In October 1830 Oliver Cowdery, Parley P. Pratt, Ziba Peterson, and Peter Whitmer Jr. were sent from New York on a mission to the Lamanites. Along the way they preached to two eastern tribes and enjoyed success at Kirtland, Ohio. Passing through Jackson County, Mo., they entered the area that is now Kansas. There they visited the Delaware tribe and introduced them to the Book of Mormon and the restored gospel. As the tribe grew more interested in the missionaries’ message, government representatives and ministers from other denominations pressed the elders to leave Indian Territory and they returned to New York in the spring of 1831.

In May 1840, Jonathan Dunham returned as a missionary to the area previously visited by Pratt and the others to preach again to the tribes that had been settled there. Dunham remained only a brief time, being pressed as were others before him by government agents to leave, before moving on to visit tribes in the East.

The next time Latter-day Saints passed through Kansas was in 1846 as a company of Mississippi emigrants traveled through the northeast corner of the territory toward a planned rendevous with Brigham Young’s pioneer company on the Platte River. In August of that year, the Mormon Battalion left Council Bluffs and marched south to Fort Leavenworth, where they were outfitted for their trek to California. After leaving the fort, they traveled the length of modern-day Kansas to Bent’s fort and then south to Santa Fe. The following year, a contingent of battalion men returned to Kansas as General Stephen W. Kearney’s escort from California to Fort Leavenworth.

In 1853, a company of English converts, led by Sylvester H. Earl, assembled in the Atchison, Kan., area to prepare for their journey to the Salt Lake Valley. The following year, emigrating companies outfitted at Westport, Mo., then crossed into Kansas Territory and traveled by way of Fort Leavenworth to the main trail on the Platte River. During 1855 and 1856, some companies assembled at a place called Mormon Grove, a little west of Atchison, to prepare for the trip west. Ground was broken and crops were planted and some of the emigrants remained there as long as two years. During the time that the area was used as an outfitting station, the camp suffered a cholera attack and more than 40 died. They are buried at the site. On 29 August 1855, a branch of the Church was established at Mormon Grove, with Jens Madsen as president. After the 1856 season, Mormon Grove was abandoned and companies were again outfitted at locations in western Missouri, with many traveling through northeastern Kansas en route to Salt Lake City.

On 26 June 1855, the Church sent missionaries to the Indian Territory to carry the gospel to the tribes located there. Five elders entered the territory after stopping at Fort Leavenworth and Mormon Grove. They spent most of their time with the Cherokee and other tribes in the Oklahoma area. By the spring of 1860, all of the missionaries had returned to Utah and it was not until March of 1877 that two elders, John Hubbard and Matthew Dalton, passed through Kansas with the assignment to reopen the mission to the Native Americans. In September of that year, Hubbard died while working with the Wichita tribe. After Dalton buried him in what is now northern Oklahoma, he returned to Utah, arriving on 3 November 1877.

In 1882, Joseph F. Doxey reported missionary work being done in Kansas by himself and two companions. They had some success and established a branch of the Church at Meridian, Kan., which survived only a short while, until branch members were forced by local opposition to leave the area.

After the followers of William Bickerton, leader of a small group that left the Church following the death of Joseph Smith, settled in the St. John area of central Kansas, they were contacted by representatives from the Northern States Mission. Because the Northern States missionaries were having some success working with the group, it was suggested that Kansas be transferred from the Southern States Mission, which had not sent missionaries into the area, to the Northern States Mission to enable that mission to continue the work at St. John. With the approval of the First Presidency, the change was made in April of 1887 and Kansas remained a part of that mission until 1 March 1895, when it was transferred to the Indian Territory Mission. In the meantime, a meetinghouse was built and dedicated in 1895 at St. John, and the mission headquarters was established there. On 29 March 1898, because of the addition of other states to the mission, it was renamed the Southwestern States Mission.

In the early part of 1900, missionaries began working in Jay, eventually organizing a branch there in March of 1901. The branch continued until 1914, when the meetinghouse was sold and branch headquarters moved to Leavenworth. Also in 1900, the mission headquarters was transferred from St. John, Kan., to Kansas City, Mo. As mission boundaries shifted over the next few years to include states outside the Indian Territory, the mission’s name no longer reflected its name, so on 4 April 1904 it was renamed the Central States Mission.

During the early decades of the 20th century, the Church continued to grow in Kansas as branches were established in Topeka on 29 June 1913 and Wichita on 23 June 1918. The Topeka Branch began as a dependent branch and became independent in 1926. In 1920, branch members in Wichita completed a chapel of their own. Several General Authorities toured the mission during these years. Among them were Elder James E. Talmage of the Quorum of the Twelve, who spoke at Wichita and St. John, Kan., in December of 1919, and President J. Reuben Clark Jr., first counselor in the First Presidency, who visited in March of 1936.

The Topeka Branch became a ward in the new Kansas City Missouri Stake on 21 October 1956. Then on 24 June 1962, the Wichita Stake, the first with headquarters in Kansas, was established. In 1970, the mission, again experiencing boundary changes, was renamed the Kansas-Missouri Mission. The name was changed to Missouri Independence Mission in June of 1974. Also in 1974, the Church purchased a large home near the Kansas State University campus in Manhattan and established the first institute of religion in the state. The Church had grown enough in Topeka for a stake to be organized there on 29 February 1976.

To help celebrate the Church’s connection with Kansas in the early years, on 3 August 1996 more than 500 men and boys from six stakes in the area gathered with families and dignitaries at Fort Leavenworth to re-enact some of the experiences of the Mormon Battalion as it stopped there to prepare for its mission.

In 2002, membership reached 29,122. In 2005, membership reached 30,990.


Sources: Andrew Jenson, Encyclopedic History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1941; Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1973; Leonard J. Arrington, “Mississippi Mormons,” Ensign, June 1977; Brigham H. Roberts, The Mormon Battalion: Its History and Achievements, 1919; Sylvester H. Earl, Biographical sketch, BYU L. Tom Perry Special Collections; Jerome Jacobs, Papers, 1974- 1985, Church Archives; Stanley B. Kimball, Discovering Mormon Trails, 1979; “Mormon Grove,” Church News, 20 August 1977; Missouri Independence Mission manuscript history and historical reports, Church Archives; Colly Creek Ward, History, Church Archives; Northern States Mission, Manuscript history and historical reports, Church Archives; Jay Branch, General minutes, Church Archives; Leavenworth Branch, Manuscript history and historical reports, Church Archives; “Martin V. Witbeck, Former Utahn, Called to Preside Over New Unit,” Church News, 27 October 1956; “Estate Home now Building for Institute,” Church News, 7 September 1974; “Battalion Commemorated at Historic Military Post,” Church News, 10 August 1996. Jonathan Dunham, Diaries, Church Archives.

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