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The Sick Detachments

On three different occasions the commanding officers over the Battalion determined that it was necessary to detach from the Battalion the infirmed soldiers and the accompanying woman and children who were struggling physically. The army officers perceived that the advance of the Battalion was being slowed down due to the rigors and fatigue of the march over hostile terrain, widespread illness among the troops and the unmilitary attachment of wives and children. In an effort to lessen the suffering, conserve limited provisions, and lift the encumbrance to the Battalion’s mission, these groups were detached from the body of the Battalion and sent to winter over at the small trading post of Fort Pueblo on the Arkansas River in southeast Colorado. Key factors in locating at Fort Pueblo were the facts that (1) Lt. Col. Allen had sent provisions ahead from Fort Leavenworth to Bent’s Fort to resupply the Battalion and (2) there was already a group of Saints from Mississippi wintering at Fort Pueblo.

The 1st Detachment (Higgins family or Arkansas River group)

While traveling along the Santa Fe Trail paralleling the Arkansas River, 1st Lt. A.J. Smith, Acting Lt. Col. commander of the Battalion, was eager to reach Santa Fe and join up with Gen. Kearny and Col. Doniphan before Kearny departed for California, thus demonstrating his command abilities. On Sept 16, 1846, Smith decided to take the shorter, but more demanding route to Santa Fe at the Cimarron Cutoff junction. Smith assigned Capt. Nelson Higgins, Co. D, and 10 soldiers (mainly husbands) to escort their non-laundress wives and children (44 dependents, 12 soldiers) to Fort Pueblo and join the 14 Mississippi Saint families already settled there for the winter. Capt. Higgins and the escort soldiers were then ordered to rejoin the Battalion at Santa Fe. The Detachment reached Fort Pueblo in early October and helped to build 20 log structures. Capt. Higgins and several other soldiers rode to Santa Fe where they learned that the Battalion had already departed. Col. Doniphan, commander at Santa Fe, ordered Capt. Higgins to return to his detached service at Ft. Pueblo and use Battalion supplies at Bent’s Fort through the winter. Privates Thomas Woolsey and John Tippet, acting as couriers, rode out from Santa Fe to catch up with the Battalion in order to explain the change in orders. The information they brought to Lt. Col. Cooke spared Capt. Higgins from a court-martial because of his being absent from the Battalion for over 30 days.

The 2nd Detachment (Brown or Santa Fe group)

Lt. Col. Philip St. George Cooke was a seasoned dragoon veteran of several lengthy frontier expeditions, including one to the Oregon Territory. He was well familiar of the nature of the hardships, perils and dangers that lay ahead to achieve his orders to make a wagon road to the Pacific. Upon the arrival of the Battalion at Santa Fe, Col. Cooke shed some light concerning his character as he summed up his impression of his new command, that it “…was enlisted too much by families; some were too old, some feeble, and some too young; it was embarrassed by many women; it was undisciplined; it was much worn by traveling on foot and marching from Nauvoo, Illinois; their clothing was very scant; there was no money to pay them or clothing to issue; their mules were utterly broken down… The battalion have never been drilled, and though obedient, have little discipline; they exhibit great heedlessness and ignorance, and some obstinacy. I have brought road tools and have determined to take through my wagons. ”

Col. Cooke initially wanted to send only the disabled soldiers with the all the women and children to Fort Pueblo under the command of Capt. James Brown, Co. C. After several heartfelt discussions, Cooke relented and allowed able-bodied husbands to accompany their wives to Pueblo. Five wives and one child were given permission to continue on to San Diego with their husbands: Lydia Hunter (wife of Capt. Jesse Hunter), Phebe Palmer Brown (wife of Sgt. Ebenezer Brown) and her 16-year old son Zemira Palmer (officer’s aide), Susan Davis (wife of Capt. Daniel Davis) and her 6-year old stepson, Daniel, Jr., Melissa Coray (wife of Sgt. William Coray) and Sophia Gribble (Tubbs) (then wife of Pvt. William Gribble). 1st Lt. George Rosecrans was given command of Co. C and 2nd Lt. Sylvester Hulet was assigned temporary command of Co. D to replace Capts. Brown and Higgins, respectively.

