NC Rotary Club learns history of Mormon Battalion

Julie Davis
Nebraska City News-Press

Visitors to Otoe County in the next two years will have an additional reason for touring the area: the 175th anniversary of the march of the Mormon Battalion from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to San Diego, Calif.

Jeff Smith, vice president of J. Greg Smith Inc. in Omaha, provided the Nebraska City Rotary Club with a history of the battalion’s march during the club’s Aug. 11 meeting.

Smith said the Mormon Battalion was organized in Council Bluffs in 1846. U.S. Army representatives approached members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and asked for 500 volunteers to man the battalion, which was headed to California during the Mexican War.

In response to the request, 496 men agreed to volunteer, said Smith, and many of those men pledged part of their Army pay to the pioneering efforts of Brigham Young to settle the Salt Lake Valley in Utah.

The battalion’s march created the first continental wagon trail to southern California, said Smith. The battalion was also the first and only Army unit to be organized from a single religious group, he said.

Smith said the battalion camped near Waubonsie State Park in Iowa and likely crossed the Missouri south of Hamburg, Iowa, by ferry. On a good day, the group could cover between 12 and 22 miles, he said.

Some wives and children of the soldiers accompanied the Battalion as far as Colorado, said Smith. They were sent to Pueblo while the troops headed toward Santa Fe and eventually California.

After the battalion reached California, some of the men remained in that territory, while others made the trip to the Mormon settlements in Utah, said Smith.

Smith said he anticipates that Otoe County might see as much as $66,144 in tourism-related revenue from visitors who are retracing the battalion’s movements. He predicted that 1,400 new visitors could come to Otoe County as part of the anniversary observance.

He said the Mormon Battalion Association, a heritage organization, has created a website (www.mormonbattalion.com) and an app for travelers to use to follow the route. 

The Otoe County Visitors Committee has provided about $1,000 in monetary support for the anniversary celebration, and Nebraska City and the county are featured in the auto tour portion of the website.

The Nebraska City Rotary Club meets at noon Wednesday at Valentino’s, 1710 S. 11th.

The speaker tomorrow (Aug. 18) is scheduled to be Jennie Tachovsky, general manager for Kimmel Orchard and Vineyard.

Cole Sharp is the club president. Call (402) 873-0530 for more information.

Jeff Smith, vice president of J. Greg Smith Inc. in Omaha, provided the Nebraska City Rotary Club with a history of the Mormon Battalion’s march from Iowa to California during the Mexican War at the club’s Aug. 11 meeting.