San Antonio Express
San Antonio, Texas, December 8, 1931.
Hill Country Owes Much
Flour Mills, Furniture Factories, Lumber Mills and Even Cotton
Spinning Among Industries There Introduced in 2-Year Period.
By NEVA COX
Mormonism, which originated in a Baptist and Methodist revival, actually existed in Southwest Texas near the vicinity of Austin and Fredericksburg,
so Heman Hale Smith, historian of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, records. Remains of old grist mills that were built
by these daring Texas pioneers may still be seen along the Colorado, Llano and Pedernales Rivers.
Lyman Wight led a colony of Mormons or Latter Day Saints into Texas in 1846, and was a factor in the pioneer life of Western Texas until his death in
1858. To understand the motive of this movement to Texas it is necessary to briefly review the previous history of the Latter Day Saints, Mr. Smith
This movement commonly known as Mormonism had its official beginning with the organization of six members into a church at Fayette, New York,
April 6, 1830. The Latter Day Saints' movement, however, traces its real beginning from a vision which its founder, Joseph Smith, claimed to have
seen on his 16th birthday in 1820. He was of New England ancestry, his family having migrated from Topsfield, Mass. to Vermont, where Joseph
was born Dec. 23, 1805. From here the family moved to Palmyra in Wayne County in western New York on the Erie Canal that was then being dug.
It was during a religious revival of Baptists and Methodists that the vision above mentioned was said to have been given.
Fought in War of 1812.
The first gathering place of the Latter Day Saints was at Kirtland, Ohio, in the Western Reserve. It was at this place that Lyman Wight comes into
the Mormon story.
Lyman Wight was born May 9, 1796, in Fairfield. Conn. He was the son of Levi and Sarah Corbin. As a boy, he fought in the War of 1812, distinguishing
himself in the battle of Sackett's Harbor. He married June 5, 1823, Harriett, the daughter of John Benton and Sarah Bradley. They settled in Centerville,
New York, but moved to Cuyahoga County, Ohio, about 1826. While he was there, Wight became converted to the preaching of a man by the name of
Sidney Rigdon, who was known as a Disciple and had been connected with Alexander Campbell. The converts of Rigdon formed a community of
interest holding everything in common in the Western Reserve. There were at first 12 families in this organization and their interests included both
farming and mechanics. During the next year they were all baptized into the Latter Day Saints' Church [as] Parley P. Pratt. Oliver Cowdery and others
accepted the book of Mormon. Six days after his baptism Wight became an elder in the Latter Day Saints' Church and continued until his death.
The Latter Day Saints adopted a financial plan in Kirtland called the "stewardship plan," which is still adhered to by them in theory. This is the
economic basis of the religion, and by its terms each man upon obeying the principles of consecrating his property to the church, should be given a
stewardship over certain properties, usually the same which he has consecrated. Out of this he keeps sufficient only for his "just wants and needs,"
and turns the "surplus" into a general fund of the church, administered by its chief financial agent called the bishop.
Seeking a site for a colony, several messengers were sent westward in June, 1831. A revelation appeared appointing the land of Missouri as a place
for the gathering of the Saints. In the first of these revelations Lyman Wight is especially mentioned as one of those to carry the gospel of the new
dispensation to Missouri.
To Jackson County on the western frontier line of Missouri the people of the church immediately began to move and there the bishop of the church
began to buy land. Jackson County was regarded and is still regarded as the final gathering place of the Saints, a permanent Zion to which the Lord
should come in person in the second resurrection. Here a temple was to be erected on a chosen spot in accordance to a given pattern, and the land
to pass into the hands of the church. This is spoken of as the literal redemption of Zion.
It was believed that this redemption should come, if necessary, by force, but previous to this general belief which began In 1833, peaceful colonization
was preached. Latter Day Saints met with the disfavor of the Missourians, who were already there, for several reasons: First, the preaching of the
doctrine of literal redemption of Zion herein mentioned; second, most of the Saints were anti-slavery men, while the Missourians were pro-slavery; third,
general prejudice against new religions, especially those of far-reaching claims among the ignorant on the frontier; and fourth, some depredations on
the part of individual Latter Day Saints. The result was the mobbing of the Saints, the destroying of their printing press in Independence, and their
expulsion from the county in 1833.
They temporarily settled In Clay County, Missouri, but the Legislature eventually set off a new county to the north for colonization, namely. Caldwell.
