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Washakie LDS Ward Chapel

The Washakie LDS Ward Chapel, constructed in 1939, represents the zenith of the Washakie
community, an American Indian farming settlement established in 1880 by the Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormon church) for a group of about 200 Shoshoni Mormons. Washakie
was both a religious and social experiment. The Mormon church, by providing farmland, training in
agriculture, and religious instruction, hoped to bolster the faith and the economic self-sufficiency of this
group of Northwestern Shoshoni. Implicit in this plan was their adoption of “white” ways. The
Shoshoni viewed Washakie as a haven where they could live together and practice their adopted
religion. Washakie provided them a lifestyle preferable to reservation life, ongoing conflict with whites,
or assimilation with the larger society. Coinciding with the completion of this new chapel in January
1939 was the appointment by Mormon church leaders of an all-Native American bishopric to lead the
Washakie Ward-the first in the history of the church. This was the culmination of almost 60 years of
effort to help Washakie residents achieve ecclesiastical and economic self-sufficiency. For the
Shoshoni, it also symbolized their acceptance as equals by their Anglo Mormon neighbors. Church
officials and residents alike viewed the events of 1939 as the beginning of a new era for the
community. The success was short-lived however. The onset of World War II in 1941 drew away
many Washakie residents to jobs related to the war effort. By 1945 the Washakie Ward once again
had a non-Indian bishop, and by the late 1960s, after years of out-migration and a shift of emphasis by
the Mormon church, the congregation was discontinued, the community virtually abandoned, and the
property sold.

On Sunday, January 22,1939, two significant events occurred in the small, northern Utah community
of Washakie. First, the newly finished LDS ward chapel was dedicated by authorities from church
headquarters in Salt Lake City. The older frame chapel it replaced was converted to a gymnasium (it
has since been demolished). Construction of the new building had begun June 26,1937. Typical of
the period, ward members with construction skills may have helped with some of the work. The
completed building features “a commodious auditorium and class rooms for the holding of all Church
services.” The residential-scale building is much smaller than typical ward houses, containing only
1,343 square feet of floor space. This is probably due to the small size of the potential congregation
(approximately 125 at the time). The building was probably designed by Edward O. Anderson, who
was listed as “Church engineer and architect” among the dignitaries at the dedication. George Albert Smith, a member of the church’s governing body the Council of the Twelve, was on hand to preside
over the dedication services.

The second event that day was the appointment of four “full blood Indians” to the bishopric (leadership)
of the ward (congregation). From 1880 to 1939, the ward had been led by non-Indian men. Under the
reorganization, Moroni Timbimboo was named bishop, Nephi Perdash and Jim John Neaman were
appointed counselors, and Henry Woonsook was sustained as ward clerk. The local newspaper noted,
“This was the first time in the [109-year] history of the L.D.S. church that an entire Indian bishopric will
preside over a ward.” Bishop Timbimboo not only served as head of the ward, but was also
responsible for keeping up the condition of the meeting house.

These events marked the culmination of over 90 years of Mormon/American Indian relations in Utah,
and, more specifically, efforts by the Mormon church to convert American Indians and foster them in
the faith. When members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon or LDS church)
relocated to Utah in 1847 under the direction of church president Brigham Young, they found the
territory inhabited by various Indian tribes: Ute, Shoshoni, Goshute, Paiute, and so forth. Brigham
Young encouraged his followers to feed the Indians rather than fight them, though at the same time he
directed the establishment of over 300 permanent settlements on land previously used or occupied by
the local Indians.

The Northwestern Shoshoni have been residents of what is now northern Utah and southern Idaho
since at least A.D. 1300. As hunter/gatherers, they moved around the area frequently, often favoring
locations near the Bear River and its tributaries which flow from the north into the Great Salt Lake. The
arrival of Mormon pioneers in 1847 brought the first permanent Anglo settlements to the area. Tens of
thousands of other emigrants passed directly through Shoshoni country along the California and
Oregon trails, and the completion of the transcontinental railroad north of the Great Salt Lake in 1869
attracted ever more people and enterprises.

Though the Mormons practiced their “feed rather than fight” policy, conflicts between the Shoshoni and
both their Mormon and non-Mormon neighbors were inevitable. The most notable altercation occurred
in January 1863, when U.S. Army troops led by Col. Patrick E. Connor attacked a band of Shoshoni
camped along the Bear River just across the Utah/Idaho border. Approximately 200-250 Shoshoni
were killed, including most of the male population of this particular band. The entire population of the
Northwestern Shoshoni numbered only about 1,500 at the time, divided among ten bands, so the loss
of life was especially devastating. Though Col. Connor and his troops from Fort Douglas in Salt Lake
City received praise at the time, history has since deemed their attack an unwarranted massacre-one of the most severe in U.S. history.6 One of about 20 Shoshoni males to survive the Bear River
massacre was Chief Sagwitch Timbimboo, who, in the 1870s, led the conversion of large numbers of
Shoshoni to Mormonism. His grandson, Moroni Timbimboo, would become bishop of the Washakie
Ward in 1939.

