This article originally appeared in Vol.65 No.1 of Pioneer Magazine

by Lavon Brown Whetton

Wars and Rumors of Wars

When the colonizing Saints in Mexico left their homes during the exodus of 1912, most of them believed their absence would be temporary. However, due to the prolonged Revolution, only about one-fourth of the pre-exodus population ever returned. Those who did return would spend another seven years living with uncertainty and more than a little fear as roving bands of revolutionaries passed through the area making their accustomed demands.

The period from September 1915 through March 1916 was particularly harrowing, especially for those living in Colonia Dublan. , having suffered several defeats in the southern part of the country in early 1915, devised a plan to move all his men into northern Chihuahua. In late September, according to Anson B. Call, “19 long train loads of troops and equipment rolled into Dublan.”

“It was indeed a sight never to be forgotten by those who beheld it. Freight cars by the hundreds, on the tops of which rode the soldiers; in the cars proper were loaded horses, cannons, and ammunition, provision, etc. In fact, everything which goes to equip an army was there There were in all, more than 10,000 persons and about 8,000 horses.”1

Of course Villa himself was unable to provide food for his soldiers and feed for his livestock, and so he required them to live off the land—or off the settlers who owned it. The Mexican Saints were among those in northern Chihuahua who, for four weeks, bore the onerous and sometimes frightening burden of supporting Villas men. Finally, on October 16, Villa pulled his troops out of Chihuahua and headed for Sonora. Grace Zenor Pratt described the Saints’ emotions as they watched the revolutionary forces leave:

“For a full half day, the straggling lines of infantry stumbled along through the choking dust [and then] the army was gone. The green alfalfa fields trampled by many feet, corn-fields stripped of their plenty, orchards laid waste, and over the clean, shady streets the smudge of thousands of camp fires The work of our hands had been destroyed.”

On November 2, Villa attacked Agua Prieta, located across the border from Douglas, Arizona, only to be surprised by 6500 troops aligned with the newly recognized president of Mexico, Venustiano Carranza. Anticipating just such an attack from Villa’s forces, the US government had allowed the loyalist troops to be transported by American rail over from El Paso, Texas, to Douglas. Villa lost nearly half his men in the defeat, and surviving troops broke into various bands, each with its own leaders.

Consumed with rage at the loss, Villa vowed to destroy all Americans in his path as he made plans to return to northern Chihuahua and regroup. During the first three weeks of December weary advance troops began to straggle back toward Dublan. On Christmas Day, Bishop Call and others were requested to meet with a General Diaz who had been left to guard the Mormon colonies when Villa departed for Sonora. Diaz had reports that Villa’s men then making their way to northern Chihuahua intended to end up in Dublan where, according to their threats, they would kill every man, woman, and child and then loot and burn the town. Diaz cautioned the men to return home and prepare as best and as quickly as they could for whatever might happen.3

The following morning, December 26, Bishop Call began visiting every home in Dublan, encouraging people to gather into groups of five to eight families for the night. Late that evening at least one home was plundered and another was burned. Three armed men also forced their way into the Call home and proceeded to gather up whatever they wanted. The women and children were upstairs, and the marauders insisted they were going up. Anson stood in front of the stairway door, spread his arms across it and said,

“You are not going upstairs! By the power of the holy priesthood which I hold, you will not go up these stairs.”4

After some time, the marauders left but threatened to return. Fortunately, they did not—but that night became known as Noche Triste—“Night of Sadness and Fear.”5

With the new year came a brief respite described in a letter written by Anson’s wife Julia:

“I’ve never lacked a needful article. This winter we gave and gave and gave of everything to starving natives, and it was surely like the widow’s mite. Our larders were never empty…. It’s great to be on the Lord’s side.”6

But the peace would be short-lived. On March 9 Villa crossed the US border with about 485 men and staged his ill-fated attack on Columbus, New Mexico. During the brief two- hour battle Villa lost one hundred or more of his men. Seven American soldiers and at least ten civilians were killed; an additional seven Americans were wounded.7

Fully as angry as he had been following the battle at Douglas the previous November, Villa declared he would return to northern Chihuahua and kill all Americans and Mexican employees of Americans in the district. He and his men headed south toward Ascension and then on to Corralitos and Dublin. At Corralitos, some sixteen miles from Dublin, he executed the Polanco family—father and sons—because they were employed by Americans.8

Having learned of the disastrous Columbus attack and Villas subsequent actions in Corralitos, Bishop Call and his counselors made an emergency trip to Colonia Juirez to consult with Stake President Joseph C. Bentley—who told the anxious men that they knew the conditions in Dublin better than he and that they were to do as they thought best.

