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Joseph Taylor: Mormon Battalion, Donner Party, Utah War Militia Officer

Even in old age, Joseph Taylor's stern face and solid upper body fairly cracks the photographic image.

While Myscal is a fictional character in the Myscal Taylor’s Civil War series, the family he comes from, his father Joseph Taylor, is not. They are as historically accurate as the available records describe the Taylor family and Joseph.

A great amount of Myscal’s character is based upon several of the Taylor brothers and their family.

Joseph Taylor came from that extremely hardy and resolute generation of the early Mormon church. The men and women of that generation lived in dangerous times which called for swift actions and resolute character.

In today’s world, our culture seems to emphasize that men who are religiously devout must act effeminate. Gentleness and nurturing qualities cannot simultaneously exist with psychological toughness and resoluteness. A man who is kind, emphatic cannot also be stern and stubborn. In much of our current time, Joseph Taylor’s character and actions would seem an anachronism.

Joseph Taylor was born in 1825 near Bowling Green, Kentucky. In 1832, he and his family converted to the Mormon faith and were present during the dark years of mob action in Missouri and Illinois. During their way West, Joseph was recruited into the well-known Mormon Battalion, Company A. The Army of the West was commanded by Brigadier General Stephen Kearny during the Mexican–American War. For those readers unfamiliar with the War with Mexico (1846-1848), it was the military element that secured New Mexico and California for the United States. On another side note, Philip St. George Cooke, was the officer that commanded the Battalion for most of its march. He is well-known as being the father-in-law of Jeb Stuart.

The Battalion arrived in California in January 1847. Shortly afterwards, the Mormon Battalion officially disbanded. However, political issues among US officers brewed. John C. Fremont, the famous Pathfinder, was arrested by Gen. Kearney who decided to take him back to Fort Leavenworth for court-martial. Fifteen members of the Mormon Battalion were ordered to follow Gen. Kearney. Joseph was named as one of the General's bodyguards. General Kearney's detachment traveled north from Monterey to Sutter's Fort, then proceeded to Truckee Lake (later named Donner Lake) near the Nevada border. They discovered the bones of 36 individuals associated with the Donner party and buried them. While gathering the bones, they discovered very few of the skeletons had complete sets.

Passing through the north area of the Wasatch Range and moving eastwards on the Oregon Trail, the Kearney party encountered some of the first Mormon pioneers in 1847 moving westward. Joseph Taylor was eventually discharged at Fort Leavenworth and together with members of his family and spouse, he reached the Salt Lake Valley in 1850.

In 1857, the settlers in the Salt Lake Valley found out about the federal Utah Expedition heading to the Territory to put down the rebellion which never happened.

Joseph Taylor was appointed a major in the 5th Battalion of the Mormon militia. He took his 50 man command and departed to reconnoiter Johnston’s forces somewhere out in the wilds of western Wyoming.

On October 16, 1857 he and another man were captured and taken to the federal camp. There, his federal captors discovered a letter on him that described the coordination of Mormon militia commands to thwart the federal army. Convinced that they had an important VIP capture, Joseph was subjected to “harsh interrogation methods.” Nearly 3 weeks later, he decided to escape. To lull the guards, he took off his boots and coat before walking around camp. Clad only in his shirt, trousers, and socks he escaped. His socks tore to shreds within a mile. A storm came rolling in, he had to cross two icy rivers as he moved west towards his fellow militia members. According to Joseph’s journal, the day after he crossed the rivers he found a neatly folded coat lying by itself on the ground. He found a pair of socks in the coat pockets and pulled them on his feet. He met up with some militia not long after. He brought the information to Brigham Young that he learned about the Expedition and its intentions.

Joseph Taylor was an extremely tough man. Religious but also a man of action, very resolute.

He has a great influence on his son Myscal Taylor in the novel series. A number of Myscal’s flashbacks in the novel Arise from the Dust relate to comments, stories, or the sheer physical influence of his father.

Excerpt from Arise From The Dust:

"Anymore scars?"

"One small one on my side just inside the hipbone. I would rather not show you that one. One hole in the front and the ball is still there, I think, resting against the hip bone."

"Ball? You bin shot before?" Zack said wide-eyed.


"Gosh," said Zack excitedly. "Did it hurt?"


"Well by thunder," exclaimed Zack, "tell me what happened?"

Myscal looked at him coolly, said in a flat tone, "feller on his way to the California gold fields got it into his head that I cheated him on a team of mules. We argued, then he drew his pistol, took a shot at me. Good thing it was a small-bore Navy Colt or I wouldn't be here enjoying the sunshine with you right now."

"What happened to that feller?"

“Well, he made it out to the gold fields, best I know, minus an ear. My father was standing close by and snapped his teamster’s whip at him. The feller barely knew what happened. Jerked his ear off clean as a grit-honed knife. My father chucked him in his wagon, placed the ear on the seat, then started the mules down the road. Last we saw of him, he was holding the reins with one hand, his sheered-off ear with the other, looking mighty puzzled."

"Why in thunder didn't you jes kill him? I mean after all, he shot you. I would have if some feller done that to me."

"You might." answered Myscal thoughtfully. "But, my father and I want nothing to do with killing and death. Killing that feller wouldn't have taken the ball out of my hip, wouldn't have made me feel better. He got his just dues. All I got was some lost blood, pain for a spell, and one small hole. Him? Every time he sees himself in a looking glass, he gets to reflect how much rash manners costs him. How stupid it was throw down a small-bore pistol on a couple of strangers the fool didn't know."

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