The Mormon Battalion trek from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to the Pacific Ocean helped shape the American West and the future of the Mormon pioneers. One of the few teenagers to join Stephen Kearny’s Army of the West was eighteen-year-old Azariah Smith, who stood 5’10” and weighed a slight 130 pounds. In his pocket diary, Smith chronicled some of the most decisive events in the history of the American West. From July 1846 through September 1848, he captured the deeds, travels, and sentiments of the battalion from their enlistment to their discharge. He also recorded the discovery of gold at Sutter’s mill and the opening of the Mormon Carson Pass Emigrant Trail over the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Young Smith seemed unaware of the monumental nature of the daily events he recorded. Historians have likewise seemed unaware that an account other than Henry W. Bigler’s journals could serve as a primary source for this phase of the Western pioneering movement. Fortunately, David L. Bigler, a distant relative of both Henry W. Bigler and Azariah Smith, recognized the worth of Smith’s firsthand account of some of the events that shaped the West. Bigler’s scholarly editing of The Gold Discovery Journal of Azariah Smith preserves its value for the reader of California and Western history. He has added copious notes, illustrations, and background information that enable the reader to place Smith’s diary accounts in a meaningful historical context. Bigler’s meticulous editing is commendable, and his contribution to the historic legacy of the Mormon Battalion is laudable.