Short URL for this page:

[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

[image ALT: link to previous section]
Chapter 12

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Year of Decision

Bernard DeVoto

published by Little, Brown and Company,
Boston, 1943

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


[image ALT: link to next section]
Chapter 14
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p348  Chapter 13:
Trail's End

In the fifth decade of the twentieth century, the American cultural heritage is richly established. People who freely draw on it in writing books are usually indifferent to and nearly always ignorant of many important contributors to it. A triumph of the advertising business establishes anyone in posthumous esteem if he wrote a novel good enough to go into a third printing or appeared at enough literary gatherings to be mentioned by diarists. The gatherings did not matter when they occurred but were fully as important as the novels. But today inheritors of the literary tradition will solemnly appraise both salons and novels while ignoring men who built up the knowledge which establishes the habits of millions of Americans, shapes their businesses, and in fact makes possible the way they live.

Clarence King survives as a name to be mentioned in appraisals of our civilization through his friendship with a literary person of considerably inferior intelligence, Henry Adams, and through a rumor of scandal that has been attached to him, but what he added to our civilization is not mentioned. If King counts so little, why should literary values recognize an obscure geologist, even if he is named Ferdinand Vandiveer Hayden? He mapped thousands of square miles, topographically, for natural resources, for the census of timber and the habits of wild life. He built up the Geological Survey which has, tediously no doubt, put all that can be known about our land at the disposal of everyone. Appraisers of our culture will use its maps to locate the studios of sixth-rate essayists without wondering how there are maps, and you will not find Hayden's name in literary indexes. John Wesley Powell was a director of the Geological Survey and he was the begetter of the Bureau of Ethnology and the Reclamation Service as well. A few critics understand that he showed a kind of courage in navigating the Colorado River, they do not know what he did for our culture, and an odd scale of values has placed above this innovator, this prime intelligence, such names as, shall we say, Sarah Orne Jewett, Ambrose Bierce, or Thomas Bailey Aldrich, who edited the Atlantic. Still less should a subaltern of Powell's be known, Clarence Edward Dutton. He laid the basis of what is known about a large American area and, while doing so,  p349 incidentally taught some literary persons how to look at the Grand Canyon. Some of them — Charles Dudley Warner, John Muir, John Burroughs — copied a number of Dutton's pages verbatim but were too absorbed to inclose them in quotation marks. But they were serving literature, literature is known to be important, and, for instance, Charles Eliot Norton is civilization but the Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel is only produce from the Government Printing Office.

Such reflections occur to one on behalf of scores of never-mentioned captains and lieutenants of the United States Army who, at the head of small detachments, over three quarters of a century, traveled the American wilderness, making maps and recording observations of Indians, languages, religions, animals, trees, grasses, weather, rocks, ores, fossils, soils, and drainage. Those observations have passed into intelligent use but are not cultural. . . . On behalf of, for instance, a little group of topographical engineers starting out from Santa Fe with Brigadier General Stephen Watts Kearny on September 28, 1846. Even the Dictionary of American Biography can say of Lieutenant Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.William H. Emory little more than that he served knowledge and diplomacy well, that his career was honorable for military virtues, and that his Civil War record was distinguished: a soldier's epitaph. Emory commanded Kearny's detachment of topographical engineers. He had one of Susan Magoffin's loyal admirers, Lieutenant Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Warner, and a handful of civilians, among them John Mix Stanley, a painter who would perhaps have a larger fame in indexes if the fire which burned down the Smithsonian Institution in 1851 had not destroyed all but five of the 151 paintings which he had made of the West. It is without literary importance that this little group observed the weather and resources on the day's march and set them down, that Stanley's drawings of plants were the first made in this region, that Emory gave the region its first scientific scrutiny and made the first map, an exquisite map which is extremely useful still.

As for Kearny, he was only a reliable officer of Dragoons doing a job set for him by a President who understood nothing whatever about it. He did the job so well that it has never had much comment by anyone.

Doniphan was in charge at Santa Fe. Price was coming up. So was the Mormon Battalion, which would go on to California. Kearny was further informed that another regiment was being sent to San Francisco by sea. He wanted to take four hundred troops with him, a hundred more than his Dragoons numbered. So he had Captain Hudson of the Laclede Rangers try to raise and equip a hundred volunteers from the Santa Fe garrison; they were to be called the California Rangers. But a hundred horses or  p350 mules fit for desert travel, in addition to those which the Dragoons got, could not be found. They could not have been paid for anyway, since no paymaster or quartermaster funds, in coin, had yet reached Santa Fe. The California Rangers disbanded. The five companies of Dragoons with which Kearny started out were mounted mostly on mules — mules described as half starved, half broken down before the start was made. Kearny gathered a herd of the horses that had survived so far and headed them back toward Fort Leavenworth. A sentimental apostrophe of Captain Cooke's reveals that some of them had served the First Dragoons for thirteen years! From now on Kearny would try to buy or re­quisition horses and mules from every tiny settlement they passed and every band of Indians they met.

They started out down the Rio Grande, through hamlets which Kearny had visited on his earlier reconnoissance. On October 2 an express from Santa Fe caught up with them, reporting Price's arrival and informing Kearny that Lieutenant Colonel Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Allen, the commander of the Mormon Battalion, had died. He detached Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Philip St. George Cooke, the Virginia martinet, to command the Battalion, making him a lieutenant colonel. The next day, learning that the Navajo had raided a village only twelve miles from his army, he sent orders to Doniphan to hurry up his Indian campaigns.

What is remarkable in Kearny's march from here on is only the absence of remarkable events. Good management of expeditions, we are told, forestalls adventures. Kearny was a master of frontier craft and he had his own Dragoons, not only professional soldiers but veterans of the West. His one hard problem was how to maintain them as cavalry.

They passed through the little towns of the Rio Abajo, haggling with natives for food, forage, and horseflesh and holding councils with bands of Apache, the ill‑favored suzerains of the region. And on October 6, just out of Socorro, they met Kit Carson, now a lieutenant in the United States Army by appointment of a naval officer. With a small party which included Frémont's Delawares, Lieutenant Carson was riding hell for leather to carry to Senator Benton, President Polk, and the War Department news of the conquest of California.

Carson had left Los Angeles on September 5 and was trying for a record passage with his news. He described to Kearny the condition of the golden shore when he left it: native generals in flight to Mexico, all ports, principal towns occupied, people pacified and reconciled, Frémont "probably" civil and military governor. Kearny understood that the job set for him had been done by the navy, assisted by his young friend Frémont and resident Americans. He had only to go on, take command of the conquered province, and, as in New Mexico, carry out his orders to establish  p351 a government. If this development deprived his Dragoons of their chance for war service, it also simplified his immediate problem. One of the duties negligently given him by Mr. Polk was to locate a wagon road. Even before he met Carson, it had become likely that he would not be able to take the company wagons down the trail. Moreover, the sparse grass and the frightful condition of his mounts made it desirable to reduce the size of the expedition, which Carson's news had now made safe. Kearny detached three of his companies of Dragoons, combing out their best animals for the remaining two companies, and sent them back to Santa Fe. With them he sent Tom Fitzpatrick, who was still his guide, to carry Carson's dispatches to Washington. Fitzpatrick was not familiar with the Gila trail, whereas Carson had not only helped to open parts of it years ago but had just traveled it. The honest, outraged Kit, who had not seen his family since joining Frémont in the spring of '45, contemplated going over the hill by night, but finally obeyed orders and turned back with Kearny.

Carson confirmed Kearny's judgment that the wagons could be got to California along this route only by months of labor, if at all. So Kearny got packsaddles and sent the wagons back to Santa Fe, ordering Cooke, who was to follow with the Mormons, to locate a wagon road. The Dragoons would pack mules, horses, and even their few oxen. They did, and it was hard on livestock. Presently, Emory wrote, "every animal in camp is covered with patches, scars, and sores made by the packs in the unequal motion caused by the ascent and descent of steep hills."

They left the Rio Grande and headed for the Gila, keeping mainly to the established trail, the lower and newer of the two by which the Spanish had communicated with California. The route led through the enchanted chaos of the Arizona deserts, a country mostly of naked rock in mesas, peaks, and gashed canyons, painted tremendous colors with brushes of comet's hair. Frequently it was a giant-cactus country — saguaro by designers of modern decoration, cholla by medieval torturers — or a country of yuccas and the yucca's weirdest form, the Joshua tree. Sometimes it was even a grass country. And through most of the route it was a country where occasionally you could find the characteristic oasis of the Southwest, a little, hidden arroyo with something of a stream in it, choked with cottonwoods, green plants blooming only a rifle shot from desolation.

They were on rations hardly half-size by any decent standard. There were enough tents when they started — though there were no tent poles — but some of them could not be packed and the others wore out or tended to be left beside the trail. The animals wore down steadily, could not be recruited, had to be abandoned, had in part to be eaten. It was a march  p352 without glory, little more than attendance on a demon-possessed herd through a desert with no end. But the journals of Emory and Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Johnston and the letters of Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Turner, by which chiefly the march can be followed, contain little mention of sickness, exhaustion, or even annoyance. The Dragoons were doing a disregarded job authoritatively.

Through October and November they pegged along, not making very good time except in relation to their emaciated mounts and the two howitzers. These were two "light mountain guns" of brass, cumbersomely mounted on small wheels, which were always far to the rear and sometimes had to be taken entirely apart before they could be moved. Mostly they were on, or not far from, the swift, clear Gila. As they approached its great bend they reached a country whose ghosts were Father Kino, the great priest, and the Hohokam, the prehistoric people of whom a shadowy memory has tinged many Indian myths. More to the point were villages of the Pima and Maricopa, jovial, sedentary Indians who had established about the best social adaptation to this country that has so far been worked out. After the Apache and the itinerant Mexicans whom they had met, these people with their irrigated farmlands supplied an emotional lift. They had cantaloupes, watermelons, corn, wheat, honey, any amount of foodstuff, even a couple of bullocks for beef, but no horses to sell. They practised the communism of the desert: asked the price of their cornmeal cakes, they said "Bread is to eat, not to sell, take what you want." Their sport was bartering, however, with loud laughter for Major Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Swords, the quartermaster, or for themselves when someone made a bad trade. They found Mr. Bestor's eyeglasses extremely amusing (he was a topographer), and in fact liked all their white brothers. Captain Johnston summarized the general verdict on their superiority to "the Apaches who bayed at us like their kindred wolves." Emory decided that they surpassed many of the Christian nations in agriculture, were but little behind them in the useful arts, "and immeasurably before them in honesty and virtue."

They took the officers to the mysterious ruined dwelling of the Hohokam now known as Casa Grande, and recounted their version of a widespread myth. Myth of rain, genesis, and fertility. A beautiful maiden of the god‑people lived in a green valley — a valley of cottonwoods, flowers, and the smell of water — where all men courted her in vain. She was vowed to chastity, and she stored the increase of her lands to be distributed to the valley people when the drouths came. But one day she lay asleep and the clouds passed and a drop of rain fell in her navel. From this conception her son was born, founder of the Ancients . . . Bear of the West, blue woman of the West, I ask your intercession with the cloud people.

 p353  The army lingered for a day or two, trading with these hospitable mystics and letting the herd rest, then moved on. The country got peeled down to naked rock and the jornadas — stretches without water — lengthened. The mules and horses grew more brittle, some of them died on the trail, and the First Dragoons had become infantry who had an added duty of veterinary nursing. So they came out to where the Gila empties into the Colorado. Twenty‑one miles to reach that confluence on November 22, a hot day, the cavalry staggering on foot in the torrid dust and General Kearny, his horse exhausted, kicking his spurs into a mule's flanks. Here they found a recently abandoned camp. There were signs of about a thousand horses and Carson, making a scout, estimated that there had not been time for them to go more than ten miles. The first guess, that this was a party of Indian horse thieves, changed to a guess that it was Castro coming back from Mexico with an army for a campaign against the conquerors of California. Emory made a reconnoissance, found the herd and its proprietors, and brought them in.

They really were Californians but whether they were rebels gathering up horses for their comrades in rebellion has never been determined. But they were accomplished liars and Kearny could make little of their stories. One refrain was consistent, however: there had been fighting in California since Carson left it and something had gone seriously wrong with the American cause. The next day, while Kearny was fitting out his Dragoons with half-wild horses from this herd, Emory made another scout. On the way back he picked up another Mexican, who represented himself to be one more humble horse-herder on peaceful business but turned out to be a courier. He was carrying dispatches from California to Castro and others who, in Sonora, were gathering forces for the maintenance of what the First Dragoons could now get a fairly clear idea of, the reconquest of California.

. . . For the shooting script of the Rover Boys in the Halls of Montezuma had got impaired. In early October there was a great reception for Commodore Stockton at Yerba Buena, with both the victors and the conciliated making fiesta and that new Californian, Owl Russell, filling the sky with oratory. Stockton also made a speech, a typical one. He had come back to these parts on business connected with his new picture, which involved enlisting a thousand Americans, transporting them to Mazatlán by sea, and thence marching them across the heart of Mexico to join Zachary Taylor, who would probably be waiting just outside Mexico City for him to arrive. (Frémont, now recognizing the dreaming of a kindred genius, was out drumming up recruits for this new conquest.) But it now developed that the Army of Hollywood would have to let Taylor conquer Mexico unassisted  p354 for a while. Stockton learned that the conquered race had driven the conquerors out of the southern towns and he would have to begin all over and conquer them again. He made a start, between relays of the fiesta banquet, by loosing on the air, in reply to Owl Russell's flowers, a speech of such gore-thirsty courage that it should have ended the war right there.

What had happened to the southward was simple. The Pueblo of Los Angeles, though populated by greasers whom Stockton knew to be cowardly and baseborn, had got bored with Lieutenant Gillespie's arrogant ways and had driven him out. Even if Gillespie had used common sense his job would have been hard enough, conciliating both the tough malcontents and the orderly society of the region, who had lost a country in humiliation. But association with stars like Frémont and Stockton had had its effect: Gillespie thought of himself as representing the hochgeboren Anglo-Saxon race. By a series of arbitrary regulations and by the kind of personal strutting now attributed to the bite of the lens-louse, he had contrived to consolidate resentments against him. Surreptitious disorder and sabotage produced some gangs. These coalesced into larger ones and became openly aggressive. There was some armed skirmishing, suddenly a lot of people were in revolt, and Gillespie found his small command besieged. A force of California irregulars under "General" José María Flores and others who had been paroled by Stockton offered him battle or evacuation with the honors of war. On October 4 he took his command to San Pedro and embarked them on a merchant ship in the harbor. Los Angeles was Californian again and, in a snow of proclamations, the victors cleaned the American naval army out of Santa Barbara and San Diego as well.

Stockton got busy. He began summoning Frémont, who gave his recruiting assignment a new twist. The emigration had poured down from the Sierra. Frémont got recruits for the California Battalion to the number of three companies of emigrants. Among them were Bryant, Owl Russell of course, Hastings, Hudspeth, and James Frazier Reed. (Offered the captaincy of one company, Reed would accept only a lieutenancy. He had first to make his attempt to take food to his family and, while he headed toward the snow with McCutchen, was also on detached duty, advertising for enlistments.) There were also present in the Sacramento Valley some Wallawalla Indians who had come here on the unfinished business, reparation for murder, that Jim Clyman had tried to settle as their representative a year ago. They nursed their grievance but were patient and it was not till '47 that the affair boiled over and their Cayuse cousins massacred Marcus Whitman's mission at Waillatpu. Meanwhile they were willing to spoil the Californians; so they and some of the local Indians joined up with  p355 Frémont. No one ever doubted Frémont's personal courage but as a commander of troops he set a high value on the delayed attack. It took him nearly two months to prepare his little army. He marched it south on November 30 — all the other conquerors had been vociferously calling for him for weeks — and he moved it with a most strategic deliberation. It was not his fortune ever to meet armed opposition in California. He did not reach this war till it also was over. But he was in time to make trouble.

