community, accepted the plaque and said he was "personally privileged and humbled" to do so. The plaque will be on permanent display at the museum.

"It's humbling because of the significance of the event; that my ancestors and your ancestors came together many years ago in a spirit of cooperation, in a spirit of mutual support," he said. "I commend you for your diligence in remembering that significant event and enabling me to get a glimpse of what that must have been like."

Mr. Giff said that in reading recently about the Mormon Battalion, he was inspired by the way his ancestors were recorded. "The evidence of mutual respect was there," he said, "And I wholeheartedly concur that the evidence of mutual respect, mutual cooperation exists today."

Michael Landon, a historian for the Church, related a brief history of the battalion and shared a few of more than 100 recorded statements documenting the encounter between the battalion members and the Native Americans.

Brother Landon said that perhaps Henry Standage best described the encounter by writing, "These Indians appear glad to see us; many of them running and taking us by the hand."

Brother Landon said, "For theological reasons and from the shared experience of persecution, Mormons (including members of the battalion) felt a kinship with America's original inhabitants. Perhaps as we commemorate the meeting of these two peoples 150 years ago, we might recognize that we are at our most noble when we understand and respect one another.

"May we strive to live our lives in such a way that when we meet we will treat one another as the Gila River people treated the battalion, even running to take one another by the hand," he said.

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