Question: Was Rexburg, Idaho and Ricks College named in honor of Thomas E. Ricks?
Answer: Thomas Edwin Ricks was born July 21, 1828 in Trigg County (now Christian County), Kentucky the oldest child of Joel Ricks and Eleanor Martin. When he was two years old, his parents moved to Madison County, Illinois. Thomas became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at age sixteen, on February 14, 1845, and the following October, he was ordained an Elder.
He then moved with his father’s family to Nauvoo, Illinois. He worked on the Nauvoo Temple, along side of his father, from the time they arrived there until preparations were made to move west.
Thomas crossed the Mississippi River with part of Charles C. Rich’s family in 1846 at age seventeen, acting as teamster for them as far as Council Bluffs. Here he remained with his parents until April 1848, when they continued westward in the Heber C. Kimball company. When the company arrived near Elkhorn River, the Indians stole some of their cattle, and Thomas and three others went in pursuit. Thomas was shot three times but received a blessing and survived. 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’.”
The family arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on September 24, 1848 and located about twelve miles north of Salt Lake City at North Mill Creek. Thomas was twenty years old. The following spring, they moved to Centerville, Utah. “In 1849, he joined a company under the leadership of Parley P. Pratt in making an exploration of southern Utah. At the April conference in 1855, Thomas E. Ricks was called by President Brigham Young to assist in founding an Indian Mission at Las Vegas (Nevada). He performed this task, and upon his return, was sent east to Wyoming, in the fall of 1856, to assist in rescuing members of the stranded Willie and Martin Handcart Companies. In 1858, he went with others to rescue colonists at Fort Lemhi (Idaho) who had been attacked by Indians.
“In the fall of 1859, when he was 31 years of age, he moved to Logan in Cache Valley. There he at once became prominent and served as county sheriff, assessor and collector, and as a colonel in the local militia. He was active in the Church and was a member of the Stake High Council.
When the railroad began to build into Cache Valley in 1872, Thomas E. Ricks took large contracts to do grading. He and W.D. Hendricks contracted to lay the track for the Utah Northern Railroad from Franklin, Idaho to Butte, Montana.”
“In December 1882, he was called by President John Taylor to lead a colony of Saints into the upper Snake River Valley. He and others arrived at the site of Rexburg in 1883 and laid out the town. Other neighboring settlements were located under his direction. When Bannock Stake was organized in February 1884, he was chosen as president. Bannock Stake Academy, later named Ricks College, was established at Rexburg in 1888, and was named in honor of Thomas E Ricks.” (Preston Nibley)
After selecting the site we now know as Rexburg, they needed to name the town to be. President Preston, on March 11, 1883 suggested naming the town Rexburg in honor of Bishop Ricks, giving preference to Rex, which is not the German equivalent of the name Ricks, but at that time, it was thought it was. Brother Rigby officially dedicated the settlement of Rexburg to the Lord.
During the time Thomas was railroad building, he accumulated considerable means, all of which he spent in building up and developing the Snake River country. Much was spent in assisting the poor and needy and for supplies and equipment necessary for the opening of the school, which later became known as Ricks College.
The Bannock Ward was created on Dec. 18, 1882, as a part of the Cache Valley Stake. Thomas Edwin Ricks was chosen the bishop of this largest ward of the whole church at that time. When the Bannock Stake was organized in Feb. 4, 1884, Thomas E. Ricks was called as Stake President.
Thomas E. Ricks practiced polygamy and had five wives who bore forty-three children. These children gave Thomas and his wives, 231 grandchildren. Thomas and his wives truly raised up a posterity unto the Lord.
Thomas E. Ricks died at his home in Rexburg on September 28, 1901. He was 73 years of age. When President Joseph F. Smith spoke at President Thomas E. Ricks’ funeral, he 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.”
Thomas is buried in the Rexburg City Cemetery.
Sources: Joel Ricks (1804-1888) and His Family, 2007; President Steven D. Bennion, history of Thomas E. Ricks given at a devotional address given in 1997 at Ricks College.