Thomas E. Ricks

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Thomas Edwin Ricks was a prominent Mormon pioneer who colonized Rexburg, Idaho, and helped found Bannock Stake Academy that would later be renamed in his honor as Ricks Academy and later Ricks College.

He was born on July 21, 1828, in Trigg County in Western Kentucky. Two years later, his parents moved the family to Silver Creek, Illinois, where they started a branch of the Campbellite Church. In 1840, the family was taught the gospel of Jesus Christ and were baptized members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The family then moved to Nauvoo, Illinois, and Thomas helped construct the Nauvoo Temple alongside his father.

Ricks left Nauvoo to travel west with the Charles C. Rich family, but stayed in Council Bluffs, Iowa, with his own family for two years. He left Winter Quarters on May 29, 1848, with Heber C. Kimball’s company.

On June 6, 1848, a group of Native Americans raided Ricks' pioneer company, stealing some of their cattle. Ricks and some other youth in the camp went to pursue them. The youth were ambushed and Ricks was shot three times, twice in the kidneys and once in his backbone. His companions, sure he was dead, returned to the company. Learning of his son's demise, Joel Ricks set out to retrieve the body. Joel was ambushed by Native Americans and forced to return to camp where he was relieved to find that other men had located Thomas, floated him across the river on a buffalo hide, and conveyed him the rest of the way to the camp by wagon. As a result of the injury, Thomas traveled most of the way to the Salt Lake Valley in his family’s wagon.[1]

Thomas later recounted: “As I lay there weltering in blood, I thought of the condition of my father and family and how badly they needed my assistance in crossing the plains and making a home in a new land and wondered if I was going to die. While thus engaged in thought, I heard a voice say audibly and clearly, ‘You will not die; you will go to the valley of the mountains and there you will do a great work in your day and generation’.”[2]

He later helped five additional groups of pioneers cross the plains, and in 1856, he was part of the rescue party that went to the aid of the Martin Handcart Company. In 1858, he went with others to rescue colonists at Fort Lemhi (Idaho) who had been attacked by Indians.

He was a community leader in Utah and Idaho. He joined Parley P. Pratt’s company in exploring southern Utah. In 1855, he was called by Brigham Young to assist in founding an Indian MIssion in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Ricks was invited by Church president John Taylor to colonize all of eastern Idaho north of Pocatello. “I was called here and have expended my means for the benefit of the people,” he said in February 1890. “My means have been used up, and I am comparatively poor. But my faith has been increased in the Lord, and I acknowledge the blessings of the Lord.”[3] In the Rexburg area, he served as a bishop and a stake president.

While breaking a horse in 1844, the horse landed on his left leg and as a result, his leg did not grow as long as his right leg. He wore a platform shoe and walked with a limp. He later walked with the use of a cane.

Thomas E. Ricks practiced polygamy and had five wives who bore forty-three children. He died at his home in Rexburg on September 28, 1901. President Joseph F. Smith spoke at his funeral and said: “It may be a long time before we find another man his equal in honor, mind, and unswerving loyalty to the cause of God and his people.”[4]