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"Hindsights" by Michael Barr

Looking back at
Zodiac

Michael Barr

A story in the San Antonio Daily Express told of a German farmer, wandering through the Hill Country in search of a stray yoke of oxen, who stumbled upon a thriving Mormon village, 4 miles southeast of Frederickburg on the Pedernales River. The farmer carried the news of this unknown settlement back to his neighbors on Baron's Creek.

The Germans were naturally curious people, and soon a group rode out from Frederickburg to investigate the mysterious report. Just as the farmer stated the group found a settlement of 25 families of the Mormon faith living, working and worshipping on the Texas frontier.

The Mormons came to the Pedernales by way of Nauvoo, Illinois. Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, led his followers to Western Illinois after clashing with non-Mormons in Independence, Missouri.

In Illinois, Smith and his group bought the town of Commerce, located on a bend of the Mississippi River, and renamed it Nauvoo. By 1844 Nauvoo had a population of 12,000 - about the same as Chicago.

The name Nauvoo comes from the Bible - Isaiah 52:7. In the traditional Hebrew it means "How beautiful upon the mountains" or something close to that.

After Joseph Smith's death in 1844, many Mormons followed Brigham Young to the valley of the Great Salt Lake, but a smaller group of dissenters, led by Lyman Wight, broke with Young and immigrated to Texas.

The German Hill Country appealed to the Mormons because the Germans opposed slavery and were tolerant of other religions. Elder Wight and his followers believed they could practice their religion freely on the Texas frontier.

Gillespie County Tx - Site of Zodiac centennial marker

Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, 2011

The Mormons called their town Zodiac, and it was a mecca for Mormon dissenters. By 1848 Zodiac had a storehouse, a mill, a tabernacle and about 150 people. A series of communal farms surrounded the village.

The residents of Zodiac were farmers and carpenters. They helped built Fort Martin-Scott on Barons Creek in 1848.

By all indications Zodiac was a beautiful place. A visitor wrote "Everywhere around us we see abundant signs of prosperity. . .The well-built houses, picket fences and tidy dooryards give the place a homelike air such as we have not seen before in Texas."

The citizens of Zodiac got along well with the Germans in Frederickburg. Voters elected Elder Wight justice of the peace of Gillespie County.

Then in the 1850s the Pedernales flooded and damaged the mill. There is also evidence that a land owner came forward and laid claim to the site of the Mormon village. The San Antonio Daily Express reported that the claimant invited the Mormons to stay - as long as they paid him $10 an acre for the land.

So the Mormons packed their belongings and left for a new home at Mormon Hill on Hamilton Creek in Burnet County, but not before Elder Wight presided over one final meeting at the tabernacle.

Legend says that Elder Wight called down the curse of heaven on the place, but evidence suggests the Creator ignored Wight's demand. -----

After the Mormons left Zodiac the Comanches burned the tabernacle, and a flood destroyed what was left of the mill. Then a group of English, German and Danish families moved in.

Just before the Civil War, the old town of Zodiac became a cotton farm. It is sadly ironic that this place, founded on the principles for freedom and tolerance, was the site of the only plantation in Gillespie County to use slave labor. Descendants of the slaves still owned land there in 1947.

Gillespie County Tx - Site of Zodiac, aka Rocky Hill, TX
Site of Zodiac
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, 2011

Elder Wight made one final trip to Zodiac. His family buried him there in a small cemetery after his death in 1858.

Zodiac was mostly forgotten by the turn of the 20th century. After 1885 residents called the area Rocky Hill after the Rocky Hill School.

The site of Zodiac is on private property near the Intersection of Hwy 290 and the Old San Antonio Road. The town site and the cemetery have been plowed over. A granite historical marker is all that's left to show Zodiac ever existed.


Michael Barr
"Hindsights"
October 1, 2017 Column


Sources:
"Mormonism in Texas-About an Old Mormon Town," The San Antonio Daily Express, August 31, 1877.
"Mormon News," The Daily Ledger (New Albany, Indiana), March 21, 1850.
"Mormons," The Handbook of Texas.


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    If Lyman Wight could have had his way, Texas and not Utah might have become home to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the Mormon Church. Wight brought about 150 fellow Mormons across the Red River into Texas in November of 1845. They spent the winter in Grayson County and in the spring of 1846 migrated south to a spot near present-day Webberville.

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