Type of Culminating Activity
Master of Arts in History
Lisa Brady, Ph.D.
John Bieter, Ph.D.
Barton Barbour, Ph.D.
The June 5, 1976, Teton Dam collapse occurred in a unique region of Idaho where the population comprised as much as ninety-five percent of residents belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The homogenous nature of this population influenced the nature of the recovery effort following the disaster. The Teton Dam recovery effort provided an opportunity for the LDS church, using its welfare system and priesthood (lay male leadership) organizational structure to seamlessly work with government agencies. Church leaders used the reports of positive interactions between its members and the federal and local leaders to celebrate an effective assimilation of its principles into mainstream culture, even using distinctive aspects of Mormon culture and practice to enhance the government’s recovery efforts. While the Teton Dam failure did encourage a previously unprecedented level of cooperation between the federal or local government and the LDS Church, this recovery effort also demonstrated an inability or unwillingness of the church to actually abandon its unique beliefs and procedures.
The dam collapse allowed for a potential point of change in a larger narrative of Mormon history noted by mutual antagonism between the church and government. This change is a matter of perception by members of the church and their leadership during the late 1970s. Much of the accommodation arose from the secular agencies that felt it easier to adapt to the LDS recovery approach rather than implement their own methods of organization. This environmental crisis provided an opportunity for the LDS Church in 1976 to display its beliefs and practices, which the federal government and mainstream American culture had historically found objectionable. The recovery period provided an opportunity for the church to create a narrative based on its work following the collapse of the dam that showed the value of priesthood leadership, welfare system, communal spirit, and the doctrine of self-sufficiency.
Deaver, LauriAnn Vaterlaus, "Dam Mormons: Responding to the 1976 Teton Dam Disaster in the "Lord's Way"" (2013). Boise State University Theses and Dissertations. 784.