The “Lost Boys” of the Mormon Battalion – Arrival at San Diego
Part of the epic tale of the arduous trek of the Mormon Battalion, from their enlistment into the U.S. Army while in temporary tent camps in Iowa Territory to their arrival at their destination of San Diego, are countless anecdotes of individual and group challenges, character-building incidents, perseverance, personality quirks and escapades. Many of these episodes are overlooked in the historical overviews and scholarly treatises that usually address the grander scope of the Battalion’s history. Personal journals from Battalion participants are used as the primary source of information in these academic works that render insights into reconstructing the travels and travails of the Battalion, covering the where’s, how’s, who’s and what’s. Among the hundreds of Battalion soldiers there were only a handful of accurate and dedicated journal writers who wrote what was important to them or caught their eye sufficiently to record their thoughts and observations. Some of the entries are lengthy and descriptive, others merely general and mundane. Careful scrutiny and mining of these journal entries can reveal interesting aspects of the trek that are passed over by the historical academians, but nonetheless make for interesting glimpses into the details of life often buried by the “big picture” narratives.
The “Lost Boys” episode occurred during the Battalion’s final leg of their trek, January 29, 1847, the day they officially and finally arrived at the designated release point of San Diego. The story of the Lost Boys was originally introduced to me by Terry Wirth, Mormon Battalion Trail expert. The information presented is derived from the journal of Pvt. Henry Standage, Co. E, with supporting perspectives from journal excerpts by Pvt. and Musician Levi Hancock, also of Co. E and Lt. Col. Philip St. George Cooke, Commander, Mormon Battalion. Note that in the actual entries, the degree of education had by the soldiers is manifest in spelling by phonetics and simple grammar, which adds to understanding more about the nature, character, speech patterns and education of these men.
On January 28, 1847 the Battalion had marched from the Mission San Luis Rey, located just east of present day Oceanside, and traveled about 15 miles down El Camino Real to the San Dieguito basin. Here they made camp, possibly on the flat delta immediately east of present day Del Mar, in order to give the men and mules sorely needed rest from the rigors of their march. They were within about 16 miles from San Diego. More specifically regarding their destination, Albert Smith, Co. B, had recorded in his journal: Jan 25, “got word from Gen Carny to go to Sandeago Mishion. We had traveled 40 miles out of our way. . . . We turned our corse and got thare Jan 29.”
So the initial destination of the Mormon Battalion was the Mission San Diego de Alcalá, not Pueblo de San Diego (Old Town) where Gen. Kearny was headquartered. It is possible that confusion as to the location of the Battalion’s final destination might have arisen since the original Mission San Diego of 1769 was located atop the hill today known as Presidio Hill overlooking Pueblo San Diego (Old Town). The Mission was relocated in August 1774 to its present day site 6 miles east in Mission Valley.
On January 29, Levi Hancock recorded, “this day marched at sunrise through vallies and over high hills and in sight of the sea and comeing in sight of the winter mts covered with snow making a butiful appearance at our n east and at about one half past three oclock got to St Dego a Roman church . . . “ Lt. Col. Cooke noted in his journal, “Battalion passed into the Solidad Valley and then by cross roads over high hills, miry from rain into a firm, regular road, and 16 miles in all to the mission of San Diego.” Col. Cooke also recorded, “The evening of this day of the march, I rode down, by moonlight, and reported to the General in San Diego.” Thus the route taken by the Battalion to the Mission San Diego diverted to the east from El Camino Real over a flat plateau and down a canyon from the north. This route was referred to as Cañada de la Soledad, and was a cut off used by Spanish padres on their way to and from Mission San Diego to El Camino Real.
THE LOST BOYS
Henry Standage reveals the incident of the “Lost Boys” in his journal starting with January 29. “The Battalion left at Sun Rise. I was very much worn out being on guard duty all night and my feet very sore. Not time this morning to eat my breakfast before Co left Camp. Traveled vary [sic] fast to overtake the Battalion, came to a mule trail running over the points near the Sea Shore, saw many take that Trail, took it myself and soon found myself on the trail to San Diego while the Battalion had gone round to a Mission house 5 miles from the sea shore. Ten of us after coming in sight of San Diego took across the country to the Mission and night soon coming on we laid out having only four blankets with us.” “Jan 30 – This morning as soon as light we commenced search for some cattle thinking to find a calf to breakfast on. Quite misty and foggy, heard the Drum at some distance and made tracks for camp. Reach’d camp about 8 A.M. rested for the rest of the day at San Diego Mission.”
