Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist at the National Archives at College Park
On November 24, 1857, Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston, commanding the Army of Utah, then located at Camp Scott, a mile from Fort Bridger, then part of the Utah Territory, ordered Captain Randolph B. Marcy, 5th Regiment of Infantry, to proceed some 600 miles to New Mexico for the purpose of procuring animals to replace those that had perished on the march from Fort Leavenworth to Camp Scott. Most of the animals had died during the first three weeks of November as the army marched through the snow on their way to their encampment. Johnston’s quartermaster informed him that one-half of the horses of the artillery batteries and two-thirds of those of the 2nd Dragoons and a very large percentage of the mules had died; and there was good reason to believe, from the famished condition of the remaining animals, that the greater part of these might not survive a severe winter.
The story of Marcy’s assignment began during the early summer of 1857, when President James Buchanan, believing the Mormons in Utah were in rebellion against the United States Government, and without thoroughly investigating the matter, sent the 5th and 10th regiments of infantry, two batteries of artillery, and six companies of the 2nd Dragoons from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas Territory to Utah Territory with a three-fold mission. First was to escort and protect the newly appointed territorial governor and other federal officials. Second was to assist the civilian officials in ensuring the laws of the United States were obeyed. And third, to protect the emigration routes that passed through Utah to California and Oregon.
In mid-September the former governor and head of the Mormon Church, Brigham Young, issued a proclamation barring the army from entering Utah and declared martial law. Later that month the territorial militia (the Nauvoo Legion) began limited military actions against the army, stampeding their animals and burning the grass upon which the animals grazed. On September 29 Young addressed a letter “To the Officer Commanding the Forces now Invading Utah Territory,” in which he stated:
I am still the Governor and Superintendent of Indian Affairs for this Territory, no successor having been appointed and qualified, as provided by law, nor have I been removed by the President of the United States. By virtue of the authority thus vested in me, I have issued, and forwarded you a copy of my proclamation forbidding the entrance of armed forces into this Territory. This you have disregarded. I now further direct that you retire forthwith from the Territory, by the same route you entered. Should you deem this impracticable, and prefer to remain until spring in the vicinity of your present encampment — Black’s Fork on Green River — you can do so in peace and unmolested, on condition that you deposit your arms and ammunition with Lewis Robinson, Quartermaster General of the Territory, and leave in the spring, as soon as the condition of the roads will permit you to march; and, should you fall short of provisions, they can be furnished you, upon making the proper applications therefor.
The Army did not turn back and during the first week of October the Nauvoo Legion near Green River struck three unescorted wagons trains, burning over 70 wagons containing government provisions for the winter.
News of the later action did not reach the eastern press until November. The New York Times reported on November 3 that if the latest news from Utah, including the burning of the wagon trains, were true it proved that the anticipations of those who expected the worst from “the folly and fury of Brigham Young and his people are likely to be more than realized.” It also opined that “the possibility of a war between Utah and the union is rapidly ripening into a probability.” On November 16 the New York Times carried a piece from, the St. Louis Democrat—that indicated that an express from the Army on Ham’s Fork of the Green River had reached Fort Laramie indicating that the Mormons had destroyed three Government wagon trains and that Brigham Young had informed Colonel Alexander [the ranking officer until Colonel Johnston arrived] that he must not advance further into the Territory. The New York Times reported on November 17 that the Mormons in Utah “like a big nest of hornets, are active and waiting for a chance to light on the army at the first opportunity.” With all the Utah news, Buchanan’s Cabinet met that day to consider Mormon affairs and a reporter opined that the President would suggest to Congress extraordinary measures to suppress the Mormon rebellion (New York Times, November 18, 1857). A reporter for Associated Press wrote from Washington on November 17, that the War Department that day had received some highly interesting official dispatches, including a proclamation of Brigham Young, declaring martial law in Utah, and that he had expressly forbidden the United States troops entering the Territory without his authority. “The language of the proclamation is emphatically in hostility to the authority of the United States, and is regarded here as a declaration of war” (New York Times, November 18, 1857). Another New York Times reporter on November 18 observed that based on recent dispatches which had been received by the War Department, “Brigham Young has assumed the powers of an independent sovereign, and formally declared war against the United States.” He added “This outrageous conduct on the part of the Mormon leader puts him in the position of a rebel to the Government, and must bring his career to a speedy termination.”
