Some history books serve up a banquet, a new menu of appetizing ideas and information. Others are like salt, adding delicate seasoning to what is already there.
"The Gold Discovery Journal of Azariah Smith" is of the latter kind. The stories of both the Mormon Battalion and the discovery of gold in California have been told countless times, and there is little significantly new in this retelling. But the words and experiences of young Azariah Smith add flavor to the pot.Smith was 17 when he joined the U.S. Army: Upon arriving at Council Bluffs, Missouria River, there were United States officers there, after Mormon volunteers, for a Battalion. The council of the heads of the Church was to the Saints, to volunteer, upon which, the Battalion was made up. I and Father and Thomas P Dutcher (Mothers brother,) were three of the number that volunteered.
He marched with the Mormon Battalion first to Fort Leavenworth, then southwest to Santa Fe and on to the Pacific. His journal entries are fairly brief, taking note of the weather, the mileage, the camp duties. But his youthful spirit comes through, as he talks of the "beautifull prairy" and notes that members of the company are "all in good health and spirits."
Despite the long and hard march, homesickness didn't seem to strike until he reached California (where the muse of less-than-brilliant poetry also put in an appearance).
Far from my dear Mother and Sisters I am,
But by the grace of God I will see them again,
And live in Zions city most glorious to behold,
Whose walls are made of jasper and streets of purest Gold.
Smith was mustered out of the army, having seen no fighting but witnessing the transformation of the ragtag bunch of refugee soldiers into an exemplary corps.
Despite his anxiety to return home (wherever it was now), young Smith obeyed the counsel of the LDS Church for all men without wives and children to stay in California and work for a year before joining the saints in the Great Basin.
Thus it was that Smith got a job at Sutter's mill and was there on Jan. 24, 1848.
This week Mon. the 24th. Mr. Marshall found some pieces of (as we all suppose) Gold, and he has gone to the Fort, for the Purpose of finding out. It is found in the raceway in small pieces; some have been found that would weigh five dollars.
Like everyone else in California in those days (with the possible exception of Sam Brannan), Smith has little sense of what this discovery would mean to the country, how it would affect history. His thoughts were still turned toward the Mormon settlement in Salt Lake; and in June of that year, he finally left California. It was a decision he did not regret - to the end of his 84 years.
The diary is brief, but editor David Bigler has done a good job of fleshing it out through the use of footnotes and introductions. He divided the journal into parts, and with a brief introduction to each, sets the stage for each section of the story.
There is also an epilogue that rounds out the Azariah Smith story - including his return to California for the Golden Jubilee marking the 50th anniversary of the discovery of gold, about the only time he ever ventured away from his adopted home of Manti.
Bigler has a nice touch for including pertinent details and not cluttering the text with too much. The end result is a satisfying sprinkling of salt.