Didn’t know that


Michael Raffety

It took an Associated Press story about drought in the desert to give me the tidbit that Joshua trees were named by the Mormon Battalion after heading back to Utah via the Cajun Pass in 1857.. “They saw the trees as shaggy prophets stretching their limbs to point the way to their promised land,” AP wrote.

Aren’t desert and drought synonymous?

I’m not sure why they chose the Mojave Desert as a route other than they were returning from San Diego where they arrived after a 2,000-mile journey from Council Bluffs, Iowa.

There is a monument in New Mexico that marks their route through the area that includes the speech given the battalion upon its arrival in San Diego by its U.S. Army leader, Lt. Col. Phillip St. George Cooke.

He congratulated them for making the march through often trackless wilderness, often inhabited with hostile Indians (that word was scratched off of the monument), marching for days without water.

They dug wells along the way.

The final part of the quote from Lt. Col. Cooke on the brass plaque of the monument erected in 1940 is as follows: “Thus marching half naked and half fed and living upon wild animals we have discovered and made a road of great value to our country.”

Despite the comment about “hostile Indians” the Mormons treated Indians very well, learning irrigation methods from Indians in Arizona where a detachment of Mexican provisional soldiers in Tucson retreated as the battalion approached. Also coming upon what was known as the Temecula Massacre of the Luiseno Tribe in California, the Mormon Battalion stood guard to protect the tribe.

And that is pretty much what they did in San Diego. They performed occupation duty in various Southern California locales to ensure the success of the California revolt against Mexico and the eventual cession of the American Southwest and the 1853 Gadsden Purchase.

The Mormons supported Cooke’s assignment to create a wagon road, which became the southern wagon route.

That was an impressive journey and a heck of an accomplishment for the only religious volunteer militia.

Vulture update

I previously wrote about crazy teenage vultures swooping around my house and zooming past our windows. That phase has ended. Apparently the female vulture made her choice.

I know that because I saw a pair of fuzzy white and grey fledgling vultures perched on the rock under the buckeye tree. So, it was another successful egg-laying season near our house, despite me disturbing them by weed whacking near the rock crevice and repairing drip lines nearby.


In the July 1 issue of this paper a Charles Krauthammer column appeared in which he ended it on a note about “hundreds” of Confederate soldiers buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

When we toured Arlington I was especially impressed with Arlington House. The Greek Revival building took George Washington Park Custis 16 years to build. It was designed by the same architect who designed the U.S. Capitol building. Custis was the adopted son of George Washington and the son of Martha Washington by her first husband. Sitting on a hill, it looks across the Potomac River to Washington, D.C.

Custis and his wife Mary are buried on the estate. His will specified that control of Arlington would remain with their only daughter, Mary Anna Randolph Custis, who married Robert E. Lee, later commanding general of the Confederate forces. Lee lived in Arlington but Mary held the deed. Her father’s will specified that on her death the title would pass to her son, George Washington Custis Lee.

In 1864 the federal government seized the property when Mary Lee was unable to personally pay the property taxes. A Union general then took over he property, setting up a couple of forts and stabling the Arlington National Cemetery.

In 1882 the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision said the property had been confiscated without due process. A year later, by an act of Congress the property was purchased from George Washington Custis Lee for $150,000.


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