At the foot of a 75-year-old monument on the Utah State Capitol grounds honoring the Mormon Battalion, its legacy was celebrated June 24 by a gathering of admirers and descendants.
"Mormon Battalion Heritage Day," proclaimed by Utah Gov. Michael O. Leavitt and what is expected to be an annual event, was sponsored by the service and heritage organization, U.S. Mormon Battalion, and its women's auxiliary.
Cannon fire signaled the beginning of a program at which Elder Marlin K. Jensen of the Presidency of the Seventy was a featured speaker.
"Other than the Zion's Camp march . . .the accomplishments of the Mormon Battalion are singular, really, in the history of the LDS Church," Elder Jensen declared.
"The accomplishments of the Mormon Battalion, I think in modern parlance, would probably be known as a 'win-win.'
He explained that the United States government profited from the work of the battalion, a unit of 500 U.S. Army volunteers drawn from the Latter-day Saints forced from Nauvoo, Ill., in 1846 and making their way across Iowa toward the Valley of the Great Salt Lake.
"A road was carved out of the southwestern wilderness, the Gadsden Purchase [of land in 1853 from Mexico, which became part of New Mexico and Arizona] was accomplished, the acquisition of California certainly was stabilized and probably facilitated more than by any other single group of people or single act," he noted. "And an economic impact was felt, not just in California with the Gold Rush, but in Utah as well for many, many years.
"For the battalion, and for the Church it had the advantage of being able to show the United States government that we were truly loyal to the country. And as you know, the revenues that were generated supported those men and their families, enabled the poor to evacuate from Nauvoo, and a good portion of those monies went to the missionary effort in Great Britain where, in the early days of the Church, converts really became the lifeblood of the settlement of Zion. At one time, there were actually more Latter-day Saints in Great Britain than were here in the Great Basin Kingdom."
In other speeches the goals of the service organization were outlined: to establish a headquarters building with a museum and library; to fulfill the prophecy of Brigham Young that the battalion would be held in honorable remembrance to the last generation; to memorialize the graves of the original battalion men and women and the wives who were left behind; and to encourage the U.S. Congress to nationalize the 1846-48 battalion trails and markers.