Archive for the ‘Journal’ Category

Jerry Watts - R.I.P. (5-25-2010)

Monday, May 24th, 2010

We sadly announce the passing of Denny’s father, Jerry Watts, this morning.
Jerry contracted pulmonary fibrosis shortly before the Trek and the past few months took a serious turn for the worse.
Denny was able to be home with her Dad and help him during the last couple weeks.
For those of you fortunate enough to have met Jerry, you understand how much he will be missed.
- Kevin

Saturday, January 31 – San Diego, CA

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

We take the yellow Henski Truck down to Old Town San Diego State Park early in the morning. The fourteen LDS Stakes from around San Diego each provide a “hands-on” activity booth for this annual Battalion commemorative event. Thousands of folks will come to participate in the fun and hopefully learn a thing or two.
Richard and Eva Peterson take good care of us. They’re the coordinators for this large scale event and are terribly busy I suspect. We appreciate their kindnesses in giving us a good location on the plaza at Old Town San Diego State Park.
Dragging out all our period gear, we set a representative Battalion camp. The tents go up quickly. The laundress equipment and cooking gear is set out. Backpacks, blankets, muskets, books and all the accoutrements we’ve decided to use today are arranged. Then it’s show time.
At the northwest corner of Old Town the reenactors gather to parade onto the Plaza. There are about 30 serious reenactors supplemented by about 100 full-time LDS missionaries. With flags a-flying, drums a-beating and cannon a-booming, we parade around the Plaza then assemble for short commemorative speeches.
In 1847 the Battalion did not march en masse into Old Town. They camped up near the old Mission, about five miles up canyon. They were allowed to leave camp the next couple of days and a few recorded their impressions of this very small community by the bay.
The Henry D. Fitch store was in business in 1847 – the only store here. Henry Standage wrote, “No shoes to be had or much else.” Levi Hancock sketched the town and ships in the great natural harbor. Today, all sorts of vessels are anchored nearby including US Navy aircraft carriers.
All day long we field questions, talk about Battalion members, equipment and techniques. We invite people into the tents, to sit and wrap up in “Buffalo Bill” and hold the musket. This is much more familiar territory – just like the “River of Time” living history event back in Michigan.
Getting people to participate is key to getting people interested in history – their history – whether their actual or adopted history doesn’t matter much. It’s where we came from and how we got to where we are today – and it’s important to understanding today.
Everyone asks about “The Beard.” My face hasn’t seen a razor since July 5 and the seven month growth is … substantial. In fact, Denny has avoided most facial contact for about four months or so. Can’t blame her. The hair hasn’t been trimmed either. I’ll be glad to be rid of it.
My only concession has been to snip the moustache a tad so it doesn’t get into my mouth. It’s just easier to trim it than to bite if off. Val Halford, one of the major reenactors from SLC, said I’d done reenactors a service by showing how big a beard gets in seven months. Easy research, eh?
Well, I’ve joked a few times about cutting “The Beard.” Starting at the Yuma presentation, I’ve said people were invited to San Diego to see me cut it off. And I made the half-hearted joke again this morning on the stage. “Ya’ll are invited to our camp at 3 PM to see me shave off ‘The Beard.’”
So, at 2:45, Denny reminds me I’d better be ready. There’s nobody hanging around our camp, but off I go to get some hot water from a nearby restaurant. When I return at 2:55 – there’s about SIXTY people standing around! YIKES! Put up or shut up time.
One minor consideration; I’ve NEVER used a straight razor before – Ever. I’m quite concerned this could be a blood bath! I even warn the crowd that if anyone’s queasy around blood they’d better sit down or not watch. So what happens? A mother plops her three really young kids directly down in front of me! Sheesh! I wonder if she’s hoping to use me as a “bad” example?
Anyway, long story short, I shave the right side of my face so people can see a “before and after” view of me with & without “The Beard.” Fuzzy left and smooth right side in one photo. Quite a difference. Seeing the photos after the fact, I’m surprised at the comparison. No wonder the 1846 group wanted to keep their beards for their family to see. But, military regulations being what they were, Colonel Cooke appropriately ordered the men to “clean up” – Armyspeak for “shave and groom.” This they did the following week in San Luis Rey – not at San Diego. I’m jumping the gun slightly, I know.
After the photos, I finish the deed and have my face back. Yippee! Happily, the blood loss is minimal (double Yippee!). Seeing myself later in a mirror is a shock because my face is so much thinner. All too soon, 4 PM arrives and we break camp and it’s time to celebrate.
Denny’s arranged a big “pot luck” dinner at the Scout camp. We didn’t keep a very good count, but about 50 or so folks show for meal. We’re humbled by the contributions many of these folks have made to “our” success. Some are Trek board members. There are old friends, new friends, relatives and new people to meet. Some are local. Others have driven a thousand miles to be here today. We are so blessed by this.
The dutch ovens and stoves have been busy. Little groups form and reform as folks share stories about their ancestor and our experiences during the past year. There’s lots of food and we’re all well fed by the end of the evening. We clean up and folks head home. It’s been a great day.
After dark, a thick fog rolls in from the bay. Floodlights play through the fog and tree limbs giving an odd look to the place. As traffic on the 4-lane highway zooms in the background a coyote strolls through camp making the night seem even more surreal. We’re in San Diego. The Trek is almost done and that’s the most surreal part the entire day.

