The Mormon Battalion and the Gadsden Purchase

The battalion’s pioneering trek through uncharted territory left its mark on the U.S.-Mexican border and blazed a trail for the future Southern Pacific Railroad.

When looking at a map of the southern boundaries of Arizona and New Mexico, one might wonder about the reasons for the curious jogs and angles. Actually, as is often the case, a knowledge of history can provide significant perspective. The boundary in question was a result of the 1853 Gadsden Purchase, by which the United States bought nearly thirty thousand square miles of land from Mexico for $10 million. American history textbooks commonly explain that this purchase was necessary to secure the route of a proposed southern transcontinental railroad. This is also the area through which the Mormon Battalion had marched only seven years earlier, mapping a potential wagon road as they went.

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