On Oct. 18, the Santa Fe Detachment, comprised of 91 soldiers, 19 women, 10 children and Mormon Dr. Willliam MacIntyre (121 individuals total), left for Fort Pueblo with 20 days of rations, worn out teams of oxen pulling wagons loaded with 27 ailing soldiers. The teams were so weak that the men, women and children had to walk and assist the wagons over hills, through sand and rough roads. They slogged through snow at the higher elevations. On Nov. 6, the exhausted company and teams collapsed, unable to continue. Then a guard detail miraculously appeared into camp with 30 fresh oxen belonging to a company hauling army provisions to Santa Fe. Two teamsters from the supply train rode into camp and reclaimed all but 13 of the oxen. Obtaining fresh oxen was considered divine intervention to their dire circumstances. Thus, having experienced exhaustion, wagon breakdowns, lack of food, separations and several deaths, the Brown Detachment arrived at Fort Pueblo on Nov. 17 amid a glorious reunion between comrades, friends and families from the Higgins Detachment. Capt. Brown rode to Bent’s Fort and secured 60 days rations consisting of pork, flour, rice, beans, coffee, sugar, vinegar, soap and other supplies. The able-bodied men chopped wood and built 18 one-room cabins, a blacksmith shop, a corral, and a 30’x 20’ rustic cottonwood meeting house at the Pueblo settlement.

The 3rd Detachment (Willis or Rio Grande group)

Three weeks and 279 miles south out of Santa Fe down the Rio Grande valley, the Battalion reached the location where Gen. Kearny had abandoned his wagons and turned west toward the Gila River valley. Col. Cooke evaluated the condition of the Battalion and determined that there were 56 men who were declared physically unfit to continue. Furthermore, the mules were nearly broken down and his ration supplies were insufficient. Col. Cooke ordered Lt. William Willis, Co. A, to organize a detachment of the “sick and least effective men,” draw 26 days rations consisting of 1800 lbs. of flour and pork, one large wagon and one team, and report back to Santa Fe for instructions. The wagon was loaded with clothing, blankets, cooking utensils, tents and poles, muskets, equipage, provisions and 8 invalids who were incapable of walking. Through a mistake in loading the wagon, only 5 days rations were loaded for the 300 mile return to Santa Fe. Sophia Gribble, incorrectly named Tubbs, (she later married Pvt. William Tubbs in Salt Lake City) accompanied her husband Pvt. William Gribble. Pvt. Thomas Woolsey was assigned to be the pilot since he had already been to Pueblo with the 2nd Detachment. The way back was slow going. Several men died due to exhaustion and exposure as the cold of winter was upon them. The Willis Detachment arrived at Santa Fe at the end of November hoping to receive proper care and treatment being a military unit. However, Col. Doniphan had received orders to take his 1st Missouri Mounted Volunteers due south to Chihuahua, Mexico and join up with General Wool and the Army of the Center, leaving Col. Sterling Price of the 2nd Missouri Mounted Volunteers as post commander of Santa Fe. Col. Price ordered his quartermaster to issue the detachment 10 mules, pack saddles, ropes and 18 days rations, and then sent them on to Pueblo after 5 days “rest.” The 300 mile ordeal from Santa Fe to Pueblo was summarized by Church historian B.H. Roberts, “After much suffering from the hardships of the journey—weak teams, scant supplies of food, illy clad, general sickness among the men, the fall of December snows in the mountain ranges north of Santa Fe, excessive cold, and several deaths occurring, this detachment finally arrived at Pueblo between the 20th and 24th of December, in a most pitiable condition; but they were warmly received by members of the battalion already quartered there, numbering, now, all told, about one hundred and fifty.” The dependent women and children numbered 79 for a total of around 225. The detached Battalion members wintered in relative comfort, well-stocked with government supplies from Bent’s Fort and local wild game (venison, antelope, elk, and wild turkeys).

Arrival into Salt Lake Valley

In the spring of 1847, the detachments combined into one group, the Pueblo Detachment, under the command of Capt. James Brown. They and the remainder of the Mississippi Saints left Pueblo on May 24 and traveled 300 miles to Ft. Laramie, Wyoming. An advanced group of Mississippi Saints met Brigham Young’s vanguard group at Ft. Laramie. News of the meeting was communicated back to Capt. Brown and they hurried to catch up. On July 29, 1847, five days after Brigham Young’s arrival into the Salt Lake valley, Brigham Young and 6 Apostles met the Pueblo Detachment at the mouth of Emigration Canyon. The Detachment and Mississippi Saints numbered 275 soldiers and families, 29 wagons, livestock, and supplies, including wheat from Taos, New Mexico, which became the staple wheat crop successfully grown in the high altitude of the Utah plains. The Pueblo Detachment and Mississippi Saints provided much needed manpower, supplies and survival knowledge to the initial settlement in the Great Salt Lake valley and joined with the small vanguard pioneer group to help prepare for the arrival of the thousands of Latter-day Saint pioneers yet to make the arduous trek across the Plains in the ensuing years.