Friday, January 30 – San Diego, CA

Friday, January 30th, 2009

Late last night, Mark Woodbury and some friends arrived from Saint George. They set up some tents here at Scout Camp Balboa. Me? I was zonked out in bed and didn’t even know it until I got up this AM.
Tonight is the “big report” about the Trek. Descendants, historians, serious reenactors and other interested parties are expected this evening to hear about the Trek. Understandably, I’m skittish since I’m not really a researcher much less a historian. So, I’m busy putting together what I hope are some key points along our trail. Photos are culled through for some of the best. The Google Earth Virtual Trail is a major effort for today. I review what I want to present, then practice a few times.
At 2 PM, we gather some of the late arrivers for a “reenactment of the reenactment.” We gather outside Old Town State Park and march into the Plaza again, giving more folks an opportunity to participate in the Trek’s arrival.
Journalist Helen Read from the Seagull LDS newspaper came to interview some of the group. The Sierra-Nevada Mormon History group is old hat at this; we learned from their example of telling the Battalion’s complex story in a succinct way. The women’s story in particular is important to share since there were so few that arrived in California.
After the interviews and photos, we run back to the trailer, grab some dinner, collect our “stuff” and head off for the evenings seminar. The organizers invited us to highlight the evening’s presentations. About 75 folks attend with some standing at the doors and back wall. The Google Earth Virtual Trail is populated with photos and I tell stories of the people and places we’ve been during the past seven months. Someone should have stopped me after an hour and a half. There is just so much information I lost track and went long. Thanks to those who were patient.
Conclusions: We need a full-blown, two or three day seminar to bring together the various researchers. Clothing, equipment, trail, military leadership issues and so many other lines of research need to be shared. I tell the group that there is lots of “low hanging fruit” – topics that no one has approached yet but which would add to our understanding. We need to get busy and put something like this together.
Gates at Balboa Scout Camp are locked at 10 PM, so we have to leave the seminar early. I am grateful for the opportunity to share some insights I’ve had.

Thursday, January 29 – San Diego, CA

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

It is almost unbelievable to us that we are to arrive at San Diego today.

We arise early (probably due to excitement), grab an easy breakfast, then pile into the Suburban and drive back to the intersection of I-5 and I-805. Peter and Virginia Guilbert, Bob Tingey, Denny, Jerry and I make up the group as we start. We don’t hike the interstates, of course, but the original route is so closely aligned with the modern highways that we have to work at finding a route we can hike. There’s only thirteen miles remaining for us into San Diego.

Terry Wirth has previously scouted the area for us, finding an open dirt road leading from Soledad Valley up onto the mesa so we can follow local roadways. It’s a good route, leading us past the LDS San Diego Temple at the four mile mark.

