A Brief History of Texas, Houston, the Church, and the Mission

What follows is brief information about Texas, Houston and the Church in Texas. We hope you will find this informative as you prepare to serve the Lord in this part of His vineyard.

Texas

Texas, one of the West South Central states of the United States, borders Mexico on the southwest and the Gulf of Mexico on the southeast. To the west is New Mexico, to the north and northeast lie Oklahoma and Arkansas, and Louisiana bounds Texas on the east. Austin is the capital of Texas. Houston is the largest city.

For more than 100 years, Texas was part of the Spanish Empire in America. When Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821, Texas was for a while joined to Mexico. The section from San Antonio southward retains the flavor of the Hispano-Mexican period in its architecture, foods, and festivals.

The name Texas is derived from tejas or teyas, the rendering by the Spanish in the mid-16th century of the Caddo people’s word for friends or allies. It gradually became used to denote the region north of the Río Grande and east of New Mexico, and was officially applied to Texas when the area was organized as a republic in 1836. Texas was an independent republic until it joined the Union on December 29, 1845, as the 28th state. Its single-star flag dates from its independent period and has given Texas the nickname the Lone Star State.


Houston

Houston is a city in southeastern Texas and the seat of Harris County. Located at the head of the Houston Ship Channel, which links the city to the Gulf of Mexico, Houston is an inland seaport and a major financial, distribution, and manufacturing center for the southern United States. It is the largest city in Texas and the fourth largest in the country, behind New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. The terrain is level and drains into a number of bayous and canals. The city has a humid coastal climate, with hot summers and very mild winters. Houston was named for Sam Houston, a distinguished military leader and hero of the Texas Revolution (1835-1836).

The city of Houston covers a land area of 1397.6 sq km (539.6 sq mi). The metropolitan area includes the counties of Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Liberty, Montgomery, and Waller. In addition to Houston, the area includes Pasadena, Texas City, Galveston, Brazoria, and many other cities and communities.

Situated near major petroleum and natural-gas fields, Houston is the center of the national petroleum industry. The metropolitan region leads the nation in petrochemical manufacturing and refining, and consequently ranks first in the manufacture of agricultural chemicals, fertilizers, and pesticides. Houston is the world’s primary producer of oil-field equipment. Other important manufactures in Houston include paper products, electrical and electronic machinery, and iron and steel. Houston also has mills for rice grown in the surrounding area.

Houston’s specialized education and training facilities provide an extraordinary economic resource. The city’s centers of research and technology include the Texas Medical Center, which is world-renowned for its pioneering work in organ transplants. The center comprises 13 hospitals and two medical schools. Other local facilities are the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, administered by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); and the nearby Texas A&M University at Galveston, which along with the university’s main campus in College Station, has carried out important work in marine biology, oceanography, and other marine-related sciences.

The service and trade sectors account for the largest percentages of total employment, while government ranks third. 

The Houston Port is among the nation’s busiest for total exports and foreign trade, with petroleum, petrochemicals, and organic chemicals leading the list of exports. The Houston Ship Channel, which runs a length of 84 km (52 mi), connects the city to the primary shipping lanes of the world through the Bay of Galveston and the Gulf of Mexico.

Houston’s population climbed from 1,630,553 in 1990 to 1,953,631 in 2000. The area grew from 3,731,000 in 1990 to 4,670,000 in 2000. Houston is a racially and ethnically diverse city. According to the 2000 census, whites constitute 49.3 percent of Houston’s population; blacks, 25.3 percent; Asians, 5.3 percent; Native Americans, 0.4 percent; Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders, 0.1 percent; and people of mixed heritage or not reporting race, 19.6 percent. Hispanics, who may be of any race, represent 37.4 percent of the population. 

The Karankawa people lived on the Gulf Coast before the arrival of the Europeans. The first European settlement in the area, Harrisburg (1824), was destroyed in 1836 by the advancing Mexican Army in the Texas Revolution. That same year, Augustus C. Allen and John K. Allen laid out Houston. The Allen brothers persuaded the legislature to designate the site as the temporary state capital, because the present capital, Austin, was close to the fighting during the revolution. Houston served as the capital from 1837 until the permanent capital was returned to Austin in 1839. 

The legislature granted incorporation to Houston on June 5, 1837, and that same year it became the county seat of Harrisburg County (renamed Harris County in 1839).

The growth of Houston was limited by the city’s climate and unhealthy coastal environment. Yellow fever epidemics struck often in the mid-19th century. In 1839 the disease killed approximately 12 percent of the city’s population. Despite coastal quarantines after the Civil War, yellow fever was not controlled until widespread spraying for mosquitoes began in 1900.

