Courtesy of Devan Jensen
Henry Wells Jackson, circa 1861

SAN ANTONIO — Devan Jensen and Paul Hoffman both told an adventure tale and a love story, albeit one with a tragic ending” at the Mormon History Association Annual Meeting in San Antonio in June.

As Jensen explained, “this is the story of Henry Wells Jackson, a wandering Mormon motivated by duty to God, country and family.”

Jensen outlined some of significant firsts of Henry Wells Jackson:

He was among the first to march west to California as part of the Mormon Battalion.

He was among the first to pan for gold only a few weeks after its discovery in California.

He was part of Utah’s early territorial militia and worked as part of the mail service between Utah and California.

He was the Civil War’s first and only battle fatality from Utah.

So what prompted Jackson to live such an adventurous life, and how does the love story fit in? Jensen explains that while Jackson’s reason for joining the Mormon Battalion is lost to history, it may have paralleled the reaction of others, including Daniel Rawson: “I felt indignant toward the Government that had suffered me to be raided and driven from my home. … I would not enlist. (Then) we met President Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball and Willard Richards … calling for recruits. They said the salvation of Israel depended upon the raising of the army. When I heard this my mind changed. I felt that it was my duty to go.”

Jackson, then 19 years old, joined as a musician and participated with the battalion, crossing the desert, remarkably avoiding any conflict and ending in San Diego in January 1847. Jackson then was one of 81 members who joined the Mormon Volunteers, a territorial militia patterned after similar organizations from around the country.

By 1848, Jackson had traveled up to Mormon Island, near Sutter’s Mill, and began, with others in the area, panning for gold. But while so many were heading west to California, he headed east to the Salt Lake valley where he met and married Eliza Ann Dibble. The two were married by President Young on Feb. 3, 1850.

But Jackson’s military life was not over. He continued to serve in the Utah Militia through the years of the Utah War and then set out to serve in 1861 in the Civil War, thus, as Hoffman explained, “breaking the myth that no Mormons participated in the Civil War.”

Jackson joined the Union's First Regiment, District of Columbia Volunteer Cavalry and was mortally wounded at what would become known as the Battle of White Bridge. In his last letter to his wife, Jackson wrote: “And I pray God that my life may be spared to attone for All my neglect of you and my children.” Instead, Jackson would go down in history as the first Mormon killed in any war and the only Utahn killed in the Civil War. His legacy lives on, however, as both Hoffman and Jensen are descendants of Jackson and have worked to learn more about this “wandering adventurer” from their family history.

Emily W. Jensen covered the LDS online world for five years. She continues to track online developments and discussions. Email: