ARIZONA’S BATTLE OF BULL RUN
By Marshall Trimble
When war broke out with Mexico
in 1846 the prize the United States hoped to gain was
California. To accomplish the mission the Army of the West
was dispatched from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas to capture
Santa Fe then advance across the wilderness that would one
day become Arizona and raise the Stars and Stripes over
In late September, 1846 the army under the command of
Colonel Stephen Watts Kearny left Santa Fe bound for
A second column in Kearny’s army was made up of Mormons that
had been recruited in Council Bluffs, Iowa to build a wagon
road from Santa Fe to San Diego. The volunteer group of
citizen soldiers was placed under the command of a
professional cavalry officer named Captain Philip St. George
Cooke. The outfit was in need of a stern disciplinarian and
Cooke, an imposing man of six-feet-four-inches was the
perfect officer to take up the mission.
Cooke had long-dreamed of leading a glorious cavalry charge
in California and was dismayed to be reduced to sheparding a
bunch of Mormon road builders. Little did he know the
results of his history-making expedition would far
out-shadow any glorious cavalry charge.
On October 21st,
1846, 448 men and five women, wives of officers or sergeants
carried on the roll as “laundresses,” the Mormon Battalion
set out for California. Before they got out of New Mexico 58
ailing men were mustered out as unfit for duty. When
finished the Mormons would have marched 2,000 miles making
it the longest infantry march in American history.
The battalion marched deep into southern New Mexico, passing
through Guadalupe Pass to the abandoned San Bernardino Land
Grant in today’s Arizona.
Just west of today’s Bisbee they picked up the San Pedro
River where they found an abundance of wildlife.
They followed the river downstream on the morning of
near today’s Fairbank the battalion found themselves being
stalked by a band of wild bulls who took exception to the
intrusion of their little river valley. The beasts were more
the progeny of left behind by Mexican ranchers.
The men loaded their muskets and prepared to defend
themselves as the animals, described as meaner than grizzly
bears, became more menacing.
Sergeant Tyler described what happened next:
“In the open ground, where the cattle could see us from a
distance, they would run away, but when near us, whether
wounded of not, they were the assaulting party…..One small
lead mule in a team was thrown on the horns of a bull over
its mate on the near side, and the near mule now on the off
side and next to the bull, was gored until he had to be left
with entrails hanging a foot below his body……Some of the men
climbed upon the wheels of the wagons and poured a deadly
fire into the enemy’s ranks. Some threw themselves down and
allowed the beasts to run over them; others fired and dodged
behind mexquit (sic) brush to re-load their guns while the
beasts kept them dodging to keep out of the way. Others,
still climbed up in small trees, there being now and then
“Brother Amos Cox was thrown about ten feet into the air,
while a gore from three to four inches deep and about two or
three in depth was cut in the inside of his thigh near its
junction with the body.
“Albert Smith, quartermaster sergeant of company B., was run
over by a wounded bull, and, I understand, had three of his
ribs partially severed from the back bone. He suffered
severely for several weeks, but declined going on sick
report to avoid Dr. Sanderson’s cure-all calomel and
Another fired six balls into a bull that was pursuing. Each
time he fired the animal went down then got up and came
after him again until the final shot brought it down for
Another bull fell wounded near one of the butchers, Robert
Harris. He ran over to cut the animal’s throat but when he
bent over the bull sprung to his feet, swung a horn around
taking a swipe at Harris’ head. Instead it caught his
butcher’s cap on the tip and ran off with it.
In the midst of battle Harris was chasing the bull shouting,
“Stop you thief1”
He chased the animal some 75 yards before it gave up the
ghost and fell to the ground----and his butcher’s knife.
One enraged bull charged Captain Cooke, who later wrote:
“I was very near Corporal Frost, when an immense coal-black
bull came charging upon us, a hundred yards distant. Frost
aimed his musket, a flint-lock, very deliberately, and only
fired when the beast was within six paces; it fell headlong
almost at our feet.”
When the bull began his charge Cooke ordered Corporal Frost
to run for his life “one of the bravest men he ever knew.”
The ‘battle” raged for about an hour before the bulls
finally retreated into the brush. It was estimated that some
80 of the animals were either killed or died later of their
Poet Levi Hancock also composed a poem about the battle. One
of the verses read:
The Colonel and his staff were there,
Mounted, and witnessing the war ;
A bull, one hundred yards away,
Eyed Colonel Cooke as easy prey.
But Corp’ral Frost stood bravely by,
And watch’d the bull with steady eye;
The brute approach’d near and more near.
But Frost betray’d no sign of fear.
The Colonel ordered him to run---
Unmov’d he stood with loaded gun;
The bull came up with daring tread
When near his feet, Frost shot him dead.
During the excitement, Lieutenant
George Stoneman, who would later become a general during the
Civil War nearly shot off his thumb with his own rifle.
Afterwards the battalion moved farther down the river,
coming to a little stream which Cooke named “Bull Run,” and
writing in his journal afterwards, he described the incident
itself as the “Battle of Bull Run.” Little did he know at
the time that his description anticipated history by some
On July 21st 1861, one of the first battles of
the Civil War was called the Battle of Manassas. Thirteen
months later a second battle was fought at the same site and
called the Second Battle of Manassas. Both are better-known
today at the First and Second Battles of Bull Run.