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Map of Chesterfield and its region from The Chesterfield Foundation (1982), used by permission.

Mormon Families in Chesterfield
Chesterfield, though today largely a ghost town, lives on in the spirit of the descendants of its Pioneers. The Chesterfield Foundation is dedicated to preserving the Chesterfield heritage, and has published the exquisite book "Chesterfield: A Mormon Outpost in Idaho."

Most Mormon farm families in the Chesterfield area were monogamous, though there were some polygamous households. Large families were considered an asset in Chesterfield, as in most Mormon communities; 8 or 10 children was a small family. Sixteen children was normal. Boys married at age 18 or 19 and girls at 16 or 17.

The history of Chesterfield's residents is a cycle of dreams and hard work to plow the sagebrush, followed by tragedy with the loss of land, crops, and livestock. Then the process would start over again, usually somewhere else. Chesterfield was always a cold and dry place. The farmers tired of watching summer storms pour a deluge on Gentile Valley to the south and miss their land. The knowledge that the Snake River Valley to the north was well watered through irrigation further disillusioned them. Most early settlers, including church leaders, eventually sold out and moved away.

Nathan James Barlow recorded the leaving of Judson Tolman, a polygamous Mormon Bishop, and his family. Tolman had been for three decades one of the pillars of the community.

"It was a beautiful morning of that day of November 8,1908, when we left Chesterfield, Idaho. The sky was blue and the day bright, giving no indication of the anxiety and confusion in the breasts of Father and Mother... One may well imagine that our departure from Chesterfield-leaving friends, relatives and most of the worldly goods we had enjoyed-would leave Mother with intense bitterness. Fortunately it did not do so... Mother and Father carried their burden without a murmur." (The Chesterfield Foundation 1982, p. 17).


Chesterfield LDS church and meeting house, dedicated August 23, 1892. Photo taken October, 1988.

The diary of Wanda Katie Whitworth, born in 1905, and who lived on a ranch about eight miles from Chesterfield, is quoted in Swetnam (1991,p. 61).

There was ever so much to be done to make a decent living for our family. Many long, hard late hours were spent by everyone. We made our own butter, cottage cheese, dried fruit, and I bottled everything such as peaches, pears, cherries, raspberries, pickles, relishes, beets, jams, jellies, etc.  It was always such a special thrill for me to go down to the basement at the end of the summer to see all my work, some 700-800 quarts of bottled fruit filled for our winter storage, labeled and washed, simply a beautiful sight.

Farming in the Chesterfield area today mainly consists of large dry farms and ranches, operated by a few hardy survivors.

"Once a man with an hundred and sixty acres of land and a dozen cows could make a good living. Now it takes at least a thousand acres, and thousands of dollars worth of machinery. The young fellows with nothing but muscles and ambition have had to go elsewhere to make a living.The land belongs to a few men. When I go back, except for a dozen or so old friends, I find myself among strangers." Frank C. Robertson, former Chesterfield farmer, (The Chesterfield Foundation, 1982, p. 18).