At the request of The Arizona Historical Society, for the first time, a Mormon Battalion encampment was included in the 33rd annual Fort Lowell Days historical community event held on Saturday, February 8, 2014. The purpose of this encampment was to help visitors at the event learn about the contributions to the history of Tucson and the Southwest by this unique military group.
Over 400 visitors stopped by the encampment presentation where docents, Dana Willis and Steve Broadbent, dressed in Battalion accouterments, shared the story of the Battalion and the legacy of patriotism, obedience, perseverance, sacrifice and the service they left. Numerous visitors had never heard of the Battalion. It was comprised of 500 US Army volunteers enlisted from members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) who were scattered on the plains of Iowa in 1846 seeking refuge in the Rocky Mountains from atrocities of mob actions against them. The Mormon Battalion was the infantry component of General Stephen Kearny’s Army of the West during the U.S.-Mexican War. They march 2000 miles from Iowa, through Santa Fe and Tucson, to their destination of San Diego in Alta California. They were best known as the builders of “Cooke’s Wagon Road” from the Rio Grande River to the Pacific Ocean. The road they blazed contributed to defining the area of the Gadsden Purchase of 1853 and opened overland commercial trade connecting the East with the West through this Southern Emigrant Trail.
Visitors also learned about the role and function of Col. Philip St. Geo. Cooke’s dragoons from Dale Anderson, who was dressed in the striking blue wool uniform of an 1846 U.S. Army dragoon. In addition, visitors were treated to a short discussion on common phrases originating from the flintlock musket that the Battalion were issued and firing demonstrations, conducted by docent Randy Madsen and young adult, Zach Bright.
An added attraction to the visitors was a discussion and a demonstration of the use of Dutch ovens by Kathy Madsen, dressed in 1846 period attire. A huge loaf of Sheepherder’s bread baked in a Dutch oven inspired many individuals to dig out the Dutch ovens they had sitting unused in the garage and begin using them at home, with the information they received. More than one person commented, “I can do that,” or “that’s something we can do.” New friendships were made through a common interest and sharing of information and techniques on proper use of a Dutch oven. A 92-year old mother in a wheelchair, accompanied by her two daughters visiting from Wisconsin, was enamored with a small, simple frontier doll on display. “That’s how the mothers back then would make dolls for their children, she claimed.” When they were leaving, Kathy presented the doll to the mother, who beamed and proclaimed, “That’s my new Mormon friend.”
Children delighted in turning the crank of a hand grinder to make course flour from wheat kernels. As they pulled open the drawer to see how much wheat they had ground, they were amazed that they had ground a handful of wheat flour, yet it took nine cups to make the bread they saw on display! Children and parents also enjoyed crawling into the A-frame canvas tent to feel the different textures of a bison pelt, representing the wild game hunted by the Battalion to supplement their meager and dwindling food supplies.
State representatives from the Arizona Historical Society attending the event expressed their enjoyment with the educational and historical presentation as did representatives of the Arizona Sonora Western Heritage Foundation, who will be featuring interactive educational programs at the Old Tucson movie set/Theme Park from various groups that contributed to the history of Tucson and southern Arizona.
Participation in these types of hands-on, interactive educational events has opened opportunities for sharing history and our heritage with the public. Individuals, including Battalion descendants, who are interested in interacting and sharing history with the public in an encampment presentation, are welcome to contact Randy or Kathy Madsen at 520-310-6251, email@example.com for additional information. The next encampment will be March 22, 2014 at the Wild West Days at Old Tucson Movie Theme Park.