Thus on the final day of the trek, Henry Standage wakes up as the sun dawns over the snow-capped Palomar, Cuyamaca and Laguna mountains to the east. He is extremely tired from having been up late serving night sentry duty as required in the military to provide security for the troops. On top of this weariness, his feet are sore from the accumulation of sustained marches in worn-out shoes or barefoot. The other companies of the Battalion had already broken camp and departed to complete the final leg of the trek to the Mission San Diego. Standage’s Co. E was the last company to move out, but he and probably several others yet to break camp were left behind and allowed to catch up with the main body sometime during the day. This morning scenario was not unique; it had been repeated regularly throughout the trek.
As it had been raining, one would think that picking up the trail left in the muddy ground by over 300 men, 8 surviving wagons, mounted mules and horses and some driven livestock would have been relatively easy to follow. However, as Standage was high-tailing it to catch up, he first sees then decides to follow a group of fellow soldiers taking a mule trail that led over some hills to within sight of the ocean. This trail went to the port of San Diego, possibly around Mount Soledad and down through the Pacific Beach area. Unfortunately for Standage, the body of the Battalion had gone a different route, going east up a ravine and ascending a 300 foot hill possibly near present day Genesee Road to reach the flat Miramar mesa. They then went across the plateau to the mouth of what is now known as Murphy Canyon (early Hwy 395, Fwy 15) which led directly to the Mission San Diego, as indicated by Cooke in his journal.
This route suggests a plausible and historically more correct route for the Battalion arriving at Mission San Diego than the conclusion given in “The Mormon Battalion Trail Guide, 1972”. In this Guide booklet the authors have the Battalion coming south down old Hwy 101 through Rose Canyon to the San Diego River and then east up Mission Valley on the north side of the River to Mission San Diego where they camped on a large flat area at the mouth of Murphy Canyon, probably the current site of Qualcomm Stadium. The route proposed in “The Mormon Battalion Trail Guide” is inconsistent with the journal entries and is longer than the recorded 16 miles traveled from San Dieguito. Furthermore, it strains reason to the fact that after the Battalion reached the Mission around 3:30 pm, Col. Cooke rode down to San Diego in the evening by moonlight to report to Gen. Kearny. Had the Battalion first come within sight of San Diego in the afternoon, Cooke would most likely have reported directly to Kearny then instead of waiting until night. The eastern route using the Cañada de la Soledad cut off directly to the Mission San Diego is the more plausible route taken by the Battalion, it being more consistent with journal entry descriptions and mileage estimates for Jan. 29.
Standage realized he and the other Battalion soldiers he had followed were on the wrong road and were now separated from the main body of the Battalion. Continuing on this trail they saw the pueblo of San Diego where Gen. Kearny and his dragoons were stationed. They knew they couldn’t go there at this time because of the possibility of being accused of going AWOL (absent without leave) from the Battalion and facing the real possibility of severe wartime military discipline. They had to find and rejoin the body of the Battalion post haste!
The group of 10 “lost” Battalion soldiers made a concerted march east up Mission Valley toward the Mission San Diego using the San Diego River as their guide. As darkness fell on them, they were compelled to stop for the night, sharing the four blankets they were carrying. As daybreak came, one can only imagine from Standage’s description of the morning’s misty and foggy conditions, the anxiety of these men, still separated from the main body and now famished, having missed the previous day’s breakfast, dinner (lunch) and supper. They commenced desperately listening and searching for the mooing of some loose cattle from which they could hopefully commandeer a calf and butcher it for a meal to satisfy their hunger.
Then amid this early hunt in the eerie morning fog, they hear in the distance the familiar roll of a company drum tattoo, exposing the location of the body of the Battalion. With great fervor and purpose, they made a hasty beeline towards the sound of the drum and around 8 am became reunited with their comrades at the Battalion encampment near the Mission San Diego. Thus, they survived the angst of being “lost” and also avoided the terrible consequences of being reported AWOL.
- Golder, Frank, The March of the Mormon Battalion, The Century Company, New York, 1928.
- Cooke, Philip St. George, Journal of the March of the Mormon Battalion…, Executive Document No. 2, U.S. Congress, 31st Congress, Special Sess., 1849.
- Larson, Carl V. (ed. and comp.), The Annals of the Mormon Battalion, An Eyewitness Account 1846-1848, Journals, Diaries, and Auto-biographies of the Original Members of the Mormon Battalion, 1700 East Electronic Media, Spanish Fork, UT, 2000.
- Peterson, Charles, Yurtinus, John, Atkinson, David, Powell, A. Kent, Mormon Battalion Trail Guide, Utah State Historical Society, 1972.