Stockton had sent Captain Mervine with the Savannah to recapture Los Angeles. The force which Mervine landed at San Pedro numbered, with Gillespie's men who were added to it, about four hundred. Something like a hundred Californian horsemen kept them from Los Angeles, with a small cannon and some homemade powder. Sailors and marines on foot could not compete with the irregular cavalry. They were stalled between Los Angeles and its port when Stockton — still denied the help of Frémont — reached San Pedro on October 27. He was under the same handicap, that there were no horses, but considering that he had at least eight times as many men as the revolutionaries were ever able to get together at any time, it seems odd that he did not take Los Angeles at once.

The navy is not gifted at operations inland, however, and besides, Stockton had Frémont's gift for multiplying the opposition by twenty-five whenever he calculated his chances. The Californians, who were having a fine time and extending their little revolution throughout the south, practised on him all the hoary tricks of guerrilla deception, and after a few days he re‑embarked all his expeditionary force and sailed to San Diego. After three weeks on a whaler in the harbor, the American garrison there had perceived that the Californians were not occupying the town and had gone ashore again. Stockton intended to operate against Los Angeles from there but the revolutionaries had swept the countryside clean of horses. He spent November sending out patrols to find some, while the Californians rode about in a boisterous humor, taking long shots at any Americans they saw. Towed the end of the month he got some horses, and a few days later learned of Kearny's approach. . . .

On the far side of the California desert, Kearny could not learn the details of this revolt. He could make out only that fighting had begun again and the conquest was in danger, if not already overthrown. He foresaw that he also would have to do some fighting — having sent back to Santa Fe, on receiving word that California was pacified, three fifths of his force. He had about a hundred and twenty-five men. He tried to mount them from the big herd he had intercepted, but the horses were unbroken and unused to desert travel.

 p356  On all trails to the West the last stretch was the hardest going. Beyond the Colorado River, which the army forded on November 25, ten miles south of the confluence with the Gila, the California desert began. It was one of the innumerable deserts called Jornada del Muerte by the Spanish, who also referred to the trail across it as the Devil's Highroad — ample indications. Much of it is below sea level, and a great part of it has been reclaimed by the irrigation projects of the Imperial Valley. The Dragoons tied grass for the first day behind their saddles and got their first water at the end of thirty hours by digging out and deepening an old well. A fifty-four-mile jornada followed and they made it in two days, remarkable time for horses and mules so broken down. Many of the mounts died on that crossing and some were saved learn "by one man tugging at the halter and another pushing up the brute by placing his shoulder against its buttocks," to get them over the last stretch to the spring. They entered a country of cactus and bitter yucca and the weather was stifling. (An army post established here some years later appears to have originated the folk tale of the soldier who, having died and gone to his reward, wired back to the commandant for his blankets.) "The day was hot," Emory says, "and the sand deep; the animals, inflated with water and rushes, gave way by scores." He calls it a feast day for the wolves.

As always, human flesh had stood two months of desert travel better than horseflesh. The army was in excellent health and spirits. It was not, however, decently clothed. When Kearny sent the wagons back he had had to leave his meager quartermaster supplies with them. Cactus had ripped the uniforms to shreds and rimrock had done the same for boots. For some time there had been nothing to eat but unseasoned horse. "Meat of horses may be very palatable," Emory remarks, "but ours are poor and tough." No wonder that seven of his men ate a sheep at one meal, when they got to the first outpost of decency on the California side, Warner's ranch.

They reached that oasis, which served the same function for travelers of the southern trail as Sutter's in the north, on December 2, looking so much like Indians that the ranch crew started the herds precipitately toward the foothills. Warner himself — an American gone Californian in a lavish way — was reported to be a prisoner, and Kearny could learn little from his foreman. A neighboring English rancher named Stokes could tell him that the revolutionaries were in control of the situation and that Kearny was close to some of their forces. Stokes also reported Stockton's presence at San Diego, and Kearny sent him there with a letter telling of his arrival and asking for information about the state of affairs.

Kearny also heard of a California reserve of mules and horses fifteen  p357 miles away, and sent a detachment to bring it in. They brought it in, but again these were nearly wild horses and almost unusable. So on December 4 Kearny marched his small command toward San Diego. The next day they met a detachment of thirty-five of Stockton's sailors under Gillespie, Lieutenant Edward Fitzgerald Beale, and Midshipman Duncan, with information, military theories, and a tiny brass field piece to be added to Kearny's howitzers. That day, December 5, was rainy and foggy, and that night in the fog Kearny sent Lieutenant Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Hammond out to reconnoiter. Hammond found a body of Californians holding the road to San Diego at a hamlet called San Pascual. They would have to be cleared out. The opinion of Gillespie and of Carson was that the Californians would not fight. Well, they would have to find out — Kearny's force was too small to do anything but attack. He caught up with the Californians at dawn of the following day, December 6, and attacked them at sight. The opinion of Gillespie and Carson proved erroneous.

The action of December 6, known as the battle of San Pascual, lasted only a few minutes. The revolutionaries were California horsemen, the best in the world, riding their own well-trained, fresh horses and armed with muskets and long lances. The American force was mounted on the surviving, dilapidated mules and horses, not only starving but less than half-broken, and a quarter of it was on foot. The night of rain had made firearms all but useless. A small advance guard surprised the Californians but was ridden to pieces and its commander, Captain Johnston, was killed. The main body, led by Kearny, drove the Californians away and began a pursuit. The half-dead horses strung out in a long line and the Californians turned and came back. For something like five minutes there was a victorious melee of cavalry sabers and clubbed muskets against lances. When the howitzers, dragged all this way from Santa Fe for just such a use, came up the Californians rode away. They got one howitzer, however, for its team stampeded.

The little fight was as desperate as it was brief. At the end of it eighteen Americans were dead, including Captain Benjamin Moore whom we first saw rounding up the Santa Fe caravans at Pawnee Fork, Captain Johnston, and Lieutenant Hammond. Kearny had been lanced twice and Lieutenant Warner, Emory's second, had three lance wounds and four more rents in his blouse — an accurate gauge of the action.

For the rest of the day Captain Turner had to exercise command. He made camp on a hill and the surgeon got busy treating the wounded. "Our provisions were exhausted," Emory says, "our horses dead, our mules on their last legs, and our men, now reduced to one‑third of their number [he  p358 means reduced by one third] were ragged, worn down by fatigue, and emaciated." That night they buried the dead on the cactus-covered hillside while wolves howled. Turner sent Alexis Godey and two other mountain men (who had arrived with Gillespie) to San Diego, forty miles away, calling on Stockton, who had about eight hundred effectives, for reinforcements and ambulances. They got to San Diego but were captured on the way back, bringing Stockton's message that, for the time being, he could not help out. Just why he thought he could not has never been made clear.

Kearny resumed command the next morning, weakened by loss of blood, and started his force toward San Diego. The remaining mountain men had built travois and the wounded were placed on them, to agonize while the trailing poles jolted over the ground. They got about ten miles to San Bernardo, the ranch of another Englishman, where the wounded were fed. Just beyond it the Californians, who had been hanging on the flanks and riding across the front just out of range, suddenly occupied a hill and seemed likely to start a fight. A small party under Emory drove them out and camped there. It was obvious that if the march kept up the free cavalry of his enemy must eventually capture his horses, his remaining howitzers, and even his wounded. So the next day, December 8, when he learned that his messengers had been captured, he determined to stay forted up where he was. That night Kit Carson, Lieutenant Beale, and Beale's Indian servant crept out of camp to make another summons to Stockton.

