Thursday, August 4, 2011

Trails Hurt and Heal: In Honor of Milton Smith, 1825-1846

I have a new idea which I think is original on the differences of understanding and perception among humans. At least I think I think it's original, so stop me if you've heard this one.

Santa Fe Trail cut just south of Cimarron, NM, north of Villa Philmont (through the low point of the fence line)
Could it be that the veil that separates us from the Spirit World works the same to cloud our individual minds and cut us off from each other's spirits in the here and now? Otherwise, we would more easily understand, and love, and have no further need for experience in this life to help us learn how to live the Lord's Charity with each other. Yet there are certainly those times where spirit connects to spirit and we understand things we cannot easily express in human terms.

One reason why I leave out the names of others in my stories when I blog is because I know that two people in the same place at the same time in the same conversation can experience it all so differently. I don't want to bind anyone in to my understandings as honestly as I try to express them as I allow them the freedom to do the same even if differently.

Tooth of Time Ridge from the Santa Fe Trail above Uracca Creek
Such an experience happened in the past couple of days. I was excited to take a friend out to show him some "ruts" or traces of the Santa Fe Trail. He's an old-time Scouter with ties that go back even another generation to my family. And as a dedicated Scouter, he has always been busy working on projects to better the opportunities for boys nationwide. For all the time he's been in Scouting and a few visits to Philmont, he had never been to Rayado or seen any of the ruts. Old trails are important in the lives of new Scouts if they want to understand how they got here.

We got in the car and the first question he asked was whether my interest in historic trails is connected  to my Mormonism. I conceded that it certainly was, but also that I was born beside the Oregon Trail ruts and lived for a few years in Santa Fe so I just couldn't help but be interested. And I conceded that my interest in the Santa Fe Trail was related to the Mormon Battalion history and we talked a little about that.

The next thing he said I'm sure made my eyes widen a little yet the emotional wave that came over was one of warm, bittersweet charity as he told me that he had ancestors who had lived in Carthage and while there were various versions of the story in his family, whether they did or didn't do certain things, no doubt there was some connection to the tragedy of June 27, 1844 at the jail. He went on to explain that he had some sort of  "making right" over the years in his associations with many Mormon friends and the rather odd statement that he felt that he had influenced several people to join the Mormon Church. As of yet, he has not. I jumped in to say that he shouldn't feel guilty for past generations and that many of the instigators or leaders of the mob were actually disaffected Mormons full of resentments and anger. He said he didn't know that but that it made sense in a human nature sort of way. Yes, it certainly does.

Santa Fe Trail south from NM SR 120 and Ocate Crossing through Cerro Negro on the left and unnamed mesa on the right  
We had a great time looking at ruts and swales along the road from Cimarron to Rayado. The restored Kit Carson Home and village at Rayado is one of the best living history museums and authentic historical recreations I have seen anywhere. I have also been a few other places this week searching out the trail, down south above the Ocate Crossing (where I got my car stuck in a ditch), and today, out to the main branch, or Cimarron Cut-off route just east of Springer, NM, where I found some great views.

Santa Fe Trail Main or Cimarron Cut-off Branch T24N, R24E, Sec. 11 near Roads C44 and C45 Colfax Co., NM looking west-southwest 
Checking my sources today, I also learned that there was a member of the Mormon Battalion Sick Detachment heading to Pueblo, now Colorado, who died and is buried at Cimarron.
They reached the settlement of Cimarron on October 27, 1846. The Santa Fe Trail turned northeast Toward Raton Pass. Milton Smith died October 27 and was buried the next day near a tributary of the Canadian River. He was wrapped in tall grass and cane before he was buried. His grave was covered with large stones to keep the wolves away. 
Ricketts, Norma Baldwin, The Mormon Battalion: U.S. Army of the West 1846-1848 (Utah State University Press, Logan, Utah 1996), p. 235.

"Old Town" Cimarron, which I assume would have been the Spanish/Mexican village before the arrival of more Anglos after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, is on the south side of the Cimarron River. As they knew they were in Cimarron, they must have known the the river was the Cimarron and would have referred to it as such. I think it unlikely Bro. Smith would have been buried on the banks of the Cimarron as they referred to an unnamed tributary.  Just about a mile past the crossing at Cimmaron, on the other side of what would be "New Town" Cimarron, around a small ridge, is Ponil Creek, also a tributary, eventually, of the Canadian. My hunch is that is where the burial was. I have not been able to confirm any more precise location or any record of the discovery of any such grave. My cursory look on new.familysearch indicates Milton may have only been 21 years old without much family to carry on a legacy. His Temple work appears to have been done.