Another new county, Daviess, was intended for the use of the "Gentiles." The Saints, however, spread over into Daviess County and the Gentiles into
Caldwell, and friction again occurred in 1837. The result was a small civil war, known as the Mormon war. In this war, Lyman Wight became the chief
of the Mormons in military command, getting a commission of colonel in the Missouri militia for Caldwell County. This title of colonel he retained
throughout his life. A new governor of Missouri, Lilbourn W. Boggs, took a decided stand against the Mormons, and issued an exterminating order
so that in 1839 the Saints began an exodus into Illinois, leaving their property behind them. Some of the leaders, including Joseph Smith and Lyman
Wight, were imprisoned and indicted, for murder and treason. After frequent changes of venue, they were allowed to escape without coming to trial
and they made their way to Illinois.
Here in the fall of 1839 the Saints began a new gathering at a city which they built in the village of Commerce. They called it Nauvoo. During the
preceding six years of Missouri persecution, some of them remained in Kirtland, Ohio, where a great deal of the official business of the church was
transacted. From this time on they all gathered at Nauvoo, where for the next four years they enjoyed great prosperity. The State of Illinois granted
to the city of Nauvoo a liberal charter and its own municipal court with liberal powers.
The Quorum of Twelve, which was the head of the missionary efforts of the church, prospered with great zeal, especially in England, and brought many
converts to Nauvoo. In 1841 Lyman Wight became one of this Quorum of Twelve.
Turn to Southwest Texas.
Because of trouble in Illinois, the Mormons looked in various directions for the site of a new colony, and one of these directions was Texas. Lucien
Woodworth was named minister to Texas to carry out the project of purchasing the country "north of a west line from the falls of the Colorado River
to the Nueces, thence down the same to the Gulf of Mexico and along the same to the Rio Grande and up the same to the United States territory."
In 1844, after a visit to Texas, Woodworth reported that the proposal was considered favorably by the Texas cabinet. In June, 1844, Joseph and Hyrum
Smith, leaders of the Mormons, were killed by a mob at Carthage, Ill. In the confusion which followed Lyman Wight refused to accept the leadership
of Brigham Young, president of the Quorum of Twelve, and in the spring of 1845 in four homemade boats, Wight and a company of 150 men, women
and children started down the Mississippi River. They followed the river to the mouth of Duck Creek, near Davenport, and then turned westward.
Crossing Iowa, Kansas, Indian Territory and Northern Texas they finally came to the Colorado River June 6, 1846, and settled about four miles north
On June 6 the colony reached its second location on the Colorado River about four miles north of Austin.
This place was called by Noah Smithwick, Webber's Prairie. He tells of the curious interest taken by the old settlers in the Mormon colony, but
pays tribute to the Mormons as being benefactors because of the fact that up to that time corn had been ground on steel mills run by hand, while the
Saints built the first grist mill of the community.
It is interesting to note that the colony settled here at the falls of the Colorado, the site of the present dam and the very corner of the territory they had
expected in 1844 to inherit by the treaty with Texas.
Started Grinding Corn.
The colony started grinding corn on July 30, and they built several houses in Austin on contract, including the first jail built in that city. On Oct. 13,
1846, another exploring committee was sent out consisting of Spencer Smith, son-in-law of Wight, John Taylor, Meacham Curtis and William Curtis.
They returned on Nov. 14, reporting a favorable location on the Pedernales River "with plenty of good water and timber and abounding with game and
honey." An expedition was fitted out to make an exploration, business being continued at the Austin settlement at the same time. The project was
temporarily stopped during the winter, but renewed again in March, 1847, and on May 1 the mill site was selected on the Pedernales River, four miles
One reason for the settlement near Fredericksburg given by the son of Lyman Wight was that the German colony at Fredericksburg were Freesoilers.
The Wight colony also were Freesoilers. They decided that their relations would be amicable. As a matter of fact, there were several accessions to
the Wight colony from the Germans.
Town of Zodiac Built.
Six weeks after selecting the mill site the colony had a grist mill in operation, houses were built, shops erected, and crops planted. On Aug. 9 the mill
on the Colorado was sold to a Mr. D. Thompson and the whole colony settled at the new site near Fredericksburg. The town there completed was
called by Wight the city of Zodiac. Ruins of the place and the cemetery are still observable. It is intended by the descendants of the colony to erect a
monument at this place.
