Hundreds Gather in San Diego to Commemorate the Mormon Battalion

Contributed By Judith Chauncey, Church News contributor

  • 18 February 2015

The Mormon Battalion Commemoration begins with a reenactment of the Mormon Battalion, U.S. Army of the West’s arrival in Pueblo San Diego.  Photo by Scott Bennion.

Article Highlights

  • Over a thousand people gathered to commemorate the Mormon Battalion in San Diego near the Mormon Battalion Historic Site.
  • S. Dennis Holland, brother of Jeffrey R. Holland, received an award at the commemoration as both were in attendance.


The smell of Dutch oven cooking and hot biscuits cooked over an outdoor fire brought to life what dinnertime might have been like for the members of the Mormon Battalion. On Saturday, January 31, those outdoor smells helped to celebrate the march of the battalion and its arrival into San Diego, California.

The commemoration event was a day full of pioneer memories and activities at the California State Historic Park at Old Town San Diego, near the Mormon Battalion Historic Site. The battalion was part of the U.S. Army of the West in 1846, and the members marched for almost 2,000 miles from Council Bluffs, Iowa (near Winter Quarters) to San Diego, arriving on January 29, 1847.

More than a thousand people enjoyed the festivities that began with a reenactment march. Participants dressed in pioneer-style military garb and marched around the grounds of the historic park. The mayor of San Diego, Kevin Faulconer, sent an official proclamation to be read at the commemoration event. Noting the contributions made by the battalion to defend the nation in 1846–47 and in the development of the state of California, Mayor Faulconer proclaimed January 31, 2015, as “United States Mormon Battalion Day in San Diego.”

Children follow in formation to simulate the march of the Mormon Battalion along the 2,000-mile trail. Photo by Scott Bennion.

Manpower pulls the children in a covered wagon around the square of Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. Photo by Scott Bennion.

One of the highlights of the day was the surprise visit of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Elder Holland was in attendance to celebrate a unique honor given to his older brother, S. Dennis Holland. Brother Holland received a special award, called the Diggin’ Spade Lifetime Achievement Award, for his efforts in preserving California’s LDS pioneer history. The award was presented by the California Pioneer Heritage Foundation, originally founded by Brother Holland. “I was thrilled to get the award, although a little embarrassed,” said Brother Holland. “But I have dedicated myself to change the public’s ideas about the contributions that the Mormons made to early California history.”

Dennis Holland, a retired pharmacist, has lived in northern California since 1961. He is currently the president of the California Living History Church Service Mission, a newly organized mission of the Church.

President S. Dennis Holland is presented the Diggin’ Spade Lifetime Achievement Award by the California Pioneer Heritage Foundation, while his brother, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, applauds. Also pictured are President Steven Pynes, president of the California Carlsbad Stake, left; and Marilyn Mills, historian and president of the foundation, right. Photo by Christopher Chauncey.