Current Highway 64 crossing Ponil Creek near original Santa Fe Trail out of Cimarron going north to Raton
Milton Smith gave his all for the Lord, his people, and the United States. His name appears on memorials for the Mormon Battalion. I think he needs to be better known and understood in Cimarron Country. He needs a chance to tear away a little more at that veil. I'll try to help.

Looking north towards Cimarron and Raton from Santa Fe Trail above and to the south of Urraca Creek, August 4, 2011


  1. Dear PMM...
    My passion is to improve our understanding of the Battalion's route. While working on the route followed by the Brown Sick Detachment, I too was playing with various possible locations for Milton Smith's burial. Please contact me: budhenson - at - to discuss.

  2. I have some interesting information about Milton Smith. Though I am still uncertain of his parentage (if anyone has information about this please contact me), I do know that he was engaged to marry my 3rd Great Grandmother, Lydia Forbush Taylor, and had he lived to return to the Saints at either Winter Quarters or Salt Lake, he would have married Lydia Forbush. Instead, Milton Smith's passing was certainly not the first, but one of the most difficult, of many hardships endured by my Grandma Lydia as she traveled with the main body of the Saints first from Missouri, then to Nauvoo, and finally to Salt Lake Valley in the spring of 1850. There she married my 3rd Great Grandfather, Norman Taylor, her older sister Lurana Forbush's husband as a plural wife. Norman and Lydia had eight children (7 sons and 1 daughter). Shortly after her sister's death in 1884, Lydia divorced Norman because of his taking on an additional plural wife in his 60's and had her sealing to Norman cancelled by Wilford Woodruff on February 7, 1893. She was subsequently sealed to this same Milton Smith in the Manti Temple and also had certain of her children sealed to Milton Smith. This can be verified in family journals and other sources now in my possession. Rob Taylor (Amelia, Ohio:

    1. wow! that's a great story! Thank you for sharing.

      And, budhenson, above, I will get with you on email when I can get my stuff all gathered up again.

  3. I am a niece of Milton Smith, his brother Havillah is my great-great grandfather. I do have some information on the family. You can email me at

    1. There is a good possibility that Milton Smith does not belong with this family. A marriage record in Ohio shows Matthew Smith married Jerusha Gee - not Jerusha Bert. Matthew Smith and Jerusha Bert's children were largely born in New York where the family resided for many years. Milton was born in Ohio so his parents are likely a different Matthew Smith with mother Jerusha Gee.

  4. Greetings all ...
    The Battalion's 175th commemoration is coming up in 2021-2022.
    We should place a grave marker at Rayado to recognize Pvt Milton Smith who - based upon my research - is almost certainly buried about 2 miles east of the Kit Carson museum on the north side of Rayado Creek.
    Would appreciate a contact from anyone interested in helping.
    For Battalion route interpretation based upon the journals, go to:
    Kevin Henson
    Battalion Trail Research
    budhenson (at)

    1. Maybe the Rayado, which would be less likely to have been disturbed, but I still go for something the other side (North) of the Cimarron. This from your website:
      Before they left camp the morning of the 28th, Shupe noted,

      "[Milton Smith] was buried Wednesday morning 28th. The name of the place is called Ryon."
      He then continues with the events of the 28th ...

      "We marched 12 miles and I camped at a place where there was a beautiful stream of water. The evening is very rainy and cold, some snow through the night."

      In this case, Shupe was apparently recording at the end of the day.

      [I think "Ryon" is a reference to "Cimarron" which would have had some Hispanic settlement at that time albeit small. It may not have "counted" as a settlement to the US Army not being Anglo.]

    2. Hey Grant - I'm 99.9% certain they were an the 'plains' crossing of the Rayado. Go see my interpretation at:
      I've tracked them day-by-day, correcting for their estimated distances by comparing to known locations. Smith died and was buried about two miles east of the Carson Museum.
      If you have contacts with the Ranch, I'd like to take some folks out there next summer and poke around some.
      What say you?
      Contact me direct please:
      budhenson (at) (its my junk mail but will respond)


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