Decide to March Through Tucson-Guide Held At Tucson As Prisoner-Mexican Soldiers Arrested and Held As Hostages Until Foster Is Released-Mexicans Refuse to Surrender-Prepare for An Engagement-Mexican Soldiers Desert the Town-We March Through-Kindness of Citizens-Public Wheat Taken for Mule Feed-Primitive Mills-An Alarm-An Excited Officer-Letter to the Governor of Sonora
We followed down the river on the 12th and 13th, and found the roads were more rough as we passed near the base of the mountains extending towards the Gila River. Our course was nearly north.
Leroux and other guides returned from an exploration of the table land to the west, where, at twenty miles distant, they had found water on a trail leading to Tucson.
They found a party of Apache Indians and some Mexicans distilling mezcal into whiskey, and learned of a garrison of two hundred Mexican soldiers being stationed at Tucson.
Leroux, to get off, had to invent the following story, and Foster, the interpreter, had thought proper to go to Tuscon to give it more probability.
He said: “Tell the commander at Tucson that an army of Americans are en route to California; that the front guard is about three hundred and sixty men, and if it stops to drill it will be to give time for the main army to come up. He may judge of the strength of the main army by the guard.”
It was also to be understood, if Foster did not return by a stated time, that he was a prisoner at Tucson; hence the following order, which is referred to but not given in Cooke’s work, was issued:
“HEAD QUARTERS MORMON BATTALION,
“CAMP ON THE SAN PEDRO,
“December 13th, 1846.
“Thus far on our course we have followed the guides furnished us by the General (Kearny). These guides now point to Tucson, a garrisoned town, as our road, and assert that any other course is a hundred miles out of the way and over a trackless wilderness of mountains, rivers and hills. We will march, then, to Tucson. We came not to make war on Sonora, and less still to destroy an important outpost of defense against Indians; but we will take the straight road before us and overcome all resistance. But shall I remind you that the American soldier ever shows justice and kindness to the unarmed and unresisting? The property of individuals you will hold sacred. The people of Sonora are not our enemies.
“By order of
“LIEUT. COL. COOKE,
“(Signed) P. C. MERRILL, Adjutant.”
On the 14th, the Battalion ascended the bluff and traveled up hill mainly for eight or nine miles, when it struck a trail leading to Tucson. The commander selected fifty men with whom he pushed forward. Passing the front guard, he soon reached water, where he found four or five Mexican soldiers cutting grass. Their arms and saddles were on their horses near by, easily accessible to our little troupe; but they had no wish to molest them. The Mexicans paid but little attention to our men.
The Colonel learned from a Mexican sergeant that a rumor of a large force of American soldiers had reached the town and great excitement prevailed.
Of course, the Colonel, who was possessed of generalship as well as discipline, took no pains to disabuse their minds, and thus expose our little army to unnecessary peril.
Indians who had seen us in the distance had largely over-estimated our numbers, and this served to impress the people of Sonora with the truth of the statement made by the guides.
The Colonel also learned from the Mexican sergeant that the commander of the garrison had orders from the governor not to allow an armed force to pass through the town without resistance. A message was, therefore, sent to the commander by this same sergeant that the people need not be alarmed, as we were their friends, we would do them no harm but would simply purchase some supplies and pass on.
The next day we traveled about twelve miles, passing a distillery and camped without water. The Battalion marched in front of the wagons to protect the provisions.
Here a new species of cactus proved very troublesome. It was jointed, and when an animal rubbed against the thorns, it would break loose at the joints, and sections, some three inches long, more or less, would stick fast to the animals. The same variety is found in Southern Utah.
A corporal, son of Comaduran, commander of the post, and three soldiers were met but showed no signs of fear until Colonel Cooke ordered them arrested, when they seemed terribly frightened. On arriving at camp, the corporal was questioned by our commander as to Foster. He said (which proved to be the fact) that Foster was under guard, but had been earnestly requested to come with them and refused. He feigned indignation at being arrested, lest the Mexicans should suspect our weakness as to our numbers, and get reinforcements and fight us. As he anticipated, his conduct inspired them with terror.
