The Way It Looks Today: Some LDS Settlements in the West


In the latter half of the nineteenth century, members of the Church established almost 500 settlements in the West, settlements that spread through seven states and into Mexico and Canada. In this issue we visit a few of these settlements as they exist today, many of them still inhabited by the grandchildren of the original settlers. A few have become sleepy villages or even ghost towns; others have become busy urban centers. But members of the Church call all of them home.

Unless otherwise noted, photography is by Church Public Communications Photo Services: Jed A. Clark, Marilyn L. Erd, Eric W. White, and Eldon K. Linschoten, chief photographer. Uncited references are from Milton R. Hunter, Brigham Young the Colonizer, Peregrine Smith, 1973.

The Ensign expresses its gratitude to local people who brought important sites to our attention and helped our photographers. A partial list includes in Utah: Ruth Witt of Heber, Lynn Lyman of Blanding, Max Martin of Fillmore, Theron Luke of Provo, Craig M. Call of Provo (for Chesterfield, Idaho), Ruth H. Maughan of Wellsville; in Idaho: Marlow Woodward of Franklin, Amy Athay of Paris, Aleta Stringham of Oakley, Phoebe Bird of Tencloy; in Arizona: Ole Nielsen of St. Johns, Atella W. Haws of Eagar, Douglas Shumway of Springerville, Fenton Taylor of Thatcher; Mary Lou Breckinridge and Elsie Taylor Tanner of Kirtland, New Mexico; Wayne Rogers, Jr., of Manassa, Colorado; Paul Hokanson of Afton, Wyoming; Alice Hibbert of Union, Oregon; Larrie Reber of Bunkerville, Nevada; and J. Arthur Spencer of Magrath, Alberta. Other local Saints assisted us in Spring City, Fillmore, Escalante, Orderville, Kanab, and Pine Valley, Utah; and Colonia Dublan, Colonia Juarez, and Colonia Pacheco, Chihuahua, Mexico.

Fillmore, Utah

Fillmore, Utah, lies serene in Pauvan Valley. Elder George A. Smith of the Quorum of the Twelve had sent back enthusiastic reports of its fertility on his way to colonize Iron County in 1851. Within the same year, the Territorial Legislature designated it site of the future capital and authorized Bishop Anson Call to settle the town, organize Millard County (Millard Fillmore was then president of the United States), and establish himself probate judge.

Fillmore’s State House

Fillmore’s State House. This handsome sandstone building was constructed between 1852–55, one wing of a projected cross-shaped building with a rotunda. The Utah legislature held its 1855–56 session there, but even then it was clear that Salt Lake City was the trade and population center of the state. The building is now a museum.

The Simon Beck home in Spring City, Utah

The Simon Beck home in Spring City, Utah, which was founded by James Allred under Brigham Young’s directions in 1851, a daughter-settlement of Manti in the same Sanpete Valley. Indian trouble caused the site to be abandoned twice and it was not resettled until 1859. Simon Beck moved to Spring City in 1873 where he served on the Sanpete Stake high council. This dressed stone building with Greek Revival-inspired details on the gables and windows is one of the town’s many handsome stone buildings.

Remarkably fine chapel in isolated Pine Valley, Utah

This remarkably fine chapel in isolated Pine Valley, Utah, is about forty miles northeast of St. George. The valley was settled in 1856 and provided lumber for the St. George Temple, its tabernacle, and the Salt Lake Tabernacle organ pipes. Ebenezer Bryce, an Australian shipbuilder, was the chapel’s architect, finishing it in 1868. Its paired brackets on the cornices are like the St. George Tabernacle’s. (Jay Ellis Ransom, “Pine Valley Mecca,” typescript, Church Hist. Dept. pp. 1–2.)

 Wellsville, Utah

The pleasant community of Wellsville, Utah, in Cache Valley, was settled in the fall of 1856 by Peter Maughan, his family, and six other families from Tooele under direction from Brigham Young. Next spring, just as obediently, they abandoned their community to move south, away from Johnston’s army, but returned in the fall. It is one of a cluster of little communities near Logan in northern Utah’s high mountain valleys, fertile and peaceful.

Fort Lemhi

This crumbling earth wall, originally three feet wide at the bottom, nine feet high, and two feet wide at the top, is all that remains of Fort Lemhi on Idaho’s Salmon River. Brigham Young had called twenty-seven missionaries under Thomas Sasson Smith of Farmington, Utah, to teach the Shoshone Indians and they arrived in 1855, building the mud fort and a matching timber stockade sixteen rods square. When Indians attacked in 1858, killing three and wounding several, Brigham Young advised withdrawal, especially since the nearest reinforcements were 350 miles away.

