Manti, Iowa : A Frontier Settlement in the Lower Nishnabotna River Valley, 1846-1880
University of Nebraska at Omaha
Anyone living in the extreme southwestern part of Iowa today frequently experiences a feeling of not being part of the state. The area south and west of Interstates 80 and 35 is rarely mentioned except in a peripheral way to the larger story of Iowa. This project attempts to partially rectify that omission by examining a specific area popularly known as Manti, and relating the events that occurred there between 1846 and 1880. As the sesquicentennial anniversary of Iowa's statehood approaches, a renewed interest in the 1846 Mormon trek across Iowa has developed. While that story is relatively well known, what is less recognized even by the residents of Page and Fremont counties, is the story of a schismatic religious group that founded a settlement around a trails crossing for stage coaches. This schismatic group is unique since it included some of the most faithful believers in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints at that critical juncture. Most had joined the church in its infancy and had endured the hardships and persecutions at Kirtland, Ohio; Far West, Missouri; and Nauvoo, Illinois, as well as the gruelling exodus across Iowa. How and why they separated from the larger group of “believers” has never been accurately nor has the story of their subsequent labors in the Manti area of southwestern Iowa ever been related. Alpheus Cutler, a high-ranking church member, became the leader of a group of Saints who were either disfellowshipped or excommunicated from the Church. Others soon joined and Cutler had a following of forty families, comprising approximately 360 people. In 1852, this group settled in the lower East Nishnabotna River Valley of southwestern Iowa. There they founded a settlement, which they named Manti. Both their settlement and their church thrived for a time, but the combined effect of heavy proselytizing by the followers of Joseph Smith, III, Cutler's death in 1864, the subsequent move by his remaining followers to west central Minnesota, the influx of Civil War veterans, and the platting of a new railroad town, finally proved to be too much for the settlement's survival. Despite Manti's brief existence, from 1852 until 1878, it left an legacy still visible more than 125 years later. As a frontier settlement that never achieved its potential to become a town, Manti appeared to die. Evidence shows rather conclusively that instead, Manti underwent a metamorphosis and in a real sense became Shenandoah, Iowa.