Lyman Wight could have had his way, Texas
and not Utah might have become home to the Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter Day Saints and the Mormon Church. Wight brought about 150
fellow Mormons across the Red River into Texas
in November of 1845. They spent the winter in Grayson
County and in the spring of 1846 migrated south to a spot near
They chose that site because Wight said the recently-slain Mormon
leader Joseph Smith had told him to build a new colony there, on the
Colorado River where Tom
Miller Dam is today. They built a mill but it was soon washed
away by a flood. That, combined with a generally cool reception from
the people in Travis
County, led Wight to move his group to the Pedernales
River near Fredericksburg
where they founded the town of Zodiac.
The Texas branch of the Mormons received a more favorable reception
among the German settlers of Gillespie
County, who respected the Mormons’ hard work and enterprise. The
Mormons built the county’s first sawmill along with a new gristmill,
temple, school and store – all within the first six months of arriving.
Wight even managed to get along with the Comanche chief Buffalo Hump,
thus helping to maintain an uneasy peace.
Wight had followed a rocky path to Texas.
Along with Joseph Smith, he was among the nine Mormons who were tried
for treason and other crimes against the state in Missouri. Their
incarceration eventually turned into a political embarrassment and
they were allowed to escape.
Wight was elected to the Quorum of 12 Apostles, which directs the
activities of the LDS church. He ran a Wisconsin sawmill for a time
and then traveled the country campaigning for Smith, who was running
for President. After Smith and his brother Hyrum were murdered by
a mob in Illinois, Brigham Young was chosen to lead the church.
Wight was called “The Wild Ram of the Mountains” because of his generally
rebellious nature and stubborn independence. That nature was evident
in his reaction to Young’s leadership, which he refused to accept.
He gathered his followers and took off to Texas,
like he said Smith had told him to do.
community was unlike anything people in the Hill
Country had seen before. While the other settlers appreciated
the group’s strong work ethic, other peculiarities rankled them. Polygamy,
which Wight and the Mormons preached and practiced, was particularly
Nor was Wight faring any better with those of his own faith. Brigham
Young dispatched a couple of missionaries to Texas
with the expressed purpose of bringing Wight back to Utah and into
the Mormon fold but Wight refused. He was excommunicated.
Wight stayed at Zodiac,
ran for Chief Justice of Gillespie
County in 1850 and lost but took over the office after he pointed
out that his opponent, Johann Jost Klingelhoefer, hadn’t yet been
granted American citizenship. Klingelhoefer took over a short while
later after Wight stopped attending county court sessions.
The Mormon Mill Colony
and Mormon Camp
Wight’s group, which usually numbered about 175, moved to Burnet
County after another flood destroyed the mill at Zodiac. The Mormon
Mill Colony became as busy and productive as the previous settlements
had been but, like those ventures, was not very profitable. The group
conducted its business apart from the rest of the county, which increased
resentment from other settlers. Also, the Comanche were still around
so Wight led group to Bandera
County. The site where they settled was called Mormon Camp and
is covered now by the waters of Medina Lake.
Wight performed the first marriage ceremony in Bandera
County when he did the honors for his son Levi Lamoni and Sophia
Leyland. He determined to leave Texas because he suspected a war between
north and south over the issue of slavery would soon take place.
Wight, who was passionate in his opposition to slavery, prepared to
lead his followers back to Missouri but on the second day of the journey
he suffered a heart attack and died. He was buried at the Mormon cemetery
The majority of Texas Mormons went to Galland’s Grove, Iowa,
which is considered a landmark move in the Reorganized Mormon Church.
Some of them stayed behind. Three of Wight’s sons stayed and fought
for the South in the Civil War.
© Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas"
June 11, 2010 column