History Mormon Battalion Chapter 14 Section A
Lieutenant Dykes Resigns His Adjutancy-Dinner of Sheep’s Lights-Mexican Spurs-Mexican Woman Stolen By the Navajos-Hampton Reported Well By Dr. Sanderson and Dies a Few Hours Afterwards-Another Reduction in Rations-Rumors of Intended Revolt-Two Men Punished Through the Meanness of Dykes-Sergeant Elmer Restored to Office-Discouraging Reports of Guides-Condition of Teams
Up to the 1st of November Lieutenant Dykes, of Company D, had acted in the capacity of Adjutant to the Battalion, while Cyrus C. Canfield, the 2nd Lieutenant, had command, during the absence of Captain Nelson Higgins. Upon this date, however, Lieutenant Dykes resigned his position as Adjutant, and assumed command of the company, as will be seen by the following:
(Orders No. 13)
“In consequence of the absence of Captain Higgins and the importance that the first lieutenant of his company should command it, the resignation of his adjutancy by 1st Lieutenant George P. Dykes is hereby accepted and he will assume the command of the company, giving reciepts to Lieutenant Hulett for its public property. First Lieutenant Dykes has the thanks of his commanding officer for his faithful performance of his duties while adjutant of the Battalion.
Second Lieutenant Merrill is hereby appointed Adjutant of the Battalion. He will be obeyed and respected accordingly.
(Signed.) P. ST. GEORGE COOKE,
LIEUT. Col. COMMANDING.”
This change gave general satisfaction to the Battalion with the exception of Company D.
Many, after leaving Santa Fe, contracted severe colds, from which they suffered for some time, but as we advanced the effects gradually wore off. We found the judgment of Colonel Cooke in traveling much better than that of Smith, in fact, it was first-class. He never crowded the men unnecessarily, but as we advanced the roads grew so much worse that both men and teams failed fast, and our only hope of success lay in our faith in God and on pulling at the ropes.
On the 2nd of November a number of teams gave out and several wagons were sent back to Santa Fe, empty. The same day about 300 miserably poor Spanish sheep were brought to the camp for food. Such as could travel were subsequently dealt out as rations and those that gave out by the way, when discovered, were killed and eaten by the worn-out straggling soldiers, who were unable to keep pace with the main body. On one occasion the author, being behind all, seeing a smoke a little way from the road side, went to it and found that parties who were a little in advance of him had butchered one of these stragglers and consumed every thing but the lights. Of these he made a sumptuons dinner by roasting them on the coals and eating without water. His thoughts at partaking of this repast are still vividly impressed upon the author’s mind. He had frequently heard it said in his childhood that if a person ate sheep’s light’s he would be sure to go blind. Although the story came to his mind it didn’t have much weight with him upon that occasion. The craving for food was so strong that he readily made up his mind to eat the lights and take his chances.
While traveling on the 2nd we met the guides engaged by General Kearney, and sent out ahead of the Battalion to explore the country, who reported to us that it would take at least ninety days to reach the Pacific coast, and gave very discouraging accounts of the route.
The same day we saw a number of Mexicans, mounted, with spurs ten to twelve inches long and rowels one to two inches long. These were a source of wonder to us, being the first of the kind we had ever seen.
While passing a ranch a few days previously, Colonel Cooke had been appealed to by a Mexican senora for protection as she feared the Navajos, who had already stolen her husband’s stock, would return and take her prisoner. Colonel Cooke wrote a letter to Captain Burgwin, who was in charge of a detachment of General Kearney’s brigade, not far distant, asking him to render her what aid he could. The news which we subsequently received proved that the woman’s fears were well grounded. The Navajos took her prisoner and stole the remainder of her stock. Captain Greer’s company, which was in advance of Captain Burgwin’s, pursued the Indians and recaptured the cattle and sheep, but were repulsed by the Indians and failed to recover the woman.
On the morning of the 3rd, Brother James Hampton who had been on the sick list a few days was reported by Dr. Sanderson as ready for duty, but so far from being well, he died about 2 o’clock in the afternoon of the same day. He was a faithful soldier and worthy Latter-day Saint. When it was learned that he was dying, a halt of about twenty minutes was made, and after his death he was placed in a wagon and carried to our next camping place, where he was buried, a lone stranger in a strange land, but, as we shall soon see, he was not destined to long occupy the grave alone.
The same day we received the following:
(Orders No. 14.)
“The commanding officer feels it his duty, on the report of his principal guide, for the safety of the Battalion, to make further reduction of its rations. Hereafter ten ounces of pork will be issued as the rations, and nine ounces of flour. Fresh meat will be issued at a pound and a half.
“By order of LIEUT. COL. COOKE, Commanding,
“P. C. MERRILL, Adjt.”
