LDS youths bring Mormon Battalion to life

By Michael Erfert

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, April 7 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

Battalion members up before dawn preparing for Silver Spur parade appearance during the the reenactment of the Mormon Battalion's march in February 2012 near Yuma, Ariz.

Mike Erfert

YUMA, Ariz. — The Mormon Battalion’s original trek through Yuma, Ariz., took place in January of 1847. Those who attended Yuma’s 2012 Silver Spur Rodeo Parade in February were treated to a trip back in time and a lesson in history. More than a dozen young men and young women from Yuma’s 9th Ward, in period clothing with authentic equipment (including a reproduction U.S. Army wagon), walked the parade route to bring alive a part of the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints..

The Silver Parade is the largest local event of this type, and the Arizona Centennial brought additional historical focus. Their efforts were rewarded by receiving the parade trophies for Best Horse-Drawn Wagon and 1st Place Religious Organization. Freddy Martinez, 17, said that winning the awards made him “feel like we did a good job representing the Battalion,” adding, “I know we were noticed ... and in a good way.”

The recognition didn’t stop there. In attendance at the parade was the commanding officer of the U.S. Army’s Yuma Proving Ground, Col. Reed Young. Young noted that the group was recreating a U.S. Army unit and commended them for keeping history alive. He produced a YPG “challenge coin” and, regretting he didn’t have enough for everyone, called for the youngest member to step forward. Matthew Hill, 14, stepped up and received the coin in a handshake from Young.

Matthew considered participation in the Battalion “a great honor,” saying it was “fun, but humbling at the same time.”

Walking the parade route of approximately 2 miles in period clothing and gear — including rifles — was a lot of work, but put the group in the community’s spotlight. Mixing fun and a healthy respect for the memory of those they were representing, the young men gave it their all. But the young men were not the only participants; they were joined by dedicated young women, which is true to history: there were several women who traveled and labored — even giving birth along the way — with the original Mormon Battalion.

Ashlie Winterton, 17 and one of the Battalion’s two young women, said she was “very proud of the boys, and to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” Her favorite part was “when the veterans would stand when we passed.”

This was a lot of attention for a group often overlooked in history. The U.S. Army of the West-Mormon Battalion was formed in Iowa to serve in the Mexican War (1846-1848). They were to take a southern route to California. Besides the obvious military purpose, the Battalion offered opportunities to the Saints in their often desperate circumstances on their way west from Nauvoo.

LDS Church leaders had been approached to supply 500 men. It was a way for church members to show their loyalty to the country, and it was also a way to provide financial support to their families and others in need through soldier's wages. To dedicate even more funds to this purpose, the Battalion was authorized to serve without regular uniforms. The money that would have gone for uniforms could be sent back to further aid the Saints.

A total of 541 men eventually would heed the call and join the Mormon Battalion. These were not the only members as 33 women and 42 children also made the historic trek. Although they never fought a battle with Mexican forces, the trail they blazed to California played an important role in the country's pioneer movement west.

The Mormon Battalion’s march of more than 2,000 miles was noted in an order signed in San Diego by the area’s military commander, Lt. Col. Geo. Cooke, on Jan. 30, 1847. It reads in part:

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