Mormonism in Idaho

by Eric Naylor

In 1855 a group of people tried to settle in a part of what would become the Idaho Territory. These people belonged to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a non-Trinitarian form of Restorationist Christianity which had been founded on April 6, 1830, in Fayette, New York, by a young man named Joseph Smith. Not long after its organization, Smith’s Church had met a great deal of opposition from those outside of it. Reasons for this opposition included Smith’s claim to have translated an ancient record of scriptures from the Americas which he called the Book of Mormon. Included in this book was the claim that Jesus Christ had visited the Americas after His ascension into Heaven. Members of this Church used it alongside the Bible, and Smith’s followers were nicknamed “Mormons,” after this book. Other objections included the Church’s sanctioning and practice of polygamy, Smith’s claims to be continually receiving revelations from God, and fear that the Mormons were gaining far too much political power.

As a result, the Mormons had met severe persecution and had been driven from state to state until Smith was finally murdered in a jail at Carthage, Illinois. He was succeeded as Prophet and Leader of the Church by a rather rash and outspoken man known as Brigham Young. Young led the Mormons west into what would become Utah territory, and established what, in effect, was a mini-theocracy in the Salt Lake valley with Young as its leader. Before his death, Joseph Smith had prophesied that the Mormons would move west and become a “mighty people in the midst of the Rocky Mountains.” It is possible that Young saw the establishment of Salt Lake as a fulfillment of that prophecy.

The small group which had come into Idaho in 1855 had been sent northward by Brigham Young to start a settlement and establish relations with the local Native American tribes. To do this, they established Fort Lemhi (named after a character from the Book of Mormon) on June 15, 1855. The attempt failed, however, and the fort was abandoned in 1858.

In 1859 another group of Mormons returned to Idaho and settled near what would become the town of Franklin. Unlike the previous group, this one had not been sent to try and settle in a new territory. In fact, they thought they were still in Utah. It was only later that they discovered they were really just a few miles or so north of the Utah border. Still, they represent the first successful settlement of Idaho by Mormons.

Beginning in the 1860’s, Mormon settlement of and presence in Idaho expanded, though it would still be many years before there would be any Mormons in Boise. They still met a great deal of opposition, mainly because of polygamy.  The practice of polygamy resulted in Mormons being barred from voting in Idaho during the 1880’s through the use of a “test oath,” by which the potential voter had to swear that he did not belong to any group which believed in the practice of polygamy. The Church officially announced the discontinuing of polygamy in 1890, though certain men in the Church continued to live with more than one wife for years afterwards. Despite some continued opposition, Mormons in Idaho finally had the legal ability to vote.

Mormons made their first real appearance in Boise on January 18, 1903 after the Church Leaders in Salt Lake decided to send missionaries there. A little less than a month later, on February 8, the first small congregation, called a branch, was organized in the Capitol City, and ten years later, in 1913, the first Boise Stake, or geographical concentration of congregations, was established. More Branches, Wards, and Stakes would develop in Boise over the years, and in May of 1984 the Boise Temple was dedicated by Church President Gordon B. Hinckley. Mormons have continued to be a significant presence in Boise, as well as in the rest of Idaho, ever since.


Primary Sources:

Smith, Joseph Fielding, ed. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1938.

Secondary Sources:

“Boise Idaho Temple.” Temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. (Accessed November 21, 2011).

Moynahan, Brian. The Faith: A History of Christianity. New York: Doubleday, 2002.

Nevin, David. The Soldiers. The Old West. Alexandria: Time-Life Books Inc, 1974.

“United States Information: Idaho.” Church News. (Accessed November 11, 2011).