The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Idaho
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The following record is contributed by one who stands high in the councils of the church and in the civic affairs of the state, and the article merits a place in this history, as representing an element which has a distinct place in the annals of Idaho and which is contributing to her welfare and stable prosperity:
The remarkable journey of the Mormon people from the borders of civilization to the wilds of the western wilderness, in 1847, is now a matter of history. The pioneer camp of that exodus comprised one hundred and forty-three souls, and was led by Brigham Young, the president of the church, and afterward governor of Utah. This advance colony reached Salt Lake City on the 24th day of July 1847. Almost immediately after planting crops sufficient for bread-stuff for these colonizers, Brigham Young fitted out several companies, under the supervision of men of indomitable courage, to explore the contiguous territory, in order to provide for the establishment of the immense immigration of the main body of the church, which, in the few years following, found its way to Utah. One of these companies went south to Provo valley, and another went to Davis County, on the north, settling what are now known as Kaysville and Centerville. Soon after this another colony settled in Ogden valley, and this was followed by the settlement of Brigham City, in 1850.
The inviting and fertile valleys of the north soon led to the establishment of thrifty settlements in Cache valley now known as “the granary of Utah.” Logan, the county seat of Cache, was located by Peter Manghan in the spring of 1859. Reaching out on the north, Franklin was located. This was the first town in Idaho to be settled by the Mormon people, although then supposed to be a part of Utah. Malad was settled by Henry Peck, Benjamin Thomas and others, in 1863, and in 1866 an addition was made to the population by an influx of Josephites. Bear Lake valley, then called Richland county, and subsequently part of Oneida County, was settled in 1863 by Apostle Charles C. Rich. Cassia county at the time of its settlement being part of Oneida and Owyhee counties was settled in 1875, Albion now the county seat being the first town settled, followed soon after by Oakley. Tremont County was settled in 1883, Rexburg being the first town located, although there were seven families at what is now known as Parker, and a few at Menan and Idaho Falls. The pioneers of Fremont County were Thomas E. Ricks. Francis Gunnell, James M. Cook, T. E. Ricks, Jr., Joseph Ricks, Brigham Ricks, Heber Ricks, Fred Smith, Leonard Jones, Dan Walters, Edmund Paul, and a number of others, all from Cache county.
It should be here remarked that the Mormons were the very first bona-fide settlers of Idaho. In 1855 a colony was called by Brigham Young to settle what is now known as Lemhi county Lemhi being the name of one of the prophets in the Book of Mormon. They cultivated a rich body of land there, but the Indians were very hostile, and massacred some of the colony, besides destroying much of their property and stealing their cattle. Finally, Brigham Young called them in, and no further settlement of that part of Idaho took place till mining discoveries opened up the country, in 1866.
After the establishment of Franklin by the Mormon people, settlements sprang up all around, until now the Mormon population of Idaho numbers in the neighborhood of thirty-three thousand, distributed in what are generally known as the six Mormon counties, as follows: Bear Lake. Bingham, Bannock, Cassia, Fremont and Oneida. The condition of the Mormon people is prosperous, and is characterized by industry, frugality and thrift.
We have thus shown the first settlement of the Mormon people in Idaho. The genius of the Mormon religion appeals to all who investigate it, as being not only adapted to the spiritual advancement of mankind, but as especially looking to his temporal welfare. In the establishment of these colonies, the betterment of the condition of the Mormon people and their independence have been the important objects to accomplish, as well as the keeping of the people together in one body for the attainment of their spiritual desires; so that the salvation embodied in the Mormon religion not only pertains to the life beyond, but also has a most important bearing on the improvement of their temporal condition. It is a practical religion in every sense of the word.
