Colorado Eagle Project Sheds Light on Local Mormon History

Contributed By Lynn Southam, Church News contributor

  • 22 August 2014

Colorado Boy Scouts and their leaders march at the front of a flag parade that celebrates the region’s rich civic, military, and Mormon history.  Photo courtesy of Lynn Southam.

Article Highlights

  • One monument relates the history of the territory that became Elbert County from prehistoric times to the recent past, and the other pays tribute to Elbert County veterans of U.S. military service.
  • One flag carried in the parade of flags honored the Mormon Battalion, and Scouts reenacted the “sick detachment” of the Battalion.

KIOWA, COLORADO

Eagle Scout candidate Christopher Kelly, together with fellow Scouts of Troop 148 of the Heather Ridge Ward of the Aurora Colorado South Stake, recently erected two historic monuments in Kiowa, Colorado.

This unique Eagle Scout project is located on the grounds of the historic Elbert County Courthouse in Kiowa.

One monument is 8 feet high and 10 feet long and includes four 4-foot-by-4-foot panels relating the history of the territory that became Elbert County from prehistoric times to the recent past.

The other is a 7-foot tall column, which is 3 feet square and pays tribute to Elbert County veterans of U.S. military service. It is constructed, in significant part, of stones. It includes four panels, 3 feet by 3 feet each, and pays tribute to those who have served in the U.S. military.

Many people were moved to tears when reading the panels, including several veterans, who were visibly affected by the new monuments.

The monuments were dedicated in a public ceremony on August 2. The hour-long ceremony followed a parade of flags carried by Scouts completing a weeklong encampment.

The first banner in the parade was an American flag from the Challenger spacecraft, which exploded on launch in January 1985. Scout Troop 514 of Monument, Colorado, arranged for the flag to be sent into space. The flag was recovered in a sealed container and returned. It was followed by a U.S. flag that had draped the casket of Tyler MacKenzie, a former local Scout who was killed in Iraq in 2005. Behind it came a 28-star U.S. flag, like the one carried by the Mormon Battalion during its march of 1846–1847, together with the battalion flag.

Then came the flags of all 50 U.S. states, flags of many foreign countries, troop and patrol flags, and family flags. Behind these walked Scouts and local citizens in costumes representing the people referenced on the monuments, including mountain men, Native Americans, and early pioneers.

One group of Scouts in the parade had just completed a reenactment of the trek of the “sick detachment” of the Mormon Battalion of the war with Mexico in 1846–1847. They wore white leather belts bearing a brass U.S. replica buckle as worn by the battalion. Others carried replica muskets like those of the battalion during its historic trek from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to San Diego, California, where it was discharged.

Several visiting guests and dignitaries attended the ceremony, including all the county commissioners; a member of the Colorado State legislature; several mayors; Brother Larry Gibson of the Young Men general presidency; Elder Brent Hillier, an Area Seventy; representatives of the Mormon Battalion Association; historians from several states and organizations; and representatives of local veterans’ organizations. A number of these dignitaries spoke and recognized Christopher for his project.

Boy Scout Christopher Kelly, center, stands in front of one of the monuments he helped build to commemorate the local history of Kiowa, Colorado. Christopher is flanked by representatives of the Church, Scouting, the community, and U.S. military veterans. Photo courtesy of Lynn Southam.

Young men dressed like members of the storied Mormon Battalion march in the August 2 flag parade in Kiowa, Colorado. Photo courtesy of Lynn Southam.

An estimated 500 people attended.

The approximately $4,000 cost of the monuments was paid for with contributions from private citizens and friends of Scouting. In his comments, Christopher expressed gratitude to those who donated time, material, and funds to assist with the project.

Many of the Scouts who participated in the flag parade possess a special understanding of the stirring history of the Mormon Battalion.

In the days prior to the ceremony, during the 2014 LDS Scout Encampment of the Denver Area Council, several hundred LDS Boy Scouts took part in reenacting the trek of the “sick detachment” of the Mormon Battalion, which had been recruited during the war with Mexico in 1846–1847.

The Scouts began their trek in Brighton, Colorado, where they each made a white leather belt with a replica brass buckle like those used in the army during the war with Mexico. They then participated in an enlistment ceremony patterned after that of the original battalion and commenced a 5-mile hike to Fort Lupton, Colorado, while carrying a copy of the original battalion flag together with a 28-star U.S. flag of the period.

Thirty of the Scouts also carried replica, non-firing muskets like those of the original battalion. At Fort Lupton, they set up camp and engaged in an evening of entertainment from a mountain man group and listened to counsel from Brother Gibson and Elder Hillier.

The next morning, they broke camp and hiked 11 more miles to Fort Vasquez, essentially following the trail of the original detachment. They toured the museum in Fort Vasquez and were decommissioned by a representative of the Mormon Battalion Association.

They then drove to Camp Tahosa in the mountains north of Nederland, Colorado, where they spent the rest of the week with other Scouts already there.