Called to Settle, Called to Build

By Lavina Fielding Anderson

Assistant Editor

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    The Latter-day Saints founded almost five hundred towns and settlements in the West between 1847 and 1900. These communities had a surprisingly high success rate—only 13.9 percent failed, 5.2 percent because of such external pressures as Indian conflicts, the coming of Johnston’s army, and the Mexican Revolution. The rest failed because of floods, inadequate water, or poor location. (See Lynn A. Rosenvall, “Defunct Mormon Settlements: 1830–1930,” in The Mormon Role in the Settlement of the West, ed., Richard H. Jackson, Provo: BYU Press, 1978, p. 52.)

    These five hundred villages had a lot of things in common. They were usually laid out with straight streets, in villages with farms clustered around them. The Latter-day Saint meetinghouse—sometimes with a complex of official buildings—was the center of town. There were variations, too. Most settlements were established under President Brigham Young, but not all. Some were personally supervised by a resident General Authority. Some colonists were called from the conference pulpit and went dutifully. Others pulled up stakes on their own and went to what they hoped were better opportunities. Other settlements vigorously recruited more settlers among family and friends.

    We’ll look here at three communities that are, in some ways, representative of the range of Latter-day Saint colonization. The first is Parowan, Utah, founded in 1851 and hence one of the earliest colonies beyond the Wasatch Front. It was led by Elder George A. Smith of the Council of the Twelve on assignment from President Brigham Young. Some of its people had volunteered for a one-year mission; others had been called; still others had been recruited by Elder Smith. Brigham Young personally kept in close touch because of Parowan’s potential importance in establishing an iron industry for Utah.

    In some contrast is Snowflake, Arizona. It came later—in 1879—and was colonized largely by people who were independently seeking better opportunities. The town they founded, though not directed under apostolic authority, was approved by Elder Erastus Snow of the Council of the Twelve and maintained Latter-day Saint ideals of cooperation.

    The third settlement, Cowley, Wyoming, was one of the last to be formally colonized by the Church. Founded in 1900, on the brink of the twentieth century, it had many characteristics in common with the earliest settlements: it was apostle-led, its settlers were called to their mission, and cooperation in building its canal was an absolute necessity for survival.

    All of these settlements contributed to the strengthening of the kingdom and, more importantly, to the testing and building of strong and committed members of the Church.

    Authors’ original spelling has been retained, following standard historical practice. See reasons for spelling variations in “Nineteenth-Century Spelling,” Ensign, Aug. 1975—including uncertain spelling conventions and spelling as an expression of personality.