Mormon Settlement: Lincoln County

In 1857, afraid that American troops were about to invade Utah, Church of Latter-day Saints leader Brigham Young called for outlying Mormon settlers to return home to Salt Lake City.  He made one exception, allowing a small group of Mormons to find a remote place where church leaders could take refuge if needed.  These scouts moved to the western edge of Utah territory and established Panaca, the first settlement in present-day Lincoln County, Nevada.
The United States government and the Latter-day Saints had been at odds over church practices since 1847 when Mormons settled in the eastern Great Basin. Federal officials feared the Mormons were establishing their own country, which could potentially harm American interests. In addition, they believed Mormons were teaching Native Americans to attack overland travelers. The biggest issue, however, was the Mormon practice that allowed a man to have more than one wife.

Church members responded by proclaiming their devotion to the U.S. Constitution and repeatedly announced their desire to be left alone. Yet their refusal to separate public and religious offices and their continued practice of polygamy kept tensions high. To show his resolve, President James Buchanan dispatched federal troops to Utah, causing Young to send men to burn their supply wagons. The church leader also ordered outlying Mormons to return to the church's territorial base, with the exception of those instructed to find a safe haven.

The latter group arrived in 1858 in what is now the Meadow Valley in eastern Nevada, where they established a homestead and began planting crops. When Mormons and the Army avoided hostilities, a refuge was no longer needed and church leaders recalled these members home.

By 1864, miners were rushing toward the Comstock and other strikes, and church leaders wanted to hold as much land as possible. That year, Latter-day Saints returned to the Meadow Valley looking for good grazing land and an opportunity to expand Mormon-controlled territory. A group of families settled there under the direction of Francis Samuel Lee. Upon their arrival a Native American showed settler William Hamblin a ledge of ore and called it "Pan-nuk-ker." Mormons named their new town Panaca.

As news spread of the ore's location, miners made a beeline to Meadow Valley. With the Mormons already controlling prime water and grazing sites, prospectors tried to drive them out.  In response, church official Erastus Snow encouraged more Mormon families to relocate to Panaca and the surrounding area to claim essential water, grazing, and timber sites.

A new problem arose as the number of settlers increased. No one considered how the population surge would affect the Native Americans living there. With outsiders monopolizing their scarce water and food supply, members of the local tribe began "hunting" livestock. The settlers called it stealing, but the Native Americans had no concept of animal ownership. They believed that an animal belonged to the hunting party.

As the "thefts" increased, Snow encouraged his followers to punish offenders rather than take them prisoner. Punishment could range from a whipping to death, inspiring a situation that created hostilities on both sides. Before long, Mormons built a fort as refuge from Native American attacks. By 1865 conditions were so bad that at least half the Mormon families left. At year's end, only six remained.
Mormons became less of a target for Native American anger as more miners moved into the area. This allowed those remaining to resume agricultural pursuits and reap profits from selling supplies to hungry prospectors. By 1868, the church officially instructed more families to join the Panaca settlement. Once again, growth created tensions with the local tribe, but this was not the cause for the next Mormon exodus.
In 1866, Congress enlarged Nevada's eastern territory, including Meadow Valley. Nevada leaders wanted the region's mining wealth to fatten their coffers, not Utah's. Shocked to find they no longer resided in Utah and angry to learn they would now be paying their taxes in gold, Mormons could not comply because most simply lacked gold.

Many Mormons decided to pack up and return to Utah. A few families stayed and some still live in Lincoln County. Communities such as Panaca, Clover Valley, and Eagle Valley all remained Mormon home sites. Over time they supplied mining towns such as Pioche and railroad stops such as Caliente.

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