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19. [OVERLAND DIARY: MORMON BATTALION]. SANDERSON, George B. Original unpublished manuscript diary (entitled Journal kept by Dr. Geo. B. Sanderson As. Surgeon United States Army from Fort Leavenworth Missouri to Santa Fe New Mexico and to San Diego Upper California and back to the United States in the years 1846 & 1847), written by Assistant Surgeon Sanderson, who accompanied the Mormon Battalion on the historic trek made in 1846-1847 from Missouri to San Diego. 66 pp., folio, legibly written in ink, about 20,000 closely-written words, with day-by-day entries, commencing August 24, 1846, and ending on January 21, 1847, eight days before the Battalion reached San Diego. Modern black cloth. Some age-toning, corrosive voids near right upper and lower corners of the pages, with slight text loss (the voids and surrounding brittle area vary in size from about the diameter of a pencil to perhaps a quarter; most of the holes have been filled with tissue, which also strengthens the paper in the area). Otherwise, the journal is fine. Provenance: W. Merrill Glasgow (see preceding item). On page 2 of Sanderson’s journal, shortly after leaving Fort Leavenworth, Dr. Sanderson records meeting a Mr. Clark (George Rogers Hancock Clark, brother-in-law of William Henry Glasgow; see preceding entry). Clark had started with the Glasgows in May on the Santa Fe Trail. The Glasgow family is also mentioned on p. 23 of Sanderson’s journal. How Sanderson’s journal came into the hands of the Glasgow family is not known. Accompanying Sanderson’s journal is W. Merrill Glasgow’s typed page-by-page transcript of the journal, a map showing the route taken, and other useful supporting material.
Dr. Sanderson’s journal is a Western Americana manuscript of the highest importance, all the more valuable for not having been published or previously known to scholars. Dr. Sanderson’s journal is vital for Western and California history, Mormon history, the Mexican-American War, military history, travel and trails in the West, and medical history (the latter subject an uncommon one in Western Americana).
On orders of President Polk (with Brigham Young concurring) the valiant men of the celebrated Mormon Battalion, who were already en route to the West, were recruited into the U.S. Army at the outbreak of the Mexican-American War. Polk took this action to win the allegiance of the Mormons and to build military strength for the Mexican-American War. The Mormon Battalion made one of the longest marches in U.S. military history (about 2,000 miles) and assisted in helping secure California for the U.S. as part of its Manifest Destiny agenda. The Battalion blazed the trail from Missouri to San Diego under trying and frequently surreal circumstances, including a wild melee known as the “Battle of the Bulls” near San Pedro, Arizona, when the column was attacked by a herd of wild cattle and three soldiers were gored (ironically, the only shots fired during the expedition were during this “Battle of the Bulls”).
The Mormon enlistees received pay of $42 and a clothing allowance, but since a military uniform was not mandatory, many of the Mormon soldiers sent their clothing allowances to families in the Mormon refugee camps in Iowa. Accompanying the Battalion were approximately thirty-three women (twenty of whom served as laundresses) and fifty-one children. The Mormon enlistees contributed to the growth of California by constructing Fort Moore in Los Angeles, erecting a courthouse in San Diego, and making bricks and building homes in the region. Following discharge, many of these Mormon men helped build flour mills and sawmills in California, and some were among the first to discover gold at Sutter’s mill. Members of the Mormon Battalion opened the first wagon road over the southern route from California to Utah in 1848, as well as the Carson Pass route through the Sierra Nevada.
“The Battalion, numbering about five hundred men, was organized at Council Bluffs, Iowa, in July 1846... After reaching Santa Fe, New Mexico, and under the leadership of Lt. Colonel Philip St. George Cooke, they headed to California following the Gila River. They experienced...a journey filled with unbelievable hardship. Thirst, starvation, heat, and freezing cold were their constant companions. Persevering, they made it to Warner’s Ranch and then to San Diego in January 1847. Upon their arrival at Mission San Diego, Cooke praised the men for their accomplishment: '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 battalion never saw combat but established Fort Moore in Los Angeles and strengthened the American hold on California. The members of the battalion were mustered out on July 16, 1847” (Gary F. Kurutz, Volkmann Zamorano 80 Catalogue #75).
The trail that the Mormon Battalion blazed was truly terra incognita. “A party of Mormon soldiers who volunteered for United States service was led by Captain Philip St. George Cooke and followed some days behind as a reinforcement [to Doniphan’s party]. Despite the fact that most of the country had been traversed at one time or another by Spanish conquistadors, Santa Fe traders, and mountain men, and that it had been mapped by the great Humboldt in 1811, it was still, cartographically speaking, virtually unknown. The two best maps of the region, Mitchell’s map of 1846, and Tanner’s map of the same year, had been compiled largely from Frémont’s and Wilkes’s maps, but since neither Mitchell nor Tanner had seen the country, and Humboldt too had done his map from conjecture, the entire Southwest remained to be accurately mapped” (William H. Goetzmann. Exploration and Empire, pp. 254-55).
Dr. George B. Sanderson of Platte, Missouri, was assigned to accompany the Mormon Battalion on its historic march. He is perhaps the most controversial figure associated with the Mormon Battalion. Dr. Sanderson earned the sobriquet “Dr. Death” from his reluctant patients who thought him a tyrannical quack and distrusted his medical practices (consisting primarily of administering calomel, a combination purgative and fungicide consisting of calomel powder and arsenic, along with a strengthening bitters made of bayberry bark and chamomile flowers). A group of the Mormon soldiers rebelled and refused to take Dr. Sanderson’s calomel concoction, claiming that he was trying to kill them. Some Battalion members maintained that even the military leaders of the Battalion were subservient to Dr. Sanderson’s will. Other historians have speculated that Dr. Sanderson was resented by the sore-footed, homesick Mormon young men because he was not a Mormon.
Because Dr. Sanderson’s journal has never been published and only recently came to light, we are reluctant to quote it extensively and are obliged by contract not to supply transcripts. This is necessary in order to protect the property of the consignor, W. Merrill Glasgow. Suffice it to say that Dr. Sanderson’s journal is substantial, well-written, and a contribution of major proportions to Western and Mormon history. Following are a few very brief excerpts from Dr. Sanderson’s lengthy day-to-day entries, provided only to give some idea of content and style of this great journal: