“The League of Mexican-American Women and Mormon Battalion are entries that have been in the parade greater than 30 consecutive years,” according to Entertainment Magazine On Line. http://emol.org/tucsonrodeo/parade.html. The rich Hispanic heritage in the Old Pueblo is pretty visible, but the Mormon contribution is less known.
In July of 1846, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) were in the middle of an exodus from their settlement at Nauvoo, Illinois. They had been heavily persecuted their and their first leader, Joseph Smith, Jr. and his brother Hyrum had been martyred. Under the direction of Brigham Young, they were setting out to cross the plains and blaze trails through the mountains on their way to Utah Territory. As they camped in Iowa, the Mexican-American War was heating up. The U.S. Army came to them and requested that their able-bodied men enlist. Though they knew their service would bring great hardship upon themselves and their already suffering families, over 500 followed the counsel of their leader and exhibited their faith in Jesus Christ and signed up.Though they knew their service would bring great hardship upon themselves and their already suffering families, over 500 followed the counsel of their leader and exhibited their faith in Jesus Christ and signed up. About 80 women and children traveled with them. Many were surprised by this, since it had in part been government officials that had forced their exodus from Illinois. However, one of the tenants of their faith was support of government leaders, and they chose to uphold their convictions.
The Mormon Battalion, as they were known, were infantry soldiers who marched for the entire year of their enlistment. They covered 1850 miles, blazing trails across the West, and carving a vital Southwestern wagon route to San Diego.
While passing through Tucson on December 16, 1846, the Mormon Battalion was the first to raise the U.S. flag over the Old Pueblo. A monument downtown commemorates their visit, in which they also accomplished a peaceful exchange with Tucson merchants. The Battalion had stores of cloth, which was a precious commodity at the time. They traded it for wheat and beans and left the settlement on friendly terms. Though their stay was brief, their passage through Arizona Territory was part of a historic event that benefited people who were moving west for many years to come.
A few years later, some members of the Church returned to the area and established settlements throughout the Southwest. Their legacy has continued, and now there are thousands of member of the Church in the Tucson area and throughout the Gila Valley. They have become as integral to the fabric of Tucson culture as others who settled here.
Because of its historical importance, members of the Church and other history buffs often reenact aspects of the Mormon Battalion’s march. Several are descendants of Battalion members and enjoy representing the faith of their ancestors. This year, the U.S. Mormon Battalion Band sat on hay bales in a wagon pulled by two white mules, and played patriotic songs and hymns to the crowds lining the parade route. Reenactors in period uniforms walked alongside and behind the wagon as escorts.
Learn more about the Mormon Battalion and the Mormon Battalion Historic Site in San Diego, CA (where they ended their march and contributed greatly to the establishment of that city) at http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/new-mormon-battalion-historic-site-opens.