One hundred years after the Star Valley Stake in Wyoming was created in August 1892, Latter-day Saints here gathered July 24 to celebrate their pioneer heritage - which includes a legacy of endurance and perseverance.
And Pres. Gale L. Haderlie of the Afton Wyoming Stake said this heritage is still the heart and soul of members of the Church in this valley, which stretches about 40 miles along the Wyoming-Idaho border. The northern part of the five-mile wide valley is located about 37 miles southwest of Jackson, Wyo."We still have the old pioneer ability to face adversity and pull ourselves up by our bootstraps," he said.
To honor their pioneer legacy, members of the Afton and Thayne Wyoming stakes, which encompass the valley, gathered in Afton on Pioneer Day for a centennial parade. Elder L. Tom Perry of the Council of the Twelve, who was accompanied by his wife, Barbara, was grand marshal of the parade. After the parade Elder and Sister Perry were guests at a picnic. Other activities during the two-day event included a centennial exhibit and reception at the Afton Stake Tabernacle, musical productions and a barbecue.
"The celebrations may have helped our young people to be more familiar with the hardships, struggles and sacrifices of our ancestry," related Pres. Haderlie. "We need to help them understand that they have a wonderful heritage,"
This heritage carries with it deep roots for many of the residents of the valley. About 5,627 Latter-day Saints live in the valley's 11 small communities, and many of these members trace their family roots back to the founding settlers.
Residents today face the same harsh winters and short growing seasons their ancestors did in an area that mainly supports ranching and agriculture. "The people here are up to the challenge," Pres. Haderlie explained. "They respond to contributions to the Church wonderfully. They are great at paying their tithing and fast offerings."
Anyone living here - or visiting - senses the peacefulness and serenity of Star Valley, which was originally known as the Upper Salt River Valley. On the east is the Salt River Range and on the west are the Caribou Mountains. This was the scene which met Elders Brigham Young Jr. and Moses Thatcher of the Council of the Twelve in August 1878. They held a meeting on Aug. 29 about five miles northwest of Afton, and Elder Young dedicated the valley for the gathering of the saints, according to Andrew Jenson in his book, Encyclopedic History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
They began gathering in 1879, but the settling of the valley was slow at first. According to the book, Star Valley and its Communities, edited by Lee R. Call, who is now public affairs director of the Afton stake, there were only about 12 homes in the valley by 1885. But by the late 1880s, Mormon pioneer migration to the area accelerated.
In 1887, the Afton Ward of the then-Bear Lake [IdahoT Stake was formed and Charles D. Cazier was sustained as the first bishop. An LDS meetinghouse was built in Afton in 1892.
Then, according to Jenson, "As the number of saints increased in the valley, it was decided to separate the settlements in Star Valley from those in Bear Lake Valley and organize a new stake, which was done Aug. 13, 1892, on the occasion of a visit into the valley by Pres. Joseph F. Smith, Apostle Francis M. Lyman, Pres. William Budge and counselor George Osmond, and several other brethren from the Bear Lake Stake."
Osmond was called as the first president of the Star Valley Stake. The stake continued to grow, and the Afton Tabernacle was built and dedicated in 1909. Although the edifice has had many renovations, it is still used by the stake and the community.
In January 1974, the name of the stake was changed to the Afton Wyoming Stake. In October 1978, the stake was divided, and the Thayne Wyoming Stake was created, which is presided over today by Pres. Kirk Dana.
Pres. Haderlie said the centennial celebrations helped "maintain the close bond and fellowship between these two stakes, which share a common heritage." - Julie A. Dockstader