The New York Times noted on November 20 that it could not be doubted that vigorous measures to crush out the “theocratic rebellion” would be taken that winter. Brigham Young’s Proclamation advising Mormon resistance to the United States forces and his demand that the latter should withdraw from the Territory, the newspaper believed “are so clearly treasonable, that Congress will not hesitate to place at the command of the Executive the extraordinary means which he asks to enable him to maintain the Federal supremacy.” Also on November 20 the Daily National Intelligencer in Washington, D. C., under the headline “Mormon Treason” reprinted Brigham Young’s September 29, 1857 address “To the Officer Commanding the Forces now Invading Utah Territory.” On November 20 Buchanan and his cabinet met to discuss the Utah issue.
The public and the Buchanan Administration generally believed that Brigham Young planned to stall through the winter, keeping the snow-bound Army blocked at Fort Bridger, and then depart for a new land, probably the British and Russian possessions in the Northwest, in the spring before the Army was reinforced. When the Russian Ambassador in November met with Buchanan he asked him if the Mormons came to Alaska would they come in peace, the President replied he did not know; he was only interested in them leaving the United States.
The forty-five year old Marcy, an 1832 graduate of West Point and Mexican War veteran, was perhaps the best choice Johnston had for the assignment. In 1852, Marcy, accompanied by his future son-in-law, Captain George B. McClellan of the Topographical Engineers, led an expedition to explore the headwaters of the Red River. In 1854 he surveyed large tracts of land in northern and western Texas. In April 1857, with the 5th Infantry Regiment, in hostilities against the Seminoles, he took part in the Skirmish of Big Cypress Swamp. And in mid-October a Marcy-lead patrol engaged the Mormons in a fire-fight, with no casualties on either side.
Marcy decided his route from Camp Scott would cross the Uinta and Rocky mountains chains which would provide for a very direct course to New Mexico. It had been travelled by trappers and hunters in the summer season, but they, and mountaineer Jim Bridger, then serving as a guide for the army, said it was impracticable in the winter season.
Marcy believed he could make it to Fort Massachusetts (then in the New Mexico Territory, now Colorado), about 85 miles north of Taos, in twenty-five days, but to make sure of having enough provisions, he deemed it wise to take thirty days’ supply. At that fort he would then head south to Taos and Fort Union and begin acquiring mules and horses to take back to Johnston’s army in the spring.
On November 27 Marcy left Camp Scott with an escort of forty enlisted men of the 5th and 10th regiments of infantry (all of whom had volunteered), and 22 civilians to act as guides, herders, and packers. Thirty days rations for the party, with other articles necessary for such a trip, were packed upon sixty-five mules.
Marcy’s party proceeded down Henry’s Fork to its confluence with Green River, where they forded the Green River, and followed a trail southward that led them to the foot of the mountain dividing the Green River from the Colorado (then termed Grand) River. They then began heading generally southeastward.
The trip was relatively uneventful until December 21 when the party began their ascent of the western slope of the Rocky Mountains, the snow began to seriously impede their progress.
As they forged ahead the mules began giving out and by December 27 their rations were just about used up. Finding that their means of subsistence were so rapidly diminishing, and the snow still increasing, Marcy determined, on the night of December 27, to send an express to Fort Massachusetts for supplies. The next morning he dispatched two Mexican employees, Miguel Alona and Mariano Medina, with three of the best of their remaining animals, with a letter to the commanding officer of that post, informing him of their desperate situation and requesting him to send supplies for their relief.
Alona and Medina took the good mules and started out, and Marcy’s party followed on their tracks, until finally the snow had covered them up, so that they could no longer see the trail. Marcy’s party forged ahead as best they could, making five miles a day through the snow.
One bitter cold day, after having labored very hard, they halted for a few moments, and made fires to warm their feet. While standing over the fire Marcy took out his pipe, and cutting a little tobacco from a small piece he had remaining, indulged himself in a smoke, the men having used their last tobacco some ten days before. Corporal McLeod of the 10th Infantry was standing near him at the time. Marcy wanting to do something to show his appreciation of his valuable service in helping clear a path through the snow, handed him some tobacco and asked him if would not like to smoke. McLeod replied “No, I thank you, captain, I never smoke.” Marcy suggested that he was very fortunate in not being addicted to the habit at a time when tobacco was so very scarce. After a moment’s hesitation McLeod said “I sometimes take a chew.” And when Marcy told him to help himself, he did and immediately exclaimed “I never tasted anything so good in my life; I would have given ten dollars for that, captain.” That was almost a month’s pay for a corporal.
