Saturday, May 24, 2014

Army honors trail-blazing Mormons at Yuma, Arizona

Yuma statue honors Mormon Battalion
A war between the United States and Mexico resulted in a southern wagon train route to the Pacific Ocean. This trail was blazed by more than 500 Mormons who enlisted in the Army in 1846. A statue commemorating this journey can be found at Yuma, Arizona’s West Wetlands Park on the Colorado River.

The Army solicited Mormons specifically for this trip members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints already were seeking new territory in the West to settle. The group became known as the Mormon Battalion. Besides establishing a southern route across the southwest, their mission was to secure California and New Mexico for the United States.

The Mormon Battalion began service on July 16, 1846, in Iowa. Some soldiers brought their wives and children on the trip, but not all ended their journey in California. Among the scouts for the trip was Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, the son of Sacajawea who served as guide and translator for the Lewis and Clark Expedition to the Pacific Ocean in 1804-6. Charbonneau was only a few months old when he made the trip west with these explorers.

The battalion arrived in Yuma on January 9, 1847, where they camped along the Colorado River. The next day they crossed the Colorado at Los Algodones, Mexico, less than 10 miles from present-day Yuma. Their journey ended in San Diego, California, on January 29, 1847.

The wagon trail they established would be well used within just a couple of years, as 60,000 miners bound for the California gold fields traveled this route. Today’s Interstate 8 freeway parallels this route through Yuma.

Yuma's West Wetlands Park
Finding the monument can be tricky. The park is reached by heading west on Yuma’s First Street, then taking a right on 12th Avenue.  It’s a ways from the most well-used sections of the park. Continue on the road through the park, past the solar energy project. There are no signs marking the statue honoring the Mormon Battalion, so be on the lookout for a pedestrian bridge on the right side of the road. The statue is visible through the underpass. Limited parking is available on the other side of the road.

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