When Call and his counselors arrived back in Dublin, an emotional town meeting was underway. Call listened carefully to proposals that had been discussed in his absence. After all had spoken, he stood thoughtfully for a few moments, then quietly said,

“Let us all go home. I feel impressed that we should go back to our homes, pray, blow out all our lights, and go to bed.”8

His counsel was, to put it mildly, unexpected. But when one man declared in frustration, “That’s a hell of a thing to tell us to do!” another man quickly said, “Bishop Call has been prompted to tell us what to do. Let’s do itf A third quietly affirmed, “That is the word of the Lord to me,” then turned, left the room, and started toward his home. Before long everyone dispersed and followed the bishops counsel.10

Call himself later recorded:

“That night Villas army came in [to the valley] as far as the cattle chute at Corralitos, then went east and into the mountains. We slept well all night and didn’t know when they came. Some of Villas men later told Nephi Thayne that when they got to the cattle corrals they saw bright lights all over and could see many men walking back and forth armed, and they were afraid to come into town and attack as they had planned to do. As far as I know, there wasn’t a light in the whole town.”11

In a letter to Elder Anthony W Ivins written about a week later, Bishop Call reported:

“Villa… passed almost through our colony at night… leaving us unmolested. There are many rumors afloat here why he did not visit us. We know why he did not do it The God of heaven worked upon him in answer not only to our prayers, but to [those of] thousands and thousands of his faithful Saints. We feel that no greater miracle has been wrought in the history of the Mormon Church than this.”12

Within days of the raid on Columbus, US president Woodrow Wilson directed that an armed force be sent into Mexico with the objective of capturing Villa and preventing further raids by his band. Under the command of Brigadier General John J. Pershing, several thousand American soldiers marched into northern Chihuahua. By March 17 they were encamped near Colonia Dublin.

“Camp Dublin,” as they called it, functioned as the primary headquarters of the American troops during their ten-month stay in Mexico. Although their presence brought a certain sense of security and peace to the colonists, it also stirred anger and bitter resentment among their Mexican neighbors.

By late fall of 1916 Pershing had not been able to capture Villa, and the American troops prepared to return to the United States. This brought yet another time of uncertainty to the colonists as they contemplated what might happen once the troops were gone. Villa had publicly vowed to track down and wreak vengeance on any who had helped the American forces in any way. In late January 1917, Bishop Gall received an urgent telegram from Utah Senator Reed Smoot stating;

“Secretary of War advises me that Gen. Pershing has been instructed to advise Mormon Colonists to withdraw from Mexico Make preparations for withdrawal at once. See General Pershing.”13

Given Smoot’s warning, many Mormons in Colonia Dublan and Colonia Juarez once again prepared for an exodus from Mexico; most of them departing with General Pershing and his troops in late January 1917. A news report dated January 30 read, in part;

“Mormons were riding in automobiles, covered wagons of the prairie schooner type, in farm wagons and on horses and mules They were driving their milch cows ahead of them. Nothing that could be brought out was left behind. .. .Many… carried all of their worldly possessions with them.”14

As the Americans left, Villa and other revolutionaries claimed that they had successfully driven the gringos out. However, a news bulletin dated February 1 reported that one hundred Americans had chosen to remain in Colonia Juarez; another reported that seven families were staying on in Colonia Dublan.15

Brighter Days

On May 1,1917, the political situation in Mexico took a positive turn with the implementation of a new federal constitution. With the promise of greater stability, significant numbers of Mormon refugees turned back to their homes in the colonies. Over the next several years, life in the colonies began to be characterized by peace and security.

Elder Melvin J. Ballard

Shortly after Elder Melvin J. Ballard was called as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve in 1919, he made the first of many visits to the colonies.