The Treaty of Box Elder in July 1863 brought an end to Shoshoni warfare, but did little to help them
establish a stable lifestyle. Government assistance was inadequate, and without land of their own they
became a “lost tribe,” wandering the Utah/Idaho border and relying heavily on Mormon communities in
the area for their subsistence.

The Mormon church felt a special affinity toward American Indians, viewing them as a lost and
benighted branch of the biblical “Twelve Tribes of Israel.” According to Mormon scripture, The Book of
Mormon, American Indians are descended from Israelites who fled the Old World and settled in the
Americas beginning around 600 B.C. Internecine warfare wiped out the last of the “believers” around
400 A.D., leaving only the non-believers-the ancestors of the American Indian–on the American
continents.

One method used by the Mormon church in working with American Indians was to teach them “white”
agriculture techniques and try to convert them to Mormonism. The church established “Indian farms”
at various locations in Utah and assigned missionaries to help teach the Indians to farm, raise
livestock, construct buildings, and so forth. In 1873, the church assigned missionaries to the
Northwestern Shoshoni for this dual purpose.7 After moving the location of the farm a couple of times,
they finally settled on a site in 1880 in northern Utah near the Idaho border for a group of over 200
members of the Shoshoni tribe. The farm community was called Washakie, in honor of a respected
Shoshoni chief.

Within a few years the community seemed well on its way to fulfilling the church’s long-range program
of helping the Shoshoni become self-sustaining members of Mormon and American society.8 The
1,800 acre farm boasted 1,500 sheep, 150 acres of irrigated land, 450 acres of dry farm, a cooperative
store, a school, a church, and a 14-mile canal to provide water to the farms. In addition, some of the
Indians started filing homestead claims for themselves. A newspaper correspondent in 1886 noted
that the 250 Indians at Washakie owned their property in common, stayed on their farms year around,
and were “a temperate and industrious people.” Over 25 years later, the community was still receiving
positive reviews. A 1912 report filed by an agent with the federal government’s Office of Indian Affairs noted that the Washakie residents were “indeed well off” in comparison with groups at other locations
in Utah.

However, “All was not perfect in the little Zion,” notes historian Brigham D. Madsen. “The missionaries
met a lot of frustrations in their attempt to make the Indians into carbon copies of themselves.” Indian
agents were also concerned that the Washakie Shoshoni were not performing entirely as they saw fit.
Problems noted by the Indian agents during the 1920s and ’30s included the lack of tribal organization
(church organization had taken precedence), the need for home management training to the women,
inadequate school facilities, and the need for local courts to take responsibility “to preserve proper
order in this community.” Despite these minor problems, Washakie continued to prosper.

By the 1920s, the population of Washakie had stabilized at about 125, less than half the number that
had started with the community 40 years earlier. In addition to attrition from death, some had moved to
the reservation at Fort Hall, Idaho, and some had merged into the white culture. Those who remained
were, with few exceptions, active Mormons.

As the twentieth century progressed, the Mormon church continued to direct the community. It still
assigned a non-Indian bishop to head the ward, though by at least 1923 two Indian counselors (Moroni
Timbimboo and Quegembitch) were assisting him. In 1935, two Indian men were called to serve as
short-term missionaries to the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana to gain converts. The church also
continued to own the 1,800 acres of farmland and the community itself. The issue of property
ownership would become a substantial problem after the 1940s, when families who thought they
owned their homes were displaced. Most of the homesteads (29 of 40)filed on surrounding land by
Washakie residents were lost either because of nonpayment of taxes or “through fraud or other
irregular means” to white men. This left the community almost entirely dependent on the church-owned lands.

Beginning in the late 1930s, the church renewed its efforts to improve the viability of the Washakie
farm so it would better fulfill the needs of the town’s residents. They improved the irrigation system,
purchased new machinery, upgraded and expanded the livestock herd, and experimented with various
crops to find the most productive use of the land. For example, raising wheat proved quite profitable around World War II. According to one ecclesiastical leader at the time, these efforts “proved to be
very beneficial and very helpful for the whole of the property.”

The completion of the new brick ward house and appointment of the all-Indian bishopric in 1939 were a
culmination of these renewed efforts at Washakie. They also marked “the beginning of a new era for
these Indians,” according to the Mormon-church published Deseret News. The community had
apparently reached a point of religious self-sufficiency, having already achieved a level of economic
stability. The occasion also launched the beginning of a new initiative in the community: the
improvement of living and sanitary conditions. The newspaper noted that “this Indian community has
made great forward strides intellectually and spiritually, but their temporal advancement, noted by their
homes and living conditions, has not kept in step.

The Washakie Project Committee, comprised, ironically, entirely of non-Indian Mormon men, was
appointed by church leaders to direct the effort. By 1942, improvements were already being noted:
“Many things have been accomplished in the past two years. Electricity has been brought to the
homes. The new chapel has been built. Three new homes were constructed…. A large barn has
been rebuilt and fences erected….” While the Washakie project “presents many varied problems and
discouragements,” the article noted that it “gives promise of a happy completion in the years to come.”