Franklin, Idaho

This sturdy stone building, formerly a cooperative store in Franklin, Idaho, is now a relic hall maintained by the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers. Franklin was founded in the spring of 1860, largely by settlers from Cache Valley. They set up a complex irrigation system and their cooperative ventures also included a small textile mill.

Heber Valley

Placidly pastoral, Heber Valley’s farms fringe modern Deer Creek Reservoir.

Todd-Hicken home in Heber City

The Todd-Hicken home in Heber City, built 1876–79 of native sandstone with Victorian wood ornamentation. Its first owner, Thomas Todd, emigrated from Scotland in 1854. Its second owner, Thomas Hicken, was an English convert who moved to Heber City from Provo in 1860 and was first counselor in its stake presidency. [Update, Jun. 1980, p. 73] The Todd-Hicken home was always owned by the Todd family, except for the present owner, Grant M. Hicken.

Paris, Idaho

Paris, Idaho, from its graveyard southwest of town. Dominated by its stunning tabernacle, the town was founded 29 September 1863 by Elder Charles C. Rich of the Quorum of the Twelve, who had previously colonized San Bernardino. A thriving community, it produced the play William Tell only five months later, and was so solidly Mormon that only seven nonmembers voted in all of Bear Lake County in 1884.

One of the earliest homes still standing

One of the earliest homes still standing is this cabin, owned by Thomas Sleight, who moved to Paris in 1863 and served in the bishopric, on the stake high council, and finally as stake patriarch. His diary reports the kind of weather that discouraged some settlers: one season a late frost nipped growing crops on 30 July and an early frost attacked what was left only two months later on 11 September. (Cited in Dean L. May, “Mormon Cooperatives in Paris, Idaho, 1869–1896,” Idaho Yesterdays 19 (1975): 22.)

Interior of the Paris Idaho Stake Tabernacle

Interior of the Paris Idaho Stake Tabernacle. The exterior is the Church’s best example of Romanesque Revival style, while the interior is equally fine. Designed by Joseph Don Carlos Young, a son of Brigham Young and one of the first Saints to study architecture in the east, it was constructed 1884–89 of local sandstone, seats about 3,000, and has remarkably fine woodwork, including ceiling panels of fitted tongue-and-groove.

St. George

St. George, looking east from the bluffs above town. Its temple gleams white in contrast to the green trees and heavy red and black hills. The site was identified in 1861 by President Brigham Young and settled in 1862 by Elder George A. Smith, for whom it was named. Despite heartbreaking struggles with the untamed Virgin River, food shortages, flies and heat, settlers succeeded in making it the most important city in southern Utah.

Brigham Young’s winter home

Brigham Young’s winter home. Concerned about his failing health, business affairs in the south, the progress on the temple, and the progress of the united orders, Brigham Young bought the finished west end from James Cheney in 1871 and had the east end added in adobe and native pine with design details reminiscent of the Beehive House. A father and son, Miles and Miles P. Romney of St. George, were the architects. Now owned by the Church, it is open to the public as a visitors center and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Chesterfield, Idaho Chesterfield, Idaho

The deeply rutted road, now used mostly for farm access, is one of Chesterfield, Idaho’s original streets, platted six rods wide plus two more rods for sidewalks that were never built. It was settled by twelve families from Bountiful, Utah, in 1882, led by Christian Nelson and Chester Call. The town was laid out and the ward established in 1884, but its ambitions slowly shrank. The school closed in 1942, the general store in 1956. Now a ghost town, its sturdily built homes and public buildings are being stabilized to prevent deterioration. The site can be visited by arrangement with the caretakers.

Orderville, Utah

Still small and serene, Orderville, Utah, was founded specifically for the United Order in 1875 by a small group of families who had struggled together through hard times on the Muddy in southeastern Nevada and had also been trained in cooperation at Mt. Carmel, two miles away. Despite internal problems, the most telling blow to the Order was the 1885 enforcement of the Edmunds Act which either jailed its leaders or drove them underground. (Leonard J. Arrington, Orderville, Utah: A Pioneer Mormon Experiment in Economic Organization, 1954, p. 37.)

Pioche, Nevada

View of Pioche, Nevada, from one of its mine buildings. Founded during 1869 to mine silver, by 1871 it was the second largest silver producer west of the Rocky Mountains, with a population of 6,000 at its height. (Mary Frances Strong, “Pioche—No Ghost Is She!” Desert Magazine, May 1977, pp. 21–22.) The Panic of 1873 caused immediate problems which were felt in the Mormon communities that had supplied manpower, food, and lumber. Latter-day Saints who had gone into debt to expand their businesses were most seriously affected. (Leonard J. Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom: An Economic History of the Latter-day Saints, 1830–1900, 1958, pp. 316–25.)

