The story of the Mormon Battalion is a fascinating chapter of western American history, and the individual pension applications can definitely reveal some surprises, in spite of the fact that some files are lengthy, and the papers are not in any particular order. Take, for instance, the case of Joshua Abbott (not all images appear on this story page).
In his file, which includes not only his statements but those of witnesses and others, we find that Joshua was born in 1804 in Massachusetts. At some point he and/or his family moved to New York where he was married to Ruth Markham in 1834, in Rochester, by a Methodist minister. Ruth stated, in her application for a Widow's Pension, that she was born in 1811. Joshua and Ruth became the parents of Ellen Elizabeth Abbott on 14 April 1837 (according to the 1880 census of Utah, both Ruth and Ellen were born in New York). After joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), the family ended up in Iowa where Joshua enlisted in the Mormon Battalion to secure the southern border with Mexico. The date of his enlistment, as it was with all of the men, was July 1847. When Joshua left with the military unit, Ruth and their daughter were at his side. She claimed, on her application, that she served as a laundress and nurse for the men. Joshua was discharged in July or August 1848 (both months are given in the statements). In December 1848, another daughter (Emily Ann) was born. According to Ruth's statement, Joshua Abbott left for California the following spring. For 38 years she did not hear from him!
"Fast forward" to the Act of Congress passed on 29 January 1887 giving Survivors (veterans) or Widows of the Mormon Battalion a pension. On 11 June 1887, Ruth Abbott, whose postal address was Clinton, Utah County, sent in her application as the widow of Joshua Abbott (all files are based on the service of the veteran and so are arranged by his name). Imagine her surprise when the Board rejected her application because her husband was still alive! Not only that, but he was living in Oregon with another wife, Nancy!! And the Board knew that because Joshua himself had applied for his pension on 30 March 1887!
Through papers submitted by the principals and witnesses, and census searches, we can piece together the story of the intervening 38 years. In 1850, Joshua was working as a carpenter in El Dorado County, California. In 1860 and 1870, he was in Seneca, Plumas County, California, working as a miner and farmer. He was still single (at least on the census returns). The 1880 census shows Joshua, age 75 and a widower, living in Gardiner, Douglas County, Oregon with an eleven year old son named "Jessey Abbot". On 1 February 1882, at Gardiner, Oregon, Joshua Abbott married the widow Nancy Bay. Somehow he forgot to tell Nancy that he had been married before; a statement by one of the witnesses says that Joshua told him he was married before but that his first wife died in 1857. Joshua claimed, in 1887, that he was completely dependent on Jessie Abbott.
In the meantime, Ruth knew nothing of her husband's exploits and presumed he had died. She remained in Utah and raised their two daughters. In her sworn statement on the Declaration of Widow for Pension (11 June 1887), she said she had never remarried. Not quite the truth, as a search of the Utah censuses shows. She appears twice on the 1850 census of Utah - once in Salt Lake County and once in Davis County. Utah was not a state at the time and was therefore not required to complete the census, but Brigham Young (the Mormon ecclesiastical and political leader) chose to anyway. However, it was done over a period of time and it is likely that Ruth and her family moved after being enumerated in one place, and got listed again in their new home. It is interesting that, in Davis County, she was living next door to a Stephen Markham, age 51 and also born in New York. Ruth was aged 37. She was hard to find in subsequent census years, mainly because she is not listed as either Abbott or Markham, but Gardner! In 1860, Ruth's two daughters are living with Elias Gardner in Payson, Utah County, Utah. Their surname is Gardner too. The ages and birth places fit. Until 1880, relationships were not given in the censuses but we can surmise, from the ages, that Ellen (Emily was only 12 then) was one of Elias' 4 or 5 wives at the time. The cemetery record for Elias lists a total of 9 wives - Martha Todd, Harriet Snow Smith, EMILY ANN ABBOT, ELLEN ELIZABETH ABBOT, Diantha Hanchett, Betsy Elizabeth MARKHAM, Anne English (a Martha Inglish is living with the Gardner family in 1860), Amy Pritchard, and RUTH MARKHAM. Ruth, under the name of Ruth, does not appear in the Gardner family in 1860, but there is a Bertha, age 47 and born in New York. Could this be Ruth under another name?
By 1870, Ruth is listed under her own name with her two daughters and their children (Ellen had 6 - two of whom she had named Ruth and Joshua - and Emily had 1), and the other wives. Elias Gardner and the family were still living in Payson. By 1880, the family had moved to Annabelle, Sevier County, Utah. There are a total of 21 children in the same household, but it is impossible from this source to determine which wife had which children because all the wives are listed together and then all the children. Next door is Elias Gardner Jr. and his family. Emily may have been pregnant when the census was taken on 26 June because she died on 13 July 1880, and her only other child was age 2.
Ruth's application for a pension (11 June 1887), based on her status as a widow of a member of the Mormon Battalion, was rejected as we mentioned above, and she died shortly thereafter. I was unable to find a cemetery record for her based on any of her surnames. Joshua received a pension of $12 per month. A year after his death on 9 April 1896, Nancy applied for his pension for herself as his widow, but - imagine her surprise - she was rejected because she was not legally married to Joshua!! In spite of the argument of a common-law marriage, she did not receive any pension because Joshua's first wife was still alive when he married Nancy and he had not divorced her. Even though she was perhaps an "innocent bystander" in the drama, we still find Nancy's maiden name and the name of her first husband. What still remains a mystery is the identity of Jesse Abbott, who was 11 years old in 1880 and listed as Joshua's son. Jesse was born about 1869, Nancy's first husband died in 1877, and Nancy and Joshua married in 1882. Was Jesse really the son of Nancy's first husband, or was he Joshua's son by someone else?