Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints first attempted settlement in what is now Idaho at Fort Limhi (later spelled Lemhi) on 15 June 1855. Its name was borrowed from a prominent Book of Mormon figure. At the time, Fort Lemhi was included in Oregon Territory. Thomas Sasson Smith was chosen to supervise the colonization. Church leaders encouraged the settlers to establish ties with local Native Americans, conduct missionary work among them, and teach them farming methods. President Brigham Young and a large traveling contingent, including Native American Chief Arapeen, and possibly Chief Kanosh, visited the settlement in May 1857. Subsequent hostilities developed between the settlers and local natives, and Ft. Lemhi was abandoned in late March 1858.
A second LDS colonization effort began in 1859 when a group of Utah saints began claiming and improving land near Franklin. The town was officially settled on 14 April 1860. The settlers assumed they were residing in Utah Territory, but an 1872 boundary survey determined they had located about a mile inside Idaho Territory. The community was named for Elder Franklin D. Richards of the Quorum of the Twelve and is noted as Idaho’s first permanent Anglo-Saxon settlement. Preston Thomas was called to serve as Franklin’s first bishop.
The Bear River Massacre, reputedly the worst one-day killing of Native Americans in U.S. history, took place several miles northwest of Franklin on 29 January 1863. Responding to complaints regarding Indian attacks on emigrants, settlers, miners and cattle, federal troops from Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City killed about 300 natives in an early morning attack. Residents of Franklin nursed the troops’ wounds as they returned to Fort Douglas. A few settlers were permitted to return to the massacre site and rescue surviving adult Natives and three small children.
Idaho Territory was created from Oregon Territory on 4 March 1863. The following September Charles C. Rich, of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, led a colonizing party to what is now Paris, Idaho. In 1864, the communities of Bloomington, St. Charles, Ovid, Montpelier, Fish Haven, Liberty, and Bennington were founded. Also that year, Church members established settlements and ranches farther west in Oxford, Malad City, and Marsh Valley (near Downey).
Bear Lake Stake, the first in Idaho, was organized on 20 June 1869 with David Patten Kimball as president. Brigham Young directed the establishment of a settlement at Soda Springs in 1870 with Philemon C. Merrill as presiding elder. Expanding their influence throughout the southeastern corner of Idaho, Church members also moved into what is now called Gem Valley in the early 1870s.
Significant numbers of Native Americans living in southern Idaho joined the Church in the 1870s and 1880s. Shoshone Chief Sagwitch was baptized on 5 May 1873 near Bear River City, Utah, by George W. Hill. More than 100 of Sagwitch’s tribe were also baptized the same day. Chief Pocatello, accompanied by his band, traveled to Salt Lake City in 1875. There, he was baptized on 5 May by Hiram W. Mikesell. Several hundred of Chief Pocatello’s tribe were subsequently baptized in the Bear River near Corinne, Utah.
During the 1870s and early 1880s many Latter-day Saints in Idaho worked as contractors and employees of the Utah and Northern Railroad during its construction that linked Salt Lake City with Helena and other mining cities of western Montana. The availability of arable land in Idaho, coupled with the railroad extension into the Snake River Valley, served as a pressure release valve for the burgeoning younger generations in Utah looking to establish themselves on fertile farmlands. Church members constructed large scale irrigation canals to open immense tracts of agricultural land.
Settlers in the Worm Creek (later Preston) area, a few miles north of Franklin, were organized as a ward in 1879. Also, that year a group of Latter-day Saints from Tooele County, Utah, settled in Goose Creek Valley in present day Cassia County. The townsite of Oakley became the region’s initial central settlement. A ward was established there in 1882, and Cassia Stake was organized on 19 November 1887 with Horton D. Haight as president.
Amos R. Wright, appointed as a missionary to Native Americans, traveled frequently between his Bennington home and the Wind River Reservation in neighboring Wyoming. On 25 September 1880, Wright baptized Shoshone Chief Washakie. The baptism was performed at night to avoid detection by antagonistic reservation officials. Wright also baptized about 310 other Native Americans on the reservation during September and October of that year. Chief Washakie had become an early and friendly associate of Church leaders after the saints arrived in Utah.
In 1882, Cache Stake President William B. Preston in Logan, Utah, supervised the colonization of the Snake River Valley. The far flung Bannock Ward centered in Rexburg was organized as Bannock Stake on 4 February 1884 with Thomas E. Ricks as president. A few months later on 1 June the Oneida Stake was organized in Franklin with William D. Hendricks as president.
