AIC Shines its Community Spotlight on Preston
Monday, November 9, 2015
Preston lies at the north center of the 50-mile-long Cache Valley. The northern third of the valley is in Idaho and the lower two-thirds are in Utah. The Caribou-Targhee National Forest with its Bannock Mountain Range is five miles west and the Bear River Range, also in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, is four miles east.
The Bear River flows a mile west of the city. Checkerboard patterns of farmland interspersed by juniper and brush-covered hills and public lands surround the city.
The Idaho/Utah border is four miles south. Franklin, Idaho’s oldest city, is three miles south. Preston is included in the Logan, Utah, metropolitan statistical area.
Pioneer settlement of the southern part of Cache Valley began in 1850, three years after the first migration of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church or Church of Jesus Christ) into the valley of the Great Salt Lake.
Settlement of the northern third of the valley began in 1860 following agreement with the Shoshone Tribe of Native Americans to whom the settlers provided gifts of food and supplies. The first families began settling at the confluence of Worm Creek and the Cub River. In June 1860 Brigham Young, leader of the Church, visited the new settlement. He named the town Franklin after Franklin D. Richards, a member of the Church’s Twelve Apostles, and appointed Preston Thomas, a proven leader, as Bishop—unpaid ecclesiastical leader—of the new community.
By the end of the year, there were 61 families in Franklin. The settlers built a fort-like community with their log cabin houses clustered around a square, the doors facing toward the center. Immediately outside the square, each family owned a 10-acre farm lot.
In 1862 the federal government established a military fort in the foothills overlooking Salt Lake City under the command of Colonel Patrick E. Connor. The fort was to protect the overland mail, immigrants headed West, settlers and an increasing number of gold prospectors in the regions to the north.
On January 29, 1863, following an Indian attack in what is now western Montana where one prospector was killed, Connor directed his army in a frontal attack against a large body of Northwestern Shoshone encamped on the Bear River about two and a half miles north of what is now Preston.
Initially, the dug-in Shoshone warriors were winning the battle, until Conner directed his cavalry in flanking movements that over ran the Indian encampment. Implementing Connor’s extermination order, the Army killed nearly 400—including women and children—with half that number escaping or being taken prisoner. The Indians killed twenty-two of Connor’s soldiers. About 130 soldiers were wounded or disabled by frostbite.
In July 1864 Ezra T. Benson, a member of the Church’s Quorum of Twelve Apostles, called an exploring party of seven men to locate, select and plat townsites north of Franklin. They established several new communities including the cities of Clifton, Dayton, Weston and Oxford.
In 1866 some of the Indians threatened the settlers spreading north of Franklin. In response to this threat, the north Cache Valley settlers abandoned their farms and homes and fled to the relative safety of the more settled areas around Franklin.
By 1867 the concern about Indian raids subsided and the settlers returned to their homes. Many of the Shoshone and Bannock Indians moved to the Fort Hall Indian Reservation established that year by treaty. Albeit in 1878 a breakaway band of about 200 Bannock warriors, angry about their circumstances and unfulfilled promises made by the U.S. government, left the reservation and launched attacks upon settlers far to the northwest of Preston. After a series of skirmishes called the Bannock War, the military successfully suppressed further conflicts with the Shoshone Bannock Indians in Idaho.
In 1872 the federal government surveyed the 42nd Parallel through the Western U.S. Prior to that time most of the northern Cache Valley settlers managed their business affairs as though they were part of Utah Territory. Following the official survey, many of the northern Cache Valley settlers were disappointed when they found that they lived in Idaho Territory. They now had to travel approximately 300 miles north to the territorial capitol of Boise to do their territorial and political business rather than traveling 110 or so miles south to Salt Lake City.
In 1881 the residents of Worm Creek changed the name of their community to Preston in honor of Preston Thomas, the Church’s first Bishop in Franklin who died in 1877.
Until October 6, 1890, the Church of Jesus Christ’s doctrine endorsed the practice of plural marriage under certain circumstances. Eastern Idaho’s rapid population growth gave the Church an increasing political power base. In the 1880s most members of the Church supported the Democratic Party and represented about a fourth of the territory’s population; however, Republicans controlled the governor’s office and the Legislature. Many Republican politicos worried that if the Church members voted as a block, it could shift the balance of power in state and local governments to the Democrats.
Those seeking to limit the Church’s influence saw polygamy as its Achilles heel. Tolerant of informal extramarital relationships common in society (non-practicing monogamists); these politicos expressed outrage at the Church’s formal approval of plural marriage. They successfully used polygamy as a lightning rod to inflame political and public opinion against the Church and its members.
In 1885 the Idaho Territorial Legislature passed anti-polygamy and test oath laws. Under the test oath, any man practicing polygamy or professing membership in an organization that approved of polygamy, even though they did not practice polygamy themselves (most church members were monogamists), were stripped of their civil rights to vote, hold office or serve on juries. At that time, Idaho law also denied suffrage rights to women, certain ethnic groups, adults under guardianship and felons.
In Preston and many Eastern Idaho cities, the test oath resulted in a huge power shift from the majority to the minority of citizens with all the potential mischief such undemocratic actions could produce.
On February 1, 1895, the Idaho Legislature repealed the test oath and many members of the Church became Republicans.
In 1890 the Oregon Short Line Railroad built a rail line through Clifton en route to the Montana gold fields. Area residents now had an efficient way to transport freight and agriculture commodities as well as efficient passenger and mail services.
Worm Creek Bottoms
The land northwest of Franklin included a meadowland between Worm Creek and the Bear River. The meadowland, called Worm Creek Bottoms, had native grasses and streams, reminiscent of a worm trail, meandering through the meadow.
Many Franklin residents established squatter claims in Worm Creek Bottoms where they cut winter hay and grazed their livestock.
As more settlers moved into the area, their livestock that were grazing on the open range began grazing in Worm Creek Bottoms. Franklin residents who had squatters’ rights in the Bottoms built cabins where they stayed the summer to protect their property and herd their livestock. Gradually, they left Franklin and built permanent homes on their Worm Creek Bottom property. They named their settlement Worm Creek, changing the name to Preston in 1881.
Amenities and Attractions Today
The nearby Caribou-Targhee National Forest and Bannock Mountain Range offer city residents a wide variety of outdoor activities. Hiking, biking, ATV riding, hunting and fishing are popular outdoor sports.
A marker commemorating the Bear River Massacre, the bloodiest battle in Idaho history, is located two and a half miles north of Preston on a gravel road just off U. S. Highway 91.
Residents also enjoy the amenities of nearby larger cities in both Idaho and Utah.