Synopsis of a Lecture By James Ferguson-Correspondence Between Ferguson and Cooke-Cooke’s Deference to the Mormon Battalion When Passing Through Salt Lake City in 1858-Survivors of the Mormon Battalion-Song
The following from a lecture by Sergeant Major James Ferguson, delivered before an assembly of Elders, including the Presidency of the Church in Europe, at 36, Islington, Liverpool, Nov. 7, 1855, is an interesting review of some of the most striking incidents of the Battalion’s experience:
“Although on the subject of the Mormon Battalion much has been said and written, I cheerfully comply with the request of our much-loved President, brother Franklin D. Richards to speak upon it now. It may seem strange to you that such a subject should be called up in these lands; but when you call to mind that there is no portion of the kingdom of God with which the interests of that Battalion are not now interwoven, it cannot seem strange to you that it should be talked of wherever that kingdom has an interest.
“We were mustered into service on the 16th of July, 1846. A few hurried preparations, and the gray haired old men and striplings marched off merrily as our commander ordered the music to play a hasty farewell to `the friends we left behind us.’
“Deprived of the rights granted to other volunteers, of choosing our own officers, Captain Allen, of the regular dragoons, was commissioned by the President of the United States to command us. But he was a gallant and brave officer. The rigid discipline and rough service of the army had failed to smother the better impulses of his generous heart. He was ever ready to befriend us, and but for his stern and willing interference, we would have been compelled to submit to, or avenge, various and repeated insults as we passed down the frontiers of Missouri to our place of outfit, Fort Leavenworth.
“But our bright hopes in him had an end here. Scarcely had we resumed our march, when the sad news of his death overtook us. A gloom overspread our whole camp, for there was not a heart but loved him.
“At Council Grove, we were halted to deliberate how to proceed. The command of the Battalion was here given to Lieutenant Smith, of the First Dragoons. Letters were dispatched to President Polk, praying for the privilege due to us, of electing our commander. And now commenced a series of the most trying cruelties. Our commander was not of himself cruel and wicked, but he was weak, and became, to a great extent, the creature of Doctor Sanderson, a rotten-hearted quack, that was imposed upon us as our surgeon. The hospital wagons, designed for our use by Colonel Allen, were left behind. These abuses continued and increased until, when we mustered at Santa Fe, and on the Rio Grande, one hundred and fifty of the Battalion were pronounced unable to continue the march to California. These were ordered back to winter quarters at the Pueblo near Taos, where, in the midst of much suffering and exposure, their term of enlistment nearly expired. Some of them died there; and among the number, young Richards, to whom I have before referred, and Blanchard, an only son of aged depending parents.
“On our arrival at Santa Fe, instead of the favorable answer we had a right to expect from the government, we found Captain Cooke appointed to take command-an officer also of the First Dragoons, famous, in his own corps, for the tyrannical strictness of his discipline. Not a murmur was heard at this fresh indignity.
“With a sorry outfit of jaded mules, famished beeves, and scabby sheep, we resumed our march. While yet in the settlements of New Mexico, our rations were reduced a quarter; and for our comfort, we learned that for a march of a hundred days, over an undiscovered country, we had fifty days’ scanty rations.
“Leaving the Rio Grande, about the southern boundary of New Mexico, without a guide who knew the country before us, we turned in a westerly course. We threaded our way through the Sierra del Madre, cutting a road through the “Pass of the Guadaloupe,” alternately pulling our ponderous wagons up the sandy hills, and lifting them down the rocky descents. The various incidents of our travels, each day presenting something new, are materials for a long history. I can only glance hastily at some scenes as I pass along.
“Descending the Sierra del Madre, as we came in sight of the valley of the San Pedro, the vast prospect before us made us for a moment forget our fatigues and sufferings. Fresh hope seemed to enliven every heart. It seemed like a new world ready for population. Parched, and fainting with thirst, the waters of the river were before us, and the shade trees on its banks.
“While marching down this river, a scene occurred, which, while it afforded amusement to some and suffering to others, manifested the kind watch-care of our Heavenly Father. Our beeves had dwindled down to a few sickly skeletons. Our camp was threatened with scurvy, and many attacked with diarrhea; and there seemed no hope for us. Surprised, and some of them wounded by our hunters, a herd of wild cattle made their appearance on all sides of us. Some, more furious than the rest, made a dash at our train. One pitched a poor fellow into the air, severely wounding him. Another tossed a mule on its horns, and tore his entrails, while another lifted a wagon out of its track.