Jerry and Virginia drive ahead to the temple in hopes of arranging access to the grounds for some photos. This week the temple is closed for cleaning. Not to be deterred and using her womanly charms (although I suspect there’s an outside possibility she may have also threatened a lawsuit), Virginia manages to strike a deal with the guard for us to spend a few minutes at the entrance gate area.

In a way, it seems symbolic that the temple site sits almost astride the original Battalion’s route. In fact, we’ve noted that a number of LDS buildings along our route are very close to the trail. Makes one wonder if that’s a purposeful choice when property is purchased.

As we finish the morning section at nine miles, some of the Sierra-Nevada Mormon Pioneer reenactors arrive to hike the last section with us into Old Town. Jerry Gardner, Smokey Bassett and Jonathan Taylor join in the fun. They get into their period correct (PC) gear and soon we’re off for our last five miles. Their website is at:

Jon specializes in singing “The Girl I Left Behind Me” – adding a nice touch as we tramp along since we don’t have fifes or drums. Our time is spent getting to know each other. Bob Tingey’s 26-star US flag leads the way and Bob shares the opportunity to carry the colors.

Virginia Guilbert points out that back in 1847 the women would not have been permitted to carry the flag – that, “It’s not PC” (period correct). Virginia is right, but we’re not attempting to make an accurate portrayal in every 1846-47 detail. Our goals include the opportunity for the women’s voices to be heard in ways that they weren’t in 1847. In today’s Army, women DO carry the colors and do many other things that were previously limited to just the men. Society has changed in many ways – some good, some not so, but overall, we live in a world of nearly unlimited opportunities compared to those who went before us.

Parading down Moreno Boulevard with the colors flying brings honks from passing cars. San Diego is still a town with deep military roots. The Spanish Presidio was here. The US Navy and Marines are major influences today and there are many DOD suppliers, so we’re happy to wave back at folks as they support us along our route.

Approaching Old Town, we can plainly see in front of us the hill upon which the Spanish colonial presidio was built. It’s there that Company B was quartered from mid-March through mid-July of 1847. Our little group marches into Old Town State Park just before 4 PM. We parade around the plaza coming to a halt at the State Park Information Center. Over the next half hour, we answer questions from some of the tourists, take our photos and bask in our individual feelings.

People ask if I’m elated, nostalgic or sad it’s over. Mostly I’m peaceful – mellow. There’s an element of satisfaction – completion, at least for this part of the Trek. There’s more ahead of us to accomplish, but for today, this is enough, quite enough.

It is almost unbelievable to us that we have arrived at San Diego today.

Wednesday, January 28 – Soledad Valley, CA

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

Morning is busy. It’s time to take a final leave of the Billings who have been so kind to us. We wish them well with their family but expect to see them all this Saturday at the big event. Jerry helps pack us and then he moves the RV trailer to San Diego’s Boy Scout Camp Balboa, near the zoo.
The Imperial Scout Council is letting us use the camp as our base for the week. Since my Scout group in Michigan started this whole interest in the Battalion, it seems appropriate. In fact, we’ve been closely associated with the Scouts along the entire route. The majority of those who have hiked along with us have been under Scout auspices – troops and Cub dens joined us for a day here and there.
Terry Wirth and Virginia Guilbert join in the hiking for today, bringing us to a respectable group of five hikers. We all share in driving the Suburban as necessary. Well, that was after we had a little confusion. Seems Jerry didn’t get all the keys and is locked out of the RV, so Denny and Virginia scoot down to Balboa to get him installed.
Peter, Terry and I take the old el Camino Real side roads that Terry has scoped out during the past year. Our route winds through housing developments and along horse trails. At one stream, Terry relates that there used to be two crossings; one for wagons, another for people on foot. The foot path was in the softer marshlands that couldn’t support wagons. Which one the Battalion men used is uncertain.
Now, considering the importance of el Camino Real to early California history, you’d think there would be well researched maps showing the ROUTE of the trail. Apparently, not so – or at least – none one can easily get their hands on. Believe me, I’ve tried.
I know. I know. The California State Legislature has ruled that Highway 101 is nearly the exact route of the old trail, but you and I know that isn’t likely to be EXATCLY true. An old trail would have more variability than a modern road. So, it’s kind of annoying and with a small degree of paranoia when I try to find more details about el Camino. Very frustrating since you know SOMEWHERE there’s a map that tells more accurately where the original route was located. Enough of my ranting, but finding the old route is what our hike has been about and old maps are key to the effort.
Our stopping point is about twelve miles out from San Diego – under the intersection of I-5 and I-805. The original Battalion camped about 20 miles out but we don’t want to hike that far and arrive in the dark tomorrow. We take Terry back to his house in Carlsbad. Peter and Virginia bail with their car leaving just Denny and I to drive back to Balboa, get dinner with Jerry and retire early. Tomorrow has been long in coming and I’m anticipating this very much.