One of the prisoners was released and sent to the garrison with two of the guides, one of whom took a note to the commander of the post demanding Foster’s release, and stating that the other three were held as hostages.
About midnight, Foster was brought to camp by two officers, one of whom was authorized “to make a special armistice.”
Colonel Cooke sent a proposition to the commander that he deliver up a few arms as a guarant of surrender and that the inhabitants of Tucson would not fight against the United States, unless they were exchanged as prisoners of war. The Mexican prisoners were also released.
Our camp at this time was about sixteen miles from the fort. The following day, when a few miles from town, a cavalry man met us with a note from Captain Comaduran, declining the proposition for a surrender.
We were now ordered to load our muskets and be ready for an engagement; but we had not traveled far before two other Mexicans met us, stating that the soldiers had fled and forced most of the inhabitants to leave the town. They had also taken two brass pieces of artillery with them.
About a dozen well-armed men, probably soldiers in citizen’s dress, met and accompanied the Battalion to the town.
Before passing through the gate, a halt was ordered, when Colonel Cooke made a short speech. He stated that the soldiers and citizens had fled, leaving their property behind and in our power; that we had not come to make war on Sonora, and that there must not be any interference with the private property of the citizens.
We then marched through the town, where a few aged men and women, as well as some children, brought us water and other little tokens of respect.
The author remembers, with much gratitude, the silver-haired Mexican, of perhaps more than three score years and ten, who, when signs of thirst were given, ran to the brook as fast as his tottering limbs could carry him, dipped up his water, and, almost out of breath, but with cheerful countenance, delivered the refreshing and much needed draught. He has doubtless, long since, been gathered to his fathers; if so, peace to his ashes. Surely, “I was athirst, and he gave me drink.” We made no halt in the village which had contained 400 or 500 inhabitants, all of whom, with the exception of one hundred, had fled, but traveled down the stream about a half mile and camped.
The Colonel, with a few others, then went back to the town. At first, some of the women were much frightened, but, on receiving only marked kindness, from both officers and soldiers, their excitement was allayed, and they showed strong signs of gratitude. Both the persons and property of the citizens were held sacred. A quantity of public wheat, however, was found (perhaps about 2,000 bushels) stored there, of which our commander ordered taken to camp, what he thought the teams could haul, for feeding the animals.
The starving soldiers boiled some of this wheat, and ate it, and, as a consequence, many suffered with diarrhea.
The grinding of grain here was done by what Americans generally term “corn-crackers,” with which most of the families were provided. A small species of the donkey was the motive power. The mills were on the same plan as handmills; a circuit of the donkey making one revolution of the upper mill-stone. This, however, being so far ahead of the method pursued by the surrounding native tribes, who ground all of their seeds and grain by hand, on flat rocks, hollowed out a little for the purpose, was doubtless considered an important improvement. On arriving at Tucson, the Battalion had been some time without salt, and only about three bushels could be obtained there.
On the 17th, the Colonel and staff, with other officers and men to the number of about fifty, passed up the creek about five miles above Tucson towards a village where they had seen a large church from the hills which we had passed over. They, however, returned before reaching the village, as they found the route so covered with mezquit brush, as to afford the Mexicans an excellent ambush, if disposed to make an attack.
As our passage through Tucson was on Sunday, it was rumored that the inhabitants, being Catholics, had marched to the little village higher up the stream before our arrival and held mass, that the commander could report to the Governor, as an excuse for allowing us to pass without resistance, against orders, that we surprised the town while they were at worship.
Some of our soldiers purchased a little unbolted flour of the Mexicans at Tucson, which most of them afterwards carried on their backs as they traveled, to avoid disobeying orders, while others concealed theirs in the wagons unknown to the Colonel. Quinces and semi-tropical fruits were also purchased here, as well as beans, corn, etc.
On the night of the 17th, a picket guard was placed some distance above Tucson, with instructions that if more than a certain number of Mexicans passed in or out of the town (a dozen or twenty, I think), to fire an alarm and run into camp. About midnight, signal guns were fired by the pickets, Alburn Allen and Rufus C. Allen, his son, who saw more men passing than the Colonel’s order allowed. They also ran to camp, as directed, and notified the officer of the day, Lieutenant George Oman, who was considerably excited, and called for the music, saying: “Beat that drum, beat that drum-if you can’t beat that drum, beat that fife.” He also ordered every man into line. Lights were raised by replenishing the camp-fires and the music played a lively air. Each company formed in a separate column.
