History Mormon Battalion Chapter 23 Section A


Long and Difficult March Without Water-Great Suffering-a Laughable Occurrence-the Pima Village-the Natives-News From Kearny-a Cruel Order-the Maricopa Indians-Their Honesty
On the 18th, the command resumed its journey. At the end of seven miles, the mules were watered. This was the last water for a considerable distance, as the stream sank at that place. We traveled about three miles down the dry bed, and found the sand very heavy. Our progress, after leaving the bed of the stream, although over level clay ground, was frequently obstructed with mezquit thickets. We made camp without water at 9 p. m., having traveled twenty-four miles. The mules were tied up and fed grain.

Straggling, worn-out, famishing men came into camp at all hours of the night, and the rear guard did not reach camp until near daylight.

On the 19th, those who were able started forward on the arrival of the rear guard, while the more feeble, who had but just arrived, rested until after daylight. Water was reported at a hole between two mountains, fourteen miles distant, but on our arrival it could not be found. The report was probably an encouraging ruse of the guides.

The main portion of the road was baked clay, but in places we had sand beds to pull through. At sundown the advance of the command reached a small pool of water, enough to give the most of those present a drink by lying down to it, which was the only method allowed. Dipping was forbidden, in order that as many as possible might have a chance for a drink.

The main portion of the army, however, had no water during the entire day, save a few drops which the men managed to suck from the mud in small puddle holes found by the wayside. Nor could they cook anything except a little wheat which some managed to parch.

They traveled during the day, and especially as night set in, in a straggling, scattered condition. The men might be found all along the road in squads of two or three, without blanket, fire or tent. In the evening the Colonel gave permission to the Captains to halt their companies at discretion during the night, but only for a short time at once, as the only hope for water was by traveling on, and both men and mules could travel in the cool of the night without water better than in the day time. But in no case were the halts, during the night, to exceed six hours.

Company C was in the rear of the others, and Lieutenant Rosecrans left his men and rode on in advance and into the hills in search of water, and, fortunately, found a hole some distance from the road. He took the foremost of his command to it, then filled their canteens, mounted his mule, and, riding back to his famishing men, gave them what water he had and led them to the spring. After having drank their fill from the weak spring of water, which soon became muddy, they cooked some provisions and pursued their journey to overtake the command, which they did about 3 a. m., but not without passing many lying by the way begging for water. Some small pools had been found in one or two places, but the famishing animals had consumed or spoiled them.

The advance struck water and camped about noon on the 20th and several parties took mules and canteens and went back and relieved the suffering of their comrades, or doubtless some would have perished. The stragglers continued to arrive the whole of the afternoon.

To narrate each individual’s suffering this day alone would make quite a book.

On the 21st, a march of ten miles brought us to the Gila river, where we made a halt. While here our camp was visited by from 1,500 to 2,000 Pima Indians. Although all our property was exposed in such a manner that many articles might have been easily stolen, not a thing was molested by them. Weaver, one of the guides, assured us that these Indians were so scrupulous that they had been known to follow travelers half a day to restore lost property to the owner.

A rather laughable incident occurred here. Henry W. Bigler, now a much respected citizen of St. George, but then a soldier, and “Colonel’s orderly” for the day, was asked by the Colonel if his musket was loaded. The reason of the question was that the commander had given his mule some grain and another mule seemed bent on sharing it with him. Several times Cooke had driven it away and it had as often returned.

On Brother Bigler replying that his gun was not loaded, he was ordered to load it, and the Colonel added, with an oath, that he would shoot the mule, and walked into his tent.

The orderly glanced at and recognized the mule as a private animal, belonging to one of his comrades. Quick as thought he bit off the bullet, put it into his pocket, emptied the powder from the cartridge into his gun and rammed the paper on top of it.

By this time Cooke returned, took the gun, walked to within about ten feet of the mule (which stood broadside to him), leveled the piece, and, as he supposed, fired the fatal shot. On seeing the animal uninjured, however, he looked daggers at the orderly, threw the gun upon the ground, and, with another oath, said, “you didn’t load that gun right,” and turned on his heel and again entered his tent amid roars of laughter from teamsters and others who had witnessed the whole affair.

At this point, the Colonel sketched a map of our route from where Kearney left the Rio Grande, with the aid of no instrument but a compass. The map appears in his “Conquest of New Mexico and California,” and is proven to be as accurate as could be expected. It shows this part of our journey to have been almost a semi-circle. The distance between the points is estimated to be 474 miles. The following quotation from Cooke’s writings will show at least one of the national benefits of this arduous campaign:

“A new administration in which Southern interests prevailed, with the great problem of the practicability and best location of a Pacific Railroad under investigation, had the map of this wagon route before them with its continuance to the west, and perceived that it gave exactly the solution of its unknown element, that a southern route would avoid both the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevada, with their snows, and would meet no obstacle in this great interval. The new `Gadsden Treaty’ was the result; it was signed, December 30, 1853.” Thus, while the Mormon Pioneers, under President Brigham Young and associates, were paving the way for the Union Pacific Railroad up the Platte and over the South Pass of the Rocky Mountains to San Francisco, the Mormon Battalion, under Colonel Cooke and associates, were virtually locating the prospective Southern Pacific across the great desert to San Diego.