During the next three or four years the Wight colony lived in comparative prosperity, although George Miller states that, although they seemed to be
in a prosperous condition, they were in debt to the merchants of the city ot Austin some $2,000 which was all the time increasing.
In 1850 the Mormon mill on the Pedernales was washed out, so another mill was built on Hamilton's Creek, eight miles from Burnet. Without money
to buy stones for a mill the Mormons went to a quarry and cut marble for grinding stones which they used until the old ones lost in the Pedernales
flood were recovered. The narrative of Noah Smithwick says:
"Old Lyman Wight, the high priest, set about the task of recovering the lost stones. After wrestling alone with the spirits for some little time, he arose
one morning with joy in his heart, and summoning his people, announced to them that he had had a revelation, and bidding them take spades and
crowbars and follow him, set out to locate the millstones. Straight ahead he bore as one in a dream, his divining rod in his hand, his awe-struck
disciples, following in silence. Pausing at last in the middle of the sand bar deposited by the flood he struck his rod down.
"'Dig right here,' he commanded. His followers, never doubting, set to work, and upon removing a few feet of sand, lo and behold, there were revealed
the buried millstones. Wight said he saw them in a vision and his followers believed it."
From Lynmn Wight's journal it appears, however, that the colony was anticipating another movement, anyway. Referring to notes from this journal
we find that on February 11, 1851, an exploring party consisting of Stephen Curtis, Meacham Curtis, Ezra Chitman, Joseph Goodale and Orange
Wight went in search of a location on the Colorado River near Marble Falls. The colony settled, however, as Smithwick says, on Hamilton Creek
about, eight miles below Burnet.
The colony settled on Hamilton Creek sometime between February 20 and July 23, 1851. At this place they built dwelling houses, mills and shops.
The principle mill was still standing in 1883. From their mills the colony manufactured chairs, tables and bedsteads, supplying the whole country
around with furniture. The chairs and tables were made mostly of hackberry. A farm was also operated and the women made baskets for sale.
Smithwick describes this location of the colony as follows:
"A mountain had been cleft from north to south to permit the stream to pass through, and then from east to west, the southern portion having been
entirely removed, so that the almost perpendicular walls between which flowed the creek, turned away at right angles at the mouth of the gorge
where the stream fell over a precipice 28 feet or more in height into a deep pool below; thence rippling away between green banks, shaded by the
various [trees] indigenous to the country. Just at the foot of the falls on the east stood the mill, a three-story frame building, the second story being
on a level with the bank, with which it was connected with a gangway. A patriarchal pecan tree lifted its stately head beside the building, carassing
it with its slender branches. On the upper side connected with the falls, by a flume, rose the huge, overshot wheel, 26 feet In diameter, which
furnished the power for the mill. The machinery was mostly of the rudest, clumsiest kind, manufactured by the Mormons of such material as was
obtainable from natural sources. Great, clumsy rattling wooden cog-wheels and drum and fly-wheels filled up the lower stories, the upper one
containing a small corn cracker mill and an old up-and-down sash saw, which, after all, had this advantage over the circular saw, that it could
handle larger timber. This was clearly demonstrated when a little later Swisher and Collins put in a circular saw over on Cypress Creek, their saw
being unable to cope with the largest and best timber, some of which was hauled to the Mormon mill, a distance of 15 miles."
Wight Moves Again.
This Noah Smithwick bought all of the colony's possessions on Hamilton Creek in 1853. A few Mormon families remained to work for him, but most
of them with Lyman Wight were again on the search for new homes. The first stop hereafter was in Llano County, immediately to the westward. The
exact time of this is not known, but they were again on the march in December of 1853.
A diary of the journey of the Mormons was kept during 1853 and 1854 by Spencer Smith, son-in-law of Lyman Wight, and from this record it appears
that the group moved from Mason, Gillespie, Kerr and Bandera counties, finally settling across from the town of Bandera on the Medina River. At this
point Mr. Hale, the historian, again takes up his story.
One summer at Bandera seemed sufficient for the winter of 1854 and 1855 finds them at a point on the Medina River 12 miles below the new town.
Here they again made extensive improvements, calling their community Mountain Valley, and lived at this settlement from 1854 to 1855. The site of
settlement was inundated when Medina Lake was built.
Lyman Wight's letters in this period again indicate trouble with the Indians from whom he sought the protection of the authorities at Austin.