During the mid to late 1880s, territorial Marshal Fred T. Dubois and deputies spearheaded pursuit and prosecution of polygamists in Idaho. Dubois later became an Idaho congressman and senator. In his senatorial role he championed the unsuccessful effort in 1904 to bar Elder Reed Smoot of the Quorum of the Twelve from being seated as U.S. senator from Utah.
In 1884, the Idaho Territorial Legislature enacted an “Anti-Mormon Test Oath.” It barred not only practicing polygamists but anyone who believed in a religion advocating the doctrine of plural marriage from voting, holding public office, serving on juries, or teaching in or administering public schools. The “Test Oath” was enforced rigidly during the election of 1886. Mormons, comprising one-fourth of the territory’s population, were prevented from voting.
During the election of 1888, hundreds of Latter-day Saint men in Idaho, with approval from Church leaders, temporarily “withdrew” their membership in the Church in order to vote and thus challenge the legality and enforcement of the “Test Oath.” Most of the Latter-day Saint voters were arrested and their votes negated. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on 3 February 1890 that the “Test Oath” was indeed constitutional. It became part of the state’s constitution when Idaho was admitted to the Union the following July. Active enforcement of the “Test Oath” essentially ended after the election of 1892. Attempts to repeal it, however, were unsuccessful until some ninety years later in 1982.
During the troubled 1880s four Church-sponsored academies were founded in Idaho: Fielding in Paris, Oneida Stake in Preston, Cassia Stake in Oakley, and Fremont Stake (later Ricks College) in Rexburg. Also built during this era was the Bear Lake Stake Tabernacle in Paris, generally recognized as one of the finest examples of Idaho architecture. Work on the building, designed by Joseph Don Carlos Young, son of Brigham Young, began in 1884 and was dedicated in 1889. The Saints in the railroad center of Pocatello were organized as a branch in May 1888.
In 1896, Elder Edward Stevenson, one of the first seven presidents of the Seventy, and Matthias F. Cowley, a counselor in the Oneida Stake presidency, were appointed to travel through the northwestern states to locate Church members residing there and establish branches and a mission. As a result, the Montana Mission was established with Phineas Tempest as president. He served under the direction of Bannock Stake president Thomas E. Ricks.
On 26 July 1897, the Northwestern States Mission was organized with Oneida Stake President George C. Parkinson called to serve a dual role as mission president. Six missionaries from Oneida Stake were assigned to begin missionary work in the newly created mission that included Oregon, Washington, and part of Idaho. In 1898, the Montana and Northwestern States missions were consolidated with Franklin S. Bramwell as president.
Latter-day Saints began settling on farms in the Payette Valley in 1900. A branch was organized in Emmett the following year.
The Church’s presence in Idaho’s capital city was initiated on 18 January 1903 by several Latter-day Saint legislators who requested that Church authorities in Salt Lake City send missionaries to Boise. Joshua H. Paul and Melvin J. Ballard were sent from headquarters to survey the situation. They established a branch a few weeks later on 8 February with Ezra J. Merrill as presiding elder. The Boise Stake was organized 10 years later in 1913.
The construction of the U.S. Reclamation Service’s Minidoka Dam in 1905 attracted substantial numbers of Latter-day Saints to farm lands at Heyburn, Acequia, Paul, and Rupert. Wards were soon organized there under the direction of Boise Stake officials. Other irrigation and railroad projects farther west along the Snake River attracted LDS settlers. Branches were organized in Kimberly in 1905 and Twin Falls in 1908. A ward was also established in Burley in 1906. That year Idaho’s first General Authority, Charles H. Hart, a native of Bloomington, was called to serve as one of the First Seven Presidents of the Seventy.
The LDS Hospital built in Idaho Falls was dedicated by President Heber J. Grant on 22 October 1923. By 1925 the LDS population of the state numbered 79,887, the largest concentration of Saints living outside Utah.
The Church’s first institute of religion was established at the University of Idaho in Moscow in 1926. A building to accommodate the institute’s students and staff was constructed in 1928. By 1930, there were 25 stakes in Idaho with membership numbering around 90,000. In 1935, Church officials offered to transfer Ricks Academy to the state of Idaho as a junior college, but the state Legislature turned down the offer in 1937. That year Albert E. Bowen, a native of Henderson Creek, near Malad City, was ordained a member of the Quorum of the Twelve. He was followed into the Quorum in subsequent years by other Idaho natives: Harold B. Lee (1941), Ezra Taft Benson (1943), Matthew Cowley (1945), Howard W. Hunter (1959), and David B. Haight (1976).
Idaho’s first temple was built on the banks of the Snake River in Idaho Falls. It was dedicated by President George Albert Smith on 23 September 1945. In 1957, and again in 1958, the Church announced plans to move Ricks College to Idaho Falls. The decision was ultimately reversed, and a major expansion of the college was announced in 1961.