The morning of January 1, dawned upon them with gloomy auspices, far from promising a happy New Year. They struggled on, and by the severest toil made about two miles that day. The snow was then from four to five feet deep, and the leading men were obliged in many places to crawl upon their hands and knees to prevent sinking to their necks. They could only go a few yards at a time before they were compelled, in a state of complete exhaustion, to throw themselves down and let others take their places. Marcy would later report to Johnston’s adjutant general, Major Fitz John Porter: “Gallant fellows! Many of them who were almost barefooted had frozen their feet badly and had suffered intensely from fatigue and cold, yet every soldier, without a single exception, always performed everything that was required of him cheerfully and with alacrity.” “I felt for them from the bottom of my heart; and I should be recreant to my duty, as their commander, if I neglected to give this official expression of my profound gratitude for the almost superhuman efforts put forth by them to extricate the party from an exceedingly perilous position.”
The last remnant of their rations was consumed on January 1, and their only means of subsistence until the return of their messengers from Fort Massachusetts would now be their jaded mules and horses. Their first meal of their animals occurred when the colt belonging to guide Tim Goodale’s Indian wife, who accompanied them, was taken. She cried very bitterly when the colt was killed, as it had always been her pet; but, according to Marcy, she realized the necessity of the sacrifice, and was consoled upon Marcy’s promising her another on their arrival in New Mexico. This was followed by a very old, lean and tough mare which had given out and could perform no further service. After that, their only diet consisted of starved mules as they became exhausted and could go no farther. For the next week and a half Marcy’s party continued a rate of about five miles per day, the men breaking the track for the mules, and subsisting upon those that could perform no further service. There was no rations; no tobacco; and, the two messengers sent to Fort Massachusetts was their only hope of salvation, and there was no telling when, or if, they would return.
Finally on January 10 Marcy’s command passed over the last mountain and their eyes were gladdened by the long and anxiously looked for sight of the valley of the Rio Del Norte, which they entered about 100 miles above Fort Massachusetts. At the base of the mountains, and for the first time in thirty days, they found a little dry grass appearing above the snow. The snow was about two feet deep in the valley, and a long prairie of sixty miles in extent lay before them in the direction of the fort. Up to this time they had marched every day since leaving Camp Scott, and the men and animals had become much worn down and exhausted. Marcy concluded to make a halt for a day or two at this place and let the few remaining animals graze before making passage across the valley.
At this point Marcy was worried about the situation of his command. Notwithstanding the men consuming an entire animal at a single meal, probably averaging four or five pounds to the man, this did not satisfy the cravings of the appetite, and they were continually wishing for fat meat. Of course, they were out of tobacco as well. Marcy and his party were also concerned about the messengers that had been sent to Fort Massachusetts. Marcy was fearful they had not reached the post and that relief supplies would not be forthcoming. It must have crossed his mind that some or all of his command might starve to death before help arrived.
Marcy’s command halted for two days at the point where the Sahwatch Creek debouches into the valley of the Rio del Norte, and there they were constantly looking out for the return of their messengers who had been sent to Fort Massachusetts to arrange for supplies to be brought to them.
On January 12, near sunset, one of the soldiers, upon an elevation near camp cried out “There comes two men on horseback,” and in a few moments, up galloped their long-absent companions upon fresh horses, firing their revolvers, and “making other demonstrations of joy.” Marcy’s men knew from their fresh horses, that they had reached the fort and that they were now saved. The men gave them three hearty cheers, and seemed perfectly overcome with joy. Some of the men laughed, danced, and screamed with delight, while others cried like children.
Alona and Medina informed Marcy that they had experienced great suffering from hunger upon their trip, and had been obliged to kill one of their mules for food before they arrived at the fort. Mariano informed Marcy that he had delivered Marcy’s letter to Captain A. W. Bowman (Company A, 3rd Infantry), the commanding officer at Fort Massachusetts, who at once dispatched three wagons with supplies for them; that these wagons left the fort with him, and were then probably about fifty miles back, as he had come very rapidly. Marcy at once turned him back, with an order for the man in charge to drive night and day until he met them.
They brought Marcy a handful of coffee, and what was of much more value to the men, “a large plug of tobacco, which I,” he would later report to Major Fitz John Porter, “cut up into forty pieces, and distributed among the soldiers. I have never before been conscious of the very great sacrifice it is to men who are habituated to the use of tobacco, and are deprived of it. They devoured the small pieces that I gave them most voraciously; and one man who supposed he was to be left out in the distribution, offered five dollars, or half a month’s pay, for a single quid. It indeed seems to be most indispensable to them.”
After Mariano left, Marcy’s camp that night presented a marked contrast with what it had been for the three previous weeks, and everyone rejoiced at the prospect of speedily meeting the wagons sent to their relief.
They set out early on the following morning, and after marching ten miles met the wagons, and immediately encamped, when the men were at once issued fat beef, bread, sugar, and coffee; and as Bowman had kindly sent Marcy, among other things, a demijohn of brandy, he issued a good dram to the men, and gave them a supply of tobacco. Later, Marcy would write John B. Floyd, the Secretary of War, that they had lived for twelve days exclusively upon the horses and mules without salt or any other article of subsistence, “yet the men appeared to suffer more for the want of tobacco than food.”
For the next four days Marcy’s command marched towards Fort Massachusetts. As they approached the fort on January 17, one of the officers said that he took them for a band of prairie Indians. Not more than one half of the men had any caps, and but few had any remains of trousers below the knees. Their feet were tied up with mule hides, pieces of blankets, coat tails, etc., and they certainly were “rough and ragged-looking specimens of United States soldiers.” Marcy was confident that his own wife would not have recognized him.
At the fort they were kindly received by Captain Bowman who provided the men with clothing and everything else necessary to make them comfortable.
Marcy and his party departed Fort Massachusetts on January 19 and proceeded to Taos, to rest and begin the process of purchasing horses and mules for the return trip. He arrived there the evening of January 22. The next day he wrote Major Irvin McDowell, Assistant Adjutant General, Headquarters, United States Army at New York City (where the General-in-Chief of the Army, Brevet Lieutenant General Winfield Scott resided), that in compliance with Johnston’s instructions he was writing to give a report on his trip. In the course of this report Marcy wrote that for 200 miles of the trip he encountered from two to five feet of snow, requiring great labor on the part of the escort to break a trail for the animals, and for several days his command only marched about 3 miles per day. In consequence of this, their rations were consumed ten days before they reached the valley of the Rio del Norte, and it became necessary to subsist his command upon mules that became exhausted and could perform no further labor. He noted that one of his men, Sergeant William Morton, of the 10th Infantry (“a most excellent soldier”) died from exposure and imprudence in eating; the remainder of the escort, 39 men, came through, several having their feet badly frozen. He added that he had been ordered to New Mexico to procure animals for the use of Johnston’s Army and that he expected to set out on his return early in March, and to reach Fort Bridger by the last of April. On January 23, Marcy wrote a similar letter to the Adjutant General of the Army in Washington, D.C., noting that his men had suffered much from the cold weather and storms and the severe labor required of them in breaking a track through the hard-packed snow. As for his return trip, Marcy reported that he would take a different route, crossing the mountains through Bridger’s Pass, near the sources of the North Platte.
On January 24 Marcy wrote his brother Dr. E. E. Marcy of New York City “For two hundred and fifty miles I encountered snow from two to five feet deep, and I thought for two weeks that we should never get through. We only made about three miles a day for about ten days. We exhausted our provisions long before we had crossed the mountains, and had to live exclusively upon starved mules for eleven days. One of my men perished, and many others were badly frozen. I also lost forty-four mules out of sixty-six.” Marcy added that he had suffered more from hardship, exposure and anxiety on this expedition that he ever before experienced; but he knew the importance of the mission which necessitated his best efforts. He added that he planned to purchase 1,000 mules and 400 horses, and to start for Camp Scott early in March.
