Mormons in the Borderlands

Mitt Romney’s run for the presidency has cast some attention on the little-known history of Mormon settlement in the northern Mexican states of Chihuahua and Sonora.  The Republican hopeful’s father,  former Michigan Governor George Romney, was born into one of the Mormon settler families;  the  Romneys still have family ties in the state of Chihuahua.

But one hundred years ago, the Mormon colonists were on the move, displaced by the shifting political winds of the 1910 Mexican Revolution.  In commemoration of the 100th anniversary of what has since become known as the  Mormon Exodus of 1912,  the city of El Paso, Texas,  will host a series of events  later this month.  Set  for July 28, a conference featuring historians from across the U.S.  will explore Mormon history in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands as well as Latin America in general.

Among others,  the scheduled presentations include Fred Woods on the Mormon Exodus of 1912, Barbara Morgan on Academia Juarez and Bilingual Education in Mexico and Jared Tamez on Mormon worship in the early 20th century.

According to the conference organizers,  4,500 Mormon refugees initially sought shelter in El Paso in 1912 after they were subjected to violent harassment by soldiers loyal to General Pascual Orozco, a former ally of President Francisco Madero who rebelled against his former chief. Some of the Mormon refugees returned to Mexico after the heat of the revolution subsided, but many remained in the United States.

Although small in numbers,  Chihuahua’s Mormons continue to play a prominent role in the political, economic and social life of their state and country.  A vocal anti-kidnapping activist, Benjamin LeBaron, was murdered along with his brother-in-law in 2009.  Benjamin’s brother, Julian LeBaron, was a leader of the national Movement for Peace and Justice with Dignity that emerged in 2011. More recently, he has helped lead protests against alleged customs, police and army abuses  in the northwestern part of Chihuahua state.

Also on July 28, the El Paso History Museum and Brigham Young University plan to open an exhibit on the 1912 exodus that will be at the museum until next January.  Then at 6:30 p.m. on the same day,  the Union Cinema at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP)  will feature comments from Brigham Young University Professor Fred Woods;  El Paso Mayor John Cook;  Major General Dana Pittard, Fort Bliss commander; and Richard E. Turley Jr.,  descendant of the Mormon colonists.

The El Paso events are being organized by  diffferent institutions and indiviudals including UTEP, Brigham Young University, the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation and the Juvenile Instructor, a Mormon history blog.

Readers interested in more information about the conference can write to UTEP’s  Jared Tamez at mormonexodus2012@gmail.com

Details on the various events can also be found at the following website: mormonexodus.utep.edu.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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