History Mormon Battalion Chapter 13 Section A
Mexicans Too Much Prejudiced to Sell Us Supplies-Mexican Costumes-Sergeant Elmer Reduced to the Ranks-Navajo Raids on the Mexicans-Hardships of Our Journey-Animals Devoured Wholly Except Bones and Hair-Men Have to Pull the Wagons-a Song
On the 22nd, the Assistant Quartermaster vainly endeavored to obtain fresh mules and oxen from some small Mexican towns that we passed. The prejudice of the natives was so strong against the Government of the United States, that they would render no assistance beyond selling a little feed and perishable vegetables. On the 23rd, however, he succeeded in exchanging thirty of our worthless mules for half the number of fresh, though, as a rule, small mules, the stock owned by the Mexicans being rather diminutive. The Colonel also purchased eight mules from officers of Captain Burgwin’s command. He also exchanged about as many more for better ones, and obtained ten yoke of oxen.
Two of our poorest heavy wagons were also exchanged for lighter and better ones. The hand of an all-wise providence was certainly in these things, as, without something of the kind, we must inevitably had been left without means of conveyance, on the great desert, in an enemy’s country, surrounded by the most ferocious savages.
On the 24th we passed another town of Mexicans or “Greasers,” as those of mixed blood are frequently termed. Many of the men were as nude as when born, except a breech-clout, or, as Colonel Cooke has it, “center-clothing,” tied around the loins.
On the 25th we received the following:
(Order No. 12.)
“The oxen may be unyoked every evening on reaching camp and be herded with the beef cattle, by the Sergeant, one Corporal and twelve of the guard. The officer of the day will select a separate position for this part of his guard. At or before the first call for reveille the Quartermaster Sergeant and teamsters will turn out and change the mules to fresh grass. When there is corn it must be fed at the pickets, where the mules will be so far apart that they cannot reach each other. Breakfast and packing up must go on without loss of time after reveille; and at trumpet signal, and not before, must the mules and oxen be harnessed, yoked and hitched up. The mules must be taken far out at first when not herded, and not brought in nearer; another trumpet signal, will be sounded every evening for taking them to water. The Quartermaster will equalize the teams with the new purchase and assign the six extra mules to each company command. The company commanders will relieve the flagging mules with these from day to day. The guard must hereafter be kept more strictly at their post. When the guard is stationed, death is the punishment awarded by law to a sentinel who sleeps on his post in time of war, which now exists.
(2) Sergeant E. Elmer, of company C, is hereby reduced to the ranks for neglecting, this morning, to form his company while reveille was beating and for telling his Colonel that he did so because he could not see to call the roll.”
“By order of
LIEUT. COL. COOKE.
(Signed.) G. P. DYKES, Abjutant.”
Although the reason assigned by Sergeant Elijah Elmer for being about one or possibly two minutes late in forming the company at reveille, was, that he could not see to call the roll, the facts were, however, as I understood them, that he stopped to lace or tie his shoes, but did not wish to make this excuse to his commander.
The author was selected to perform the duties of orderly until further instructed.
Sergeant Elmer, like Pharaoh’s butler, was subsequently restored to his office, and retained the respect and friendship of all his acquaintances up to the time of his death, which occurred quite recently at Panguitch, in Iron County, Utah.
Quartermaster Stoneman, who a gentleman in all that the word implies, used every effort to obtain a larger supply of good animals before leaving the last Spanish-Indian settlements. He was several times highly insulted by Mexicans, who contemptuously refused to trade with him. He could hardly seem to realize that he was endeavoring to deal with a whipped, though as yet unconquered foe.
As we passed Captain Burgwin’s command we learned that he had received a letter from the American traders below, stating that General Armijo was marching up to seize their property, and asking protection. General Armijo was soon after captured and put in irons.
On the 26th, we passed several Mexican villages. The Assistant Quartermaster crossed the river to purchase packsaddles, blankets and mules. He declined, however, to pay the unreasonable prices demanded. Otero, of whom he thought to make the purchase, had had about five or six thousand sheep driven off the previous evening by Indians, and two shepherds were killed. He rode the entire night endeavoring to hire men to pursue the Indians, but without success, so far as we were able to learn. In one of the towns we passed through, 6,600 sheep were reported stolen and two shepherds killed; thus over 12,000 sheep were stolen and four men killed in one day within a few miles of our encampment.
