Introduction to the Latter-day Saint Mexican Colonies

This article originally appeared in Vol.65 No.1 (2018) issue of Pioneer Magazine
BY KEITH VAN ROOSENDAAL, 2018 National SUP President

The Saints’ exodus from Nauvoo to the western US began in February 1846, and, under the direction of Brigham Young, the colonization of began almost immediately upon their arrival in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. At Brigham’s death in 1877, there were more than 350 Mormon settlements across the American West, and by 1900 this number was approaching 500.

In September 1875 the first missionaries assigned to Mexico were charged with preaching the gospel and locating suitable places for colonization in southern Arizona and New Mexico and northern Mexico. Over the next ten years, between 1875 and 1885, several groups of explorers were sent into Mexico to locate settlement sites and to negotiate with Mexican officials for land.

The passage of the Edmunds Act in 1882 intensified federal efforts to incarcerate polygamous Mormon males and to end the practice of plural marriage.The ensuing persecution prompted a regional conference in St. David, Arizona, on January 1,1885. Convened by Elder Moses Thatcher under the direction of the First Presidency, the conference had the purpose of designating and financing colonization sites in northern Chihuahua, Mexico, as a safe refuge. Beleaguered Saints were soon departing for the valley of the Casas Grandes River in Chihuahua, Mexico. Eventually, land would be procured, and migrations to northern Chihuahua and Sonora would result in the founding of eight major colonies.

Colonia Juarez and Colonia Dublan were established on the Casas Grandes River. By the early 1900s, Colonia Juarez was a prosperous town of nearly 750 inhabitants where fruit orchards, cattle ranches, a tannery, a shoe factory, and a leather-goods shop thrived. Colonia Dublan was located eighteen miles northeast of Colonia Juarez on a rich tableland whose fertile soil made this area an agricultural center producing alfalfa, wheat, corn, and beans; dairies flourished here and grist mills were built. Sixty miles north of Dublan was Colonia Diaz; Colonia Oaxaca and Colonia Morelos were seventy miles west of Diaz in the state of Sonora. Colonias Pacheco, Garcia and Chuichupa were scattered southwest of Juarez and Dublan in the Sierra Madre Mountains.

During the Mexican Revolution, Diaz, Oaxaca, and Morelos were permanently abandoned. Pacheco, Garcia and Chuichupa died out over time because of prolonged drought, fire, poor road systems, and a lack of schools. Only Colonia Juarez and Colonia Dublan survive today, bolstered by better roads and transportation enabling the export of fruit, berries, and vegetables north to the US and south to other states in Mexico.

Today, the threats of and roaming banditos have been supplanted by the new dangers of the illicit drug trade. However, the faithful Saints in northern Mexico remain true to their mission of helping establish the Church in their native land. They are determined that they and their communities will endure as bastions of peace, safety, and goodness.

Issue #1 of the 2018 Pioneer Magazine explores the several purposes for establishing Mormon colonies in the northern states of Mexico and discusses the challenges the early Saints faced as they purchased land, settled it, and prepared it for planting before that first winter set in.The hardy colonists had to surmount many challenges over the years including drought and forest fires, depredations from bandits and revolutionaries, and an unstable national government.The following articles portray the resilience and faith of the early settlers, together with the optimistic, enduring commitment of their descendants.

Sources: Lavon B.Whetten,”Colonia Juarez: Commemorating 125 Years of the Mormon Colonies in Mexico,”privately printed (2017). Lavon B.Whetten and Don L. Searle,”Las Colonias: Once a Haven, Still a Home,”Ensign (August 1985).

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