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Mormon temple in Twin Falls signals changes

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TWIN FALLS,

Idaho — The dedication of a new Mormon temple in this southern Idaho city

in August may be just another sign the 180-year-old religion has arrived in

southern Idaho, but local historians say there was an era when disciples

couldn't vote, when grazing disputes were evidence of a bitter rift and when

people marched the streets with signs urging church members to get out of

town."There was a lot of fear about the political power of the LDS and

that was part of the reason for the Test Oath Act," College of Southern Idaho

history professor Jim Gentry told the Times-News. He was referring to an

anti-Mormon law dating back to 1884 in the Idaho Territory that precluded

members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from

voting.Though Mormons abandoned polygamy in 1890, it took at least

another two years before their voting franchise in Idaho was

restored.The new structure, with a 159-foot spire, will be the LDS

church's 126th operating temple when it's dedicated Aug. 24 along the Snake

River canyon rim. Church members and observers say the contrast between past and

present illustrates how far the church's image has evolved since its adherents

first arrived in south-central Idaho's Oakley seeking good, flat farming ground

and reasonably priced water.Like a lot of things, Gentry said, a lot of

the early animosity was political."Part of the reason for the hesitation

to give the LDS the vote was that the LDS had been historically Democrats," he

said. "If you were LDS you weren't very likely to be excited about becoming a

Republican. That's interesting given that today, stereotypically, LDS people are

Republican, so it just shows you how times change."After the Twin Falls

temple is dedicated, only Mormons in good standing with local church leaders

will be allowed inside for baptism and marriage rituals. Before then, some

150,000 people are expected to visit during the traditional open house that

begins in July.A similar open house at the new temple in Rexburg,

dedicated in February, attracted roughly as many people.Not all of

Idaho's past is particularly flattering.There's evidence, for instance,

that the development of Twin Falls may have been launched in part to attract

non-church members to the area. A 1969 Times-News article paraphrases an early

member of the Twin Falls stake: "One member says during a parade in those days

someone carried a sign saying 'We want no Mormons or Chinese in our

town.'"And there were violent disputes over grazing land between

Mormons, who at the turn of the last century were commonly sheepherders, and

non-Mormon cattle ranchers. The rift escalated in 1897 when a man named Jackson

Lee "Diamondfield Jack" Davis was tried and convicted of killing two Mormon

sheepherders on the orders of cattle ranchers.Two other ranchers

eventually confessed to the crime and Davis was released in 1902.Frances

Egbert, 88, a church member and amateur historian from Twin Falls, says that

although some resentments remain, sentiment toward Mormons in Idaho and in Twin

Falls has changed dramatically as the population has grown. Terry McCurdy,

spokesman for the church near Twin Falls, estimated the LDS population in the

eight counties of Magic Valley in 2007 was about 42,000, with statewide members

approaching about 300,000. Catholics, the next largest religious group, number

about 140,000."People began to know us better," Egbert said. "A lot of

animosity is there because of ignorance. We may believe a little different, but

we're just like everybody else."