A civilian express rider who had gone out with Marcy, left on January 26, and traveled by way of Fort Laramie to Fort Bridger with news of the trip. He arrived on March 12, and informed the Army of Utah of the party’s safe arrival at Taos and the hardships they had encountered.
While Marcy was resting his men and making purchases during the winter, much activity was taking place back east. On December 8, 1857, in his first annual message to Congress, President Buchanan wrote:
Brigham Young was appointed the first governor on the 20th September, 1850, and has held the office ever since. Whilst Governor Young has been both governor and superintendent of Indian affairs throughout this period, he has been at the same time the head of the church called the Latter-day Saints, and professes to govern its members and dispose of their property by direct inspiration and authority from the Almighty. His power has been, therefore, absolute over both church and state.
The people of Utah almost exclusively belong to this church, and believing with a fanatical spirit that he is governor of the Territory by divine appointment, they obey his commands as if these were direct revelations from Heaven. If, therefore, he chooses that his government shall come into collision with the Government of the United States, the members of the Mormon Church will yield implicit obedience to his will. Unfortunately, existing facts leave but little doubt that such is his determination. Without entering upon a minute history of occurrences, it is sufficient to say that all the officers of the United States, judicial and executive, with the single exception of two Indian agents, have found it necessary for their own personal safety to withdraw from the Territory, and there no longer remains any government in Utah but the despotism of Brigham Young. This being the condition of affairs in the Territory, I could not mistake the path of duty. As Chief Executive Magistrate I was bound to restore the supremacy of the Constitution and laws within its limits. In order to effect this purpose, I appointed a new governor and other Federal officers for Utah and sent with them a military force for their protection and to aid as a posse comitatus in case of need in the execution of the laws.
Continuing, Buchanan added that “Governor Young has by proclamation declared his determination to maintain his power by force, and has already committed acts of hostility against the United States” and that:
He knows that the continuance of his despotic power depends upon the exclusion of all settlers from the Territory except those who will acknowledge his divine mission and implicitly obey his will, and that an enlightened public opinion there would soon prostrate institutions at war with the laws both of God and man. He has therefore for several years, in order to maintain his independence, been industriously employed in collecting and fabricating arms and munitions of war and in disciplining the Mormons for military service. As superintendent of Indian affairs he has had an opportunity of tampering with the Indian tribes and exciting their hostile feelings against the United States.
Buchanan concluded this section of his message by writing:
This is the first rebellion which has existed in our Territories, and humanity itself requires that we should put it down in such a manner that it shall be the last. To trifle with it would be to encourage it and to render it formidable. We ought to go there with such an imposing force as to convince these deluded people that resistance would be vain, and thus spare the effusion of blood. We can in this manner best convince them that we are their friends, not their enemies. In order to accomplish this object it will be necessary, according to the estimate of the War Department, to raise four additional regiments; and this I earnestly recommend to Congress. At the present moment of depression in the revenues of the country [the Panic of 1857] I am sorry to be obliged to recommend such a measure; but I feel confident of the support of Congress, cost what it may, in suppressing the insurrection and in restoring and maintaining the sovereignty of the Constitution and laws over the Territory of Utah.
Buchanan did not get his additional regiments, in part because of the situation in Kansas, where it was believed by many congressmen that they would be used to interfere in the dispute over slavery in that territory. What Congress finally authorized were two regiments of volunteers specifically “for the purpose of quelling disturbances in the Territory of Utah, for the protection of supply and emigrant trains, and the suppression of Indian hostilities on the frontiers” (they were never raised). Volunteers, however, were raised in California early in 1858, when word reached there of the Mountain Meadows Massacre in which Indians, encouraged and directed by Mormon Militia, killed some 120 members of a wagon train traveling through southern Utah. For a while, Winfield Scott contemplated going to the west coast to take command of the Army forces there to undertake a diversionary expedition against the Mormons in conjunction with Johnston’s Army coming from Fort Bridger.