Tuesday, January 27 – Carlsbad, CA

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

Jerry drives today so we can all hike. It’s much more enjoyable. The route follows CA-76 and the San Luis River down canyon towards the Mission. While there are homes, businesses and farms all along the river, we are excited to see some friends; lots of very large hawks; fifteen of them today and of all things, a coyote loping along.
There’s a horse riding stable in the area and a horse trail has been cut near the river. I decide to hike a section. The river bottoms are full of cane grass and the wild assortment of southern California exotic species that didn’t exist here in 1847. We’re too busy to followup on so many details. Maybe someday someone else will scour the available research about plant species the Battalion would have encountered. They do mention “oats” and some other plants, but not many. The Spanish archives will probably be a gold-mine of information about these things if someone bothers to go research them.
The road crosses the river to the south side and into town – San Luis Rey. Off to our right, the whitewashed walls and red roofed restored Mission beckons as do the barracks ruins. But, like the Battalion, we hurry on past, intent on reaching our goal in San Diego. We will stop by late next week on our way up to Los Angeles.
Another half-mile westward, we turn left onto historic el Camino Real, “the Road Royal”, the “King’s Road.” Padres, natives, soldiers, traders, women, children, donkeys, wagons … I see them all in my mind’s eye and imagine I can hear them as we go south and start up the first big hill of el Camino Real. It’s the last historic road we will tie into and it completed the Battalion’s task of connecting the east with the southern west coast.
Then, off to our right, peeking through the “V” shaped notch formed by the valley walls, we catch the first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean. We’re here earlier in the day than the Battalion was, so the sun doesn’t glint off the water for us. It’s a little harder to see through the smog, but still, the blue-gray visually filling the notch to the horizon line is clearly the ocean. We pause to remember their wonderment, then press on.
If you want to see the view – poor resolution though – go to Google Maps and paste the following intersection:

S El Camino Real & Vista Oceana, Oceanside, CA 92054

Once there, click under the small photo to activate the “Street view.” Rotate the view to look west and that’s pretty close to where the Battalion first spied the ocean. Doesn’t look anything like the July 2007 Ensign cover does it?
We proceed south, passing Cannon Road near the sulphur springs that gave Agua Hedionda stream its name. According to Fetzer (see yesterday’s post), when the Mexican government granted Juan Maria Marron a land grant in 1842, Marron preferred the name Rancho San Francisco over “stinking water ranch”. At almost each stream we can look westward to glimpse the ocean. The marshes have been heavily modified, filled, dredged and diked against the ocean waves. Still, one can get a glimpse of what the coast line may have looked like; green salt grasses, the tidal flats and estuaries all warmed under the January blue skies and cooled by gentle sea breezes.
Peter’s wife, Virginia, drives in from northern California. They haven’t seen each other since December 17 back near Tucson Arizona. Military families and missionary families share such events in common. It is another connection to the original Battalion enacted before our eyes – husband and wife reunited after a long absence. Surely it’s a glimpse at reunions on the other side of the veil.
We end the day just east of Palomar Airport, then hustle back to Temecula. Susan Billings has asked to get a Mormon Battalion primer of what we’ve learned along the route and the unit’s history. We finish up about 10:30 PM and have a wonderful evening of friendship.