In a letter by Lyman Wight, dated Mt. Valley, Jan. 12, 1856 to his nephew, Benjamin Wight, who was living in New York. Wight gives a description
of Texas as he found it, also something of his ambitions for the future and of the industry of the colony:
"I will now give you a short description of our country. You say you live in the land of plenty. We live in a country peculiar for peace, prosperity and
good health which I suppose would be hard for you to believe, and more so since Uncle Stephen has had such bad health. But let me tell you, my
dear nephew, any part of the Northern States that is swampy is far more sickly than it is' here. Texas is divided into parts, say from the Gulf of Mexico
200 miles north the land is one vast body of rolling prairie intersperced with glades of timber, especially on the rivers which are quite numerous.
Beginning at the eastern boundary the Sabine, a beautiful stream navigable for steamboats. Next comes the Trinity, so called from its three streams
of equal size at its head, navigable 200 miles from its mouth, or to where the three streams come together. The next is the Brazos, navigable 100
miles from its mouth. The next is the Colorado, then the Guadoloope, then the San Antonio, then is the Medina, then the Nueces, then the Rio
Grande or the great river. This is navigable 200 miles from its mouth. All those which I have not mentioned as navigable have had appropriations made
by the present Legislature to make them so. Bordering on these streams is a vast world of fertile land with but very little of poor land. The staple
productions of this vast body of land are shugar, cotton and corn although it produces good gardens vegetables, Peaches grow well, apples not as
well, and all this vast country may be said to have as great a share of good health as the U. S. will average. After passing up these rivers 200 miles
the mountains sit in and it is the most mountainous country I ever saw. The only chance to travel here is to follow the streams, which always have the
best bottom land, and by following them out we always find good roads to go to market. In some of these vallies are large and extensive prairies.
Others are small and very rich. In most of the vallies Northern vegetables grow well, as all of those streams which I have mentioned, receive their
support from these mountains. I believe it to be as healthy if not more so than any other part of the world that I have ever seen and I have been in
some 30 of our states and territories. I am shure that any person that has lived in the North country that their blood is so reduced will find this country
and climate will restore them to perfect health or will do so in nine cases out of 10. I now lay this letter aside for a short space of time."
Continuing the letter April 3, 1856, Wight tells more of the industry and progressiveness of the Mormon colonists.
Had First Cotton Mills.
"We are placed in a valley between several lofty mountains on a beautiful prairie bottom, the Medina River a stream a trifle smaller than the Genesee
River, runs within 30 steps of our doors, our houses are placed at a proper distance apart in two straight rows, our gardens lying between which makes
it very pleasant; we have mechanics of almost all descriptions; we make bedsteads and chairs in large quantities and they sell as well as the finest
quality of work, brought from the East. We sent off 130 chairs and eight or ten bedsteads yesterday and can send as many more in three weeks. We
send them 16 miles and get $1 apiece for them by the thousand. We have a good horse mill to grind for ourselves and neighbors; we have a blacksmith,
and whitesmith. We raise our own cotton and make our own mills to spin it on. and with all we have a share of farmers. We have not measured our
corn field, but we had 10 hands covering with the plow from the 19th of March to the 27th. In consequence of the severe cold winter we are three weeks
later than common, still our corn is mostly up and growing finely. We have lettuce and in a few days will have radishes. No doubt you will think we are
well situated, and so we are temperally, but want to see the Lamanites come to the knowledge of the truth, who have been in darkness for 1,400 years
and see the millennium set in, that will bring kindred spirits together again to reign with Christ on earth a thousand years. This is what I have been
striving for 25 years and I am in nothing discouraged. I calculate to continue til I lose the horse or win the saddle, there is nothing I more desire than
to meet all my friends and kindred spirits in that glorious morning when Christ our Saviour shall call all his saints home to live in peace on this earth
one thousand years, when our gardens and pleasant walks will be much more pleasant than the pleasant now on earth and all that are prepared for
it will live together as one common family all eniquity will be done away, for nothing of that nature will be there."
Died Near San Antonio.
