As the children entered the Ethel Berger Center in Sierra Vista on Saturday morning June 28, they had no idea they would be leaving as soldiers. Upon arriving they were transported back to the 1840s and enlisted as volunteers for the Mormon Battalion as part of the Henry Houser Museum’s “Summer Saturdays at the Museum” program.
The Mormon Battalion marched through this area more than 170 years ago. During the Mexican-American War, President James K. Polk asked for volunteers from among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who were already on the march, relocating from Nauvoo, Illinois to Utah Territory. Over 500 men left their families on the trail to answer the call of service to their country. They were protected and never had to fight a battle, but the trails they blazed between Council Bluffs, Iowa and San Diego, California became vital arteries in the Western expansion of the United States. The trails they blazed between Council Bluffs, Iowa and San Diego, California became vital arteries in the Western expansion of the United States.
Once the new recruits arrived at the Hauser Museum, they were divided into four companies; A, B, C and E (they lost Company D during the Battle of the Bulls). They were then introduced to their captains.
After listening to a short presentation given by Max Jones on the history of the Mormon Battalion, they followed their captains to various hands-on projects. They learned to cook Johnny Cakes (pancakes), sew on buttons, mend clothes, and even to sew their own dolls. These activities were followed by a military drill workshop.
“I had a lot of fun!” said Aimee Roberts, “My favorite part was doing the drills because I could not stop laughing! I learned not to call Max Jones ‘captain’ or he’ll make you do push-ups, and I learned new terms like ‘at ease.’”
Max Jones, a 22-year-old Sierra Vista resident, along with Randy Madsen, an expert on the Mormon Battalion from Tucson, and Nancy Krieski, the curator of the museum, was instrumental in putting together this program. Max oversaw the children’s portion of the day while Randy taught the adult class that followed.
Max said that for him his fascination with the Mormon Battalion started about a year ago. “I went on Fort Huachuca[’s website] and they had a timeline that mentioned the Mormon Battalion. But there wasn’t really an explanation on what they Mormon Battalion was. I knew I wanted to start teaching children more about it, so I started researching and even took a trip up to Utah to a Mormon Battalion museum there to fill in the blanks and make sure that what I was teaching was accurate.”
Recruit Randell Roberts said his favorite parts were baking and learning about “some of the crazy stuff they did back then, like kill buffalo and all the stuff they had to learn to do for themselves.”
Both parents and children appreciated the hands-on experience that the museum offered.
Wendell Carter, who came to the adult class presented by Randy Madsen, said, “I thought it was very informative. I sponsor the LDS Scout Mormon Battalion Hike each year, and this definitely helped inform me more about it. One of the things the scouts need to do to earn the [Scout merit] badge is answer some questions about the Mormon Battalion, and this gave me great information about how they helped blaze the trail out West.”
Candee McKnight, who brought three of her boys, said she came “so they can learn more about history, and it’s a fun, free summer activity. It’s also hands on, and kids learn best when it’s hands on.” Her son Chad, 7, added, “My favorite part was dressing up like a soldier! I also learned that when buttons come off, I can sew them back on.” When asked if he would have liked to live back then, he solemnly stated, “Sure, but it would be very hard to live back then.”“It would be very hard to live back then.”
Once the children learned how to cook, sew and march properly, they headed outside and watched a fun flintlock firing demonstration presented by Dana Willis and Randy Madsen, both descendants of Mormon Battalion members.
Following the firing demonstration awards were given to the children for best cook, best buttons, most push-ups and best drill. Then the group retired to the kitchen to eat the Johnny Cakes that the children had previously made, with sausage, sticky buns and juice.
The children all enjoyed learning new skills, and they gained a new appreciation for the Mormon Battalion.