Monday, January 26 – San Luis Rey River valley

Monday, January 26th, 2009

As we arise, we can see San Jacinto Peak (10,839 feet) and Hot Springs Mountain (6,533 feet) are topped with snow, just like they were in 1847 as the Battalion passed through the area. We’re glad we didn’t have to sleep out in the rain the past couple of nights.
The Billings home will still be our base of operations for today and tomorrow. We grab breakfast, get dressed for hiking, then Peter and I are driven back to the Vail Ranch Museum. The blog hasn’t done justice to the reception by the folks here. Hopefully the book will have enough room to do so.
The old route out of Temecula heads up into Rainbow Canyon – named for James P Rainbow in 1879 according to “San Diego County Place Names A to Z” by Leland Fetzer. I’d anticipated a more romantic origin. This little book will be important to anyone wanting to puzzle out places along the San Diego County section of the trail. I highly recommend browsing it online at Google Books – especially the Introduction which is highly informative about naming conventions and practices. Wonderful source.
And after an hour or so of hiking, Denny, Peter and I reach a milestone. The “Entering San Diego County” sign stops us short for a photo session as we near our long anticipated goal. The sign is just a confirmation of how close we are and adds a noticeable spring to our step all day. The sun is warm, the breezes are cool and despite the busy roads, we’re pushing forward, eager to reach San Diego itself.
Terry Wirth has done some research into the Pala Canyon area. Apparently a major part of el Camino Real went through that way. It’s one of the unresolved aspects to the trail. Hopefully Terry can find some additional reference resources that will help us figure it out.
On our way back to Temecula, we stop at a farm produce store for some food and Craig Smedley finds us! How we manage to bump into each other is beyond me. Completely unplanned. How does that happen? Craig, you may remember, hiked with us in the Vallicito to Box Canyon area last week. Craig is a descendant Levi McCullough, Pvt Co C.
We make dinner for the Billings family – stew with cornbread and peach cobbler. Ok – Denny makes dinner while we work on gear and packing. They’ve been wonderful to us all week long. Thanks.

Sunday, January 25 – Temecula, CA

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

It’s one of those Sundays that gives us a chance to recuperate. Slow morning. No evening events planned. Restful.
When I took my “drive through” exploration trip in ‘07, I stopped at Temecula and fell in love with the town and its people. The Battalion has an interesting story here. They nearly got into a fight with the local tribe and found out at the last minute they were actually “friendly” towards each other. Though they stayed only one night, the encounter seemed to be a positive one for both groups.
In the LDS chapel on CA-70, there’s a painting of the Battalion’s men meeting members of the local Perchanga tribe. Ashley Hyllested painted it back in the 1990’s. I love that picture and will post a photo of it with our Virtual Trail project.
Sadly, in my haste to get to church, we didn’t realize the Billings attended a different congregation, so we ditched our hosts for church meetings. Sorry ‘bout that Susan.
In the evening, the weather has turned decidedly COLD with a strong north wind. The Billings have prepared an outdoor cookout dinner (is that redundant?). We’re all bundled up with a fire going to keep us warm. It’s odd to be in southern California and experiencing this.
Our final days on the trail into San Diego start tomorrow. We can’t believe we’re so close. The original Battalion had to be excited too.