At this point, which was, perhaps, reached in less time than it has taken to write the incidents, Colonel Cooke appeared on the scene, and with a stern voice ordered: “Cease that music! Dust those lights!” and then formed his line of battle, placing the companies alternately on either side of the road. It happened to be the author’s turn to take charge of the camp guard. The light was dusted by the men throwing sand upon it with their hands. A line was formed from left to right in single file, each man being stationed about ten feet or more from his left-hand comrade, thus extending about one hundred feet. The Sergeant’s idea was, in case of an attack, not to have his commander complain, as a certain officer did in the Blackhawk war, when six bullet holes were found in one of the chiefs, that “it was a great waste of ammunition,” but that each soldier should have an opportunity to pick his man. Another reason for taking this course was that his own men might be less exposed to the enemy’s fire.
After half an hour or more had elapsed, the Sergeant Major passed out from camp about fifty yards, towards where the guard was stationed, and shouted “Where is the guard?” The Sergeant ordered him to advance and give the countersign, which was done. He was surprised to find the guard about 100 yards from camp, and ordered it nearer by, then directed the Sergeant to place his men at intervals around the command. About this time the Colonel sent Lieutenant Stoneman, with ten picked men from company A, to reconnoitre and see what they could discover. They marched stealthily into the little city, but found all silent as the grave. On their way back to camp they were met by Quartermaster Sergeant Redick N. Allred, with another detachment, which had been sent to look after the welfare of the first, whose long absence had awakened some fears for their safety.
There being no discoveries made, after about one hour, or, perhaps, a little more, from the time of forming the line, the men, after being instructed to remember their places and to have their arms in easy reach, were allowed to retire. Nothing further came of the alarm.
A quotation from “Cooke’s Conquest,” will show that our movements had been watched and reinforcements from three other garrisons had been ordered, and were on their way to aid their Tucsonian brethren in the defense of their pueblo. How numerous the reinforcements were we are not informed, but the force, when combined, was doubtless far superior to our own. In fact, the soldiers and citizens able to bear arms, at Tucson alone would have outnumbered us, and, having a fort and walled town, with two pieces of cannon, could have resisted a force far superior to our little band of about 360, all told.
Cooke says: “Signal smokes had been observed, and it was afterwards ascertained, that at this Indian-like announcement of the approach [of the fifty men up the creek] the Mexicans [who had fled from Tucson] further retreated, and the reinforcements, which had come from the presidios of Fronteras, Santa Cruz and Tubac, marched to return to their posts.”
Who shall say that the same God who sent terror into the camps of the enemies of ancient Israel, did not have an eye over the little modern Israelitish force then crossing the great desert by his Divine command through the Prophet Brigham, who had said, “There will be no fighting, except with wild beasts.”
Cooke further says: “A note was written to Captain Comaduran on his return, enclosing a letter for Don Manuel Gandara, Governor of Sonora, at Ures, who was said to be very well disposed towards the United States; it is here given:
“CAMP AT TUCSON, SONORA,
Dec. 18, 1846.
Your Excellency:-The undersigned, marching in command of a Battalion of United States infantry from New Mexico to California, has found it convenient for the passage of his wagon train to cross the frontier of Sonora. Having passed within fifteen miles of Fronteras, I have found it necessary to take this presidio in my route to the Gila. Be assured I did not come as an enemy of the people whom you represent; they have received only kindness at my hands.” After some further conciliatory statements he concludes: “Meanwhile, I make a wagon road from the streams of the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, through the valuable plains and mountains, rich with minerals, of Sonora. This, I trust, will prove useful to the citizens of either republic, who, if not more closely, may unite in the pursuits of a highly beneficial commerce.
With sentiments of esteem and respect, I am your Excellency’s most obedient servant,
P. ST. G. COOKE,
Lieut. Col. of United States Forces.
To his Excellency, Sen. Don Manuel Gandara, Governor of Sonora, Ures, Sonora.”