The story of Manti (the first town founded in Fremont County) is tied to the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (Mormon Church). Joseph Smith, Jr., founded the Mormon Church in New York in 1830, but their religious doctrines made them unpopular with a number of other religious groups. As a result they were driven from many towns, the last of which was Nauvoo, Illinois. Smith was killed in 1844 and succeeded by Brigham Young, who organized a migration to a “Promised Land” in the West. They traveled from Nauvoo across Iowa to Kanesville (present day Council Bluffs, Iowa).
Alpheus Cutler was among the Mormons on this “Great Trek.” A New Hampshire native and member of the Church’s High Council until the death of Joseph Smith, Cutler disagreed with the Mormon doctrine of polygamy. As a result, Cutler and his followers broke away from the main body of the church in the fall of 1846. The “Cutlerite” faction then left Kanesville and sought a new home n southwest Iowa and northeast Kansas.
In 1851 the Cutlerites sent Edmund Fisher to scout for land in Fremont County, Iowa. Fisher found an area suitable for settlement in the Lower Nishnabotna River Valley along what was then called Little Walnut Creek. It was n the northwest corner of what became Fisher Township, Fremont County, Iowa. Fisher and his family settled there in the fall of 1851 and called the place “Manti”, a name taken from the Book of Mormon. The following year, Cutler brought his followers to Manti, and by 1855 it was a bustling settlement of 30 to 40 families. For a number of years the town was the principal settlement in western Page and eastern Fremont counties.
Most families in Manti farmed, but business necessary for the frontier life also appeared in the little town. The cabin in the museum, built from wood taken from an actual pioneer Manti barn, illustrates what a typical Manti dwelling was like in the 1850’s and 1860’s. It provided only basic shelter, a wood stove, a cabinet and water crock. Children slept in the loft and parents on a rope-strung bed. An oil lamp furnished light, but only when necessary.
After 1865 sixty-two Civil War veterans (many with families) came from Illinois to settle in Manti, even though they were not Mormons. The settlement prospered, but that changed with the coming of the railroad. In 1870 the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad ran a branch line southward between Red Oak and Hamburg Iowa. Hopes were high that the new rail line would pass through Manti, but instead it was laid two miles east of the newly-platted town called Fair Oaks (modern day Shenandoah, Iowa). It was clear that the future of the area was there and not in Manti. In the summer of 1870, most of Manti’s businesses moved their stock and sometimes even their buildings to Fair Oaks. By 1871 little remained of Manti. In 1878 the last resident moved away, and the town was totally deserted.
Today, Manti is a farming area, noted for its scenic beauty and walnut trees. The only reminders of our region’s first town a cemetery, livery stable (now a modern barn), Cutler’s house and a road that was the main street. Beginning in 1929 the Daughters of the American Republic, the Shenandoah Kiwanis Club and others have preserved the cemetery and constructed a park and campground nearby as a memorial to those early settlers. It is now a park under the control of the City of Shenandoah.