Wight, Lyman (1796–1858)

By: Martin Donell Kohout

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: September 1, 1995

Lyman Wight, pioneer Mormon leader and second chief justice of Gillespie County, was born in Fairfield Township, Herkimer County, New York, on May 9, 1796, to Levi and Sara (Corbin) Wight. He enlisted in the United States Army during the War of 1812 and fought in the battle of Sackett's Harbor. After the war Wight moved first to Henrietta, New York, then to Canada and Michigan. He married Harriet Benton of Litchfield, Connecticut, on June 5, 1823, and they had the first of their six children in Centerville, New York. In 1826 Wight moved his family to Cuyahoga County, Ohio, where he converted to Mormonism and was baptized. In 1831 Wight and his family moved to Independence, Missouri, to help establish a Mormon settlement there.

Seven years later, after a small civil war erupted between Mormons and gentiles, Wight and Joseph Smith were among fifty Mormon leaders tried in Missouri for treason and other crimes against the state. The Mormons were allowed to escape, however, and in 1839 founded the town of Nauvoo, Illinois. On April 8, 1841, Wight was elected to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles of the Mormon church and was placed in charge of the Mormon sawmill on Wisconsin's Black River, above La Crosse. In 1844 he traveled the country in support of Smith's presidential campaign. Wight was preaching in Massachusetts when Smith was killed by a mob in Illinois on June 27, 1844. He immediately returned to Nauvoo and then to Wisconsin. Brigham Young was selected to replace Smith as head of the Mormon church and resolved to lead his people to Utah, but Wight refused to accept Young's authority. He claimed that Smith had told him to found a Mormon colony in Texas, on land west of Austin that had been selected by Smith as a possible site for resettlement should the Mormon presidential bid fail.

With some 200 followers, Wight crossed the Red River at Preston on November 10, 1845. They spent the next ten months in Grayson County. In September 1846, they moved to Webber's Prairie (now Webberville) in Travis County, where they met Noah Smithwick. Later that fall they built a gristmill on the Colorado River, three miles west of Austin, but the mill was destroyed by a flood. Wight asked for and received John O. Meusebach's permission in 1847 to found a colony on the Pedernales River, four miles southeast of Fredericksburg. He believed that the German settlers of Gillespie County, with their traditions of religious tolerance and opposition to slavery, would make good neighbors.

The community of Zodiac quickly became a central element in the Gillespie County economy. Within six weeks the Mormons had built the first sawmill in the county, a new gristmill, a temple, a school, and a store. They soon became the principal suppliers of seeds, lumber, and flour to the Germans of Fredericksburg. They also helped build Fort Martin Scott. In 1848 Young sent two messengers to Texas to convince Wight to come to Utah, but Wight, nicknamed "the Wild Ram of the Mountains" by his fellow Mormons for his stubborn independence, refused. He was disfellowshiped by the Mormon church on February 12, 1849. Wight ran for chief justice of Gillespie County in 1850 but was defeated by Johann Jost Klingelhoefer. He was awarded the office in September, however, when he pointed out that his opponent was not yet an American citizen. Wight stopped attending sessions of the county court in June 1851 and in July of that year the county commissioners declared his office vacant. Klingelhoefer, who had by now become a citizen, was elected and installed as chief justice in August 1851.

Later that year, after floods had again destroyed their mills, the Mormons left Gillespie County. They went first to Hamilton Creek in Burnet County. They later returned to Zodiac to recover their buried millstones, the location of which Wight claimed to have seen in a vision. After selling their Hamilton Creek holdings to Smithwick, the Mormons moved to Bandera in March 1854. Wight built a furniture factory there, but in the fall of 1856 he and his followers moved to Mountain Valley, on the Medina River below Bandera. There they established a settlement known as Mormon Camp, now covered by the waters of Medina Lake. Wight performed the first marriage in Bandera County on September 6, 1856, between his son Levi Lamoni and Sophia Leyland. In March 1858 Wight had a premonition of the coming Civil War and resolved to lead his people back to the north. Wight died at Decker on March 31, eight miles from San Antonio on the second day of the journey. He was buried in the Mormon cemetery at Zodiac and his followers scattered. Three of his sons, Lyman Levi, Levi Lamoni, and Laomi Limhi, fought in the Confederate Army during the Civil War.

C. Stanley Banks, "The Mormon Migration into Texas," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 49 (October 1945). Davis Bitton, ed., The Reminiscences and Civil War Letters of Levi Lamoni Wight (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1970). Gillespie County Historical Society, Pioneers in God's Hills (2 vols., Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1960, 1974). T. U. Taylor, "Lyman Wight and the Mormons in Texas," Frontier Times, June 1941.
  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Politics and Government
  • Judges
  • Religion
  • Mormon
Time Periods:
  • Republic of Texas
  • Antebellum Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Martin Donell Kohout, “Wight, Lyman,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 12, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/wight-lyman.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

September 1, 1995