Lee’s Ferry looking down the Colorado River

Taken from Lee’s Ferry looking down the Colorado River. After the area was explored by Indian missionary Jacob Hamblin, the ferry was established in 1872 by John D. Lee, the founder of Harmony, who called it Lonely Dell. The first ferry was launched 11 January 1873 to convey settlers to northern Arizona, and operated until 1928 when Navajo Bridge was completed. It is the only place for more than 300 miles where the river canyons break for a traveler. (Frank Jensen, “A Visit to Historic, Out-of-the-way Lee’s Ferry on the Colorado,” Desert Magazine, June 1960, p. 5.)

Lake Powell

A dazzling glimpse of Lake Powell—a modern addition to this bleak landscape—heightens the sheer fall through Hole-in-the Rock about sixty miles from Escalante, Utah, on the Colorado. About 250 men, women, and children, future settlers in San Juan County, reached this “shortcut” to Glen Canyon in December 1879 and spent six weeks constructing three-quarters of a mile of heartbreaking road. (David E. Miller, Hole in the Rock, 1966 preface.)

Orderville

Log cabin in Orderville, not one of its first but typical of the early dwellings. Bugles or the dining hall bell called the inhabitants to arise, eat, pray, work, and retire. A community dining hall, established 24 July 1875, fed more than eighty families with groups of six women taking a week’s turn at preparing food while teams of girls served it. (Orderville: Utah, pp. 10–11.)

Afton, Wyoming

View of Afton, Wyoming, in Star Valley. A main route for 1859 Oregon travelers who wanted to avoid Mormon settlements, this road was largely constructed by Mormons who had used it as summer range for Bear Lake stock. Brigham Young, Jr., of the Council of the Twelve, dedicated the valley for settlement in 1878; two other Apostles, Charles C. Rich of Bear Lake Stake in Idaho and Moses Thatcher, supervised the settlement of several towns in the valley which followed. (Ray McCord Hall, BYU Thesis, 1962, pp. 18–28.)

Bunkerville, Nevada

Firmly rooted beneath its carefully grown trees is Bunkerville, Nevada, settled in 1877 by eight families including Edward Bunker for whom the town was named. Like Orderville, it was founded specifically to live the United Order. The settlers’ cooperation built canals, dammed the Virgin River, and redammed it when the shifty stream flooded seasonally. The water was so muddy and mineralized that they put milk in their drinking water to clear the sediment, and cottonwood ash to try and soften it.

Bunkerville

The home of Thomas Dudley Leavitt, who arrived in Bunkerville in 1878. A sturdy pioneer home, its locally made brick, two-story construction, and second-story porch are typical of the period. According to family history, President Wilford Woodruff hid from federal marshals for several days and nights in the attic behind the two round windows.

The Haight home in Oakley, Idaho

The Haight home in Oakley, Idaho. Horton David Haight, grandfather of Elder David B. Haight of the Quorum of the Twelve, brought his family by team from Farmington, Utah, in 1882 to join the Saints who had been settling here for two years. When Cassia Ward was organized, he was its first bishop. Elder Haight’s father, Hector C. Haight, was bishop of Oakley First Ward from the time it was organized in 1901 until his death in 1916.

Oakley, Idaho

An overview of Oakley, Idaho, in Cassia County, the community visible between flanking hills in the middle distance. During the 1860s, Texas cowboys fattened longhorns here before driving them to railheads. The settlement was named for William Oakley who operated a Pony Express station around 1870. LDS colonists, chiefly from Grantsville and Tooele, arrived in the late 1870s and began irrigation. (“Oakley,” The Oakley News, 20 July 1978, pp. 14–15.)

Manassa, Colorado

About two hundred people under Silas S. Smith, headed for Manassa, Colorado, in the fall of 1879 and reached it only by blasting a road through rock. Smith, who had already helped settle Parowan and Paragonah, became San Luis Stake president in 1883 when the area’s first stake was organized, and headed up its numerous cooperative ventures. (Albert E. Smith, “Silas Sanford Smith,” typescript, Salt Lake City, 1963.) The town may now be best known as the birthplace of “the Manassa Mauler,” Jack Dempsey. The adobe and clapboard home in which he lived as a boy is open to the public.

Thatcher, Arizona

Now an apartment building for college students, this hotel in Thatcher, Arizona, once sheltered distinguished visitors coming south to inspect this thriving community. It was named for Elder Moses Thatcher at the suggestion of Elder Erastus Snow during a Christmas dinner in 1882. Thatcher is now best known as the town where President Spencer W. Kimball lived until he was called to be a General Authority in 1943. (Wayne Stout, A History of Thatcher, Arizona, 1975.)