“The troops of four “Presidios,” having learned of our approach, had assembled at Tucson to interrupt our march. Heedless of the threats of the Mexican commandante, we advanced, and, as the troops retreated with their artillery, we marched through their walled town.
“A desert of seventy miles brought us to the Gila. We were welcomed by the rude hospitality of the Pimas. An old chief, at the head of his warriors, squaws, and little ones met us in the path, and presenting his cakes of sweet cornmeal, invoked upon us the protection of the Great Spirit as we passed on.
“On the 10th of January, 1847, we crossed the Colorado. An unsuccessful attempt to raft our provisions down the Gila had deprived us of a great part of them, although we were already reduced to quarter rations. Without a chance for rest, we entered upon the `Tierra Calienta,’ the Big Desert of the Colorado. Ninety miles without water, save in the deep wells we dug but had no time to drink from, brought us to the end of our deserts. Those alone who endured them can conceive the sufferings experienced on this desert. It was well named the Hot Land. In vain was our rear guard ordered to prevent the men from lagging behind; the stoutest staggered, and one after another fell fainting. They would revive, advance, and fall again; and many, when at last water and grass were found, fell down exhausted, unable to reach the camp. The clear stream appeared to laugh at them in mockery, and there they lay gasping till some feeling messmate returned with the replenished canteen.
“A few days brought us to the rancho of the American Warner. Unlike the hospitable Pimas, he hid his bread and drove his cattle into the mountains. Here we learned of the retreat of the Californians from Los Angeles. Without a pause for rest, we changed our course to meet them, but they concealed themselves till we had passed.
“Thus, despite of every attempt to bring us to an engagement, we reached our destination at San Diego, on the 31st of January, fulfilling the prediction of our President, that we should not fight a battle. God fought our battles for us, and our victories were not bought with blood. Garrison duty, drills, and entrenching the camp at Los Angeles, made up the balance of our service.
“Many attempts were made by Fremont to excite the people of the country against us. He had attempted to retain the governorship of California, against General Kearny, when our arrival put a stop to his insubordination. Our entry into the Pueblo, starved, ragged, and weary, seemed to testify to the inhabitants to the truth of his accusations against us of cannibalism, barbarity, plunder, and rapine.
“When he came into our midst at a subsequent period, how different his reception. He was starved, dismounted, and weary. His party sick and dying daily. We gave him shelter, fed him, furnished him with horses, and healed his sick. A dog will show gratitude to the hand that feeds him. But he is silent, or snaps like a wolf.
“His attempts were all in vain. The people soon learned that we were their friends and protectors. They petitioned for our re-enlistment, and wept at our discharge. We had made many friends. Lieutenants Smith and Stoneman parted from us with regret. They had with others been taught to despise us. But they soon found, that though `Mormons,’ and many of us from other lands, we had the hearts of men and Americans. And our brave Colonel-he was rigid in his discipline, and often cross and exacting. But beneath it all, he had a kind, manly heart, and while sometimes he would curse us to our face, he would defend us as his own honor in our absence. Major Cloud, our pay master, also of the regular army, was our true and devoted friend to the last. He, too, is gone, among the few friends who shone out for a little while, like bright stars on a stormy night, then set in the midst of thick clouds. Many who had once been our enemies became our friends. But none of our friends have ever become enemies. The most warlike of the many tribes of the red men that we passed, met us in kindness and parted from us in peace, because we did not abuse their hospitality.
“Thus ended a campaign unparalleled in any history. The drill succeeded the weary march in cheerfulness. The song and dance made a glad echo on the bleakest desert, and the prayer of gratitude was never smothered by murmuring complaint. While one company remained an additional year in service, and husbands and fathers endured another long march to join their suffering families, a few sought employment on the Sacramento, and there, to crown the campaign, opened those inexhaustible mines which have drawn so many adventurers to the rich shores of the Pacific.”
The following written and published about eleven years subsequent to Colonel Cooke’s connection with the Mormon Battalion, and at a time when, if ever, he would have thought and spoken ill of that brave band of soldiers, is significant of his sense of justice towards them: