In the late 1870's, missionary successes in the southern states prompted the search for a location to which the new converts could migrate and establish their homes among the Saints in "Zion." The area eventually decided upon for the location of the southern converts was the San Luis Valley, in southern Colorado. Elder John Morgan, the most prominent figure in the early missionary work in the South, was given the leading role in bringing southern converts to the settlements which were to be established in the San Luis Valley. The initial settlement of Saints in the valley took place in the spring of 1878, and regular spring and fall migrations from the South added to their numbers for a full decade. Families of Saints from Utah, experienced in irrigation methods and the ways of the frontier, and firmly rooted in their knowledge of and devotion to gospel principles, were called to assist in the colonization of the valley. Manassa was the first town to be established by the Saints, in 1879. As the population of church members increased, additional communities were founded in the vicinity around Manassa; among them Ephraim, Richfield, and Sanford. Further development and expansion continued until circumstances warranted the establishment of a Stake organization of the Church. In June, 1883, the San Luis Stake of Zion was organized, with Silas S. Smith, a cousin of the Prophet Joseph, as Stake President. Feelings of animosity developed between the southern converts and those Saints who had come from Utah, which was to be a source of much irritation and disunity in the years to follow. The year 1884, in particular, was a difficult year for the Saints, as false stories circulated by apostate members of the Church brought much opposition from non-Mormons and dissension among the membership of the Stake. The controversy over polygamy also contributed to the difficulties of the Saints. In the years that followed the passage of the Edmunds Act in 1882 the San Luis Valley experienced a notable influx of polygamous families fleeing Utah in search of a place of refuge. The desire for more remote places of refuge, coupled with population pressures and the attraction of available land, prompted the establishment of several additional settlements in more distant parts of the valley and in New Mexico. Most of these newer communities experienced only a temporary success, and were abandoned before the turn of the century. Church organizational development and change paralleled the ups and downs of the colonial endeavor in the valley. Economic and material progress characterized the Mormon settlements, especially in agricultural development. Private and co-operative enterprise experienced only limited success among the Saints in the valley. Spiritual progress, while notable, was marred by the occasional reoccurrence of the factional strife between the southern Saints and those from Utah. This strife, superimposed over a dispute regarding the financial management of the Manassa Co-operative Milling and Manufacture Company resulted, in 1892, in the resignation of Stake President Silas S. Smith and the reorganization of the Stake Presidency. A general improvement in social, economic, and religious matters was the trend of the final years of the 19th century, marked, most notably, by the visit of Apostle John W. Taylor to the valley in 1897. By 1900 the frontier phase of the Mormon colonization of the valley was completed. The population had reached the leveling-off point, dissension was in steady decline, and the Saints looked to the future of the valley with confidence and optimism.
College and Department
Family, Home, and Social Sciences; History
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Flower, Judson Harold Jr., "Mormon Colonization of the San Luis Valley, Colorado, 1878-1900" (1966). Theses and Dissertations. 4691.
San Luis Valley, Colorado, N.M., New Mexico, History, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints