Since it was formed in 1947, the U.S. Mormon Battalion Inc., a heritage organization, has been seeking to carry out the wishes and prophecy of Brigham Young that the battalion be held in honorable remembrance. In doing that, the organization honors the battalion soldiers individually as well as collectively.
Characteristic of such individual honor was an event that took place Aug. 28 in the city cemetery of Grantsville, Utah, at the grave site of Wilford Hudson, one of those Mormon Battalion soldiers.
Hudson is, at the same time, typical and atypical.
Typical, if you consider just the approximately 500 LDS men in the battalion who, in 1846, bid farewell to their families and the Church to answer the call of the United States and more particularly, President Young to serve in the army in the war with Mexico.
But if you consider people in general, Hudson was uncommon indeed, just like his brethren of the battalion and the handful of Latter-day Saint women who went with them, four of whom endured the entire 2,000-mile march from the plains of Iowa to the beaches of California.
Each Mormon Battalion enlistee was uncommon for his courage, his dedication, his loyalty to country and his faith in the prophetic calling of President Young, who asked what seemed to be unthinkable in the face of the hardships that had been unlawfully imposed upon the Latter-day Saints with the acquiescence of the U.S. government.
So great was their sacrifice, that President Young declared: "The Mormon Battalion will be held in honorable remembrance to the latest generation; and I will prophesy that the children of those who have been in the army, in defense of their country, will grow up and bless their fathers for what they did at that time. And men and nations will rise up and bless the men who went in that battalion."
Brigham Young's statement forms the charter of U.S. Mormon Battalion Inc.
Pursuant to that purpose, the organization undertakes to memorialize the grave site of every battalion soldier. A women's auxiliary does the same for the women who accompanied them and for the wives the soldiers left behind in dire straits on the plains of Iowa.
It was such an occasion of memorial that brought Major Robert P. Paul, enlistment officer for the service organization, and a few of his comrades to the small community of Grantsville in Utah's Tooele County.
Much was recounted during the program regarding the hardship endured by the battalion members and the families they left behind.
"Perhaps you ask the question, Why did not the Mormon Battalion mutiny?" said Maj. Paul. "Were they not hungry? Were they not cold? Starved? I will tell you. They loved the saints in Zion. They loved their prophet. They loved the gospel. They loved their Father in Heaven. And they would not betray their church. And that is the reason why they endured to the end."
As is customary for members of the service organization, Maj. Paul and his companions were dressed in the uniform of 1846 infantry soldiers. In this practice, they are unlike the men whom they honor. The fact is, it would have been extremely rare for a Mormon Battalion solider to wear a uniform; they agreed to turn over their clothing allowance along with their pay to the Church for use in bringing the poorer Church members across the plains to the settlement they were seeking in the West, and for gathering the converts in Europe to Zion.
"So in this way, the Mormon Battalion provided financial strength to the Church when winter was coming on," Maj. Paul noted.
That was not their only contribution.
He said they opened routes of transportation to and from the Pacific Coast, they were the deciding factor in the conquest of California and the subsequent purchase from Mexico of all or part of six subsequent states in the Southwest, they helped begin irrigation farming in the West, and they brought to the valley settlement seeds and cuttings necessary for settlement.
And, according to a sermon given by President Young in 1861, they literally saved the entire Mormon people from annihilation, as U.S. Sen. Thomas H. Benton had secretly obtained authority from U.S. President James K. Polk to raise a militia in Missouri to destroy every man woman and child in the Mormon camp if the people did not comply with the government enlistment order.
After their arrival in California, some of the battalion members complied with a request from President Young that they re-enlist so as to obtain further means to help the new settlement in the Salt Lake Valley. It was these soldiers, working for Captain John Sutter and among whom was Hudson, who were instrumental in the discovery of gold in California that brought on the legendary gold rush of 1849.
Rather than staying behind to pursue riches, Hudson and his comrades left California when Church leaders said the time had come to return back to their people. Hudson had so much affinity for his companions that when a friend was killed in a skirmish with Indians, he took the gold pouch that had been around the friend's neck back to his widow.
"He also took a cow back and gave to the widows because he loved his fellowmen so much," Maj. Paul said in a conversation just after the ceremony.
In reverence during the ceremony, Maj. Paul uttered words of respect at the grave of Brother Hudson, then knelt at his grave in a few moments of silence as his companions stood with their hats doffed.
Similar ceremonies have been performed for approximately half of the battalion soldiers at their grave sites, Maj. Paul said in the interview.
"We're going to do them all," he vowed. "That's our charter, to memorialize all of them."
The battalion service organization relies on descendants of the battalion members to open the opportunity for the memorializations to take place.
"We try to track them down [the descendants] and make our services available," he said. "It's amazing, but some are not too interested. It's sad. But our duty is to the fulfillment of that prophecy of Brigham Young that their children would rise up and bless their memory."
When a grave site is so memorialized, the organization places a small bronze plaque upon the grave marker identifying the deceased person as a Mormon Battalion member.
These days, U.S. Mormon Battalion Inc. is struggling to remain viable and to find a permanent home for its headquarters in Salt Lake City. "Two of our members died last month, and the membership dropped 20 percent," Maj. Paul said jokingly.
Actually, the service organization has about 150 members. "Anybody of good report who's honest and good can join the Mormon Battalion [or its women's auxiliary]," he said. "You don't have to be a descendant."
And any descendants who desire to have their Mormon Battalion ancestors memorialized by the organization can arrange it by contacting Maj. Paul or any other member. His address is 5293 S. Cottonwood Club Drive, Holladay, Utah 84117, telephone (801) 277-9801. The address for the organization's Internet web site is www.mormonbattalion.com.