Their midnight crawl through the lines of a vigilantly patrolling enemy — who, Sabin says, were expecting Carson to do exactly what he did — ranks high among the exploits of the master mountain man, whose life was packed with desperate exploits. The three of them were on their bellies most of the time till dawn. Repeatedly they were nearly discovered. When at last they were past the besiegers' lines, they had lost the shoes which they had tied round their necks and had to travel barefoot through cactus toward San Diego. They separated, to increase their chances of getting through. All three did get through the following night, Beale collapsing and having to be carried in. His health was broken for two years by the strain and fright of that adventure, and even Carson was in bad shape for several days.1

Back on the hill, the others ate mule and waited for news or help. Emory's notes have a moment. One of the wounded, the interpreter, old Antoine Robidou, would probably die tonight, with the temperature four degrees below freezing. But he woke Emory and asked him for a cup of coffee, which, he said, would save his life.

 p359  Not knowing that there had been any coffee in camp for many days, I supposed a dream had carried him back to the cafés of St. Louis and New Orleans, and it was with some surprise I found my cook heating a cup of coffee over a small fire of wild sage. One of the most agreeable little offices performed in my life, and I believe in the cook's, to whom the coffee belonged, was to pour this precious draught into the waning body of our friend Robideaux [sic]. His warmth returned and with it hopes of life. In gratitude he gave me what was then a great rarity, the half of a cake made of brown flour, almost black with dirt and which had, for greater security, been hidden in the clothes of his Mexican servant, a man who scorned ablutions. I eat more than half without inspection, when, on breaking a piece, the bodies of the most loathsome insects were exposed to my view. My hunger, however, overcame my fastidiousness. . . .

They got better food the next day when they killed some fat horses which the Californians drove through the camp in an attempt to stampede the remuda. The surgeon reported that most of the wounded would be able to ride the next day and the others able to walk. It was assumed that Carson and Beale must have been captured or killed and Kearny decided that there was nothing to do but fight his way through. He would make the sortie at dawn, but before dawn a hundred and eighty of Stockton's command came up and the siege was over. On December 12 they got to San Diego. Kearny had reached Stockton, on the strength of whose dispatches he had left behind him the two thirds of his command that would have dissuaded the Californians from fighting and so have prevented the bloody action of San Pascual.

* * *

Meanwhile the Oregon emigration of '46 had reached the end of the trail. We left it a few miles west of Fort Hall, in southeastern Idaho, on August 8, when Jesse Applegate met Thornton and Boggs.

The destination of these people, the Oregon of Bill Bowen's dream, was the valley of the Willamette River, between the Coast Range on the west and the Cascades on the east. The valley was Oregon to dwellers in the States, or at least it was the Oregon that had been advertised for soil, climate, trade, and the hope of the future. To be sure, far to the eastward was the Walla Walla Valley, where the Whitman mission was and, by '46, a few settlers had located. There were also Astoria and Fort Vancouver, infinitesimal and still mostly British settlements up from the mouth of the Columbia. But of the seven thousand emigrants who had gone to Oregon,  p360 practically all had settled in the Willamette Valley or on the Columbia eastward from the valley's end.2

In '46 the southernmost house in the Willamette Valley was near the site of the present city of Eugene. Passing down the valley from there, one came to a kind of settlement, of which Lieutenant Howlson, of the U. S. schooner Shark, reported this year that "too little exists to be worthy of an attempt at description." This was Salem, the real-estate development which the Methodist missionaries had by now substituted for their venture in saving Indian souls. Fifty miles farther downstream was the head of navigation — of such navigation as there was — where the Willamette, half a mile wide, tumbled over a forty-foot ledge. Here was Oregon City, the center of settlement and development, capital of the Iowa-model republic which had been floating in space ever since 1843. That republic had a governor, a judicial system, and five counties, in the tradition of frontier communities, and it had no legal connection whatever with the United States. (Presently we shall see how Polk's maneuvers for settlement of the Oregon country, the chaos in Congress, and the rounding of the year's decisive turn had killed the most recent efforts for relief.) In '46 there were well over a thousand people in the vicinity of Oregon City, though the town itself had less than a hundred houses. It had, however, a brisk trade, both internal and foreign, flour mills, sawmills, a foundry, environs already moderately rich in grain and rich in cattle, and the blessings of an evangelical culture. (It had been founded by Elijah White, another missionary who turned speculator in real estate.) These included a circulating library, a lyceum, a newspaper, a debating society, and the Oregon Temperance Society which was eight years old and had already made itself noisome advocating prohibition. Oregon City was the nerve center of Oregon, and the source of the puritan mores still discernible today in the sovereign state. Twelve or fifteen miles downstream, about the same distance from the mouth of the Willamette, was the town of Portland, which would have been Boston except that the coin fell tails, of perhaps a hundred people in '46. Nearer the mouth was a still smaller place called Linnton, for the great expansionist, and there were a few other hamlets here and there in the valley.

It was from these settlements that Applegate had set out, in June of '46, to prospect a better road for emigrants than the established trail from Fort Hall. A better route was vital both to the settlements and to emigrants. The established trail, the Oregon trail properly so‑called, belonged to the mountain fur trade; parts of it, even, had been traveled by Lewis and Clark. It had been laid out to reach the American Fur Company's Astoria and the various posts of the Hudson Bay Company, Astor's conqueror  p361 and successor and for many years the law west of Fort Hall. This trail, serving the needs of commerce in furs, was perfectly adapted to that business and to the methods of transport used in it. But in the service of the fur trade wheeled vehicles got no farther than Fort Hall, and in the service of Whitman's mission in the Walla Walla Valley, they got no farther than Fort Boise. The trail reached the Willamette settlements by an intolerably roundabout course, and it traveled through country which wagons could cross only with interminable labor and hardship. As every annual emigration so far had found out.

From Fort Hall the trail ran southwest, west, and northwest across the present state of Idaho. Most of this distance it was near the Snake River, though not often near it vertically, since this, one of the most beautiful of American rivers, here flows through sunken canyons. The country was desolate, sagebrush flats or stretches of black lava, always breaking up into hills and ravines. There was little or no game but there was dust in daily clouds worse than anything encountered earlier. A detour down the Boise River reached the Snake again at Fort Boise. Fording (later ferrying) the Snake, the trail then struck overland northwest to the present Vale and thence north to the present Huntington,​3 thence up the Snake again to Powder River. It went up Powder River to about the present Baker, then turned north through fragmented mountain chains, which were really part of the Blue Mountains system, and came down into the magnificent valley called the Grande Ronde, whose center is the present city of La Grande. The land-hungry emigrants could have satiated their appetite here, where the soil was as fertile as any in the West, the climate equable, and the country rich in water and timber. But they reached the Grande Ronde with their supplies and equipment exhausted, the mission in the Walla Walla Valley was too feeble to support them through the winter, and they had to go on to the Willamette. Settlement of the great valley was not possible for years.

From the Grande Ronde, the earliest emigration got to The Dalles by heading straight north to the Walla Walla River and following it to the Columbia, the later ones by striking northwest to the Umatilla and descending it to the Columbia. Either route had to cross the main chain of the Blues, difficult and precipitous mountains whose western wall was almost vertical. Most trains got into difficulty by the time they reached the Blues, where snow was not uncommon, and practically all of them needed relief by the time they reached the Columbia. As far as The Dalles the land route down the Columbia was not particularly hard going, relatively to what had been experienced already, though those who went by water commonly ran into trouble. But at The Dalles an already exhausted and  p362 destitute emigration — toward which, from 1843 on, relief parties were usually hurrying from the Willamette settlements — faced the worst stretch of the entire two thousand miles between Independence and the Pacific. This was the sixty miles between The Dalles and the mouth of the Willamette — sixty miles, that is, by water but considerably more by any possible route across the Cascade Mountains. The fur traders had gone down the river, using the big native dugout canoes, and usually their expert native pilots, and portaging the worst rapids. But canoes would not suffice for the possessions of the emigrants and there were few boats. They had to build boats or rafts of their own and conduct them down one of the most dangerous pieces of river in the world, part of it quite impassable. Or if they resolved not to sacrifice their wagons or their herds (many of the earliest emigrants were hoping to become stockmen in Oregon), they had to take them across the Cascade Range, in early winter, past Mount Hood, through country where there were no roads at all.