The Idaho Pocatello Mission was created on 1 July 1974 with Ernest Eberhard, Jr. as president. In 1979, the mission’s name was changed to the Idaho Boise Mission. On 1 July 1991, the Idaho Pocatello Mission was re-established with Wayne W. Probst as president.
On 5 June 1976, the Teton Dam burst unexpectedly and sent devastating flood waters through the Wilford/Sugar City/Rexburg area. About 40,000 people, mostly Church members, were directly affected by the devastation. Homes, personal property, and agricultural lands were destroyed. A massive relief effort was quickly organized among Church members from stakes in Idaho and neighboring states. President Spencer W. Kimball visited Rexburg a few days later on 13 June and spoke to about 8,000 members at Ricks College. His remarks infused the community with optimism and hope.
Idaho’s second temple, in Boise, was dedicated on 25-30 May 1984 by President Gordon B. Hinckley of the First Presidency. The temple was enlarged in 1987 and rededicated in May of that year by President James E. Faust of the Quorum of the Twelve.
On 21 June 2000, President Hinckley announced that Ricks College would become a four-year university and be renamed Brigham Young University-Idaho. At the time of the announcement enrollment at Ricks was 8,628 students.
The First Presidency announced the creation of the Idaho Area on 16 June 2001. The new area was formed from the North America Northwest Area and included central and southern Idaho and portions of Oregon and Wyoming. The state is currently divided among three areas: North America Northwest, Utah North, and Idaho. Two missions encompass most of the state: Idaho Boise and Idaho Pocatello. Parts of the southeastern corner of the state are included in the Utah Ogden Mission while sections of the north are affiliated with the Washington Spokane Mission.
Private historic preservation efforts in 2003 were successful in saving the main LDS Oneida Stake Academy building in Preston from demolition. Church presidents Harold B. Lee and Ezra Taft Benson received much of their formal education there. The building, designed by Joseph Don Carlos Young, son of Brigham Young, was dedicated on 28 July 1895 and is one of the last of its kind still standing. It was moved in December 2003 a few blocks north to Benson Park. The Church provided a permanent site at the park for its relocation and donated a large sum toward the building’s restoration as a community cultural center.
A letter from the First Presidency on 12 December 2003 announced that a temple would be built in Rexburg, and in general conference 20 October 2004 President Hinckley announced that Idaho’s fourth temple would be built in Twin Falls. In August 2004, the Church was considering plans to restore the original Bear Lake Stake Tabernacle in Paris.
Three Church presidents were born and reared in Idaho: Harold B. Lee (Clifton), Ezra Taft Benson (Whitney), and Howard W. Hunter (Boise). President Benson died 30 May 1994 and was buried in Whitney.
In 2002, membership reached 360,204. In 2004, membership was 376,661.
Some 1,000 local members of the Church gathered April 15, 2006, for the groundbreaking of the Twin Falls Idaho Temple.
- Leonard J. Arrington, History of Idaho, 1994;
- Merrill D. Beal, A History of Southeastern Idaho, 1942;
- David L. Bigler, Fort Limhi: The Mormon Adventure in Oregon Territory, 1855-1858, 2003;
- Scott R. Christensen, Sagwitch: Shoshone Chieftain, Mormon Elder, 1822-1887, 1999;
- Andrew Jenson, Encyclopedic History of the Church, 1941; Brigham D. Madsen, Chief Pocatello, the “White Plume,” 1986;
- Merle W. Wells, Anti-Mormonism in Idaho, 1872-1892, 1978;
- Manuscript histories of Franklin Ward and Bannock, Bear Lake, Blaine, Boise, Cache, Cassia, Fremont, Malad, Oneida, Pocatello, and Portneuf stakes, Church Archives;
- David Croft, “Idaho Members Fight Flood,” Church News, 12 June 1976;
Dell Van Orden, “Flood Victims Get New Hope,” Church News, 19 June 1976; Arnold Irvine, “Idaho Vote Spells Finish to Old Feud,” Church News, 13 November 1982; Julie Dockstader Heaps, “Old Academy Rolls into History,” Church News, 13 December 2003; “First Presidency Letter to Leaders,” Church News, 27 December 2003; Julie Dockstader Heaps, “New Temple in Idaho,” Church News, 27 December 2003; Amos R. Wright, Record book: Indians baptized, confirmed, etc. [July 1877- October 1880], LDS Church Archives. This document is an enclosure to a letter dated 18 November 1880 that Wright sent to LDS Church president John Taylor; “Idaho’s fourth temple,” Church News, 22 April 2006.