He encouraged the colonists to plant productive orchards, raise fine beef and dairy cattle, and to grow crops. He tried to help them understand their mission in Mexico—to supply missionaries for what was then known as the Mexican Mission and to teach the gospel to Lamanite peoples through both words and actions.16 During subsequent visits he often reminded the colonists to improve the appearance of their homes and surroundings, promising them that “prosperity would reward their faithfulness.”17

The 1921 census reported that Dublin had a population of 325; Juirez, 240; Chuichupa, about 150; Garda, about 140; and Pacheco, about 75. The colonies of Diaz, Morelos, and Oaxaca were by that point deserted.18

When W Ernest Young was sustained as bishop of the Colonia Juirez Ward in March 1922, he urged fellow ward members to obey the counsel of Elder Ballard byrepairing bridges, canals, fences, and buildings and by planting more orchards. Young observed that “fruit raising was a basic and saving industry when the town began, and it can solve the problem of scant acreage again,” providing “a major cash income for this colony now as it did earlier.”19

Young further declared;

“It is one thing to found a colony and quite another thing to save and hold it after years of revolution have destroyed so much. But let us not lose heart, we have in our veins the blood of the best pioneer stock in the Church. We are the offspring of men who established a mission in this land—a mission that many now predict will be abandoned, but which we, if faithful, will be the means of preserving,”

In January 1926, a new civil law dictated that all “ministers” in Mexico be Mexican-born.71 Although the colonies had consistently supplied the Mexican Mission with able missionaries, this law placed added responsibilities upon the colonists. Between 1926 and 1945, many young men and women were called to full-time missionary service shortly after graduating from the Academy. Their faithfulness kept the Mexican Mission functional, even during World War II, when many Mormon males in the US were conscripted into military service.

Continued Recovery

Although recovery in the colonies was slow, it was steady. As early as 1923 John Comyn, foreign news correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, reported that the Mormons’ forms, gardens, houses, and schools were “by for the best and most striking of the foreign colonies in Mexico”; he also praised their reservoirs and irrigation systems. About this time, a cheese-making plant was established in Dublin, and “Queso Dublin” was successfully marketed throughout Mexico until the early 1940s.

By December 1944, when David S. Brown was ordained bishop in Colonia Juirez and Edgar L. Wagner in Colonia Dublin, the two largest colonies were enjoying their most prosperous years to date. A new chapel had been built and dedicated in Dublin; there were new gymnasium and classroom buildings on the Academy campus in Juiez.

The Colonial Poultry Producers Association was created in 1949 to provide opportunities for family businesses that could supplement existing incomes.72 The CPPA specialized in egg production; eggs were shipped by rail in iced boxcars to major cities across Mexico. According to association records, total income from sales in 1950 amounted to $3,000,000 pesos.7* Gradually, the increasing costs of production and shipping and the surplus of American eggs on the Mexican market weakened the association. By the end of 1976 the Colonial Poultry Producers Association was discontinued.

Deep wells drilled in the late 1930s allowed for larger forms and orchards. By the 1950s the fruit industry was growing rapidly. For years apples had been the primary crop, but peaches ripened sooner, and the market for peaches was more extensive. The completion of a modem paved highway to Nuevo Casas Grandes and on to Dublin and Juirez in 1956 marked the beginning of anew era for the colonies, especially for the fruit business. Using refrigerated trailers, the colonies could supply large city markets across Mexico with peaches and apples. More orchards were planted, and the colonies were soon numbered among Mexico’s primary fruit producers.

Centennials

Between 1985 and 1997, the two remaining Mormon colonies in Mexico—Colonia Dublan and Colonia Juarez—hosted three different centennial celebrations. Each brought the return of many former colony residents.