Colonia Pacheco, Chihuahua

Colonia Pacheco, Chihuahua, one of eight Mormon colonies in Mexico. A well-used farm road, a cluster of homes, and a chapel represent this little fruit-growing community, possibly named for Don Carlos Pacheco, secretary of Public Works and Governor of Chihuahua who, in an 1885 meeting with Brigham Young, Jr., and Moses Thatcher, encouraged LDS settlement. Its forested lands in the Sierra Madre Mountains were purchased in January 1886 at the same time as sites for Colonia Juarez and Colonia Diaz; it was colonized the next year under Jesse N. Smith, a cousin of Joseph Smith. (Thomas Cottom Romney, The Mormon Colonies in Mexico, 1938, pp. 59–62, 109.)

The old tithing building in Colonia Dublan

The old tithing building in Colonia Dublan was used for all meetings, including school. Both schools and the chapel burned in 1917. Dublan, like Juarez, was settled in 1885 although property disagreements caused the settlement to move once before they could locate permanently. When a railhead was established nearby in 1897, the town’s growth received a considerable boost and it was resettled in 1918 after the exodus to El Paso. (Wayne Stout, A History of Colonia Dublan and Guadalupe, Mexico, pp. 1–34.)

Colonia Juarez

Sentineled by one spiky yucca, the little town of Colonia Juarez snuggles between its gentle hills. Founded under the direction of Elder Moses Thatcher, president of the Mexican Mission, the town’s first settlers came from Arizona in 1885. Like the other Mexican colonies, it was evacuated during the upheaval of the 1912 revolutionary battles: some settlers never came back, a few never left, but the town was reestablished by about 1918 even though the First Presidency, uncertain of the political situation, released all of the colonists from their mission calls. As the place of residence of five or six Apostles and the mission president, it was also the stake center and had such industries as a tanning factory, flour mill, cooperative store, canning factory, shoeshops, sawmill, and planing mill. It was named for Benito Juarez, the liberator of Mexico.

Relief Society building

This sturdily built Relief Society building was one of the permanent structures constructed by the determined colonists.

Magrath, Alberta

Magrath, Alberta, taken from the belltower of the First Ward meetinghouse. Long a ranching area, it was named for Charles A. Magrath, an engineer who came to Winnipeg in 1878, stayed, and became Lethbridge’s first mayor when the town was organized in January 1891. Mormons had come to Cardston in 1878 under Charles Ora Card’s leadership, and their experience with irrigation proved invaluable. They settled Magrath in 1899. (Magrath and District Historical Association, Irrigation Builders, 1974, pp. 56–69.)

Carefully preserved Victorian house

This carefully preserved Victorian house was built by Utah-born Heber Simeon Allen, who arrived from Cardston in 1904 to become Raymond’s first stake president. He served for thirty-three years and his son, Heber Franklin Allen, who also lived in the house, also served in the stake presidency. His daughter, Margaret, and her family now live in the house—and her husband, James Dickson Bridge, was called as stake president in the summer of 1973. Raymond, about twenty miles south of Lethbridge, was named for O. Raymond Knight, oldest son of Utah financier Jesse Knight, who encouraged colonization of the area as a sugar-beet venture. Unlike most Mormon towns, Raymond is built on a wheel plan, not a square grid. (J. Orvin Hicken, Roundup, 1967, pp. 19–20, 336.)

[photo] Chunky Herefords graze in the fields outside Genoa, Nevada. In 1849, a group of Latter-day Saints stopped in Carson Valley on a main trail to California. The trade possibilities were so good that a permanent settlement, called “Mormon Station,” was founded under John Reese in 1851. In 1856, Brigham Young called 150–250 Saints to settle there. A strong western outpost of the kingdom, it thrived until the threat of Johnston’s army in 1857 recalled the colonists. (Photography by Bob Ellison of Minden, Nevada.)

[photo] An overview of Trande Ronde Valley, Oregon shows a patchwork of fields and forests surrounding Union and Cove, one of the areas where Latter-day Saints gathered in strength around 1900. Union had been settled in 1862 by people who chose the name of their town to express their opinion on the Civil War. In 1899 missionaries made a separate district (Baker Conference) which included all of Oregon east of The Dalles, but numbered only eighty-one members. However, about three hundred Saints gathered for the first 24th of July celebration in the valley in 1900; La Grande Ward was organized in 1901 with Union Ward following in 1902 (Manuscript History of Union Stake). (Photography by Don Baxter of Union, Oregon.)

[photos] Photography by Church Public Communications Photo Services: Jed A. Clark, Marilyn L. Erd, Eric W. White, and Eldon K. Linschoten, chief photographer.