In 1838 Joseph Smith visited Washington, D.C., where on one occasion Sen. Henry Clay suggested that the Prophet take the Mormons to the Oregon Territory. Oregon was one of several locations he considered for possible settlement after difficulties in Illinois in the early 1840s. At the time, Oregon was claimed by both Great Britain and the United States. As early as 25 September 1850, R. Boyd Stewart was called to serve in Oregon, but there is no record of his efforts. Additional missionaries served in 1854 and later, but were called back with their converts at the coming of Johnston’s Army to Utah in 1857.
During the 1860s, Latter-day Saints found work as loggers in Oregon. A few settled, but a significant Latter-day Saint presence did not occur until 1887 when businessmen from Utah, David Eccles and Charles Nibley (joined in 1889 by John Stoddard) built a lumber mill on the North Powder River near Baker, Ore., and persuaded Latter-day Saint families to migrate there. The Baker Branch, placed under the Oneida Stake in Idaho, was organized by Elder Franklin D. Richards of the Quorum of the Twelve on 23 July 1893. He prophesied, “There will be stakes of Zion organized in Oregon … and I would not be surprised if a Temple should be erected.”
In 1896, Edward Stevenson and Mathias F. Cowley traveled via train, boat and wagon to survey the situation of the scattered saints in the Northwest. This led to the organization of the Northwestern States Mission on 26 July 1897, under the direction of Oneida Stake President George C. Parkinson. Mission headquarters were established in Portland. (The first Northwestern States Mission was organized in 1878 and had headquarters in Chicago.) Early convert Jens (James) Westergaard became the first branch president in Portland after his baptism in 1898. Mission headquarters were moved to Baker City in 1898 and back to Portland in 1902.
Around the turn of the 20th century, there was another Latter-day Saint movement to Oregon when ranches in eastern and southern Oregon were purchased and divided into sugar beet farms. By 9 June 1901, enough members had migrated that the Union Stake was created in LaGrande. Two years later the six original wards had increased to 13. Completion of the Oregon Shortline Railroad led more members to migrate to the Northwest.
Both World War I and World War II defense industry efforts brought more members of the Church to Oregon. In 1929, a meetinghouse was completed in Portland. By 1930, membership in the state was 3,226, with wards in Baker, Imbler, LaGrande (two), Mt. Glen, and Union. Mission branches also functioned in Bend, Eugene, Klamath Falls, Medford, Portland, Hood River and Salem.
Another stake was organized in Portland on 26 June 1938. Many members also moved into Oregon in the post-World War II boom and four more stakes were created in the 1950s. When the Klamath Falls Stake was divided on 23 August 1964, the Medford Stake became the Church’s 400th stake.
Around 1961, the Church purchased property near Portland for a proposed junior college. However, the location was later selected as the site for the Portland Oregon Temple, which was dedicated 19 August 1989. More than 300,000 people toured the temple open house. A second mission was created in the state with headquarters in Eugene on 1 July 1990. A second temple in Oregon, located in Medford, was dedicated 16 April 2000.
Gordon H. Smith, a Latter-day Saint, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1996 and won re-election in 2002. Smith is Republican and his fellow senior senator, Ron Wyden, is Jewish and a Democrat. Instead of becoming rivals, the two have forged a friendship holding weekly luncheons and joint town hall meetings in Oregon.
In 2002, membership reached 139,507. In 2005, membership reached 142,545.
Sources: Joseph Smith, Documentary History of the Church, 1951; Andrew Jenson, “Oregon,” Encyclopedic History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1941; Kenneth G. Dull, Mormon Migration to Oregon’s Grande Ronde Valley: A Portent of Future Mormon Expansion, thesis, 1981; Bruce D. Blumel, “Enterprising beet farmers,” Church News, 14 January 1978; Leonard J. Arrington, “History of the Church in the Pacific Northwest,” Task Papers in LDS History, No. 18 Church Archives; Dale Z. Kirby, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- day Saints in Oregon, The First Fifty Years, 1990; Central Point Oregon Stake, A History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Southern Oregon, 1914-1997, 1997; Kent Larsen, “Oregon’s Smith-Wyden Political Friendship Celebrates 100th Weekly Luncheon,” Mormon News, 17 September 2000.