John McCann Bybee

Question: What was John, age 17, and fifty-four other men given to sustain them on their trip back to Pueblo, Colorado, when they were dispatched from the Mormon Battalion in November 1846?

Answer: John McCann Bybee was born on February 17, 1829 in Monroe, Hart, Kentucky, the fifth child in the large family of Byram Lee Bybee and Elizabeth Ann Lane. There were twelve children in all, so each one had to work hard to provide for the family. From the time the children were seven or eight years old, they had to work in the cotton fields.

In 1836 John’s father sold their home and moved to Indiana. Here his father did a little farming and was a shoe maker. Alma Babbit, a Mormon Elder, came to Indiana preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In 1841, two more Elders came, and after listening to their preaching for three weeks, fifteen people were baptized and became members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which included all of John’s family at that time.

In 1842, the family moved to Nauvoo, and John attended school for one season. They also worked on the farm that belonged to the Prophet Joseph Smith. In 1844 the Prophet Joseph and Hyrum were killed. Then in 1846, the mob was not yet satisfied, and drove the people of Nauvoo out of their homes. John’s family crossed the Mississippi River on February 16, 1846 and camped on Sugar Creek for two weeks before heading west.

Garden Grove marker.jpg

The family kept on going and planting along the way until they got to Garden Grove and then continued on to Mount Pisgah, Iowa. It was here that John, age 17, was asked to be in the Mormon Battalion. He was assigned to Company B under Captain Jesse D. Hunter. The enrollment of the Battalion was completed on July 16, and on the 20th, they started their march to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. After leaving Fort Leavenworth, it was necessary to send about fifteen families of the Battalion back to Pueblo, Colorado, under a guard of ten men who also wintered at Pueblo.

The main body of the Battalion continued on to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where they arrived in early October. They were preparing for the 1100-mile march to San Diego. However, rigid inspection of the men indicated that 86 more were unable to make the trip. These 86 men were ordered to return to Pueblo, along with all the rest of the families accompanying the Battalion.

On October 19, 1846, the Battalion left Santa Fe, traveling south along the Rio Grande. Here they encountered many stretches of deep sand, and the horses were unable to pull the wagons through. The men were forced to pull with the horses. They roped 20 men to each wagon to get the heavily loaded wagons through the sand. This toil on short rations, during the heat of the day and the cold nights, broke the health of many of the men.

On November 10, fifty-five more men were ordered back to Pueblo under the direction of Lieutenant W. W. Willis. John and his friend, Daniel Smith, were in this 3rd detachment. The group of men were given 50 lbs. of flour and two small sheep to sustain them on their return. The rest of their food would have to be what game, berries, and roots they could find on the way. Their shoes wore out, and they wrapped their feet in gunny sacks and tied tree bark to their feet. After six weeks of much suffering from lack of food and from the cold weather, they finally made it to Pueblo about December 20, 1846.

The plan was to winter at Pueblo and then in the spring intercept Brigham Young’s Vanguard Company headed to the Salt Lake Valley. They missed Brigham Young’s Company by a few days, and arrived in the Valley about July 29, 1847. They were greatly relieved when they were dispatched in the Salt Lake Valley and did not have to go on to California.

John McCann Bybee family.jpg

On October 17, 1850, John married Polly (Mary) Smith, the daughter of his good friend, Daniel Smith, in Farmington, Davis, Utah. She had crossed the plains in the William Snow/Joseph Young Company in the summer of 1850, along with her family. John’s parents and siblings came in the James W. Cummings Company in 1851. Polly (Mary) Smith was born September 30, 1830 in Quincy, Adams, Illinois, to Daniel Smith and Elizabeth Lasley. Her mother died in 1842 in Illinois, so Polly (age 12), being the oldest of the girls of the family, had heavy responsibility upon her shoulders at a young age.

In 1850 John and Polly and a few other families, including Daniel Smith’s, colonized Uintah, Weber County, Utah. Here John and Polly raised their family of eight children. Daniel was involved with getting the sawmill going, and they all worked hard to construct the first irrigation project in Uintah.

In October 1856, John married Caroline Andrina Ericksen in Salt Lake, and they had three children. This marriage ended, and Caroline moved to Ogden and remarried.

John McCann Bybee gravestone.jpg

John was involved in helping with two of the pioneer immigration groups coming to Utah in 1863 and 1865. He helped in the construction of the Salt Lake Temple, hauling granite for the foundation of the Temple.

John died three days after his 80th birthday, on February 21, 1909, in Uintah. He was buried in the Uintah Cemetery. Polly died on September 14, 1912, and was buried there also.

Source: Excerpts from “John McCann Bybee Life History,” FamilySearch.org; FindAGrave