The Indians of this part of Oregon were also a menace — to property usually, not to life. The Cayuse would wipe out the Whitman mission in '47, but up to then they and their relatives contented themselves with selling their services at exorbitant prices and exercising a fine skill at theft.

The Columbia or the Cascades, that was the dilemma, and up to '46 either choice had meant disaster. The emigration of '43 — the (first) Great Migration — had gone to pieces at the Cascades, some trying to make the river passage on rafts, some trying to build a wagon road over the mountains. Most of the fatalities were among the former, but all suffered exceedingly and they were succored mostly by the Hudson's Bay Company, which they had come to displace from its possessions. A few were winter-bound east of the Cascades. The emigration of '44, which was nearly fifty per cent larger, was delayed by muddy prairies and swollen streams in the early stages of the trail. The crest of it did not reach Fort Hall till the middle of September — five or six weeks later than Thornton's late arrival there in '46 — and had to send out its first call for assistance from that far point. (This was the year in which Clyman came back to the mountains. His messmate Black Harris was blamed by the greenhorns for many of their hardships but did heroic service in their relief.) They met snow in the Blues, many had to stay in the Walla Walla Valley through the winter, and the rest disintegrated in the Cascades. Not many died, but practically all arrived destitute in the settlements.

But the emigration of '45 had to undergo sufferings far greater than anything before it. It was the largest emigration so far, fully three thousand strong. Those who held to the difficult, established trail reached the  p363 settlements with about as much hardship as their predecessors had experienced, some loss of life, and a great loss of property. (This portion of the year's emigration produced one of the classics of the trail, Joel Palmer's Journal of Travels over the Rocky Mountains.) But at Fort Boise​4 a large party were induced to try a new road designed to avoid the Blue Mountains and the descent of the Columbia and to discover a better passage of the Cascades. The Lansford Hastings of this escapade, which cost almost twice as many lives as the Donner tragedy, was Elijah White, the ex‑missionary who by this time had made himself thoroughly loathsome to his fellow Oregonians. His agent, who was to guide the experimenters, was Stephen Meek. Meek was a competent mountain man. Blamed by the emigrants for their catastrophe, he nevertheless was chiefly responsible for the survival of those who did survive. Nor was the proposed route absurd in theory. (For that matter, the Hastings Cutoff to California was, in theory, perfect.) He designed to lead his party — between 150 and 200 wagons all told — up the Malheur River and so across what is now central Oregon, into the Willamette Valley by a supposed pass well toward its southern end. His intention was to follow trails which were supposed to mark old routes of the mountain fur trade.

But Meek could not stick to his predetermined route. The party wandered aimlessly in a desolate region to the southward. The Malheur Mountains broke them and, in the vicinity of the Deschutes River, panic, mass frenzy, starvation, and the cumulative collapse of outfits struck them all together. From there on their experiences were all but incredible. Black Harris again and various relief parties from Oregon City got them down to the mouth of the Deschutes, to The Dalles, and finally to the Willamette. They are the "Lost Immigrants" of Oregon legendry and about seventy-five of them died.

Considering the emigrations thus summarized, it should be clear that a better road from Fort Hall to the Willamette was both a physical and a psychological necessity. The settlements knew that their increase and their trade depended on the establishment of one. The emigrants of '46 knew what had happened to their predecessors, and the stories had lost nothing on the way to them. The obvious solution was to locate a practicable road into the Willamette Valley from the Humboldt section of the California trail, if such a road could possibly be located. If one could be, it would avoid the Blue Mountains and the Columbia River altogether. The southern Cascades were less formidable than the northern part of the range, and if a good pass through them could be found, the terrors of the last stretch of the road to Oregon would be entirely eliminated.

 p364  This problem was also important to the War Department which might have to oppose a British occupation of California based on Oregon. A survey of the trail from the Willamette settlements to California was one of the objects set for Frémont on his expedition of '45, and with it, if possible, the discovery of a better route to Oregon from the Humboldt trail. Instead of going back to California with Gillespie from Klamath Lake, Frémont should have been doing the job which Jesse Applegate's party did.

In May of '46 the settlements sent out an exploring party to locate the much needed southern entrance to the valley. It was insufficiently equipped, however, and the attempt was repeated in June by a party of fifteen men. No more intelligent, experienced, and resolute group could have been found. Notable among them were the veteran mountain men Black Harris, David Goff of the '44 emigration, and Levi and John Scott of '43, all of them the highest type of pioneers, and Lindsey Applegate and his brother Jesse, who was then and long remained the first citizen of Oregon. The expedition was of great public importance and they were resolved to be deterred by nothing till they had found a satisfactory route into the valley from the south. Jesse Applegate, the effective leader of the party, had the strongest possible determination, having had a son drowned and a nephew crippled on the passage of the Columbia in '43.

Both the achievements and the good faith of this party must be stressed, for the principal eyewitness account of the portion of the '46 emigration that took their new road is Thornton's, and Thornton gave them a lambasting that would have been more applicable to Lansford Hastings. Thornton's experiences were so painful that he was unable to exercise his usually impartial judgment on the new route.5

The Applegate party did in fact locate a practicable wagon road into the Willamette Valley from the Humboldt section of the California trail. It became the standard route into Oregon, though, of course, use and further exploration changed details of it. They took the regular route southward down the Willamette Valley by which journeys to California were made. (Such journeys as Clyman made in '45.) They followed it as far as Grant's Pass in the canyon of the Umpqua, and kept within range of it to the valley of the Rogue River, where they began their tack to the southeast. They found the greatly desired pass over the Cascades and came down to Klamath Lake, camping where Frémont and Gillespie had determined on their adventure and fought the Modoc. (Thus Frémont had been within a few miles of achieving one of the objectives set him.) From here they crossed into the desolate wilderness of northwestern Nevada by way of Lost River, Pothole Springs, Goose Lake, Lassen (Fandango) Pass, High  p365 Rock Canyon, Soldier Meadows, and the Black Rock Mountains. Here they divided and explored the desert, hoping to locate a route across it with shorter intervals between water holes than their first trace. But they exhausted their supplies before finding such a course and went on by Rabbit Hole Springs to the California trail. Jesse Applegate, with Black Harris and two others, went to Fort Hall to get supplies and advertise the road to the emigration, and we have seen him meeting Thornton's party on August 8. The others continued up the trail, intending to locate a route from Bear River south of Fort Hall, and it was this group whom Bryant, fresh from the Salt Desert, met on August 9.6

They had done their job. The two largest Nevada deserts, the divide north of Klamath Lake, and the Umpqua canyon were desperately hard going. But they were no worse than several stretches of the trail both east and southwest of Fort Hall, and certainly they were far easier than the worst stretches of the upper Oregon trail. The suffering of the '46 emigration was not repeated. From '47 on, the principal trouble was Indians, not privation.

Applegate and Harris did what they could to reduce the difficulties of the people they proposed to lead over their new route. They pointed out the importance of traveling as rapidly as possible, and they ordered the emigrants to travel in groups large enough to discourage the Indians. Then they hurried ahead with some volunteers, to make the trail a road.

But, on a smaller scale, something of the same demoralization that was overtaking the Donner party overtook the Oregon emigrants. The reserves of morale had been exhausted. No organization was left, and little trail discipline. The trains had been fragmented. A good many of those who had left Indian Creek together in Owl Russell's big train and had split up were now together again, but not as units. There were only knots of wagons traveling more or less together, sometimes because their owners were friends, sometimes because outfits had combined as cattle died, but mostly because similar stages of exhaustion had long since yielded to doggedness. They were querulous and quarrelsome, they were near the end of their strength.