The Mormon people have been and are, in very deed, the pioneers and colonizers of this western country, but the hardships, the sufferings and the vicissitudes they have undergone have, in many respects, been almost beyond human endurance. Only through the aid and the protection of the Divine Power have they been enabled to endure the sufferings attendant upon the early settlement of what are now the prettiest, the richest and the most promising valleys of Idaho. Bear Lake County can very truly be cited as an instance of the hardships and sufferings undergone. Thirty-three years ago, when Charles C. Rich and his band of pioneers entered this valley, it was most forbidding and uninviting. The valley has an altitude of five thou-sand seven hundred feet, and the early and late frosts, and the long winters, with their heavy snowfalls, made it seem impossible to bring the valley to a condition where farming would be profitable and the locality a desirable place to live in. The change which has come over this valley seems more like a transformation than a reality. The finest and choicest of cereals are now raised here, as also apples, pears, plums, cherries, strawberries, and all the smaller fruits, while thrifty settlements have sprung up as if by magic. There was no railroad in the early days of its settlement, and when the inclemency of the weather and the grasshoppers destroyed the crops, breadstuffs and the other necessaries of life had to be freighted from Cache valley through the mountains, over roads which were rough and almost impassable. Charles C. Rich, through all these discomfitures and hardships, together with his band of pioneers, labored for the development of the country. He died at his home in Paris, in 1882.
The evidences of the primitive condition of affairs are giving way to modern improvements. The old log schoolhouse and place of worship have given way to the brick school-house and the stone church. Paris, the county-seat of Bear Lake, as is the case with all the other Mormon settlements, has been almost entirely rebuilt during the last fifteen years, and boasts, among its many modern buildings, the largest and most costly place of worship in the state of Idaho, known to the Mormon people as their Stake Tabernacle being constructed entirely of fine building rock. It also possesses a Mormon church academy of cut rock and brick, three stories high, with a large tower, valued at forty-five thousand dollars.
When the Mormon colonists stretched out on the north, miles and miles from Salt Lake City, they had no other thought but that they were in the then territory of Utah. Their interests were in common, and they paid tribute to that territory and assisted in the choosing of her officials. When a government survey of the west was made in 1872, a line was run by the surveyors between Utah and Idaho, and the Mormon people in the extreme northern settlements found themselves in Idaho, in what was then known as Oneida county, which at that time embraced the present counties of Bear Lake, Oneida, Bannock, Bing-ham, Fremont and part of Cassia. The Mormon settlers, being chiefly from Utah, and understanding they were part and portion of that territory, had never taken much part in national politics in fact, but very little. This is easily explained by the fact that when they reached Utah in 1847 they were over one thousand miles from civilization, and being so isolated for years, during the settlement of Utah, they had no occasion to bother much with politics. They were ever loyal, however, to the flag, and maintained, even from the first, a devotion to the institutions of our country. When the fact was determined that the Mormon settlers in the southeastern part of our state were in Idaho, and not in Utah as they supposed, they began to interest themselves in the politics of the territory, realizing that their taxes would be paid into its treasury and disbursed by its officials, and not in Utah any more; and that from henceforth their interests would be allied with Idaho.
Just prior to this time the Republican Party, in national convention assembled, in 1876, displayed a hostile feeling against the Mormon Church, by making the following declaration in its platform:
“The constitution confers upon congress sovereign power over the territories of the United States for their government; and in the exercise of this power it is the right and duty of congress to prohibit and extirpate, in the territories, that relic of barbarism polygamy; and we demand such legislation as shall secure this end and the supremacy of American institutions in all the territories.” (Adopted at Cincinnati, Ohio, June 14, 1876.)
This declaration affected the Mormon people so intensely that, as a matter of self-protection, they affiliated with the Democratic party, realizing that this party had not, in any of its platforms or at any of its conventions, displayed such unfriendliness; for it should be remembered that the Mormon people, who had taught the rightfulness of polygamy and practiced it always, however, to a limited extent without any legal objection, considered that they were acting under the provisions of the constitution relating to religious liberty. Consequently, when the Mormon settlers found themselves in Idaho they were almost as a body with the Democrats, and as such affiliated with that party in territorial and congressional matters. The Mormon vote being quite heavy, it was natural to suppose that it would be felt in the elections that occurred from the time of their joining hands with the Democratic Party. This was in very deed the case. Their vote insured Democratic success in every political battle fought. With such unanimity did the Mormon people support their party ticket, that in some counties, where hundreds of votes were rolled up, but two or three Republican ballots were found. This solid voting naturally brought forth a vigorous outcry from the Republican Party, and so profitably did they wage their fight that it became of national notoriety. Fred T. Dubois, who was then United States marshal, was the acknowledged leader of the Republican Party in Idaho, and he used this anti-Mormon cry to good advantage; although we are pleased to state that he was one of the first public men who afterward openly professed his belief in the sincere acceptance of the manifesto by the Mormon people. The Democrats were everywhere twitted for securing an election with the suffrages of the Mormon people, and to such an extent was this campaign of abuse and hatred carried on that the leaders of the Democratic party became ashamed of themselves, and at a Democratic convention held, at which a candidate for delegate to congress was to be nominated, they displayed their ingratitude and cowardice by denying seats to the Mormon representatives. This was the signal for what proved to be a dividing line between them and the Mormon people, so far as party politics in Idaho were concerned. The Democrats threw down the gauntlet; the Mormons took it up and at once prepared to defend them-selves. Their first move was to band themselves into an independent party, under obligations to no man or clique. In this capacity they went to the polls, throwing their strength in a direction, which seemed to them the best. Fred T. Dubois was elected to congress on an out-and-out anti-Mormon issue, as a result of the feeling, which had grown up so suddenly against our people. This condition, however, soon terminated. As neither of the political parties was the gainer by the independent action of the Mormon people, at least to any profitable and permanent degree, they united against them, and at the thirteenth territorial session the legislature disfranchised the Mormon people by enacting an infamous test-oath, directed especially against the Mormons because of their religious belief and known everywhere as the “Mormon iron-clad oath.” This oath read as follows:
I do swear (or affirm) that I am a male citizen of the United States of the age of twenty-one (21) years, (or will be) the _____ day _______18 (naming date of next succeeding election): that I have (or will have) actually resided in this territory for tour (4) months, and in this county for thirty (30) days next preceding the day of the next ensuing election; (in case of any election requiring a different time of residence, so make it) that I have never been convicted of treason, felony or bribery; that I am not now registered, or entitled to vote, at any other place in this territory; and I do further swear that I am not a bigamist or polygamist; that I am not a member of any order, organization, or association which teaches, advises, counsels or encourages its members, devotees, or any other person to commit the crime of bigamy or polygamy, or any other crime defined by law, as a duty arising or resulting from membership in such order, organization or association, or which practices bigamy or polygamy, or plural or celestial marriage, as a doctrinal rite of such organization; that I do not, and will not publicly or privately, or in any manner whatever, teach, advise, counsel, or encourage, any person to commit the crime of bigamy or polygamy, or any other crime defined by law, either as a religious duty or otherwise; that I do regard the constitution of the United States, and the laws thereof, and of this territory, as interpreted by the courts, as the supreme law of the land, the teachings of any order, organization or association to the contrary notwithstanding: (when made before a judge of election, add “and I have not previously voted at this election,”) so help me God.
Subscribed and sworn to before me this ________day ________of ______ 18 _____
___________________ Register of ____________________ Precinct, ____________
County, Idaho Territory.