Lack of potable water, another environmental problem, was not addressed satisfactorily until the mid-20th century. Houston’s water supply had been improved in the 1880s with the drilling of artesian wells and the replacement of bayou waters that had been used to dispose of solid wastes, creosotes, and other impurities. Continued pumping from the aquifer, however, led to the sinking of land in southeast Houston in the 1960s. To correct this, the city turned to the Trinity and San Jacinto rivers for their water supply. Houston and areas to the south still suffer from The livelihood of the city depended on commerce and cotton throughout the 19th century. Oil was discovered nearby at Spindletop in 1901, and the completion of the ship channel in 1914 encouraged oil companies to locate refineries along the channel, where they were safe from Gulf storms. By 1929, 40 oil companies had offices in the city, but cotton was still the driving force behind the city’s economy until World War II (1939-1945). The war created demand for not only oil and gasoline, but also synthetic rubber, explosives, ships, and other Gulf Coast


Church

The following is an excerpt from the book, Gift of Love, The Texas Houston Temple, which is used with permission of the author, Wendy O. Nielsen.

Years before the migration of the early Saints to Utah, leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints saw the Republic of Texas as a possible gathering place for faithful Saints who were seeking refuge from persecution in Illinois. Houston was a town with muddy streets and wooden sidewalks in 1844 when Lucien Woodward was assigned to study the feasibility of Texas as a haven for the Church. The martyrdom of Joseph Smith in June of 1844 ended the pursuit of the “Texas Plan,” as the leaders of the Church focused their attention on caring for its members and completing the Nauvoo Temple.

In 1845, the family of Israel Allphin moved to Madison County, Texas, where relatives had homesteaded. Elder Allphin maintained contact with Church leaders, and in 1848 three missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were called to preach the gospel in Texas. These missionaries were Preston Thomas, William Martindale, and James McGaw. They arrived in 1848, and for 10 years Elder Thomas and a succession of missionaries led by Elder Thomas traveled throughout Texas, baptizing and inviting converts to move to Utah. Some 2,100 Texas Saints immigrated to Utah by 1860. Few early converts stayed in Texas.

Missionary efforts were sharply curtailed during the Civil War, but in 1875 the Southern States Mission was formed. Texas was included as part of the mission, but the missionary effort was concentrated in Mississippi and Alabama. As time passed, many Alabama and Mississippi converts settled in Texas.

On June 10, 1894, Elder John K. Nicholson of Salt Lake City, a missionary who had been serving in Mississippi for 18 months, was sent to open and preside over the Texas Conference of the Southern States Mission. Its growth, though slow, was determined. Beginning in the counties east of Dallas, the 12 elders assigned to labor in Texas traveled south and east from county to county. They preached and baptized as the went, staying in one area for a few days before moving on and returning as often as possible to nurture the converts.

Soon little pockets of Latter-day Saints were scattered throughout East and South Texas. Harris County recorded its first baptisms of Latter-day Saints in June, 1897. By 1901, with Saints residing in numerous settlements, the mission president, James G. Duffin, recommended to Church leaders that the policy of emigration be discontinued and Church colonies or gathering places be established with support from Church headquarters. This suggestion was approved, and four colonies were designated in Texas. Thereafter, the majority of newly baptized converts did not migrate to Utah, and thousands of their descendants now claim at least 100 years of membership in the Church.

In the early years of the 20th century the membership of the Church in Houston was small and scattered, but economic conditions spurred a period of strengthening. During the Great Depression, fewer missionaries were sent to Texas, but the First Presidency authorized the mission president to call worthy Texans to serve six-month missions within the state. Convert baptisms continued, and the short-term missionaries gained valuable experience in Church leadership and established contacts with other members within the state.

An Air Force base built just outside Houston and growth in petroleum and related industries invited an influx of Latter-day Saints from across the country, bringing further Church experience to the area. By 1931 there were 2,600 members in Houston, with dozens more in outlying areas. In 1933, Mrs. Gussie Farmer, a friend of the Church, donated here home and two lots to the Church in her will, providing the Latter-day Saints with the means at last to build a chapel of their own. A larger chapel was built in 1940 on Calumet Street.

In 1953 the Houston Stake was formed with 3,800 members in 15 local congregations in 48 counties. By the year 2001, some 50 years later, that one stake had grown to 22 stakes and a single mission to five missions. Church membership in the Houston area numbered 40,000 people. Church members had built chapels, participated in community leadership and service, and had joined the ranks of thousands of missionaries traveling throughout the world to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints includes numerous descendants of the early Texas pioneers as well as thousands of converts, hundreds of whom are Asian, Hispanic, and African-American. In addition, Latter-day Saints from every state in the Union have chosen to make Texas their home.

The Houston Temple began operations on August 28, 2000.


Mission

The first mission in Houston was created July 1, 1976. It was split off of the Texas San Antonio Mission. 

It was the 3rd mission in Texas and the 142nd mission of the Church. The Texas Houston East Mission was split off and created on July 1, 1990. The Texas Houston South Mission was created on July 1, 1997 from parts of the other two Houston missions.

Six full stakes of the Church are included in the boundaries of the mission. They are the Bay City, Friendswood, League City, Houston South, Houston, Texas, Richmond Texas Stake. There are a total of 56 wards and branches in the boundaries of the mission.

We teach the gospel in five languages, English, Mandarin, Spanish, Burmese and Vietnamese. Nearly 50% of our missionaries are Spanish speaking.  Missionaries teaching in Mandarin, Burmese, and Vietnamese are assigned to proselyting areas in the city of Houston and nearby areas. English and Spanish speaking missionaries may be assigned in all areas of the mission.