Mormon Battalion Trail - Virtual Trails

 

Christmas Camp and the 40-Mile Dry March

 

Christmas Camp and the 40-Mile Dry March
CC East-This is a picture of Christmas Camp looking east toward the south end of the Estrella mountains.  The steel pole with a steel Buffalo Skull can be seen, marking Christmas Camp.  The wash is to the left (north)
CC East-This is a picture of Christmas Camp looking east toward the south end of the Estrella mountains. The steel pole with a steel Buffalo Skull can be seen, marking Christmas Camp. The wash is to the left (north)
CC Wash-Looking north where the trail crosses the sand wash
CC Wash-Looking north where the trail crosses the sand wash
Crew-The crew after a presentation at Christmas Camp.
Crew-The crew after a presentation at Christmas Camp.

Christmas morning in 1846 found the Mormon Battalion camped near the Maricopa and Pima Indians just south of the Gila River and about a mile west of Pima Butte. They had camped here 2 days and had dug wells which became known as Maricopa Wells, the sight of the future Maricopa Wells Stage Station for the Butterfield Stage and the original site for the town of Maricopa. But this morning, Christmas morning, they were to break camp and march the first half of a 40-mile dry march. The Gila river turned north here and made a big bend around the Estrella and Maricopa mountains through what is now Phoenix and Buckeye before turning to the south and making a bend to the west, north of the present town of Gila Bend, a walking distance of about 100 miles. By cutting across south of the mountains, it would save them 60 miles, but there would be no water on the 40-mile cut-off, thus a 40-mile dry march.

They started the march around 10:00am and went south and west around the south end of the Estrella mountains, and then made a bee-line march west toward the v-notch on the western horizon, marking the pass through the Maricopa mountains back to the Gila River. They made camp that night about 10:00pm on a large sand wash. They had traveled 18 miles. The wash is now known as Waterman Wash. The Butterfield Stage built a stage station here called Desert Station. The camping spot is now known as Christmas Camp, and is visited each year by thousands of scouts and others who desire to experience the Mormon Battalion Trail. The Battalion broke camp about 7:00 the next morning and traveled up through the difficult Butterfield Pass and on to the Gila River, covering 22 miles, arriving at sundown.

This section of the trail and Christmas Camp is very special to me. My great, great grandfather, Robert Cowden Egbert was a private in Company A of the Mormon Battalion and thus walked and camped on this very ground. The first night I slept at Christmas Camp I had an almost overwhelming feeling of his presence. It is hallowed ground to me. About 15 miles of the original trail remains. It is on public land managed by the BLM and is part of the Sonoran Desert Monument.

For the past 10 years I have been a member of the Mesa Company of the Mormon Battalion Association, and have spent almost every Friday night October through April on the Trail making presentations to scout troops, stake camporees, district camporees, fathers and sons outings, ward campouts, and family reunions. The purpose of our presentations is to help keep President Brigham Young's promise that the Battalion would never be forgotten, and would be held in memory from generation to generation. We have about a dozen active members, most of whom had ancestors in the Battalion; we are always anxious to have more participating members.

We make 4 types of presentations. The first two are re-enactments done on the trail, primarily at Christmas Camp around a campfire at night. For smaller groups, our re-enactment is that we come marching into camp around the campfire, ignoring the camp occupants, as if we are the original battalion coming into camp on Christmas night. We talk among ourselves and ask questions of each other to tell the story. We are in 1830-50 clothing and fire our black powder rifles and muskets as we relate various incidents. After our presentation, we come out of character and answer questions. For larger groups, we add a Mexican soldier in authentic uniform of the Mexican cavalry of the time who comes into our camp and asks us questions which allows us to tell the story in greater detail and with a bit more flair. For scout groups we have a Trail Patch which they can earn on the Trail, and if they then become an Eagle Scout, we make a special presentation of a buffalo skull neckerchief slide to them at their Eagle Court of Honor.

The third presentation we call a Tent Presentation. We have canvas tents, authentic to the Mexican War, which we set up as a camp, and tell how the battalion traveled, slept, and cooked in "messes". We demonstrate the two types of guns that were issued to the men, the 1816 Harpers Ferry .69 caliber flintlock musket and the yauger caplock rifle. This presentation is generally a daytime station for a camporee or trek.

The fourth presentation is our wagon presentation. We have an old freight wagon that we use for a backdrop as we tell the story of the Battalion to groups or individuals passing by and stopping at our "booth". We have a large US map on a storyboard with the trail marked and a list of the members of the Battalion. We use this presentation when we are invited to participate in historical events such as Crossing Days in Yuma and similar public or private events.