“Mormon” enterprise is also suggesting a cross-line to connect Utah and our Northern Territories with Mexico and the Southern States. Such connection is only a matter of time.

On the 22nd, we marched ten miles and arrived at the Pima village, supposed to contain about 4,000 inhabitants. They were quite a large-sized, fine-looking race of people and very industrious and peaceable. They engaged in agriculture, and manufactured blankets and other fabrics by hand. The poison of the civilized asp is unknown among them, and our American and European cities would do well to take lessons in virtue and morality from these native tribes.

Long before we reached the village, we were met by the Indian women and children, many of whom were quite pretty and graceful, and walked generally by twos, with arms lovingly entwined around one another, presenting a picture of contentment and happiness that was very pleasing to look upon. Even our stern and matter-of-fact Colonel was not proof against their bewitching charms. In writing of them, he says:

“One little girl particularly, by a fancied resemblance, interested me much; she was so joyous that she seemed very pretty and innocent; I could not resist tying on her head, as a turban, a bright new silk handkerchief, which I happened to wear to-day; the effect was beautiful to see-a picture of happiness!”

Kindness to the natives, by military officers, as manifested in several instances by Colonel Cooke, is so rare in this age, that this circumstance may be mentioned, as one of the noteworthy events of our journey.

In this connection, it may be well to state that on the day following, the Colonel presented their chief with three ewe sheep with a fair prospect of increase; thereby encouraging their industries, in fact, inaugurating a new one-the culture of sheep and woolen manufacture.

The Colonel stopped at the chief’s house a few minutes and congratulated him on having the most prosperous and happy tribe he had ever met with. He advised him, although these Indians were peaceable and never troubled their neighbors, to be prepared for any emergency that might arise, and especially to resist any outside pressure. Some of the soldiers traded buttons taken off their clothes for cakes of bread; obtaining a cake for each button; others called at a hut and were treated with stewed pumpkin. We also traded some old clothing for corn, beans, molasses, squash, etc.

On the 23rd, we left the Pima village and proceeded on fifteen miles. During the day we met three pilots who had been through to San Diego with General Kearny. They informed us that we were at least one month in advance of the General’s expectations. We learned that General Kearny had been twelve days in going from the Pima village to San Diego with pack-mules, and it was thought that we would be from forty to sixty days with wagons. The news received from General Kearny was to the effect that the Mexicans had again revolted, and that the safety and conquest of California depended upon the prompt and energetic action of the General and command. The letter was written at Warner’s rancho, in California.

Our march was now through rich, cultivated grounds. There seemed to be a beautiful plain of from fifteen to twenty miles in all directions.

In the evening, the Colonel, who had not prohibited private purchases, ordered that all private provisions should be left on the ground or carried by the owners, as he claimed the teams were unable to haul any more. This the men took rather hard, as they had sold clothing off their backs, indeed, one or two had even sold their last shirt to get it, and, besides, they were on less than half rations. The result of this order was that a great deal of provisions was left on the ground by the starving men.

On the night of the 23rd, and during the 24th, we camped at a village of the Maricopa Indians, who were estimated to number about ten thousand. Their head chief was named Don Jose Messio. They lived in dome-shaped houses, thatched with corn-stalks and straw, varying from about twenty to fifty feet in diameter, with arbors in front, on which lay, piled up, cotton stalks, with unopened bolls, to dry. This was probably from late crops, as the rule for picking out cotton is when the bolls open in the field. We saw domesticated animals here, the horse, mule, ox, dog and even Spanish fowls. Their implements of husbandry consisted of axes, hoes, shovels, and harrows. Plows were not seen and probably only forked sticks were used to loosen the soil, as it was loose, rich and easily worked. The natives showed no signs of fear, and did not run like the Apaches, who, at the time, were said to be hostile.

Colonel Cooke very kindly suggested to our senior officers that this vicinity would be a good place for the exiled Saints to locate. A proposition to this effect was favorably received by the Indians.

As an evidence of the honesty of the Pima and Maricopa Indians, it may be mentioned that General Kearny left some bales of goods and a number of broken down mules with the former to be called for by Colonel Cooke on his arrival, and they were promptly delivered up. Other mules that General Kearny had been forced to leave to their fate, when given out after passing the Maricopa village, were found and cared for by the Indians, and promptly and voluntarily delivered to us on our arrival there. Here, then, were two tribes of Indians, at least, who should be excepted from the rule laid down by a certain military officer, late of Fort Cameron, that “no Indian is good until buried six feet under ground.”

At one of these villages a portion of the men of company E boiled and ate some of the public corn. Lieutenant Dykes reported the fact to the commander, who, in great pretended indignation, ordered the ration of beef due company E to be fed to the mules. This ironical order was actually carried out, and the beef, as I understand, was left on the ground, where the mules refused to eat it.

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