Under the provisions of the foregoing inimical and unjust legislation, a member of the Mormon church, whether he believed in polygamy or not, could not only not hold office in the territory, but he could not even vote. Even members of the Mormon Church were denied the right to act as school trustees. When the time came for statehood, to further the interests of which the Mormon people worked and labored hard, their political enemies desired to perpetuate the political bondage they were in by incorporating in the enabling act a test-oath similar to the one heretofore incorporated in this article. It was left for the legislators of the first state session to out Herod Herod by going further than the constitution dared do, by punishing the Mormon people for what they had done during the terms of their lives before, as fully shown in the pro-visions of the following test-oath:
I do swear, or affirm, that I am a male citizen of the United States, of the age of twenty-one years, (or will be) the day of ___________, A. D. 18 _________, (.naming date of next succeeding election); that I have (or will have) actually resided in this state for six months and in the county for thirty days next preceding the next ensuing election. (In case of any election requiring a different time of residence, so make it.) That I have never been convicted of treason, felony, embezzlement of public funds, bartering or selling or offering to barter or sell my vote, or purchasing or offering to purchase the vote of another, or other infamous crime, without there-after being restored to the right of citizenship; that since the first day of January, A. D. 1888, and since I have been eighteen years of age, I have not been a bigamist or polygamist, or have lived in what is known as patriarchal, plural or celestial marriage, or in violation of any law of this state, or of the United States, forbidding any such crime; and I have not during said time, taught, advised, counseled, aided or encouraged any person to enter into bigamy, polygamy, or such patriarchal, plural or celestial marriage, or to live in violation of any such law, or to commit any such crime. Nor have I been a member of, or contributed to the support, aid or encouragement of any order, organization, association, corporation or society which, through its recognized teachers, printed or published creed, or other doctrinal works, or in any other manner, teaches or has taught, advises or has advised, counsels, encourages or aids, or has counseled, encouraged or aided, any person to enter into bigamy, polygamy, or such patriarchal or plural marriage, or which teaches or has taught, advises or has advised, that the laws of this state or of the territory of Idaho, or of the United States, applicable to said territory prescribing rules of civil conduct, are not the supreme law.
That I will not commit any act in violation of the provisions in this oath contained: that I am not now registered or entitled to vote at any other place in this state; that I do regard the constitution of the United States, and the laws thereof, and the constitution of this state, and the laws thereof, as interpreted by the courts, as the supreme law of the land, the teachings of any order, organization or association to the contrary notwithstanding. When made before a judge of election, add: “And I have not previously voted at this Section.” So help me God.
The next session of the legislature, irrespective of political party, acting on instructions embodied in Governor McConnell’s message to them, passed a bill eliminating from the elector’s oath all its unjust and retroactive provisions, which bill was promptly signed by Governor McConnell February 23, 1893.
During all the time of their disfranchisement, the Mormon people, as a church, had been contending in the courts for their religious freedom and what they considered to be their political rights and privileges under the constitution of the land. Eventually the supreme court of the United States decided against the church, so far as its practice of polygamy was concerned, and the Mormon people submitted to its rulings. The manifesto by President Woodruff followed, and was accepted by the people in one of the largest conferences ever held, and plural marriages from that time ceased. A feeling of confidence and good will among the political parties to the Mormon people followed, and they divided up on national party lines, taking such an interest in election matter as to leave no room for doubt of their sincerity in abiding the changed condition. When the third session of the Idaho state legislature sat, this feeling of friendship was manifested in the passing of a bill entirely removing all strictures and reference to the Mormon church and its religion, as is seen by the amended oath itself as follows:
I do swear (or affirm) that I am a male citizen of the United States, of the age of twenty-one years, or will be the _____ day of ______ A. D. 189__ , (naming date of next succeeding election) that I have (or will have) actually resided in this state for six months and in the county for thirty days next preceding the next ensuing election, (in case of any election requiring a different time of residence so make it) ; that I have never been convicted of treason, felony, embezzlement of public funds, bartering or selling or offering to barter or sell my vote, or purchasing or offering to purchase the vote of another, or other infamous crime, without thereafter being restored to the rights of citizenship; that I will not commit any act in violation of the provisions in this oath contained; that I am not now registered, or entitled to vote, at any other place in this state; that I do regard the constitution of the United States and the laws thereof, and the constitution of this state and the laws thereof, as interpreted by the courts, as the supreme law of the land; (when made before a judge of election add: “And I have not previously voted at this election:”) so help me God.
This is the only elector’s oath now on the statute book, and as a result the Mormon people not only vote at all elections, but hold federal, legislative, state, county, and other offices generally.
Notwithstanding the antagonism manifested by a certain local paper in Utah, which has recommended extreme and cruel measures for the breaking up of polygamous families established long before there was any law against its practice, the object sought by the law is being accomplished in a more humane manner, for there being no further plural marriages, polygamy is naturally dying out. In Bear Lake county, for instance, the strongest Mormon county in the state, the number of polygamists at the time the manifesto was formulated was seventy-four, whereas now there are only forty-eight, and undoubtedly a much smaller percentage remains in the other counties.