What Scott decided to do in early 1858, while Congress debated Buchanan’s request for additional regiments, was to issue orders that the 1st Cavalry, the 6th and 7th Regiments of Infantry, two light companies of the 2nd Artillery, the two companies of the 2nd Dragoons that had not accompanied their regiment in 1857, and a small detachment of engineers from West Point, be dispatched to Utah as soon as possible. This amounted to a little over 4,000 men. Scott believed that this number, plus the 1,600 Johnston had, would be able to successfully meet any Mormon resistance. While forces began assembling at Fort Leavenworth, to address Johnston’s concern regarding supplies, Brevet Lt. Col. William Hoffman (former commander at Fort Laramie), then on court martial duty at Fort Leavenworth, was directed to lead a supply expedition to Camp Scott. Hoffman and two companies of the 6th Regiment of Infantry and the supply train left Fort Leavenworth on March 18 and headed towards Fort Laramie.
By March 13 Marcy had collected 960 mules and 160 horses at Fort Union (50 miles northeast of Santa Fe) and moved, with his 39 men that had made the trip to New Mexico and 2nd Lieutenant John Van Deusen Du Bois, with 25 men of his Company K, Regiment of Mounted Riflemen, to a ranch at Rayado (an important stop on the Santa Fe Trail, some sixty miles east of Taos), to await further reinforcements and prepare for the trip. Two days later his escort had all arrived, to join with. The escort consisted of Captain Bowman, 2nd Lt. Cornelius D. Hendren, and 75 men from the 3rd Infantry Regiment and from the Regiment of Mounted Riflemen (who had marched from Fort Massachusetts, by the way of Taos, about 160 miles to the Rayado). Also moving with the party was Dr. A. H. Kellogg, who had been contracted for medical services on the trip.
Marcy’s command, with over thirty wagons and over one thousand horses and mules, departed Rayado on March 18. They followed the Fort Leavenworth road, curving to the north, following the course of the Taos Mountains and then over the Raton Mountains. On March 22 at about 10 am it commenced snowing and by nightfall there was six inches of snow on the ground. During the day, while the command was on Raton Creek, an express rider from Fort Union came in to camp and brought intelligence that the hospital steward of the 10th Infantry in Utah was captured by the Mormons and kept prisoner for several weeks and upon his release he reported to Colonel Johnston that the Mormons were fitting out an expedition to attack Marcy. Johnston had reported this to General Scott and orders had been sent to Brevet Brigadier General John Garland (Commanding the Department of New Mexico) on March 1 to reinforce Marcy.
It snowed all night on March 22-23 and it was not until very late in the morning the snow ceased and Marcy could get his command moving. They descended the mountain and encamped on the Purgatoire Creek. On March 24 the party struck out in a direct line for the Old Pueblo on the Arkansas River.
On March 25, after crossing the Santa Clara, with some difficulties, making camp on the Cuchara River, an alarm of fire was raised and the soldiers rushed from their tents and found a wall of fire between themselves and their horses. Du Bois would write that the horses were saved by the gallantry of the men and then all became quiet again. After the soldiers had bedded down, they were awakened by another alarm. The wall of fire was coming towards their camp with the great rapidity. The soldiers, behaving admirably once again, tore covers from the wagons in the corral and trying to put out the fire, when someone cried out, “‘the powder wagon is on fire.’” Du Bois ran to the spot. Already the men were handing out the boxes of ammunition, many blazing in their hands. They were then in the midst of the flames. A few moments of excitement and it passed to the leeward of them and they breathed again. Du Bois would report that his tent and everything he had was badly burned, the leather burned from his spurs and bridle which were hanging on a wagon wheel. In a letter to a family member Marcy wrote that they were very much alarmed at the cry of fire in camp:
On going out, I discovered that someone had set the dry grass on fire above us, and it was coming like a race-horse directly towards our camp, driven by a fierce tempest of wind. I called all the men; pulled up the tents; piled everything into the wagons in the utmost confusion, and dragged them to a place of safety. I then hurried to the large supply train of 40 large wagons which were standing perfectly exposed to the fire, and upon which the entire fate of our expedition depended, as it contained all our provisions, and we commenced burning the grass around so as to prevent the fire from sweeping over them, but before we had finished our preparations to meet the approaching fire, it came in an immense sheet of flame 25 feet high, sweeping everything before it in a most terrific manner, and enveloped a part of the wagons, for a moment. I supposed they were all doomed but the burning we had previously done fortunately stopped it, and it soon passed on, and I assure you, I never felt more relieved. The only damage was the burning of my tent, which was 200 yards from the fire. It caught some sparks driven by the wind.
