We often think of our ancestors in isolation – focusing on just their immediate or extended family. But our ancestors were members of a broader community. They could have belonged to a church, a club, a fraternal organization, a service group, or a military unit. When we explore their membership in that group we gain more understanding of their lives. In this 52 ancestor’s post, I’ll highlight the life of Daniel Henrie, a member of the Mormon Battalion from 1846 – 1847. Thanks to the many memories on Daniel’s profile on FamilySearch, his descendants have rich sources to learn more about his life.
Daniel Henrie and the Mormon Battalion
Daniel Henrie, my husband’s 2nd great-grandfather, was born on 15 November 1824 in Miamitown, Whitewater Township, Hamilton, Ohio. The oldest child of William Henrie and Myra Mayall, the family resided in Hamilton County for Daniel’s childhood years. He didn’t join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints with his parents in 1841 or make the move to Kirtland, Ohio. However, he later joined them in Nauvoo, Illinois, heard the prophet Joseph Smith speak, and was baptized.
When the Latter-Day Saints were expelled from Nauvoo, Daniel and his family were among them. A history details his story. 1
Soon after the Mormons arrived at Council Bluffs they were called upon to furnish five hundred young men to serve in the war with Mexico. This request was complied with and on July 16, 1846, Daniel enlisted in the Mormon Battalion, Company D. Nelson Higgins Captain. The soldier began their long journey on foot and after eleven days arrived at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where they were allowed a short rest. Their next stop was to be Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the trip entailed many hardships and much sickness, and on August 23rd, Colonel Allen died, leaving them to pursue their journey without his help and encouragement.
They arrived at Red River on October 2nd where word was received that if they did not reach Santa Fe by October 10th they would be discharged. many of the men were so weary, foot-sore, and disabled that a picked number of 250 men from the company was sent ahead, reaching Santa Fe on October 9th where Colonel P. St. George Cook assumed command.
While in [New] Mexico it was next to impossible to get provisions and the soldiers were driven to extremes for food, even eating their draft animals, which had died en route- and at one time they had to boil old rawhide to make soup. They took leave of Santa Fe on October 19th and reached the summit of the Rockies Nov. 28th. On Dec. 11th at the San Pedro river, they encountered a herd of wild buffalo, which helped materially for food. During the march through Arizona, they suffered untold privations. One time going through 70 miles of desert country without water.
One incident vivid in the mind of our subject was when he was detailed by his captain to go back and bring to camp an old draft ox, which had gotten weak and called by the wayside. Daniel carried water, from the creek in his hat for the ox to drink. He then pulled bunch grass and fed to the animal until it had gained the strength to resume its travels. This place has been since known as White Ox Creek and is now a thriving section in Arizona.
At Pina, the Maricopa Indians proved friendly and sold them squash beans, and other articles of food and clothing. On Jan. 8, 1847, they reached the Gila River and for the next three days traveled over hot lands where they encountered deep sand, drought, and extreme temperatures.
These conditions coupled with short rations caused the men to drop in their tracks. This country is now known as Death valley. On January 21st, the summit of the Sierra Nevada Mountains was reached and on January 29th found them at San Diego California. They were discharged from service on July 16th, 1847 at Los Angeles. Daniel with others of the company worked their way northward to Sacramento where he remained during the gold rush helping to build cabins etc. and sharing with others the finding of the precious metal.
The Mormon Battalion Historic Site
Recognizing the legacy of these 500+ men, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has established the Mormon Battalion Historic Site in San Diego where their journey ended. My husband and I toured the visitor’s center and enjoyed a peek into Daniel Henrie’s experience through the interactive tour. Delightful sister missionaries donned in pioneer clothing shared stories and guided us from room to room. Talking photographs, maps, and activities made the tour fun for every age.
The tour ended with a room where we could look up our ancestor and we found Daniel Henrie listed. We learned that some of the Mormon Battalion members discovered gold thirty miles downstream from Sutter’s Mill at Coloma and remembered that Daniel had been part of that group. Another family history on FamilySearch details Daniel’s experiences with finding gold. 2
The Battalion men were so well liked that they were asked to stay and reenlist in the service. They had determined the rights of the United States to New Mexico, Western Colorado, California, Nevada and Utah territory and now most of them were anxious to return home. They organized into groups of 100, 50, and 10 with Captains over each group as had been done before and started their long march north to Sacramento. They were told that it was 70 miles by way of the sea shore or 600 miles along the base of the mountain route. They arrived at Sutters Fort near Sacramento on August 26, 1847, after about one month of very difficult, steady traveling.
At Sacramento, work seemed to be plentiful and word had come that food was scarce in the great Salt Lake basin, so Daniel decided to stay where he was over winter. He found a place where he could get board and room for $3.50 per week, so he took it, then went to work building log houses and thus built some of the first homes ever built in this capitol city of California.
