President Gordon B. Hinckley spent a whirlwind day on 14 December 1996 in Tucson, Arizona, where he dedicated a new Mormon Battalion monument in a downtown park and made the battalion his theme while addressing several gatherings of Latter-day Saints.
Designed by Clyde Ross Morgan, the monument is a 2-ton, 19-foot-tall bronze statue of battalion members Christopher Layton and Jefferson Hunt raising the U.S. flag and engaging in peaceful trade with Teodoro Ramirez, a prominent Tucson merchant. In a dedicatory prayer given before about 3,000 people, President Hinckley said: “May this [monument] stand through all generations to come as a memorial to their names and as a reminder of their great sacrifice. May all who pass this way be constrained to pause and think of these great men of another generation.”
The U.S. flag raised in Tucson in December 1846 by members of the Mormon Battalion is believed to be the first to fly over what would later become the state of Arizona. The battalion entered Tucson during its historic 2,000-mile march that began in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and ended in San Diego, California. Although battalion members had been enlisted to assist the United States in its war against Mexico, they treated the people of Tucson—which was then a small Mexican settlement—with kindness and respect. Their march remains perhaps the longest ever made by U.S. infantrymen, and they created a trail that helped make possible the settlement of the southwestern United States.
“These men volunteered to serve their country in spite of the fact that their government had done so little to protect them as citizens in Illinois and Missouri,” said U.S. congressman Jim Kolbe at the dedication ceremony. “This is a monument to peace and social tolerance and to these great men who chose to exchange goods rather than gunfire.” Arizona state senator Larry Chesley, U.S. congressman Matt Salmon, and Tucson mayor George Miller also shared messages at the ceremony.
To commemorate the battalion march, 2,500 Scouts from 18 southern Arizona stakes hiked for 10 miles along the marked Mormon Battalion trail into Tucson. At the end of their hike, several descendants of battalion members, along with two Tucson boys related to Teodoro Ramirez, presented the colors at the dedication ceremony.
In a separate Scout gathering, President Hinckley urged the boys to follow the battalion’s example of faith and determination. “You think you had a hard time hiking a few miles yesterday and today—think how [the battalion] felt hiking for five and a half months! But they didn’t give up. They didn’t complain. They just kept marching. They were scouts in a very real sense.”
President Hinckley encouraged missionaries of the Arizona Tucson Mission to look to the battalion for an example. “They had a terrible time. They were without water some of the time. They were hungry, they were cold, they were hot, they were miserable. But they kept going. That becomes a model for each of you to carry on and keep up the good work.”
President Hinckley concluded his one-day tour of Tucson by speaking to 2,000 youth assembled at a local stake center. He promised the youth that if they would follow prophetic counsel, “the Lord will bless you and magnify you and make your lives great for good wherever you may go and whatever you may do. You will go on missions, you will preach the gospel to the world, and you will marry in the temple. You will have all the blessings that your hearts can desire.”