Salmon River Mission 1855

submitted by: SUP Trail Marker Pioneer Stories April 2023

George Washington Hill and The Salmon River Mission of 1855

By Richard D. Kirkham, Area Vice President, Pioneer Stories

In 1855 there were no white settlements beyond present day Brigham City. Led by Mission President Thomas S. Smith, 26 hearty missionaries traveled some 350 miles north into present day Idaho. They were called “to settle among the Flathead, Bannock or Shoshone Indians or anywhere that the tribes would receive them” and to teach them the gospel. At age 33, George Washington Hill left behind his wife and 4 small children in Ogden. He records,

“I was called to take a mission to the House of Israel. This took all I could do to raise an outfit for myself, but realizing that the call was from God I accepted it in good faith and went to work with a will to prepare for it. This took everything I could raise to fit myself out, and a very poor outfit it was that I had. Still, I made the best I could of it and started early in May. . . .

None of us knew the language of the people we were sent to. Since I had learned a little of the language the winter before, it fell to my lot to do all the talking that was done, and also I had accepted the mission in good faith and did not want to return with a blank record, so I turned in with a will to try and get the language, realizing that unless I could talk with them my labors would not amount to much. I had faith in God that He would assist me if I would do my duty. This I determined to do and it had been sealed upon my head that I should see them in the distance and should know them and that they would come to me by the hundreds, but little did I think that this was going to come literally to pass as it did, for the first Indians we saw were at Fort Hall on Snake River. I went right to work on my missionary labors.

We were encamped on the Portneuf River about five miles from the fort. We had just camped when, on looking over Fort Hall, I discovered some Indians coming directly towards us. It seemed to me that I knew them and I told the boys who were with me, "There come some of my children and I am going to baptize them." This created some merriment among the boys, but on they came, arriving at our camp. They got off their horses, shook hands with us and stopped with us. I went to talking to them as well as I could, telling them who we were and what our business was.

The next day we moved on up to the ferry, the Indians accompanying us. When coming into camp, the president called upon me to preach to them; this I did as well as I could which was very poor indeed. When they called for baptism I took them to the river and baptized them in fulfillment of my prediction when I first saw them in the distance. This was my first Indian baptism.”

Brother Hill and the other missionaries continued on from Fort Hall and traveled into the present day area of Salmon, Idaho. There they built a fort which they named Lemhi. They made friends with the Indians there and the early days of the mission were promising. Brother Hill, who served as the Shoshone interpreter for the missionaries, continues his story:

“Quite late in the fall the Indians began to come in for winter quarters. There was one who came in that had a very sick little girl. The Indians I had baptized on the way out told him that we administered to the sick, anointing them and praying over them, so he came after me to go and administer to her. I told him we did not make a practice of administering to people that did not belong to the Church, and if we went and administered to her and she got well, we would expect him to be baptized. He said that was a bargain. So, I took Brothers' Cummings and Moore and went out to their camp and administered to the child who was burning up, as it were, with fever, and before we took our hands off of her head the sweat broke out in great drops all over her face and she was well at once.

The following Sunday there was quite a crowd of Indians at our meeting and after we got through, the president called on me to preach to them, which I tried to do in my weak way, telling them if they believed, we would baptize them if they wanted it. They all cried out, I do!" "I do!" all over the crowd. So we went to the water and I baptized fifty-six.”

The settlement lasted only 3 years and grew to more than 100 settlers before Indian trouble forced them to abandon the valley in 1858. By that time the missionaries had baptized over 100 Indians and had begun irrigated farming in spite of ruinous frost and plagues of grasshoppers. The trials and difficulties faced by these pioneer missionaries and their endurance is inspiring. From them we learn that whatever we are called to do, we can do. With the Lord's help we can accomplish the things that He commands us to do. Click HERE to read more about The Salmon River Mission.