For more than 20 years - from 1862 to 1888 - Idaho City, Idaho, was a booming mining town with nearly 5,000 residents, several elegant theaters, 23 law offices, four breweries, 41 saloons and a territorial jail.
It was a wicked and violent atmosphere, where the tall pines hid notorious "road agents" or highwaymen who robbed and killed for the wealth dug out of this mountainous country.But the gold deposits soon dwindles, and the rowdy frontier settlement located in the mountains 37 miles northeast of Boise, Idaho, became practically a ghost twon with only a handful of residents. a century later, most of the miners have been replaced by tourists who pur in during the summer months to catch a glimpse of the scenery and relics of the town's past.
Instead of mining camps, the picturesque hills and canyons around Idaho City are dotted with homes of people seeking thepeaceful, "heaven-like" serenity of the mountains and pines rather than fortunes in gold. The Latter-day Saints among these "mountain fold" say they have discovered a "rich vein" of the gospel here as they work and serve in the Church.
On Sept. 18, the recently renovated and expanded Idaho City Branch meetinghouse will be dedicated. The brown brick branch building is a landmark for Idaho City members, amny of whom have watched the Church grown from a small Sunday School into a thriving branch of the Boise Idaho East Stake.
The first meetings were held in the home of Aeriel and Deveta Crowley who moved to the Idaho City area in 1953. Crowley had been appointed probate judge for Boise County, which includes Idaho City. He organized the Sunday School under the direction of the Northwestern States Mission, and soon had several less-active members and some non-member friends attending meetings.
During the Sunday School's first two years, 19 people were baptized, most of them converts, in a swimming pool built by the Crowleys near their home. The idaho City members were a worm, independent people, much like Crowley himself.
For many years, the Crowleys gave their time and resources to keep the branch going. Norma Somervold remembers Crowley as a "fantastic" man. He was devoted to the Chruch and the branch members, she said, but he never let those fellings prejudice his work as a judge.
"He used to say that if any of us came into his court, he didn't know us," she recalled. "One time I was on jury duty, and I asked him if i could speak, and he said 'No.' If he felt he could help you he would advise you after the court proceedings were over."
There were always new converts joining the Chruch. The members taught most of the missionary lessons themselves because the full-time missionaries could only visit occasionally. Many other members were reactivated. The current branch presidency exemplifies the type of work that has been done in Idaho City.
Prs. John E. Rinker and his wife, Beverly, were converted to the Church in Idaho City.
"We were raised in eastern idaho and at the time you couldn't have gotten me to join the church," said Pres. Rinker, who lives in a valley meadow about 15 miles from Idaho City. "But my wife and I always felt there was something lacking in our church."
They took a vacation to St. George, Utah, and stopped at Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah, on the way home. When they returned to idaho City, Beverly Rinker began attending the branch meetings.
"After three or four weeks, I could see a change in her," he recalled. "I could see that something there was doing her some good, so I decided to investigate, too."
They were baptized in December 1978.
"We're like a family here," said Pres. Rinker, a deputy marshal for Ada County in Boise. "We do a lot of missionary work."
His first counselor, Raymond A. Ransom, was a less-active member who had lived in Salt Lake City before moving to Idaho City in 1980.
"My wife and I just became friendly with the people," said Ransom, who had been baptized in Texas in the late 1950s while serving in the Air Force. "There's just something about the spirit here that helped us become active again."
The branch's second counselor, Forrest Read, also became much more active in the Church after the Sunday School was established. He and his wife, Mildred, moved to Idaho City in 1946. They said branch members have taken care of their own throughout the years.
"Every fall the priesthood quorum helps old-timers get their wood for the winter," Read said. "When Pres. Randsom had a hip replacement, all of the branch members went over and helped him get his wood supply."
Branch member Sherri Osterman said last year she and her husband were having trouble getting a roof on their house, and the branch turned out to help.
This attitude of working to help each other goes back to the first years of the Idaho City Sunday School's existence, said several long-time members. When the members bought the branch's first building in 1955, they also did the remodeling work.
"The building was constructed of concrete blocks and consisted of one room, sitting in a swamp," wrote Norma Somervold in the branch's history. "The inside was in very poor shape, with cracked floors and no insulation or finish of any kind except paint."
"We hung curtains and used them to separate the chapel into classrooms," said Crowley, now 83. Crowley taught the adults and his wife, Deveda, instructed the Primar.
The building was dedicated in 1956 by Elder Harold B. Lee of the council of the Twelve. members used their possessions to furnish the building until the branch could afford to purchase needed items.
for example, crowley said they purchased a piano when a lady in town died and her home burned down. Among the belongings rescued form the fire was an old grand piano. It was badly damaged; the branch paid $25 for it.
"We took it, scrubbed it up, repaired it and used it," Crowley said.
Crowley made sacrament trays out of wood and wire. In 1958, he found an ould pedal-pump reed organ that had been discarded at the Pine Top resort camp he owned. The camp was used by Boise stakes for summer activites. Sister somervold said the organ was being hauled to the dump when Crowleyrescued it. He and his wife cleaned and repaired the organ, and it served the branch for more than eight years.
In 1962, the branch obtained permission to hold sacrament meetins on the third Sunday of eachmonth. Five years later, it became a dependent branch of the Boise 1st Ward, and Herb Steele was called as the first branch president.
Idaho City became an independent branch in 1974, and a new meetinghouse was completed in 1983. Members were glad to get out of the old "swamp" chapel, but they still talk with fondness about the concrete building they worked so hard to amke into a Church meetinghouse.
Crowley moved form Idaho City to Parma in the mid-1970s. He said the experiences and membories of his mountain home and the branch still tug at his heart.
"it is a beautiful and magnificent place," he said of Pine Top, which he sold to stakes in the Boise area. "They (the Idaho City Branch members) are an open-hearted people."
Boise Temple workers Herb and Edith Steele know how Crowley feels. Their small log home, which they built in 1960, is a few miles off the main highway that runs to Idaho City form Boise. They said Chruch service in a small mountain branch wasn't always easy, but it was rewarding.
"I've spent a lot of time chasing around these hills," Steel said. "it has been the best 28 years of my life. It also has been a real spiritual experience for me to live up here."
The cahllenges of driving through deep snow or over rutted mountain roads to visit or help people spread over hundreds of miles of wilderness draw members closer together, he said."
"The people up here have always loved each other," Steele said. "We're friends and close neighbors, but we don't live on each other's doorstep. Our neighbors will call and say they are going into the city (Boise) and ask if we need anythin. They'll pick it up for us."
Sister Steele said the friendly feeling comes form living in the peaceful forest setting.
"it's just that, for me," she said, "when you look out, you look up. It's a spiritual experience just living here. It's like heaven."