Southwestern States Mission: Mexican Colonies

By July 29, 2012

Below is a much-condensed version of a paper I presented yesterday at the History of Mormonism in Latin America and the US-Mexico Borderlands conference in El Paso, Texas. Our own Jared T organized the conference, which I judge to have been a smashing success. My paper attempted to sketch some of the relationships among the Mormon colonies in Sonora and Chihuahua, Mexico, and the Southwestern (later Central) States Mission from 1900 to 1905. 

[I began with 600 words introducing a framework of colonialism, cultural diffusion, center/periphery relationships (wagon wheel model), and periphery/periphery relationships (dreamcatcher model).]

Mormons in Chihuahua, Sonora, and the Central States had a common cultural center in Utah. More than anything else, the claim of prophetic and institutional authority bound the periphery to the center. Every six months, general Conference drew in leaders and other members. However, mission leaders didn?t just go to a common power source (wagon wheel model): they also met together to discuss their work and progress. Thus, mission leaders from the Central States met with leaders from various settlements and regions, including Mexico (dream catcher model).

For members not able to attend conference, prophetic and institutional authority were embodied by visiting general officers and authorities and by missionaries. From 1900 to 1905, I count one visit by the General Relief Society Presidency, one by the President of the Church, and nine visits by apostles. Apostolic travel also reinforced connections around the periphery in that visiting Apostles were often coming from or en route to Mexico or Canada.

Missionaries provided, in many cases, the most immediate connection to the Mormon Culture Region. From 1901 to 1906, out of about three hundred missionaries, seven gave their home as Mexico and two as Canada. Furthermore, three of the eight missionary diaries I have examined in detail, mention relatives in Mexico.

Mission Presidents traveled to other parts of the periphery, apparently just to visit. The diaries record visits to settlements in Colorado, Arizona, Mexico, and Canada, as well as receiving visits from other mission presidents. In 1902 President Duffin and Amelia B Carling left the mission to go to the Mexican colonies to be married polygamously. Carling established her household there and thereafter Duffin visited Mexico two or three times per year, usually for a couple of weeks at a time.

Peripheral settlements received and corresponded with periodicals in common like The Deseret Evening News, The Juvenile Instructor, and The Young Woman?s Journal from Utah. Even local/regional publications like the mission newspaper, Truth?s Reflex, were written and edited by missionaries from the Mormon Culture Region and included news from groups in other parts of the world, such as the colonies in Mexico.

Although by the late 1800s / early 1900s most Mormon converts in the Central States stayed in the Central States, a non-trivial number moved to some part of the Mormon cultural empire; some moved back after a few years. Regardless of the direction of movement, ties of friendship, kinship, and memory strengthened connections between the outlying settlements and the center.

Mormons weren?t the only ones to notice the colonies in Mexico. East Texas newspapers occasionally mention the colonies. One man, arguing with Elder Clark, said: ?you are trying to get people to leave and go in Mexico and Start a colony.? A representative of JD Rockefeller ?informed [Duffin] that he would like to get a colony of our people to colonize this tract of land?. He had been in our colonies in Mexico and was impressed with what we saw there.?

In conclusion, the Mexican Colonies and Central States colonies and groups formed a transnational space in two ways: (1) they were both on the periphery of a common Utah center (the wagon wheel) and (2) they were part of a web of relationships binding the various parts of the Mormon empire together  (the dream-catcher). The shared space was established by the movement of people, information, and wealth.

The US-Mexico border played a key role in the Mexican colonies? existence since it shielded the polygamists from US law-enforcement. Further, since polygamy was more common among leaders, polygamy concentrated cultural capital in the Mexican colonies. Thus, for Mormons in the Central States, the Mexican colonies were a second center of power. Until the Mexican Revolution made the US-Mexico border reappear, Central-states Mormons tended to imagine the Mexican colonies in terms of their location relative to Mormon geography rather than national geography.


The ?Southwestern States Mission? series uses the diaries of six seven eight (as of 2012 Jun 17) missionaries who served in eastern Texas or, in the case of the Sister missionaries, in Kansas and Missouri, around 1900 to illustrate aspects of Mormon material culture, lived religion, and social History. The missionaries are Mission President Duffin, Elders Brooks, Clark, Folkman, Forsha, and Jones, and Sisters Carling and Cluff. The series is inspired by Ardis Parshall?s serial posting of the missionary diary of Willard Larson Jones at Keepapitchinin. Previous installment here.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Good stuff, Edje. I’m especially interested in the periphery-periphery relationships.

    Also glad to hear the conference was a success. I look forward to Jared’s report this week.

    Comment by Christopher — July 29, 2012 @ 12:15 pm

  2. Love it Edje! So I’m ignorant about the Wagon Wheel Model and the Dream Catcher Model. Are those longstanding methodologies or recent ways of interpreting social networks/relations?

    Comment by Tod R. — July 30, 2012 @ 4:20 pm

  3. […] JI?s own Ed Jeter, MA in American history and current physics instructor, presented ?The Central States Mission: A Transnational, Mormon Space, 1885-1915.? Edje posted a  summary of his paper on Sunday. […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Recap of the Conference on the History of Mormonism in Latin America and the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands and the Centennial Commemoration of the Mormon Exodus — July 31, 2012 @ 2:48 pm

  4. […] posting of the missionary diary of Willard Larson Jones at Keepapitchinin. Previous installment here. Comments (0) […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Southwestern States Mission: On Hiatus — August 4, 2012 @ 11:33 pm


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