This article originally appeared in Vol.65 No. 1 of Pioneer Magazine.
By Thomas G. Alexander
Anthony W. Ivins, who served as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve from 1907 until 1934, was intimately connected with the LDS colonies in Mexico from their beginning. Accompanied by a party of experienced settlers in 1875, Ivins explored the Arizona-Mexican border region for possible colonization sites.
Church leaders then sent him into Mexico from October 1877 to June 1878 to explore for colonization opportunities. His party noted several valleys that offered good prospects and reported those to church leaders. From 1882 to 1884 Ivins served as acting president of the Mexican Mission. In 1885 LDS settlement began in northern Mexico.
In 1895, the First Presidency called Ivins as president of the Mexican Mission. He constructed a home for his family at Colonia Juarez and organized the Juarez Stake and served as its first president. Working with others, Ivins negotiated land purchases and supervised surveys for settlement and irrigation.
He met with the Mexican government’s colonization minister, and with President Porfirio Diaz on behalf of the colonists. He worked with others to establish rules for harvesting timber and distributing irrigation water and contended with people who made claims to land that he had purchased for the colony.
As stake president Ivins also conducted normal stake business.This included resolving disputes between members, visiting and speaking in wards and branches, organizing leadership, conducting stake conferences, and founding the Juarez Academy. He also regularly returned to Salt Lake City for general conferences.
Pres. Ivins also became involved in the vestiges of plural marriage. In 1890 President Wilford Woodruff announced his intention to end plural marriage and to encourage others to do the same. However some church leaders continued to approve new plural marriages between 1890 and 1904. LDS members who visited Mexico during those years sometimes carried a letter from President George Q. Cannon or another church leader to Pres. Ivins.
Though a monogamist himself, Ivins performed plural marriages for these people as instructed by these letters. In 1904, President Joseph F. Smith ruled that the church would try Latter- day Saints for their church membership if they entered into new plural marriages, substantially ending this practice.
In 1907, Pres. Smith called Ivins to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, but his connection with Mexico did not end. Following the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution in 1910, the First Presidency sent Ivins to advise the colonists. Ivins strongly supported Porfirio Diaz, the long-time president of Mexico, but Diaz quickly lost power and resigned on May 25,1911. Despite Diaz’s resignation the revolution did not end, and violence in the areas around the Mormon colonies increased.
The First Presidency authorized Elder Ivins to use necessary funds to evacuate the Mormons from Mexico if it became necessary. In July 1912, in part with funds supplied by Ivins, the colonists from Dublan and Juarez began to flee for El Paso, Texas under the leadership of Stake President Junius Romney. By August 11 Saints from other colonies had joined in the flight. On October 10,1912, the First Presidency released all stake and ward officers and told the colonists they could choose to return to Mexico or remain in the United States.
Members did both.