Throughout 1985 numerous events were held celebrating the hundred-year anniversary of the founding of the colonies; these events culminated in a week-long celebration in August. Parades, talent shows, athletic events, family and ward reunions, and a centennial pageant were the highlights of the celebration. Visitors from thirteen Mexican states and thirty US states attended, together with residents of ten other countries or provinces, including Japan, Hong Kong, Canada, and Paraguay.24

In February 1990 the Colonia Juarez Mexico Stake was divided, resulting in the creation of the Colonia Dublan Stake. In December 1995 the two stakes jointly sponsored the centennial celebration of the creation of the original Juarez Stake. Attendees were encouraged to continue to share the gospel and to raise their children in light and truth.25

Finally, the centenary of the establishment of the Juarez Stake Academy was held during graduation week in June 1997. Much to the surprise of all concerned, President Gordon B. Hinckley indicated that he wanted to attend the celebration and to rededicate the remodeled Academy buildings. During a special fireside address attended by more than 5500 people.

President Hinckley declared,

“This place stands out in the history of our people. These little colonies in northern Mexico have made such a tremendous contribution to the Church over the more than a century that they have been established.”26

“I just wanted to come down here and thank you… for what you have done, for the generations of Latter-day Saints who, in these little narrow valleys have kept the faith and lived the gospel and, generation after generation, all by yourselves down here, as it were, have gone on serving the Lord in truth and righteousness.

“… Some people in the Church foel a little sorry for you. You seem to be so for away from everybody, but your isolation has been your strength. You have been united together. You have been as a great family. You have shared your sacrifice. You have shared your sorrow. You have helped one another in times of trouble and distress. You had to because you were alone. You have become as one great family. Keep it up. Most of your young people will leave here and will probably never come back except to show their children where they grew up, but there will still be a strong congregation of the Saints here. Stay that way. Live as you have lived in the past.”27

During this same fireside. President Hinckley also declared,

“I would like to see the time come when all of our people throughout the world could get to a temple without too much inconvenience. I think you are about as for away as anybody and I don’t know quite what to do about you.”28

Little did anyone in attendance imagine that there would soon be a beautiful temple on the hillside overlooking the spot where President Hinckley greeted and blessed Church members in 1997.

During his address at the Academy’s commencement exercises. President Hinckley observed that “the richest fruit of these colonies has not been apples or peaches or chili peppers, it has been young men and women of foith and capacity and ability? As others have emphasized, a surprising number of general authorities, mission presidents, temple presidents, and missionary training center presidents have had their roots in the . More importantly, missionaries from the colonies have served in every country of Central and South America and throughout Mexico—and in Spanish-speaking missions across the world.

Although the original nine Mexican colonies were ultimately reduced to two, faithful men and women of courage were able to persevere. Through united effort, hard work, and righteous living they survived civil war, natural disasters, and poverty to become successful community leaders and loyal citizens of their nation. Countless men and women throughout both Mexico and the United States are proud to proclaim that their roots grow deep in the tiny Mormon Colonies of Mexico.


  1. William G. Hartley and Lorna Call Alder, Anson Bowen Call—Bishop of Colonia Dublan (2007), 378-9.
  2. Hartley and Alder 387.
  3. Hartley and Alder 392.
  4. Hartley and Alder 399.
  5. Hartley and Alder 400.
  6. LaVon Brown Whetten, Colonia Judrez Commemorating 125 Years of the Mormon Colonies in Mexico (privately published 2010), 61.
  7. Whetten 62.
  8. Thomas Cottam Romney, The Mormon Colonies in Mexico (1938),239.
  9. Hartley and Alder 410.
  10. ibid.
  11. Hartley and Alder 412.
  12. Hartley and Alder 411.
  13. Hartley and Alder 463.
  14. Hartley and Alder 467.
  15. Hartley and Alder 470.
  16. Clarence F.Turley and Anna Tenney Turley, “The Ju«irez Stake, 1885-1980,” in History of the Mormon Colonies in Mexico (privately published 1975), 115.
  17. Whetten 74.
  18. Hartley and Alder 520.
  19. Whetten 73.
  20. Whetten 73-4.
  21. Hartley and Alder 526.
  22. Nelle Spilsbury Hatch, Colonia Judrez, A Mormon Village (1954),256.
  23. Turley 130.
  24. Whetten 127.
  25. Whetten 140.
  26. Virginia Hatch Romney and Richard O. Cowan, The Colonia Judrez Temple: A Prophet’s Inspiration (2009), 34.
  27. Romney and Cowan 177-83.
  28. Ibid.

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