Whatever momentum the Washakie Ward and community had gained during this new era was lost
during World War II. Better-paying war related jobs in nearby Brigham City and in the Ogden and Salt
Lake City areas drew away many. In addition, a number of young men who returned from the war
decided to take advantage of the schooling they were entitled to through their military service.
According to Samuel Hendricks, stake president at the time, “It seemed that the things that we were
trying to do [at Washakie] was in competition with the government and with the schools.” Eventually,
Hendricks noted, “it got so the old ladies, the young folks’ grandmothers or somebody who were taking
care of babies was about all that was left in Washakie.” By 1945 a white man was once again bishop of the Washakie Ward. The ward was downgraded to a branch in 1960, and in 1966 was discontinued.
The few remaining members were transferred to the ward in the nearby town of Portage.

At some point during this decline, the LDS church apparently decided to abandon the Washakie
project. According to property records, the church was the owner of all the property; the residents of
the town were simply tenants. Clearing the land for other purposes became the church’s new priority.
Accordingly, many of the vacant homes were burned, much to the shock and chagrin of their former
occupants when they returned. Some received compensation from the church for personal property
that had been destroyed. Those who refused to leave their houses received eviction notices. The
church helped relocate some of those who remained, but it was a sad and confusing time for many.
Some felt betrayed by the church. Though most of the residents had moved elsewhere, their roots and
sentiments were in Washakie. The identity of the band was also tied to the community. Eventually
184 acres of property, including their burial site located west of town, were returned to the tribe by the
church. The remainder of the property was sold to a private party and is currently operated as a
ranch.

Washakie’s success was mixed. Its longevity, over 80 years of existence, indicates the community
achieved a substantial measure of stability and viability. This is countered by the dwindling population
into the 20th century and, of course, the eventual demise of the town. Samuel Hendricks, offering his
opinion as a white Mormon church official on Washakie’s success, observed that “there were times
when it was good and times when it wasn’t.” While the community enjoyed some success as a
segregated Indian community, he felt “that the integration and the mixing in and the training for the
amalgamation process [with the larger society] is the way to go…, but I think you have got to give a
certain amount of respect for their history, for their culture and their beliefs, their ideals…. We
haven’t done too good a job on that.”

The small brick chapel is the most notable of the few structures remaining from Washakie’s historic
period. The Craftsman bungalow style school, located south of the church, is still standing, but has
been altered on the exterior. At least one of the c.1940 concrete-block houses is also extant; it is
located on the north side of the road into town. A canal, apparently the historic canal, is located
directly west of the church property. Other historic features of the community probably exist as well,
including cultural landscape features (fields, ditches, cemetery, etc.). These features may be dealt with in the future as part of a more comprehensive study, but for now only the church is being considered
for National Register designation.

Constructed in 1939, the Washakie LDS Ward Chapel is a one-story brick church with a concrete
foundation and modest Colonial Revival stylistic features. It is located on a fenced lot in the heart of
the small, unincorporated, mostly abandoned northern Utah town of Washakie. Though currently
vacant and in disrepair, the building retains its historic integrity.

The primary facade of the building faces east, despite the fact that the road runs to the north. The east
facade is dominated by a gable end wall with a tall, narrow, round-arched panel centered under the
gable. The panel is slightly recessed and features a basket-weave brick pattern. The double-door
entrance is set to the side of the gable under a lean-to like extension of the roof. It is slightly recessed
from the plane of the gable end wall, allowing for clear definition of the south corner of the symmetrical
gable end wall.

The brick exterior walls are laid in a common bond pattern, with every seventh course being a header
course. A row of soldier bricks accents the bottom of the walls. Colonial Revival style features include
multi-pane windows, symmetrical placement of windows, and a flared cornice effect on the gable ends
created by corbeled brickwork. The roof consists of an east/west running gable over the chapel area
on the north, intersected by a cross-gable that extends south over the classroom section.

The interior features a central hallway with a rectangular chapel area to the right and three
classrooms/offices and a closet to the left (see enclosed floor plan sketch). At the west end of the hall
is a steep stairway down to the furnace room in the basement. Most of the stairs in that stairway have
been removed. The walls and ceiling appear to be plaster over metal lath (visible in deteriorated
sections). The original stained wood trim and doors are still in place. The floors are covered primarily
with what appears to be asbestos tile. Carpet (a later installation) covers the front (east) of the chapel
and the raised platform or “stand” where church leaders conducted services. Leaks in the roof have
caused water damage to several parts of the building, evidenced by stains, peeling paint, and even
holes in a few areas of the ceiling.

The building sits near the middle of a large, fenced lot, and is accessed by a concrete sidewalk from
the road on the north. Behind the church (to the west) is a grove of trees arranged in rows approximately 18 trees aligned in three rows. There are no other structures on the property.