Shortly after the fire one of my men came in, and reported that he had been out hunting with one of the teamsters, a Mexican; that they were crawling up to a deer, and that he had accidently shot the Mexican through both legs. I immediately sent the Doctor for him, and had him brought to camp. He was the same Mexican who came with me from Utah and prevented us from getting lost and perishing in the mountains, and the same man who went ahead and brought us back provisions, when we were living on starved mules. I shall not forget him, and shall see that he has everything to make him comfortable. He will ride in my carriage until he gets well.
In his letter of March 26, besides reporting about the fire, Marcy wrote he had received an express from Fort Union, a few days before, telling him that Johnston had written to the War Department that the Mormons were threatening to take away his animals before he reached the camp of the army, and that an express had gone to the Headquarters of this Department, to send more troops with him. “If this is true,” he added, “I shall soon get an order to stop and wait for the reinforcements. I regret this very much, as I do not believe the Mormons dare attack us, and, if they do, I believe we can whip them; moreover, this will delay us several weeks. The Mormons boast a great deal of what they intended to do, but they do not execute their threats.”
On March 26 Marcy’s party faced another troubling day, suffering from a cutting windstorm. It pierced through overcoats and blankets and blew their fires into such long flames that on one side their hair was burned and on the other they froze. That evening, after a course that took them close to the Rocky Mountain Range, they camped on the Huerfano. The next day, March 27, they traveled 12 miles and encamped on the Greenhorn [a tributary of the San Carlos]. There an express rider arrived from Colonel William W. Loring, commander of the Regiment of Mounted Riflemen, a unit Congress authorized in May 1846 to protect the Oregon Territory. Loring saw action in the Mexican War, where he was wounded several times and lost an arm. In 1849 he led an expedition of 600 mule teams from Missouri to Oregon, and upon his arrival assumed command of the 11th Military Department, covering a large portion of the Pacific Northwest. The Rifles left Oregon in May of 1851, and subsequently saw action against Native Americans on the Rio Grande Frontier of Texas and in New Mexico.
Loring explained in a message to Marcy that he had been ordered to reinforce him with one company of Rifles and two of infantry and that General Garland wanted him to halt at the first convenient camping place and await further reinforcements. The express rider brought with him a letter from 1st Lt. McRae to Du Bois indicating that Loring’s reinforcements would not start before April 5. Du Bois believed that would delay Marcy’s party for a long time. Marcy figured they would have to stop for twenty days for Loring to catch up.
Marcy decided to keep moving northwest to find a good place with water and timber to camp to await Loring’s arrival. His party on March 28 moved to the St. Charles Creek. The next day they reached the Arkansas River. They crossed about a mile above the mouth of the Fontaine qui Bouille Creek (today Fountain Creek), a small tributary of the Arkansas and encamped on the creek. There they found the remains of an old settlement called “The Pueblo” (today Pueblo, Colorado). That day Marcy, upset about being replaced by Loring, wrote the Assistant Adjutant General in New York City about the orders he had received.
Marcy rested his command on March 30 and 31 at their camp on the Fontaine qui Bouille creek. On April 1 Marcy resumed their march northwest, following up the Fontaine qui Bouille, until they reached the Cherokee Trail. They followed up the trail until it left the creek and then again followed the creek until on April 6 when they reached the creek’s head waters, at the foot of Pike’s Peak. Marcy decided the area provided good grazing for the animals and that would be where they would await Loring. They had now traveled some 200 miles from their jumping off point at Rayado.
Stay tuned for part II of this post! In the meantime read more about events in the Utah Territory in the following posts: The Tale of Tartar the War Horse and From Buchanan’s Blunder to Seward’s Folly, Sort Of
One thought on “Captain Randolph B. Marcy’s Expedition from Camp Scott, Utah Territory to the New Mexico Territory and Return, November 1857 – June 1858, Part 1 of 2.”
I would have thought that in the interests of completeness and usefulness, if not generosity, that this blog essay could have managed at least a minimal tip of the hat to chapter 1 (“Great Disaster Might Befall the Command”: War Spreads to New Mexico) of my award-winning book “At Sword’s Point, Part 2: A Documentary History of the Utah War, 1858-1859” (Norman, Oklahoma.: Arthur H. Clark Co., 2016). Puzzling as well as disappointing.
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