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Mormon Battalion has ties to Fallbrook

SAN DIEGO — On Saturday, January 31, at Old Town State Park, hundreds of participants, many from Fallbrook, commemorated the 161st anniversary of the Mormon Battalion’s arrival there after one of the longest, most torturous marches in military history.

It must have seemed like paradise in January of 1847 to the half-starved 335 men and four women of the Mormon Battalion who straggled into the Little Mission of San Diego.

June of 1846 found 15,000 Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints members strung out across Iowa in a half-dozen or more makeshift encampments.

After having been forced to leave their comfortable homes, they had endured a tragic exodus across Iowa. Many died of starvation, exposure and disease during the cold winter and wet springtime.

They had no homes, no property and no clothing except what they carried in their wagons or wore upon their backs.

Food was scarce and the US government seemed to show disinterest in their plight. By crossing the Mississippi River, these pioneers had left the United States.

However, it was from these encampments that a little over 500 men and a few women were recruited by the United States government to form a Mormon Battalion to assist in the Spanish-American War. They followed their leaders west to a destination they knew nothing about and a purpose they knew not.

Six months into their trek, most of the men had traded away any spare clothing in exchange for food.

Rags and pieces of hide took the place of shoes. Hair and beards were unshaven and uncombed. Skin was darkened to a deep, leathery brown. Bones and ribs of man and beast protruded through stretched flesh.

This is the condition in which they arrived that lovely midwinter day in San Diego. They had come through for their country – never having fired a single shot.

One of these battalion members, James S. Brown, was the great-great-grandfather of Fallbrook resident and former State Assemblyman Bruce Thompson.

Thompson and his wife Donna were in attendance at the commemoration.

“Most Fallbrook residents don’t realize that the Mormon Battalion marched right through Fallbrook on their way from Temecula to the San Luis Rey Mission,” Thompson said.

He pointed out that the Mormon Battalion played a significant role in California history, helping to carve out transportation paths still in use today, such as the Butterfield stagecoach route.

The commemoration in Old Town was the sixth annual tribute to these historic contributions by the Mormon Battalion to California’s and San Diego’s history.

To learn more about the history of the Mormon Battalion, visit


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