Kirkendall had been the last "captain" of the little group that included Thornton (he was the member of Bryant's party who had been convinced by Clyman). He went ahead with Applegate's roadmakers and on into the settlements, where he turned back with supplies. The consumptive Roby died. Presently Mr. Burns died, who three weeks ago had been vigorous enough to drive Thornton's outfit down into Bear River Valley while Thornton lay helpless in the wagon. They reached the Humboldt on August  p366 22 and soon the Diggers were skulking beside them. So we come to one of the terminal points of American history, the last recorded killing of an Indian by a Boone. Daniel would have been shocked by his grandson Jesse's effeminate reliance on a shotgun.

In little groups they moved on down the Humboldt, at a crawl. They found this stretch longer than they had expected — emigrants always did — and they and the stock grew wearier. Applegate's roadbuilders pulled farther ahead of them, and Goff, who was waiting at the road fork, had to wait there longer than anyone had counted on. When Lillburn Boggs's wagons reached that fork Boggs decided that it was safer to go on over the Sierra than to risk the Oregon mountains, and so became a California pioneer after all. Most of the others went with Goff into the Black Rock Desert, where some oxen died and the rest weakened. They toiled on to Klamath Lake and on the next divide, Thornton says, had to hitch as many as twenty-three yoke of oxen to a wagon in order to get over it.

But now, however exhausted, cynical, and rebellious, they could see that they had reached the land of their desiring. Eyes tortured by months of sagebrush and greasewood looked on trees again, and the world which had been sterile had regained fecundity. There was the sound of brooks and creeks and these grew to rivers; sweet, clear water flowed in them and they would not sink out of sight. The mountainsides were covered with trees bigger than they had ever seen. It was altogether different from the shape and color it had had in last winter's dream, but it was a living and fertile land. Their hearts lifted.

Prematurely, though. They had lingered too long, moved too slowly, and spent too much strength. Many of them were without food. The passage of the Siskiyou Mountains killed many oxen, Thornton's among them. He jettisoned some of his possessions and hired companions to transport the rest — on shares. Others were doing the same. . . . After a century it is hard to recover the feelings of a family who had carried their household treasures eighteen hundred miles of increasing labor and anxiety, and now had to heave them off into the underbrush in order to get themselves whole to the new country.

They got down into the valley of Rogue River and met one of Applegate's party coming back from the settlements with cattle for their relief. So they had food again and this was a beautiful valley with grass for the exhausted teams. They stayed here for the better part of a week. Too long. The rainy season of the Northwest opened on them, and from here on it was a contest between death and endurance.

The Thorntons were typical, or more fortunate than most. They carried  p367 a sack of clothing apiece and some remnants of food. Jessy had his knife and rifle. Their greyhound, Prince Darco, ranged and whimpered beside them. The London-educated, Virginia aristocrat, at best a semi-invalid, walked on with his invalid wife. Or waded. For the creeks were over their banks and the narrow canyons filled from wall to wall. They passed the abandoned goods of those who had preceded them: "household and kitchen furniture, beds and bedding, books, carpets, cooking utensils, dead cattle, broken wagons and wagons not broken but nevertheless abandoned: " — the rubble of a fleeing army. They passed despairing or frenzied movers, too. Here are the Smiths, the "thinly clad and the covering for her head [in the daily deluge] was an old sunbonnet," her child as badly off, and her husband sunk in a lethargic despair. Thornton rallied him and the Smiths took up the march again, with "about a pound of food." And here were a group standing aghast above the body of their father who had just died on the trail.

There was no escape from the rains in forest, canyon, or open flat. They waded one creek forty-eight times in three miles, and Nancy went blind and fainted. Jessy thought she was dying but she revived. They came upon their old companion, the Reverend Mr. Cornwall, who could go no farther and had put up a tent, waiting for relief or death. They had a little good tea and left some crackers; that night Jessy slept sitting on a puncheon bench and Nancy on his shoulder. Their food was altogether gone on November 12, but the next day Kirkendall and others who had been sent out from the settlements rode in, driving horses and cattle. Starvation ended and Thornton bought a horse for his last remaining suit of clothes. The rest was easy, though a few miles behind them one of the original Indian Creek party was killed by Indians. On November 18, "just seven months from the time of entering on our journey [at Quincy, not Independence]," they came down into Willamette Valley. Thornton was stripped clean. He had a rifle, a knife, some odds and ends of spare clothing, and a greyhound. Wagon, oxen, household goods, law library, botanizing notebooks, all the habitual possessions that make the envelope of a man's life were gone, and naked he entered his new world. Still, by February he was Judge of the Supreme Court of the government which by now knew that it was American, even if it was not an American territory. And before long he was superintendent of a Sunday School.

Behind him the rest of the emigration lingered longer and fared worse in the Umpqua Mountains and along Elk River. By groups or families they camped in brush shelters, or toiled a few muddy miles a day, or simply sat till relief parties from the settlements could bring them food  p368 and get them out. Thornton had reached the Willamette by the middle of November, but it was February when the last of them came in.

Mostly they came in like Thornton, stripped. From the Missouri to the Platte, up the Platte to Fort Laramie and beyond, through South Pass to the Little Sandy and Fort Hall, down the Humboldt and over Black Rock Desert to Klamath Lake and the last mountains. From the States to Oregon. It had been a long way. Let us not forget it had been a hard one.

* * *

And on January 30, 1847, one hundred and three days after leaving Santa Fe, the Mormon Battalion reached trail's end at San Diego.

The second chapter of the Battalion is routine. Like Kearny's march it was remarkably success­ful and for the same reason, the effectiveness of its commander. Its importance is that, in obeying Kearny's order to find a wagon road, Cooke had to go a good deal south of the first half of the trail which Kearny had followed, in the states of Chihuahua and Sonora. The road he located (mostly using Mexican and Indian trails) proved to be the most practicable route for a Southern railroad to the Pacific: it is followed by both the Santa Fe and the Southern Pacific. So when some unfinished business left over from the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was settled, enough territory to secure this route was bought from Mexico. Cooke made the Gadsden Purchase desirable.

Otherwise there is nothing notable about the march. The Mormons, who are accustomed to gild all their works with miracle, have celebrated it in prose and marble as the cruelest suffering and the most patriotic service on record anywhere. But there is nothing remarkable about thirst, exhaustion, or a success­ful passage of the desert. Even allowing for the detour to the south, the Battalion did not make as good time as Kearny's Dragoons, and — despite Cooke's anxiety and the howls of his men — they had more to eat. But it was a difficult job, and the three hundred and fifty‑odd who came down to San Diego had proved themselves tough, ready, and adaptable. They still simmered with resentment of wholly imaginary persecutions, they still consulted the priesthood rather than the military for orders, and they still stiffened their necks against the Gentile authority with the awful righteousness of a people whose leading is on high. Nothing would give them discipline and the marvels of Heaven attended their slightest act, but they were soldiers and the desert had seasoned them.

There were 486 of them when Cooke took command at Santa Fe on October 13. From the Great Bend of the Arkansas, Smith had already forwarded  p369 the volunteer grandfathers to Pueblo, where a company of Saints from Mississippi were to spend the winter. He had sent with them most of the families who had tried to travel to Zion with the military arm. Many remained, however, who were too elderly or infirm to make the desert passage. Cooke described them as "invalids," and from Santa Fe sent fifty-eight of them to Pueblo. Though the brethren howled about Gentile tyranny, he also disposed of the "laundresses," the wives of Israel who had come this far, promising them that the government would pay the expense of their journey to Zion next year. Twenty of them had to go to Pueblo. Even so, he had to accept the company of five women, two the wives of captains, three of sergeants.​7 When the bad health of the Battalion continued after they left Santa Fe — it was augmented by an epidemic of influenza — he sent back "fifty-five of the sick and least efficient men."