Saturday, January 24 – Temecula, CA

Saturday, January 24th, 2009

Up early, we hustle down to the Vail Ranch Museum to set up a period camp. Outside we put up two tents, set up Denny’s laundress equipment and prepare to receive the public.
As we’ve not had much opportunity to be on the internet, I have to take some time to update the Google Earth file, transfer some photos and prepare for tonight’s presentation.
Rebecca Ford stops by. Rebecca prepared a study of the Battalion’s passage through the Temecua valley. It was part of her Bachelor’s degree work back in 1997. I’d heard about it and it was on my list of things to find (eventually). To my astonishment, Ms. Ford presents me an autographed copy. Rebecca also explains gently why I have to write a book about the Trek and the trail. Dang! She’s right - I will have to write a book. Why are women so able to explain such things to us dolt-headed men?
In the evening, folks start arriving for the presentation. Rebecca Farnbach introduces Dr. Anne Miller who prefaces with an explanation of who the Battalion was, why they were on the march, their accomplishments and importance to local and national history.
Using the Google Earth virtual trail we’ve developed, we attempt to put “place” and “event” into a visual context. I really enjoy the opportunity to share stories while showing WHERE they happened. Frequently the “place” has a strong influence on “what” happens. Terrain is the “opposition” for so much of the Battalion’s story. Think about it this way: Box Canyon is important BECAUSE they were between a rock and a hard place. Without the challenge, there wouldn’t be a story there. Their suffering in the waterless deserts becomes a story because the geologic terrain doesn’t trap water.
The reproduction military backpack issued to Battalion members is another aspect I like to share. The pack’s small size precluded the men from taking very much; a few personal items, perhaps some extra clothes and a journal, but not much else. Until you SEE the pack, you really can’t comprehend just how limited the mens’ existence was.
Members of the Perchanga tribal council are present and we are introduced. Sometime in the future, I want to return and listen to their stories about the Battalion’s arrival. One tribal member’s ancestor joined the Mormon religion and I’m interested in getting that story too. It’s another example of the kind of things we’re interested in documenting.
After it’s all over and we’ve put away our equipment, Rebecca Farnbach tells us that over 350 people visited the Museum today. She seems quite pleased with the cooperative event. I know we certainly are and happy to have been helpful to their effort in saving their history.

Friday, January 23 – Temecula, CA

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

Early in the morning some residents of Rancho California RV Park stop for photos at the period tent we had set up. We take some time to discuss our project and the importance of the Battalion to “early California” history. That phrase is somewhat funny to me since the Spanish arrived in 1769 and the tribes were here a very, very long time before that.
It’s a gray morning. The clouds are low – and lowering. It’s apparent there is a possibility of rain today. The peaks are socked in and it’s damp. Peter and I set out following CA-79 to the northwest expecting to arrive at long last in Temecula.
I almost catch a truck bumper on a hill and curve. Hiking facing traffic where there isn’t much apron is kind of scary. When I start to cross the road to be more visible, I look back to check the other side as I step into the road. Peter on the other side already sees the truck I can’t and yells. I jump back and just avoid what would have been a pretty disastrous event. Whew! Thanks Peter – VERY much.
Which…makes one think about all the times the Battalion men were pulling wagons up and down hills, river banks, across rock-strewn areas and all the other dangerous locations. Not to mention that horses, mules, oxen and the food “on the hoof” animals (cattle and sheep) all have a mind all their own. One never could be sure what they were going to do. Kind of dangerous – easy to get killed out here on the trail.
Pioneer journals have numerous stories of men, women and children getting in the way and being run over by wagon wheels or animals. The result usually was death. Medical care was primitive. I just read a Winter Quarters story about a man with a broken upper leg (femur) that they set and he went back to work later the same day. Either you lived or you died.
It is rather amazing that of the 500-man Battalion, only 21 of the men died during their year of enlistment. That is less than a 5% mortality rate among the Mormon Battalion. Among the rest of the Mexican War Army volunteers, a 10% to 15% death rate was typical according to references I’ve seen.
Peter and I work our way down canyon, past Vail Lake and along the old stage route into Temecula. The rain is moving in from the coast, completely surrounding us. Happily, we escape with only light sprinkles.
The Vail Ranch Headquarters Museum at Redhawk Parkway and Wolf Store Road is our stopping location for the day. This was the old headquarters of the historic Vail Ranch established back in the 1880’s by Walter Vail. Rebecca Farnbach is president of their preservation committee who is hosting the activities this weekend. We are treated to a get-together with the Committee and enjoy a dinner at the Museum. There’s a beautifully restored Concord stagecoach and a host of other frontier and early American period artifacts. They have an active “living history” program as well as the school and Scout tour with activities. Nice folks.
If you can’t get to Temecula, you can visit the Vail Ranch Restoration Association website at:
After our long day, we retire to the home of John and Susan Billings who are letting us set up “home base” in their yard. They’re very helpful and Susan is the LDS Church’s PR lead for the area. She’s felt drawn to the Battalion story since they moved here about 18 months ago. We have lots to talk about, her and I – but not tonight. We’re pooped and it’s going to be a long day tomorrow.