Our course now lay down the Rio Del Norte. We found the roads extremely sandy in many places, and the men while carrying blankets, knapsacks, cartridge boxes (each containing thirty-six rounds of ammunition), and muskets on their backs, and living on short rations, had to pull at long ropes to aid the teams. The deep sand alone, without any load, was enough to wear out both man and beast. Upon one occasion, several wild geese were killed by some of the hunters, which proved a treat to them and their immediate comrades or messmates. Once in awhile, also, as we passed the Mexican villages, those who had money or anything to trade found opportunities for purchasing Spanish grapes. These, however, were exceptional cases, as most of the men were without money, that which they had drawn at Fort Leavenworth having been sent back to their families, and the payment made at Santa Fe having been in checks that were not negotiable in that region. The men were ready to eat anything that would furnish them any nourishment, the rations issued to them being insufficient to satisfy the cravings of hunger. When we left Santa Fe we supposed the few fat cattle taken along were intended for beef, but we were soon undeceived upon that point. When one of them was slaughtered the second day out, the Colonel gave positive orders that no more of them should be killed, as they must be used as work animals, and only such killed for beef as were unable from sheer weakness and exhaustion to work. From that time on it was the custom to kill the work animals as they gave out and issue the carcasses as rations. Nor was any portion of the animal thrown away that could possibly be utilized for food. Even to the hides, tripe and entrails, all were eagerly devoured, and that, too, in many cases without water to wash them in. The marrow bones were considered a luxury, and were issued in turns to the various messes.
On the 27th, we encountered cold rain in the valley of the Rio Del Norte. Heavy snow also fell upon the mountains.
The storm had one good effect, though, it made the road much better by settling the sand, but at best we could say with Levi W. Hancock’s song:
“How hard, to starve and wear us out,
Upon this sandy desert route!”
Canals for irrigating purposes were found all along the banks of the river. Some of them several miles in length. They conveyed water to the farms, or as they were called in that country, ranchos. There being little or no rain during the growing season the water was made to flow over the ground until it was sufficiently saturated, and then shut off until needed again for the same purpose. The inhabitants of that region were generally of the lower class, and had but little respect for chastity.
On the 30th we had to leave the river for a time and have twenty men to each wagon with long ropes to help the teams pull the wagons over the sand hills. The commander perched himself on one of the hills, like a hawk on a fence post, sending down his orders with the sharpness of-well, to the Battalion, it is enough to say-Colonel Cooke.
The following is the song by Levi W. Hancock to which reference was made previously:
The Desert Route
While here, beneath a sultry sky,
Our famished mules and cattle die;
Scarce aught but skin and bones remain
To feed poor soldiers on the plain.
How hard, to starve and wear us out,
Upon this sandy, desert route.
We sometimes now for lack of bread,
Are less than quarter rations fed,
And soon expect, for all of meat,
Naught less than broke-down mules, to eat.
Now, half-starved oxen, over-drilled,
Too weak to draw, for beef are killed;
And gnawing hunger prompting men
To eat small entrails and the skin.
Sometimes we quarter for the day,
While men are sent ten miles away
On our back track, to place in store
An ox, given out the day before.
And when an ox is like to die,
The whole camp halts, and we lay by:
The greedy wolves and buzzards stay,
Expecting rations for the day.
Our hardships reach their rough extremes,
When valiant men are roped with teams,
Hour after hour, and day by day,
To wear our strength and lives away.
The teams can hardly drag their loads
Along the hilly, sandy roads,
While trav’ling near the Rio Grande,
O’er hills and dales of heated sand.
We see some twenty men, or more,
With empty stomachs, and foot-sore,
Bound to one wagon, plodding on
Thro’ sand, beneath a burning sun.
A Doctor which the Government
Has furnished, proves a punishment!
At his rude call of “Jim Along Joe,”
The sick and halt, to him must go.
Both night and morn, this call is heard;
Our indignation then is stirr’d,
And we sincerely wish in hell,
His arsenic and calomel.
To take it, if we’re not inclined,
We’re threatened, “You’ll be left behind:”
When bored with threats profanely rough,
We swallow down the poisonous stuff.
Some stand the journey well, and some
Are by the hardships overcome;
And thus the “Mormons” are worn out
Upon this long and weary route.