In March, 1858, Lyman Wight, claiming a foresight of war between the North and the South started north. On the second day of the journey at
Dexter, about eight miles from San Antonio, Lyman Wight suddenly died. His body was carried by his followers back to the old settlement of Zodiac
near Fredericksburg and there left in the old burying ground. The Galveston News commented upon his death as follows:
"We believe we have omitted to notice the death of Mr. Lyman Wight, who for some 13 years past been the leader of a small and independent
Mormon settlement in Texas. As far as we have been able to learn, these Mormons have proved themselves to be most excellent citizens of our
State, and we are no doubt greatly indebted to the deceased leader for the orderly conduct, sobriety, industry and enterprise of his colony. Mr. Wight
first came to Texas in November, 1845, and has been with his colony on our extreme frontier ever since, moving still farther west as settlements
formed around him, thus always the pioneer of advancing civilization, affording protection against, the Indians. He has been the first to settle five new
counties, and to prepare the way for others. He has at times built three extensive raw and grist mills, etc."
A part of the colony continued on to the Northern States wintering two years in Indian Territory and another year in Missouri, and finally settling in
1861 in the northwest corner of Shelby County, Iowa. This community they called Galland's Grove and as practically all of them joined the Reorganized
Church, it became a landmark in church history. The remainder of the colony scattered into different parts of Western Texas. Three families followed
Noah Smithwick to California, in 1861. Three of Lyman Wight's sons remained in Texas and became soldiers in the Confederate army. The account of
Levi Wight with regard to the break-up is as follows:
"In the spring of 1858 my father planned another, move. Of course, we must all go. Here came quite a test of faith in the technicalities of his religion.
I told my wife that I was not going to follow those wild moves any longer. We consulted about the matter for several days and came to the conclusion
that we would rebel, and arranged to stay where we were and risk the consequences, and went to plowing. I thought over the matter seriously. My
father and mother were getting old and feeble and we could not tell what might happen to them, and finally thought it our duty to follow them once
more, so we arranged to go along. On the second day's journey on our start on the projected move my father suddenly died. The emigration moved
on north as far as Bell County, 40 miles south of Waco. Myself and two brothers concluded to drop the project and remain in Texas. My mother, of
course, dropped out with us, the emigration moved on, and we finally drifted back as far as Burnet County."
After the Civil War one of the old colony, Andrew Hufman, came north to find his old brethren and returning to Texas with Spencer Smith, Wight's
son-in-law, as elder of the Reorganized Church, they baptized some of those remaining in Texas. Others went to Utah and some remained aloof from
the Mormon connections.
The following is a list of the names of men of the Lyman Wight colony previous to 1852 as completely as it can be obtained from diaries and from
baptisms for the dead records:
John Ballantyne, son of Thomas Ballantyne and Jeanette Inglis, married Jeanette Turnbull, daughter of Andrew Turnbull and Helen Douglas; Andrew
and William Ballantyne, sons of John Ballantyne; George W. Bird, wife, Eliza Curtis; Charles Bird, brother of George, husband of Bernice Monroe,
daughter of David Monroe; Truman Brace, son of Rial Brace and Deborah Lumis; Rodney Brace, brother of Truman.
Irwln Carter, son of Gideon Carter, husband of Mary Ann Lix; Gideon Carter, brother of Irwin; Ezra T. Chapman; Jeremiah Curtis, son of Moses Curtis
and Mollie Meacham: Jeremieh Curlis Jr.; Stephen Curtis, son of Jacob Curtis and Sophronia Lee, husband of Mary Eldredge; Jacob Curtis; Meacham
Curtis; William Curtis, husband of Mary Southerland, daughter of David Southerland.
Jopeph D. Goodale, son of Isaac and Allen Goodale, husband of Elvira Kay; Pierce Hawley; George Hawley; John Hawley; John Hinchson, Andrew
Hufman, Cyrus Isham, Ralph Jenkins, Eber Johnson, J. Kilmer, William Leyland, John S. Miles, John F. Miles, A. Moncar, David Monroe, George
Montague, Alexander St. Mary, Spencer Smith, David Southerland. John Taylor, Lyman Wight, Orange Wight, Lyman Lehi Wight, Levi L. Wight,
Laomi L. Wight and John Young.
Note -- The foregoing record is condensed from a manuscript of Heman Hale Smith of Lamoni, and presented to the University of Texas in 1920.
In visiting the sites of former Mormon settlements of Southwest Texas a representative of San Antonio Express found that they had been almost
entirely forgotten except at Bandera, where some of the descendants of the original colony still live.
Note: See also the Dallas Morning News of May 13, 1928. Some of the source narrative in this article
published in J. Marvin Hunter's 1925 booklet The
Lyman Wight Colony in Texas, Came to Bandera in 1854.