It proved impossible to equip them satisfactorily from government stores in Santa Fe, and Cooke felt the same lack of hard cash that handicapped Kearny and Doniphan. (They lacked, for instance, greatcoats.) Farther along, however, he had more success than Kearny in persuading the natives to take orders on the government. He disposed of most of his oxen early; after trying to make pack animals of them, he sent some back to Socorro and butchered others. Doniphan, Price, and Kearny had bought up all usable oxen and skimmed the mule market. It was mules, and not good ones, that Cooke had to hitch to his wagons — twenty wagons when he started, five when he got to California — and such supplies as could not be hauled were packed on muleback. He was able to renew his herd from time to time, though he had to break many of the remounts to harness, and so the stock did not break down till they reached the California desert.

Food was always an anxiety but actually was seldom scarce. The worst stringency came at the beginning in New Mexico, where the natives had sold much of their harvest and had recently been raided by Apache and Navajo. Private Bliss of Company B remembered eating roast oxhide here; and, near some ruins of the ancient Nephites which proved the authenticity of the Book of Mormon once more, Private Standage of the Company E says forthrightly, "I eat guts today for the first time though many have eat them before." But when the Battalion got to Chihuahua and Sonora, friendlier and somewhat wealthier natives kept them decently supplied. Cereals were frequently short and once there was a period of two weeks when no meat ration was issued, not even the army salt pork. But Cooke succeeded in gathering a small herd of beeves and a larger one of sheep, and the Battalion did not suffer from hunger.

 p370  They took up the march on October 19. They went farther down the Rio Grande than Kearny had done, left it above Rincón, and crossed Chihuahua (now southern New Mexico), piercing the "American backbone" near (but not by) the San Guadalupe Pass. From here they crossed straight to the San Pedro River, followed its valley for five and a half days (perhaps sixty miles) and then turned west to Tucson. From Tucson they crossed straight northwest to the Gila, striking it at the Pima villages. Thereafter, except for unimportant variations, they were on Kearny's route. Cooke's map makes this southern detour 474 miles. He was locating a road for the Gold Rush as well as the best gradients for railroad engineers.

Cooke had made his predecessor, Smith, assistant commissary officer. He had with him another captain of Dragoons and Lieutenant Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.George Stoneman, West Point, '46, who would become a famous cavalryman in the Civil War, as well as two surgeons. One of these was Sanderson, still "Captain Death" to the Mormons, without his mules but laying up for himself more vengeance of the Mormon God by still feeding poison to the sick. Of the Mormon officers, Jefferson Hunt was conspicuously effective and so was his first lieutenant, George Oman. Chiefly because of them, Company A was the crack outfit. Company D, however, was a marching madhouse — chiefly because the malcontent Dykes was returned to it after being deposed as adjutant and because it contained high dignitaries of the priesthood. Company D could do little efficiently and had to be badgered into doing anything.

Cooke, the gourmet and romantic, was also a West Point precisian. At intervals his journal explodes over the "stolidity, ignorance, negligence, and obstinacy" of Israel's host, who began by both fearing and despising him. Sometimes, as at the crossing of the Colorado, the explosion attains a moving eloquence, and there must have been education in hearing Lieutenant Colonel Philip St. George Cooke express himself. He had a gift of tongues which was little like that vouchsafed the faithful at fast meeting, but he must have reminded them of the prophet Brigham in a holy rage. But he was a splendid officer. He held them to the job and he slapped punishments on malingering or carelessness, but also he kept them fed and he kept them going. And if holy obstinacy galled his nerves, he learned a boundless admiration for the spirit, good humor, and guts of his command. In their turn the Saints appreciated his fairness and came to admire his leadership. The colonel's counsel proved to be practically as inspired as the priesthood's; almost he might have been a Seventy. They ended by liking him and he is one of the few Gentiles who have come down to the present in Mormon esteem.

 p371  They got through the mountains after severe labor and came out into the cactus and chromatic rock of the Arizona desert. It was Arizona winter too, occasional bitter spells but usually warm days and freezing nights. They kept meeting Lamanites, mostly of the Apache nation, who were robbing Sonora to sell to New Mexico, so that the Comanche in their turn could carry on the trade. They found good going along the San Pedro and could add mountain trout to their rations. Then they got beef from an unexpected source, herds of wild cattle. Private Bliss, filling his belly to a fine repletion, pronounced it "fat & tender the best beef I ever eat." On December 11 a large herd of these beasts, which were as deadly as grizzlies,​8 actually charged the Battalion. They thundered down on the column and scattered it. They gored some mules and wounded several of the brethren, who, however, shot enough of them for a feast. Cooke named a near‑by creek Bull Run and, as it turned out, this was all the fighting that the Battalion had to do. Except that at Los Angeles they once were ordered out to massacre the town's innumerable, bloodthirsty dogs.

They pulled and pushed the wagons through impassable places, whole platoons grunting together, and gradually the wagons disintegrated. Still seeking a practicable route for them, Cooke left the valley of the San Pedro and headed across lots to the Sonoran village of Tucson. There was a small garrison here and visitors told the Battalion it was four or five times as large as it actually was. So Cooke gave the brethren some drill and target practice, told them they must neither bully nor plunder the inhabitants, and led an advance party to a possible attack. None was needed. The little garrison had withdrawn, the inhabitants were scared and kindly, and the Battalion got some much appreciated flour. It got little else except cigars and pomegranates.

Near Tucson was the great, half-ruined edifice of San Xavier del Bac. The Franciscans had completed it in 1797, nearly a century after Father Kino, the great Jesuit, first dreamed of a mission to the Pima. The Pima and the Apache made that century bloody and now the mission was abandoned, a desolate monument to the cross and sword of Spain, whose southwestern passion play was underscored by the passage of these heretics in the service of a different empire. But to the brethren it was one more Nephite monument, a memorial of those earlier Mormons of twenty‑odd centuries ago who had built great cities in the desert before they declined from the faith.

At Tucson the Battalion had a comic night alarm and Cooke heard a rumor of the revolt in California but did not believe it. He struck northwest for the Gila and there was a forty-mile jornada which gave the  p372 brethren a thirst premonitory of what was to come. They reached the Pima and were back on Kearny's route near the Pima villages. Like the Dragoons, they found the Pima and Maricopa jovial, generous, and admirable. Cooke made an oration to the Maricopa chief and liked the country and Indians so well — so well, that is, in relation to the peculiar genius of his command — that he proposed this place as a possible colony for the Mormons. Captains Hunt and Hunter agreed with him and conferred with their brethren. They were prescient but premature. Settlement in these parts had been proposed and rejected before the Church left Nauvoo and it was not till Israel reached Great Salt Lake Valley that Brigham came to understand the importance of an Arizona outpost.

Near the Maricopa village they met a monk named Franciso,º whom Kearny had sent to guide them on the trail, after he learned about the California revolt but before the action at San Pascual. Cooke had to hurry on for possible action, and his anxiety about short rations increased. He sent the young state-maker Willard Hall and a small party posting ahead to report to Kearny, and hurried down the valley of the Gila. Getting a blurred rumor of San Pascual, he considered taking half his command ahead by forced marches, but the condition of the animals and the helplessness of the brethren when he was not with them made it impossible. He made an unfortunate attempt to take some of his baggage and commissary down the river in boats made of wagon boxes. The river was too low, Lieutenant Stoneman knew less about navigation than he claimed to, and the Battalion lost some precious food.

They reached the mouth of the Gila on January 8 and turned down the Colorado a dozen miles to the place where Kearny had crossed. Cooke thought that the Colorado resembled the Missouri, and he remembered that "at the first fountain of this river, in Oregon, the First Dragoons encamped eighteen months ago." That was the military reconnoissance mentioned in our first chapter, which had reached the Colorado watershed at South Pass. The Dragoons had been foreshadowing the empire then; now the Battalion was helping to achieve it.

Franciso could tell him how bad the going was beyond the river, and could not possibly exaggerate it. Cooke started them crossing the Colorado on January 10. It took them all night and part of the next day and they did it badly. The six‑day crossing of the California desert that followed was their worst ordeal. Cooke was desperately afraid of disaster and had reason enough — they gave out by the score, black with thirst. Water holes were twenty or thirty or forty miles apart and could be made to yield water only when wells had been dug in them. Sometimes they  p373 had to go down twenty feet before a thin seepage could be induced. Two of the remaining wagons had to be abandoned, the mules began to die, and now the stout boots with which the Battalion had been outfitted at Fort Leavenworth were going to pieces. Some had to wrap their feet with fresh rawhide or old shirts, some made buskins from the legs of the last oxen, which died here. Some fresh mules, sent back by Hall, met them on the last day but, in the desert, they had to stop and spend two violent hours breaking them to harness. The day before had been intolerably hot but clouds and winds moderated the final stretch (one more miracle), and they came past the minute oasis of Palm Springs to a place called Vallecito where there was water and some grass. The ordeal was over. They came in staggering, sunken-eyed, and completely exhausted. But Cooke held a dress parade and presently the Saints were fiddling and singing.

On the desert Cooke had received word of San Pascual. At Vallecito a message from Montgomery at San Diego came in, telling him that Kearny had apparently retaken Los Angeles (as he did, on January 10), and saying that he might expect skirmishes with the galloping Californians. Cooke moved on, ready for a fight, to Warner's ranch, where all the Battalion's troubles ended. Plenty of beef, if no salt; easy marching, if much rain. They went on toward San Diego. They caught a glimpse of "the great Pacific sea" which their hymns had celebrated as the destination of the faithful, and a rash of poetry breaks out in the journals, including Cooke's. They had arrived. God had watched over them, the prophet Brigham's vision had been true, and they swaggered. "We have endured one of the greatest journeys ever made by man at least in America," Private Bliss wrote, setting the tone of all subsequent Mormon allusions to it, "& it is by the faith and prayers of the Saints that we have done it." On January 29 the first of them reached San Diego, and the rest came in the next day. Cooke addressed them in a general order of sonorous congratulation. "With crowbar and pick and axe in hand we have worked our way over mountains which seemed to defy aught save the wild goat, and hewed a passage through a chasm of living rock more narrow than our wagons. . . . Thus marching half naked and half fed, and living upon wild animals, we have discovered and made a road of great value to our country. . . ." The Saints loved it and have gone on loving it. But Private Bliss turned his mind to the realities; he went out and gathered "some of the best mustard I ever saw for greens."

They had reached the golden shore and done their job, abundantly serving both their country and their Church. Cooke reported them to Kearny, and, with five months of their enlistment left, they settled down  p374 to garrison duty here, at Los Angeles, and in various other towns, where they were eventually to establish the terminus of Israel's corridor to the sea. Soldiering was over for them, though they were once paraded in the expectation that Frémont, who was currently refusing to obey Kearny, might attack the troops of his commander with his Horse Marines.

They had heard nothing from the prophet since his last emissaries had collected their pay at Santa Fe. The vast distance between them and their families oppressed them and so did the lack of guidance and exhortation from the priesthood. Israel's destination had not been settled when they left Council Bluffs in July, and they had not heard of the debates and decisions since then. Perhaps Israel was coming to the great Pacific sea of the hymnal, and as late as May 23 Private Bliss complained that they had no "certing intelligence," though he had heard that no Saints would be coming over the mountains this year. They eventually met some of the brethren who had come round the Horn with Sam Brannan and were now settling in the San Joaquin valley and near San Francisco. (Brannan himself, who would soon apostatize because Brigham refused to bring the Church to California, was now posting eastward to meet the emigration.) They wondered, worried, and consulted the priesthood and the omens of dreams. Again, army officers would recommend this country for colonization (thinking of it as an armed American buffer against Lower California), again they would reject the counsel, and again Brigham would see that the officers were right. Here he anchored his corridor, protecting a supply route to Deseret and looking westward toward the Sandwich Islands, whither Mormon missionaries had already gone and where he would presently organize a stake of Zion.

As the slow months of their enlistment ran out, there were interior stresses to be alleviated. From the beginning there had been conflict between the Mormon officers, who exercised military command, and the priesthood who outranked them in ecclesiastical authority. On the march and while there was any possibility of action there had been no recourse but to subordinate the priesthood, even the Seventies, to the military — Cooke, like Smith, would not understand celestial discipline. Now in California the priesthood moved to resume command. Such realists as Captain Hunt bore in mind that, whatever the Saints might be in the structure of eternity, the Battalion was still a military organization and as such was subject to the regulations and penalties of the United States Army. But the officers had no chance; the soldiery were Saints and the priesthood won. There were meetings, exhortations, confessions, professions; the excitements of the Latter-days were roused again; and there  p375 was lighted at Los Angeles the first of the holy illuminations which that mystic region knows so well today.

But Israel did not altogether humble its heart — these were, after all, veteran soldiers. Guard mount and barracks routine were not onerous, the priesthood could not fill all their time, and the genial California air has undermined much puritanism in its time. The Saints learned to fill their canteens with the pleasant native wines, pagan sports like cockfighting tempted them, and Captain Hunter sneered at the priesthood that they had better raise up a prophet in their midst. "This morning," Private Standage wrote, "I met with the 70s as before appointed. Singing and remarks by Pres. St. John on the evils arising in the Battalion, to‑wit: drunkenness, swearing and intercourse with the squaws."

The Author's Notes:

1 The story is told in detail in several places: with Beale's own remarks in Stephen Bonsal's Edward Fitzgerald Beale. Beale was a first-rate man and his later career was important and picturesque. It was he who suggested and made the famous experiment, under Jefferson as Secretary of War, of using camels in the Western desert.

Thayer's Note: Beale's report to the Secretary of War on the camel experiment, running some 150 pages, can be found onsite, in full, as an appendix to Lewis Burt Lesley's Uncle Sam's Camels.
[decorative delimiter]

2 Joint occupation had dissuaded most Americans from settling north of the Columbia, though there was a tiny beginning on Puget Sound.

[decorative delimiter]

3 Some trains stayed by the Snake all the way to Huntington.

[decorative delimiter]

4 On the right bank of the Snake River (which here flows north), about eight miles below the mouth of Boise River. Not the site of Boise, Idaho.

[decorative delimiter]

5 It was Thornton's misfortune to provoke the hair-trigger dislike of Hubert Howe Bancroft who, though he admits the value of Thornton's book, succeeds in doing an injustice to its author. I find Thornton fully as valuable as Clyman for the events treated in this book, and I have no higher praise. He seems to me usually an intelligent, judicious, and trustworthy witness. His animus toward Applegate is flagrant but wherever else I can check him I find him dependable. Bancroft himself uses Thornton's account of the Donner party — which is at second hand, the work of a reporter, not of an eyewitness — as a primary source. So does George R. Stewart, the authority.

[decorative delimiter]

6 Once more, my thanks to Charles L. Camp for a detailed statement of Applegate's route from the Willamette on which the above summary is based. Note that the idea of finding a route from Bear River south of fort Hall was sound. A good many such traces, from Soda Springs, from the lower crossings of the Bear, and from Salt Lake City had been found by the time the Gold Rush passed in '49. Some of them passed near Bear Lake.

[decorative delimiter]

7 Cooke says five and Roberts, by far the best Mormon historian, repeats him. Golder names four women who completed the march. Cooke also says that he sent all the children to Pueblo and I find no mention of children in any of the Battalion journals I have read. But on December 20, Cooke's journal mentions "sheep, families, children" as taking up the march, and is apparently speaking of his own command.

[decorative delimiter]

8 These originally Spanish cattle belonged to the stock which gave rise to the famous longhorns of Texas, which were to be the basis of the Cattle Kingdom.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 1 Dec 21