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Montana to have Church's 63rd temple

The First Presidency has announced plans for the Church's 63rd temple to be built in Billings, Mont.

Montana, a state known for its breathtaking scenery, cold winters and wide open spaces, becomes the ninth western state to have a temple.The new temple will serve about 58,000 members in 21 stakes in Montana, South Dakota and northern Wyoming. Property for the new temple has been acquired and construction will begin when local governmental approvals are received and architectural work is completed.

Announcement of the temple in Montana comes amid temple construction continuing in many parts of the world. The new Mount Timpanogos Utah Temple will be dedicated Oct. 13, 1996, as the 49th in the Church. Work is proceeding on temples in St. Louis, Mo.; Preston, England; Vernal, Utah; and Bogota, Colombia. Groundbreaking ceremonies have been held for temples in Madrid, Spain; Guayaquil, Ecuador; and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Work has started on the temple in Spain, and is expected to begin in Ecuador and the Dominican Republic in the next few weeks.

Temples have been announced for Boston, Mass.; White Plains, N.Y.; Nashville, Tenn.; Monterrey, Mexico; Cochabamba, Bolivia; and Recife, Brazil.

Historically, the first Church connection with Montana was made during the 1850s or earlier, just a few years after the Mormon pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley.

Great Basin merchants began trading with the Flathead Indians of western Montana in the early 1850s. One Mormon, E.W. Van Etten, began freighting goods from Salt Lake City to Montana. In 1855, Brigham Young called a group of men to start a northern outpost settlement and befriend Indians of the area. The men blazed a trail north and constructed a fort on the Lemhi River, a tributary of the Salmon River, in what is now central Idaho near the Montana border. This brave but short-lived effort terminated in 1858 with an Indian uprising.

The Lemhi Mission, as it was known, opened a trail part way to Montana and familiarized members with this region. Trading increased and economic bonds were tied between the productive LDS settlements and those in Montana, benefiting each. The first white woman to live in western Montana was Minnie Miller, wife of Henry G. Miller, a Mormon trader.

When gold was discovered in Montana in 1862, some Utah farmers realized huge profits by freighting goods to the gold seekers. Although a number of Church members left Utah for Montana during this time, Church leaders frowned upon that immigration. Leaders held the prevailing thought that travel between the two states would largely be an exodus from Utah because of the mining town environment that dominated Montana cities.

However, it was Church members who helped build a rail line to Butte that was completed in 1881. Some of the Church members who traveled to Montana as miners and traders stayed to farm and helped establish an agricultural base. Generally speaking, these members fell away from the Church.

In 1896, Matthias F. Cowley and Edward Stevenson were appointed by President Wilford Woodruff to travel to the Northwest and contact Church members and organize units where enough members lived. The Montana Mission was organized Sept. 10, 1896, with Phineas Tempest of Rexburg, Idaho, as president. He established headquarters in the town of Anaconda and the first missionaries rented halls and schools to hold their meetings. A branch was organized among members in Lima.

In 1897, Pres. Tempest's successor, Franklin S. Bramwell, visited Montana's Gov. John E. Rickards, who assured him of religious liberty in Montana. The first converts were baptized in 1897. Missionaries reported meetings with up to 300 people in attendance. In 1898, some 71 converts were baptized. Also during that year, the mission was reassigned to the Northwestern States Mission and the headquarters moved to Oregon.

The progress that started in 1896 continued into the 20th century. Although progress was slow, additional branches were created. In 1930, branches were operating in 10 communities, with a total Latter-day Saint population throughout Montana of 1,100. In 1953, the Butte Stake, with some 3,500 members, was created as the 208th stake in the Church. Three years later another stake was created in Great Falls. Stakes in Billings and Helena followed in the 1960s, while four additional stakes were created in the 1970s.

In more recent years, Church members in Montana have characterized themselves with temple trips to the Idaho Falls and Alberta temples, traveling the vast distances of "Big Sky" country by automobile. Members have also been active in fighting pornography, and, for several years, LDS Scouts organized more than a thousand Scouts to clean up the highways of western Montana.

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