History Mormon Battalion Chapter 08 Section A
Novel Way of Catching Fish-Wagon Upset and Man Injured-Overtake Price’s Regiment-Character of Price and His Men-Higgins’ Detachment Sent to Pueblo-Dissatisfaction-Alva Phelps Drugged to Death-Curious Phenomenon-Suffer From Thirst-Forced-Marches-Men Salivated
While at the crossing of the Arkansas, many fish were caught by the soldiers by spearing them in the shallow water with swords and bayonets.
After reaching the Arkansas, we traveled up the river about one hundred miles, and then crossed it at a point where the road branched, one road leading up the river to Bent’s Fort and the other to Santa Fe. While journeying up the river one of the wagons upset, somewhat injuring Francis Whitney. After crossing the river we overtook five companies of Colonel Sterling Price’s regiment from western Missouri. We found them a profane, wicked and vulgar set of men. Price will be remembered as the commander of a portion of the mob militia at Far West in 1838, when a few officers and about seventeen ministers of different denominations sat as a court martial and condemned Joseph Smith and others to be shot on the public square in view of their families.
At this point, Captain Higgins, with a guard of ten men, was detailed to take a number of the families that accompanied the Battalion, to Pueblo, a Mexican town located farther up the Arkansas, to winter.
Many of the Battalion were dissatisfied with this move, as President Young had counseled the officers not to allow the Battalion to be divided on any account. Colonel Allen had also promised President Young that they should not be divided. Lieutenants Pace and Gully strenuously opposed the separation of the families from the Battalion, as well as any deviation from the pledges of Colonel Allen, and requested that a council be called and letters from the Twelve Apostles read; but Adjutant Dykes objected, saying there was no time for calling councils, and that President Young did not know our circumstances. The families, therefore, were forced to leave us on the 16th of September, notwithstanding the fears and protests of their relatives and friends, and take up their line of march for Pueblo, in care of Captain Higgins and the soldiers, whose names, according to the best information at hand are as follows: Corporal Gilbert Hunt, Dimick B. Huntington, Montgomery Button, John Tippets, Milton Kelley, Nicholas Kelley, Norman Sharp, James Brown, Harley Morey, Thomas Woolsey and S. C. Shelton. When the detachment left, the command made preparations to march on, but after the teams were hitched up and all were ready to start, the marching order was countermanded to give the officer’s time to make out their monthly report.
While we remained at that point Alva Phelps, of company E, died, a martyr to his country and religion. It is understood that he begged Dr. Sanderson not to give him any strong medicine, as he needed only a little rest and then would return to duty; but the Doctor prepared his dose and ordered him to take it, which he declined doing, whereupon the Doctor, with some horrid oaths, forced it down him with the old rusty spoon. A few hours later he died, and the general feeling was that the Doctor had killed him. Many boldly expressed the opinion that it was a case of premeditated murder. When we consider the many murderous threats previously made, this conclusion is by no means far-fetched. Brother Phelps was buried on the south side of the Arkansas river, in a grave only about four feet deep, its shallowness being due to the fact that the water was very near the surface of the soil. He was the husband of Margaret Phelps (now Margaret Bridges) and father of the two little children mentioned in her very touching letter published previously in this work.
On the evening of Brother Phelps’ death, what appeared to be a star was noticed in the east as dancing in the air. It continued to move both north and south, up and down; it was directly in the course we had traveled. It attracted considerable attention while it remained in sight, and finally disappeared below the eastern horizon.
The following day we traveled twenty-five miles across a dreary desert and suffered intensely from excessive heat and want of water. Our teams also shared in the suffering. There was a mirage, which was very deceptive to the sight. It had the appearance at times of a fog continually rising from stagnant pools and at other times of lakes of water in plain view. This mirage moved along as we traveled and stopped when we halted, thus keeping the same distance from us. What an aggravation to a person almost dying for the want of water! We passed one lone pond full of insects of all sizes and shapes. Out of this pond we drove several thousand Buffalo.
Even when the water was not roiled it was discolored and had a most disgusting appearance. The animals, doubtless, rendered it more noisome than it otherwise would have been by gathering in it to defend themselves from the flies. Our readers will perhaps imagine that we were now more disappointed than before. On the contrary, kind friends, no luxury was ever more thankfully received. The few whose canteens and flagons were not exhausted, of course did not use it, but, bad as it was, it was very welcome to the most of us.
The following day we continued on across the dry, parched desert, without finding any water, except a pond similar to that first mentioned, and which was hailed with joy and considered a great blessing. That night we again made a "dry camp," but started at 4 o’clock the next morning and traveled 10 miles to Cimmeron Springs before breakfast.
Whether Colonel Smith had had no experience in traveling with teams, or whether he desired to use up the teams and leave the Battalion on the plains helpless, does not appear. It is true, however, that, for the last two hundred miles, where there had been but little feed, he had shown no wisdom or care in preserving either man or beast; but on the contrary, no matter whether our drives were to be long or short, he had driven on forced marches, on which account many, in fact nearly all, of the teams as well as men, failed very fast. Probably he relied too much on the judgment of his Adjutant.
On the 20th we traveled ten miles, and encamped before the sink of Cimmeron Creek, where we obtained brackish water by digging holes in the sand. Our only fuel for ten days had been buffalo chips, and in some places they were very scarce, having been mostly used by troops in advance of us. At night the commissioned officers, with David Pettegrew, known as Father Pettegrew, and Levi W. Hancock, our spiritual advisers, met in council, with Egan, Lee, Pace and others, when our condition was freely discussed, but nothing was or perhaps could be done to ameliorate it.
On the 21st we traveled eighteen miles and camped again on the Cimmeron, and had to dig in the sand in the bed of the river for water for both man and beast. The country over which we had passed through the day was rough and sandy.
Samuel H. Rogers’ journal of this date has the following: "Last night I stood horse-guard. When I went to report myself to the Adjutant I found the five orderlies and the Colonel talking about the sick. It appears that the Colonel and Surgeon are determined to kill us, first by force marches to make us sick, then by compelling us to take calomel or to walk and do duty."
We continued along the same stream the following day. Both men and teams failed fast, many completely giving out from exhaustion and sickness. The author and many others were badly salivated. We camped at night at a bold spring.
About this time I appealed to Captains Hunt and Brown, separately, calling attention to the mal-practice of Sanderson, referring to the fact that new cases of severe salivation were of daily occurrence. I requested them to inform the Colonel that this mineral practice was contrary to our religious faith. Captain Hunt replied that he had informed him that it was "rather against our religious faith," and that his reply was, that he knew nothing about our religious faith. On my insisting that HE SHOULD BE MADE TO KNOW, the Captain replied: "Brother Tyler, you would raise a mutiny." I answered: "There would be no mutiny; the Battalion would sustain you to a man." He replied to the effect that he could do nothing, and the subject was dropped. I felt that I had only discharged a plain duty.
A Concise History of the Mormon Battalion in the Mexican War. 1846-1847.