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Fact or Fiction

“Probably the best book on the famous Mormon Battalion”

<p>Title page</p>


[MORMON BATTALION]. TYLER, Daniel. A Concise History of the Mormon Battalion in the Mexican War. 1846-1847. [Salt Lake City: Privately printed], 1881 [1882]. [2], [i-iii] iv-viii, [9-10] 11-376 pp. 8vo (23.2 x 15.5 cm), original blind-embossed dark brown sheep, spine gilt-lettered, edges sprinkled. Spine slightly chipped at extremities, joints cracked and rubbed, edge wear. Scattered ink notations and underlinings, but overall fine internally. A very good copy. With ink stamp of Adolph Nielson, American Fork, Utah, on endpapers and title page.

First edition. Connor & Faulk 596. Cowan I, p. 234; II, p. 648. Edwards, Enduring Desert, p. 239. Flake 9063. Garrett & Goodwin, p. 181. Graff 4226. Haferkorn 53. Hill, p. 296. Howell 50:883. Howes T447. Huntington Library, Zamorano 80...Exhibition of Famous aid Notorious California Classics 75. Norris 4037. NYPL Mormon List, p. 224. Rocq 7523. Scallawagiana Hundred: A Selection of the Hundred Most Important Books about the Mormons and Utah 70. Streeter Sale 2314. Zamorano 80 75 (J. Gregg Layne): “The earliest and probably the best book on the famous Mormon Battalion of the Mexican War.... Many of [the Battalion’s] members remained in California and became outstanding citizens.”

Sergeant Tyler’s narrative has long been considered the authoritative work on this heroic battalion of Mormon volunteers. The battalion, numbering about five hundred men, was organized at Council Bluffs, Iowa, in July, 1846. Tyler himself was a member of Company C. 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, as reflected in Tyler’s vividly written account, 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. In addition to telling the story of the trek west, Tyler provides an important overview of the bitter rivalry between Stephen Watts Kearny and John C. Frémont for political control of newly conquered California; life in the pueblos of San Diego and Los Angeles; the return journey to Salt Lake City; and the role of several “Battalion Boys” who were at Sutter’s Mill on that fateful January, 1848, morning when James Marshall discovered gold.

The author recognized that his book did have its limitations as it was written “after a lapse of thirty-six years.” Tyler, however, made a serious effort at gathering diaries, letters, and statements “from surviving members of that valiant corps.” Beginning on page 118, he listed the names of battalion members, servants to officers, and families who accompanied the force. The volume also includes letters of Cooke defending the actions of the battalion when he visited Salt Lake City in 1858 and a list with names, addresses, occupations, and offices of surviving members as of March, 1882. (The inclusion of the latter indicates that Tyler published the book in 1882 and not 1881 as stated on the title page.)

David Bigler and Will Bagley, both scholars of Mormon history, provide the following assessment of Tyler’s history: “The old sergeant was a competent chronicler, but he told the tale as a religious epic that celebrated the battalion as ‘the Ram in the Thicket’ whose sacrifice saved the Mormon Church.... His mix of myth and history was accepted as gospel by generations of descendants” (Army of Israel: Mormon Battalion Narratives. Spokane: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 2000, pp. 439 & 443). The Rio Grande Press published facsimile editions in 1964 and 1969.


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