The Improbable Story of Walter Murray Gibson

Most Mormons do not know the story of Walter Murray Gibson, one-time LDS missionary who had a major impact on the history of both the church and the government in Hawaii.

Gibson was called on a mission to the Far East, but decided to stay in Hawaii when he arrived there in 1861 and saw the large colony of Mormons there. He used his missionary authority to exercise broad control over the Saints in Hawaii, gathering them into a colony on Lanai, which he purchased using the local Saints’ funds. He organized a local First Presidency and ordained apostles and ran the colony as his personal fiefdom. For whatever reason, Brigham Young ignored these developments until word reached Salt Lake that Gibson was selling priesthood offices.

Young sent Ezra T. Benson and Lorenzo Snow to Hawaii to reassert church control, at which point Gibson (who by now held the title to half the island of Lanai) expelled all the saints who would not support him (and most chose to follow the apostles from Salt Lake). The Mormons were forced to find a new gathering place at Laie, on Oahu, where the temple and BYU-Hawaii now stand.

Gibson, now a wealthy landowner, befriended Hawaiian King Kalākaua and became an important advisor to the king, eventually being named Prime Minister. His efforts to establish a Polynesian empire earned him the wrath of pro-American businessmen, who forced him to resign. He died penniless in San Francisco in 1888. You can read more about him here.

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4 Responses to The Improbable Story of Walter Murray Gibson

  1. To whom it may concern:
    I would like permission to reprint the photo (above) of Walter Gibson in a commemorative booklet on Blessed Damien of Molokai, Hawaii. It is only a commemorative booklet and will not be sold. The only photo I have of Walter Gibson is very faded and of poor quality.
    Thanking for your attention. I shall await your response, with hope.
    Sincerely,
    Peadar G. Cronin

  2. [...] Gibson. Both were characters, to say the least. Gibson had come to Hawaii in 1861 as part of an elaborate con on the Church of Latter-Day Saints, in which he was dispatched to the island of Lānaʻi to found a Mormon colony. He was eventually [...]

  3. [...] freedom and native converts, but left after just a few years, disappointed by failed crops and church leader Walter Murray Gibson‘s scandalous creation of his own island [...]

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