On the 4th, after passing through a country which was very rough and broken, and over a road which was almost impassable, we encamped near some ancient ruins. Here we were overtaken by Thomas Woolsey, one of Captain Higgins’ detachment, who went to Pueblo from the crossing of the Arkansas. He brought us the first information we received of the accidental shooting and subsequent death of Norman Sharp, which has already been mentioned.
About the same time a rumor reached us of a movement which was said to be on foot among the Mexicans in the region through which we were traveling, to revolt against the American rule, and we also learned of a similar intention on the part of the Mexicans at Santa Fe. Should such a thing have occurred at that period our situation would have been extremely perilous, as we were not over four hundred strong, and surrounded by hostile Indians as well as Mexicans, who had the advantage of an acquaintance with the country, while we were strangers there, with nothing to depend upon this side of heaven but our muskets. Our guides were fearful and quite downcast at learning the news, but our commander took the matter very coolly and maintained an air of indifference.
While traveling that day, two weary soldiers were tied behind an ox wagon and obliged to march in that position through wind and dust, for neglecting to get up and salute Lieutenant Dykes while on the grand rounds of the camp the previous night, to visit the guards stationed at different points. They had just been relieved from standing guard for two hours and lain down to take their rest, of which, it is scarcely necessary to inform the reader, they stood in much need, when the officer of the guard, seeing Dykes approaching, gave the usual order, “Turn out the guard! Officer of the day!” As the two men failed to “turn out,” Dykes considered it a great indignity, and reported it accordingly to Colonel Cooke, who ordered the humiliating and disagreeable punishment already described.
Referring to this matter, Sergeant William Hyde, among other things, says: “It was plainly manifest that Lieutenant Dykes sought to gain favor of and please the wicked rather than favor his brethren.” Every Battalion man will endorse the Sergeant’s statement. Lieutenant Dykes afterwards became so notorious for his officious and captious manner, that the Battalion accorded to him the title of “the accuser of the brethren.”
On the 6th of November, we arrived at the place where General Kearney had left his wagons, and from which point he had proceeded with pack-animals.
It may be as well to explain here, that General Kearney, having learned while he was at Santa Fe that the Mexicans in California had surrendered to Commodore Stockton, resolved to push on through as hastily as possible and assume control of the country as governor and commander-in-chief of California, in accordance with his commission from the President of the United States, received previous to starting upon the campaign. He accordingly disbanded most of his soldiers at Santa Fe, and, with one hundred picked men, set out for the coast some time previous to our arrival at that post. Previous to starting, however, he gave orders for Colonel Cooke to follow on with the Mormon Battalion, and open a wagon road to the coast.
The prospect before us from this point was anything but encouraging. Besides what we had previously endured from hunger and having to help our worn-out animals pull the overloaded wagons, we now had before us the additional task of having to construct a wagon road over a wild, desert and unexplored country, where wagons had never been before.
On the 7th, a little relief was afforded some of the men by the killing of a black-tailed deer. It was a rich treat to those who got a taste of it.
On the 8th, we received the following:
(Orders No. 15.)
(1) “On the recommendation of the company commander, private E. Elmer, of Company C., is appointed 1st Sergeant of the same company.
(2) “Quartermaster Sergeant Shelton of the Battalion, having failed to join it, agreeable to the order of acting Lieutenant Colonel A. J. Smith, is hereby reduced to the ranks. He is assigned to Company D., by
“LIEUT. COL. COOKE,
“P. C. MERRILL, Adjutant.”
The forepart of this order simply restored Sergeant Elmer to his former position. It is understood that it was not the intention of the Colonel to do this simple act of justice, but as the military regulations provided that non-commissioned officers should be appointed on the recommendation of their respective company commanders, he could not well do otherwise, as in this case Lieutenant Rosecrans, commander in the absence of Captain Brown, who was on detached service, very properly declined to recommend any other.
On the evening of the 8th, four pilots who had been sent forward by Colonel Cooke several days previously, to explore a route, returned and reported that the country was of such a nature that they considered it impossible to get through with wagons. The Colonel, however, was inexorable. He had started out to make a wagon road across the great American desert, and he was determined not to abandon the enterprise.
During the same day we encountered the first mezquit brush that we had seen. It is a thorny shrub, bearing a slight resemblance to the honey locust.
On the 9th, Colonel Cooke estimated that during the last six days previous we had only traveled forty miles, and yet our travel had been attended with a great deal of exertion, as the country was sandy and broken. Colonel Cooke, writing of the condition of the animals at this time, says: “The guides say that most of the mules could not be driven loose to California. I have carefully examined them, and found that whole teams seemed ready to break down. Twenty-two men are on sick report. Quite a number have been transported in wagons.”