He was glad he had made this decision for many of those who had decided to go on to Salt Lake returned when word was sent from relatives and the authorities of the Church to stay and work so they could earn money to help their families.
Daniel replenished his clothes and bought a pair of shoes which cost him $4.50. He also opened up a meat market, bought and slaughtered cattle and cut it up and sold it to the settlers again.
On Monday morning January 4, 1848, news leaked out that James Marshal and the crew at Sutters Mill in American Canyon, California had found gold. Daniel being an opportunist immediately went there and began panning for the precious metal below the floor of the mill. This was very wild country. The place was surrounded by high mountains, tall redwood, pines and thick underbrush. It also abounded with grizzly bear, wolves, and Indians, so men had to take precautions to protect themselves.
Daniel was very successful in his efforts. He would pan and gather what gold he could find in the day and then at night he would sew it into little square canvas bags, so that by the time he decided to go to Salt Lake, around the first of May, in 1849, he had a sizeable salt sack full of nuggets and much gold dust. The question was how to take it with him. So he began looking around for some good, strong animals. One day he found just what he was looking for, a beautiful great big black stallion. It was a beauty, full of life, vigor, and fight. So he bought it and took it to his camp. It was the envy of all the men there and one fellow offered him $1,000 for the horse. He thought this was such a good price that he sold him. But he could not feel good about it. He tossed and turned all night and could not sleep for thinking about that beautiful horse. So at sun up the next morning he went back to the buyer and offered him more money to trade back and man accepted the deal. He was so tickled to get the stallion back that he had silver shoes made and nailed on his feet and rode him about the settlement with great pride. He then set about making preparations to go to Salt Lake City.
All of the little bags of gold dust he had labored over so hard all winter were sewn between two blankets and when he was ready to leave, this blanket was doubled once and laid over the stallion’s back like a saddle blanket, fastened underneath and the saddle put on top and sinched in place. Next came his bed roll, bake oven, skillet, utensils, and water canteen. All were tied on and he began his perilous journey over the high, dangerous Sierra Nevada Mountains alone. The rough, granite ledges and steep canyons would have been treacherous even if he had dared follow the broken immigrant trail, but highway robbers, bad men and marauding Indians lay in wait at every turn, ready to relieve their unsuspecting victim or Mormon prospector of any good or gold he may have. A man’s life meant nothing to these human parasites, they were always ready to kill a traveler for what loot they could find on him, so Daniel avoided the beaten path.
He walked, and traveled mostly by night to conceal his movements and so his heavily laden horse would be spared the heat and thus reserve as much strength as possible for the long hazardous trip. During the day he would try to find some water and grazing for his horse and a place to hide up and sleep and rest. Sometimes it would be in a ravine behind a large rock or in the shade of underbrush, or wherever possible. If he could find a stream he would catch fish and eat them raw for in most cases he did not dare build a fire for fear the smell of smoke would bring down his enemies upon him. In some places he was lucky enough to find and pick wild servis berries which were delicious, especially on the first part of his journey when he traveled through Bear Valley. Here there were plenty of huge trees and scrub oak, bear tracks were al over and he saw many deer, but as he went further north eastward into what is now Nevada no trees were to be seen anywhere, only miles and miles of sage brush and in many places it was so hot and dry that even the sage brush refused to grow. Daniel was hard pressed to find even shriveled wisps of grass or anything he could pull to feed his horse. When he could, he followed the trail near the Humbolt River and came upon the site of the Indian (?) massacre of the Donner party, he said it was sure a mess. Wagon wheels and parts of wagons were scattered everywhere. Bones and old weather beaten bits of clothing, skeletons and hides of what was once horses and oxen were strewn about the camp site and even partly uncovered shallow graves were exposed to view.
Daniel arrived back in Salt Lake City in October of 1849. He had a happy reunion with his parents who had preceded him to Utah. With some of the gold dust he was able to buy land and build a log house, then marry his sweetheart, Amanda Bradley, on 29 October 1849.
Daniel Henrie’s membership in the Mormon Battalion lasted less than a year, but he left a legacy for his descendants of service to country and church. At age 81, he received a pension from the U.S. Federal Government for his service in the Mormon Battalion as part of the Mexican War.
Daniel Henrie died on 28 June 1914 and is buried in Manti, Utah. Near his gravestone is a memorial stone for his service in the Mormon Battalion.
- “Daniel Henrie History from Grandma’s Memory Book,” Memories, Daniel Henrie (KWNY-LZ3) FamilySearch ((https://www.familysearch.org/photos/artifacts/153441568 : accessed 19 March 2023); Helen Henrie Squire, “Sketch of the Life of Daniel Henrie Taken from the Manti Messenger 1924.”
- Callie O. Morley, “History of Daniel & Amanda Bradley Henrie Written 1955 for Daughter of Utah Pioneers,” Daniel Henrie (KWNY-LZ3) FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/photos/artifacts/26941909 : accessed 19 March 2023).