Women of the Mormon Battalion

Brief Notices
Reviewer: Clark V. Johnson
Categories: Book Reviews
Journal: 37:1

This small book describes the precious experiences of more than thirty women who traveled with the Mormon Battalion. Most were wives who, refusing to be left behind, enlisted along with their husbands as soldiers in the Mexican War. The women served as nurses, laundresses, and companions to their husbands during the long march. Only four women accompanied the battalion all the way to California; the rest became part of the battalion sick detachment and spent the winter at Fort Pueblo, Colorado. All the women suffered the hardships of the march—shortage of food, water, clothing, and the comforts they had left behind. At least two who marched to California, Melissa Burton Cory and Lydia Edmunds Hunter, were pregnant. Colonel Thomas L. Kane, present at the enlistment of the battalion at Council Bluffs, Iowa, observed that the Mormon women

had been bred to other lives. Before their flight, they had sold their watches and trinkets as the most available resource for raising ready money; and . . . [even though they] were without earrings, finger rings, chains, or broaches . . . they lacked nothing most becoming the attire of decorous maidens. They neatly darned white stockings, and clean, bright petticoats, the artistically clear-starched collar and chemisette, the something faded, only because too well-washed, lawn or gingham gown, that fit modestly to the waist of the pretty wearer—these, if any of them spoke of poverty, spoke of a poverty that had known its better days. (28)

Even though this 130-page book lacks personal journals written by the women, the statements recorded by their biographers give the reader a picture of what the women of the Mormon Battalion experienced during their trek across the deserts of the southwestern United States during the fall and winter of 1846–47, as well as additional details of these women's lives as they joined their husbands in colonizing the Great Basin and parts of California.