Latter-day Saints in Early Wisconsin

This information is based on a brochure by Dr. David L. Clark, Professor of Geology and Geophysics, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison. Dr. Clark is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This page was made by Jeff Lindsay.

Wisconsin played a role in the early history of Latter-day Saints (members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly nicknamed Mormons). The first Latter-day Saints moved to Wisconsin in 1835, just five years after the Church was founded in New York by Joseph Smith, Jr.

Latter-day Saints helped to establish communities in Burlington (Racine County) and Jenkynsville (La Fayette County), and had an influence in the regions of Black River Falls and La Crosse.

The first large-scale lumber works were developed by Latter-day Saints along the Black River. Cut lumber was sent down the Black River to the Mississippi, where it was received in Nauvoo, Illinois, headquarters of the Church in the early 1840s. Wisconsin lumber helped to build the Nauvoo Temple and much of the Latter-day Saint community in Nauvoo. (Nauvoo was abandoned when the Latter-day Saints were driven out by mobs after the martyrdom of Joseph Smith in 1844, but has since been restored and is now open to the public with numerous living history exhibits - all at no cost. It's a fascinating step back into the past.)

Wisconsin's first Latter-day Saint, Moses Smith, joined the Church in 1832. Moses Smith was born in Vermont. He and other New Englanders pioneered Wisconsin after the 1836 treaties, which moved Native Americans to areas north of the Wisconsin River.

Moses and his brother Aaron (real names!) received permission to organize the Church in Wisconsin and became the first presiding Elders for the area.

Oliver Cowdery, the principle scribe for the Book of Mormon (recording word for word the translation given by Joseph Smith) lived in Wisconsin from 1847 to 1848. Oliver Cowdery was one of the most important figures in early LDS history, though at the time he was temporarily estranged from the Church. Cowdery lived in Elkhorn, Wisconsin and ran for the State Assembly as a Democrat, losing narrowly.

Wisconsin had at least seven LDS congregations by 1844. Latter-day Saints in Wisconsin became divided about the issue of Church leadership following the murder of Joseph Smith in 1844. A Wisconsin Latter-day Saint, J.J. Strang, now claimed that he was to be the new prophet. Strang had been relatively unknown prior to this and had little to substantiate his claim to leadership. Nevertheless, a small group in Walworth County followed him for 12 years, when he was shot by a disgruntled member in 1856.

When Wisconsin became a state in 1848, most Latter-day Saints there were no longer affiliated with the main body of the Church, which had relocated in Utah to escape mob persecution. It wasn't until 1876 that enough people had joined the main Church to form new congregations, with the first new branch being formed in Viola, Richland County. Today, about 15,000 Latter-day Saints live throughout Wisconsin.

Jeff Lindsay's planet

Intoduction to the Book of Mormon

Jeff's Introduction to the Church

Index to J.L.'s pages on this site

Curator: Jeff Lindsay Contact:
Created Aug. 28, 1995. Last Updated: Sept. 23, 1999

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