Tag Archives: The Mormon Battalion

The Mormon Battalion vs. the stray dogs of L.A.

Things I have learned from reading pioneer James S. Brown’s autobiography: the Mormon Battalion executed a military order to exterminate the stray dogs of Los Angeles. Brown recounts:

Another event about this period was an order by Colonel Cooke for a detail of good marksmen and trusty men to go through the town and shoot or bayonet all the dogs to be found in the streets. The colonel had notified the town authorities of his intention. Accordingly the detail was made and ammunition issued. The writer was one of the trusted marksmen. We sallied forth in the town of Los Angeles, where the dogs were more numerous than human beings, and commenced our disagreeable and deadly work. Muskets rattled in every street and byway, dogs barked and howled in every direction, and women and children wept to have the animals spared. But military orders had to be obeyed, for the dog nuisance had become intolerable. After that, there were sanitary orders sent forth, and the streets were cleared of the dogs and a great amount of bones and other rubbish.

I will admit that after my mission experiences with stray dogs, I read this with some enthusiasm. But the Battalion’s exploits against animals don’t stop there; they also fought a battle with a herd of wild cattle, with casualties of one mule for the Battalion and 20-25 for the cattle:

In a very brief space of time we found ourselves plunged into a warm climate, where we could not see any plant or shrub that we had been acquainted with before. There was some small, scrubby ash, sycamore and black walnut, but everything, even to the rocks, had a strange appearance. We also had entered the land of wild horses and cattle, which roamed the hills by thousands. The wild cattle became excited at the rumbling wagons, and gathered thickly along our way.

At last the muskets commenced to rattle, partly through fear, and partly because we wanted beef. Finally a herd of wild cattle charged our line, tossed some men into the air, pierced others with their horns, knocking some down, and ran over others, attacking one light wagon, the hind end of which was lifted clear from the road. One large bull plunged into a six-mule team, ran his head under the off-swing mule, throwing him entirely over the near one and thrusting his horn into the mule’s vitals, injuring our animal so it had to be left on the ground, where it expired in a few minutes. There were several men and mules roughly used and bruised, just the number I do not now recall. The attacking party lost twenty or twenty-five of their number killed, with many others badly or slightly wounded.

B. H. Roberts also recounts the battle with the cattle in his book The Mormon Battalion. And of course all this helped fulfill a prophecy from Brigham Young (quoting Brown, emphasis added):

…the words of President Brigham Young, in his farewell address to the battalion, in which he said: “You are now going into an enemy’s land at your country’s call. If you will live your religion, obey and respect your officers, and hold sacred the property of the people among whom you travel, and never take anything but what you pay for, I promise you in the name of Israel’s God that not one of you shall fall by the hand of an enemy. Though there will be battles fought in your front and in your rear, on your right hand and on your left, you will not have any fighting to do except with wild beasts.”

This is good stuff, guys. Read the book.

“The Mormon Battalion: Its History and Achievements” by B. H. Roberts

This nice Sunday afternoon read (just 96 pages in the original), available on Project Gutenberg, offers a straightforward history of the Battalion.

It’s especially interesting in that it gives good background of how and why the Battalion came to be formed – turns out the Church actually asked the government for a way to serve in the West (originally expecting to build forts or supply posts, etc.). At around that time, the Mexican-American war happened, and the Church’s agent in D. C. agreed to the idea of the Battalion. After getting government permission to be on Indian land (more or less in exchange for the Battalion) Brigham Young supported the whole thing. I once had an impression that levying the Battalion was something of an oppressive act by the government; though it was a sacrifice, the real history’s more nuanced, and it was a mutually beneficial arrangement. 

It then traces the route and history of the Battalion and discusses its significance, including the Battalion’s road-making, its members’ roles in starting the California gold rush, the record-making length of its journey, etc. Roberts also says:

Commenting on the Battalion’s march and the map he made of it, Colonel Cooke says: “A new administration, (this was the Pierce administration, 1853-1857) 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 Nevadas, 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.” This purchase added to the territory of the United States forty-five thousand five hundred and thirty-five square miles; for which was paid $10,000,000. The purchase was made by James Gadsden of South Carolina, minister to Mexico, hence the name Gadsden Purchase.

So, arguably Tucson (inside the Gadsden Purchase area, along with much of southern Arizona and New Mexico) is part of the United States because of the march of the Mormon Battalion. Anyways, it’s a quick read that will cement the history of the Battalion in your mind and has a number of fun tidbits; I recommend it.