Tuesday, September 5, 2017

San Diego's Mormon Battalion Historic Site

 San Diego's Old Town is one of our favorite places to visit.  We stay in a local hotel and we can walk to see all of it.  There is enough to see that you can easily fill a long weekend and not see it all.  The Whaley House has witnessed more history than anywhere else in the city.  Its even rumored to be very haunted.  That tour is a must do in Old Town.  If you are looking for good Mexican food there is about five you can choose from, though I highly suggest the Cafe Coyote.  I consider my self an expert in the matter and this is the best Mexican restaurant I have ever eaten at.  The chili verde and fresh made tortillas are the best.  Old Town is also a quick drive to both Sea World and Seaport Village so the location cant be beat.  

One spot in Old Town we haven't been to in a while is the Mormon Battalion Historical Site.  The Mormon Battalion tells the story of the only religiously based unit in the United States military history.  The battalion was a volunteer unit that was made up of about 500 Mormon men led by U.S. Army officers.  They even had some women and children follow who were welcomed in to help with the huge task.  They traveled nearly 2000 miles from Council Bluff, Iowa to San Diego, California.  

Since we were here last the building has had an overhaul.  What was once a simple building with a rug on the floor is now an experience that will take you back in time to walk the journey in their shoes.  When you walk through the doors you will be visited by missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, also known as Mormons.  These missionaries, dressed in period true clothing, will guide you through the stories and miracles that happened to this battalion and how it helped shape the west as we know it.  

We were guided into the waiting area while we waited our turn for the approximately 40 minute tour we would take.  There we could see eight back lit photos on the wall introducing us to the people who we would be hearing the stories off.  First the missionaries introduced themselves and asked us where we were from, if we had been there before and a bit of question and answer.  As the missionaries began to introduce us to the stories one of the photos sneezed and all eight photos magically became alive.  It was really cool.  As the pictures chatted away the missionaries asked them if they would like to tell their story.  Of course they would.  All eight pictures got up in their frames and walked off into the next room. 

We were welcomed into the next room where we sat on logs arranged for sitting.  The room was a dark campsite where we could look on as the characters from the paintings were projected on to the tents as a screen and the room became alive.  We were told the stories of the trials that they were facing as the Mormons were moving west to escape the persecution of people in Nauvoo, Illinois.  The members packed up and left everything they couldn't carry with them and traveled on.  Traveling west was a hard and expensive journey.  They were praying for a way to go where they needed to be and this would be an answer to their prayers.  

As the movie played on the Mormons began to play a happy tune.  Music was a huge part of their gatherings and we were invited to play along.  We were passed instruments like spoons to clack against each other, hollow wood to beat like a symbol and a washboard.   It sounds like a terrible racket but really it was enjoyable.  The story was told about the Army approaching the group with a letter from James K Polk requesting an battalion be formed and what they desired.  With the journey west being so expensive and trying the decision was made to join since the Army would both pay their way and provide pay to the men to send to their families to help them travel as well.  The men loaded up and begin their journey. 

It was a hot and dry journey.  The group was in luck.  The Army gave them the option to forgo the standard uniform which was thick and hot and instead wear their own clothing and take a $42 uniform allowance instead.  This money was used very carefully and the rest all sent back to the saints waiting to journey on.  This provided money for wagons and supplies for the families waiting who would travel on later.  
It was a one of many miracles that they faced in this one year enlistment.  They were still given a gun, a pack of bullets, a bayonet and a hat as their uniform complete with a badge.  With little training they were ready and set on the way.  There was a war being fought between the U.S. Army and Mexico.  The journey was to very dangerous and it was hard for the families to part ways not knowing if they would ever see them again.  The went forth with faith, which was the reoccurring theme of the tour, and had an amazing story to tell. 

The only "battle" that was ever fought for these men was the "Battle of the Bulls", where a group of wild cattle would stampede their camp.  They had no idea what was going on at first and thought they were being attacked.  Tip: when you enter the room with the crates and rocks to sit on, aim for the crates and you will feel the pulse of the cattle stampede.  There was damage done to gear, mules were killed and a few men were injured but over all it was a minor set back and provided them with food, which was scarce the whole journey.  

On January 29th, 1847, they would reach the San Diego area and help them settle and thrive there.  They were hard working and kind which helped with the local community which helped shape it to be what we know of today.  They helped build the first court house in the area.  The trail they paved would be used to make way for the railroad and for others to travel west. William Prows of the battalion went on to be the first man to discover gold on the Comstock Lode, leading to a rush on mining in California.  Steven Clark Foster went on to be the first mayor of Los Angeles.  

As you end your tour you are invited to take a photo that they can print there or send to your email.  
You can exit the museum into the yard where you can pan for "gold" (pyrite), wash clothes by hand, learn to make bricks in an oven, pump water by hand and see how hard the things we do every day were then.  If you look toward the exit you will see a staircase.  Take the stairs for an awesome view of Old Town and San Diego.  There are binoculars to use and signs telling you what to look for.  Its not marked so we almost didn't know it was there.  

We were members of the Mormon Battalion for an hour there and it was a lot of fun.  The missionaries are eager to answer any of your questions and excited to tell the stories.  Take lots of pictures and maybe even sit in the wagon for a pretty cool photo opportunity.  The Mormon Battalion Historic Site is located at 2510 Juan St, San Diego, CA 92110.  Its just up the hill in Old Town.  The cost is free which is a pretty good deal and on a hot weekend like it was for us the building is well air conditioned.  

We are making great memories and loving every minute of it.  Where should we go next? 

❤ Misty

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