In 1846, when Brigham Young began leading the Saints on their exodus west, the Salt Lake Valley was still in territory claimed by Mexico. The next 30 years, however, were turbulent both for the Saints in Utah Territory and for Mexico as a nation, as both faced conflict with the United States government and as reformers in Mexico fought to secure key freedoms. Finally, in 1874, as Mexico increased religious liberty and eased publishing restrictions, Brigham Young met with a few Saints who spoke Spanish and announced that “the time had come to prepare for the introduction of the gospel into Mexico.” Daniel Jones and Melitón Trejo subsequently translated portions of the Book of Mormon into Spanish. Jones soon mailed copies of the book to prominent leaders and thinkers throughout Mexico.
Several reformers were fascinated by what they read. Ignacio Manuel Altamirano, a prominent writer and politician of Nahua descent, was struck by Book of Mormon prophecies about the future of the Lamanites and requested more information. Plotino Rhodakanaty, another committed social reformer, corresponded with Trejo, shared his growing testimony and excitement with friends, and wrote to President John Taylor, eventually requesting baptism and ordination. “We’ve found the gospel,” he wrote, “and we want you to give us the Aaronic priesthood so we can begin proselyting in Mexico.” In 1879 President Taylor called a group of missionaries, including Elder Moses Thatcher of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, on a mission to Mexico City. Even before the missionaries arrived, the small group of believers in Mexico City began publishing a periodical called La voz del desierto to share the restored gospel. When the missionaries came, they baptized members, ordained local elders, and organized a branch.
Rhodakanaty had hoped to establish a community around principles of the United Order as he understood it and drifted from the Church when no such effort began. Other members, however, pressed forward and laid a foundation for the work. Converts from nearby villages soon joined members in Mexico City. On April 6, 1881, Thatcher and a handful of Saints—including Mexico City’s branch president, Silviano Arteaga, local missionary Fernando A. Lara, Lino Zárate, and two members of the Páez family—climbed onto the slopes of the volcanic mountain Popocatépetl to formally dedicate Mexico for the preaching of the gospel. At their conference on the mountain slope, Arteaga offered a prayer that left a deep impression on Thatcher. “Tears flowed down his wrinkled cheeks, for the deliverance of his race and people,” Thatcher recalled. “I never heard any man pray more earnestly.”