Church History
    Colonies in Mexico
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    “Colonies in Mexico,” Church History Topics

    “Colonies in Mexico”

    Colonies in Mexico

    In 1882 the United States Congress passed the Edmunds Act, giving greater power to federal marshals to arrest, imprison, and fine Latter-day Saints who participated in plural marriage. As a result, Church leaders began to look for places outside of the United States where some Saints could find refuge from these laws, which they felt violated their right to practice their religion. In 1885 President John Taylor and several other Church leaders traveled to Mexico, where missionaries had already scouted potential sites for settlement. They decided on a location in the Mexican state of Chihuahua for resettling some Latter-day Saint families. Mexico’s president, Porfirio Díaz, encouraged such foreign immigration with a policy intended to stimulate the colonization of vacant land.1

    Even before Latter-day Saints had purchased land in Chihuahua, polygamist men from Arizona started crossing the border into Mexico to escape prosecution.2 Within five months in 1886, almost 400 Saints were living out of wagons or crude dugouts along the Casas Grandes River, waiting for permission to settle so they could send for their families. The families eventually dammed the Piedras Verdes River, irrigated crops, and surveyed a town site they named Colonia Juárez. They soon branched out into new settlement colonies in Dublán, Díaz, Cave Valley, Pacheco, García, and Chuichupa. They also established colonies in Oaxaca and Morelos in the state of Sonora. Some Saints came north from central Mexico to join the immigrants from the United States as the colonies grew.3

    In the years between the antipolygamy raids in Utah in the 1880s and the Mexican Revolution in the 1910s, the colonies served as a peaceful home for several hundred Latter-day Saint families. Six Apostles lived in the colonies during the late 19th century. In 1895 the first stake in Mexico was created, headquartered in Juárez. Saints in the colonies not only established economically sustaining communities but emphasized culture and education, establishing the Juárez Stake Academy, a school that provided primary and secondary education for children.4 By the early 20th century, about 4,000 Latter-day Saints were living in the colonies.5 Many future Church leaders, including Marion G. Romney of the First Presidency and Rey Lucero Pratt of the First Quorum of the Seventy, were raised in the colonies. Pratt’s fluency in Spanish allowed him to play a vital role as a leader of missionary work in Mexico.6

    Stake Academy building exterior

    The Juarez Stake Academy building in Colonia Juárez.

    After President Wilford Woodruff’s 1890 Manifesto, which pledged that the Church would comply with the marriage laws of the United States, some Latter-day Saints assumed that plural marriages could continue in Mexico. In 1901 Woodruff’s successor, President Lorenzo Snow, clarified that the Manifesto also applied to the Saints wherever they lived. Four years later, Snow’s successor, President Joseph F. Smith, traveled to Mexico to ensure compliance with the policy ending Church-sanctioned plural marriages.7

    During the Mexican Revolution of the 1910s, anti-American sentiment made the situation of the European-American Saints in the colonies precarious. In 1912 revolutionary general José Inés Salazar trained cannons on Colonia Dublán, and within a day, stake president Junius Romney decided to evacuate the colony. Families who had migrated north from central Mexico remained to care for the colonies while Saints of Euro-American backgrounds packed as many of their belongings as they could and left for El Paso, Texas.8

    Once back in the United States, most of the refugee Saints moved to new homes in the American West. Life in the colonies continued for the Mexican Saints who had remained, and the first Spanish-language branch in northern Mexico was organized in Colonia Dublán in 1916. After the revolution, around one quarter of the Saints who had fled returned to their homes in northern Mexico. Those who did return repaired buildings and farms and resumed their educational and community-building endeavors. Both Colonia Dublán and Colonia Juárez continue to maintain a strong Latter-day Saint presence, and a temple was dedicated in Juárez in 1999.9

    Related Topics: Antipolygamy Legislation, Mexico, Canada