History Mormon Battalion Chapter 05 Section A


Question of a New Commander-Captain Hunt Elected-Arrival of Smith and Sanderson-Council of Officers-Smith Elected to Take Command-Smith’s Inhuman Treatment of the Sick-Repulsed By Sergeant Williams-the Sick Object to Take Drugs-Sergeant Jones Protests Against Their Being Forced to-Dykes’ Perfidy-Letter From President Young-the “Old Iron Spoon”-a Fiendish Doctor

After learning of the death of Colonel Allen, the question naturally arose as to who should succeed him as our commander. On this and other points, the late Lieutenant Wesley W. Willis, has, in substance, the following: “On receipt of this intelligence, the officers held a council, and agreed that Captain Hunt should assume the command of the Battalion, which decision was unanimously sustained by the men. At the same time the officers wrote a letter to the President of the United States, informing him of the death of Colonel Allen, and praying him to appoint Captain Hunt to the command. This letter was forwarded to Independence, Mo., by Sergeant Ebenezer Brown, of company A.

We continued our march under the orders of Captain Hunt to Council Grove. Here, on learning that Lieutenant Smith was on the way, intending to take command, the officers appointed a committee of two, viz., Jesse D. Hunter, Captain of company B, and Adjutant George P. Dykes, to examine the law and ascertain to whom the right of command belonged and report accordingly to the council. Captain Hunter reported in favor of Captain Hunt, but Lieutenant Dykes reported against him, being of the opinion that inasmuch as we were enlisted by a United States officer, the right of command belonged to an officer of the regular army.

While here, Lieutenant Smith, Major Walker, Dr. George B. Sanderson, and others, came to us, bringing a letter to Captain Hunt from Major Horton, of Fort Leavenworth, informing him that the Government property in possession of the Battalion was not receipted for, and advising us to submit to the command of Lieutenant Smith and he would forward receipts for the same, as it might save us considerable trouble.

This caused another council to be convened to hear what these gentlemen had to say. The council was addressed by Major Walker and Lieutenant Smith, both of whom advised that Major Horton’s suggestion be acceded to. Captain Hunt stated boldly and emphatically that it was his right to assume command, and that he had no fears of the responsibility of leading the Battalion; and then left it with the council to say who should command. It was moved by Captain Higgins and seconded by Captain Davis, that Smith should take command. The motion was carried, all voting for it except three, viz: Lieutenants Lorenzo Clark, Samuel Gully and Wesley W. Willis.”

When the command was given to Lieutenant Smith, the soldiers were not consulted. This caused an ill-feeling between them and the officers that many hold to this day. The appointment of Smith, even before his character was known, caused a greater gloom throughout the command than the death of Colonel Allen had.

On the morning of the 31st of August, we struck tents at 7 a. m., under the command of Lieutenant Smith, and marched that day to Diamond Springs, at which place we were mustered and inspected by our new commander.

The following day we reached Lost Springs so called from being a kind of lonesome place, destitute of timber. Our food had been cooked the previous day, as we had been apprised of the situation at Lost Springs, and we followed the Arab style, of digging narrow trenches in which we burned weeds, to heat water for our tea and coffee.

On the 2nd of September we camped at Cottonwood Creek, in the Comanche Indian country. These Indians were very hostile at that time.

Lieutenant Smith, at this point, pulled several of the sick out of the wagons because they had neglected to report themselves to Dr. Sanderson. When he learned that some of them did not design being drugged, he used some horrid oaths and threats. Sergeant Thomas S. Williams, who had purchased a team to haul a portion of our knapsacks, had some of the sick in his wagon. Smith approached the wagon with the intention of hauling the sick out, when the Sergeant ordered him to stop. At this Smith became furious and drew his sword and threatened to run Williams through if he attempted to allow any more sick to ride in the wagon without his permission. Williams braced himself, grasped the small end of his loaded whip and told him if he dared to make one move to strike he would level him to the ground; that the team and wagon were his private property and he would haul whom he pleased. He further told him that these men were his brethren, that they did not believe in taking drugs and that he would never leave one lying sick on the ground while they could crowd into the wagon, or so long as his team could pull them.

Smith slunk away and inquired who that man was, and was told that it was Sergeant Williams. He next went to some officers and had some talk with them, which resulted in a suggestion to “Tom”-as the Sergeant was familiarly called-to meet with all the officers at night and to “treat” them, beginning with the Colonel, which he did.

Thus, with a single drink of whisky, the wound was healed without any apology from either side. It was noticeable ever after, however, that when they passed each other, Sergeant Williams was recognized and saluted in a respectful manner.

About this time Sergeant N. V. Jones went in a respectful manner to Colonel Smith and informed him that the soldiers were loyal; that it was not out of any disrespect to him or Dr. Sanderson that the sick declined to take the Doctor’s medicine; but that they had religious scruples against taking mineral medicine.

The Colonel replied that he did not know anything about our religion, and that he did not wish to force men against their religious convictions. He then turned to Adjutant Dykes and asked him if Jones’ statement was true, and the Adjutant replied that there were no such religious scruples, and that the Church authorities themselves took such medicine.

This made matters worse for the sick, if such a thing were possible, than they were before. The humane, patriotic Sergeant did his duty manfully, but his good offices in behalf of his comrades in arms were turned to evil by one who might have saved them much persecution, sorrow and, in some cases, perhaps, even death. Ever after this an ill-feeling was perceptible between the Adjutant and Sergeant Jones.

That the position taken by Sergeant Jones was correct, the following letter, which was subsequently received, will amply prove:


August 19, 1846.

To Captain Jefferson Hunt and the Captains, Officers, and Soldiers of the Mormon Battalion:-

We have the opportunity of sending to Fort Leavenworth, this morning, by Dr. Reed, a package of twenty-five letters, which we improve, with this word of counsel to you all: If you are sick, live by faith, and let surgeon’s medicine alone if you want to live, using only such herbs and mild food as are at your disposal. If you give heed to this counsel, you will prosper; but if not, we cannot be responsible for the consequences. A hint to the wise is sufficient.

In behalf of the Council,


W. Richards, Clerk.”

About this time, quite a number of the Battalion took sick with the chills and fever, and were administered to by Dr. Sanderson out of an old iron spoon. After this it was customary every morning for the sick to be marched to the tune of “Jim along Joe” to the Doctor’s quarters, and take their portion from that same old iron spoon. It was believed by many that this spoon had been thrown away by some soldier at the garrison and picked up by the Doctor, thinking a new one would either be too expensive or too good for the “Mormons” to use in taking their medicine. It may, however, have descended from the Doctor’s ancestors and been preserved by him as a precious heirloom.

So determined was Dr. Sanderson that the men should take his calomel and arsenic (these being all, or nearly all, the medicines he used except a decoction of bayberry bark and camomile flowers, as strengthening bitters to the convalescent), that he threatened with an oath, to cut the throat of any man who would administer any medicine without his orders.

Dr. McIntyre, a good botanic physician, had been appointed assistant surgeon by Colonel Allen on the day of our enlistment; yet under pain of this threat he must not administer one herb to his afflicted friends and brethren unless ordered so to do by the mineral quack who was his superior in office.

Every morning at sick call, those who were unable to travel reported themselves to the Surgeon, not only to receive his medicine but his wicked cursing also.

It would have been difficult to select the same number of American citizens from any other community who would have submitted to the tyranny and abuse that the Battalion did from Smith and Sanderson. Nor would we have done so on any consideration other than as servants to our God and patriots to our country.

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