The Montagues and the Capulets of San Juan County; or, When Mormon Elites Meet

By November 25, 2007

Sitting in front of the fireplace at my in-law’s this evening, I began chatting with my wife’s 93-year-old grandmother about her life growing up in San Juan County, Utah. She began by telling me again about the hole-in-the-rockers, the original Mormon settlers of the Bluff, Blanding, and Monticello region in southeastern Utah who had hacked their way through the desert in one of the most incredible colonization missions in Western history. Her family were Perkins, who came with the first group to come through the Hole-in-the-Rock trail. Her husband’s family were Youngs, however; descendants of John R. Young, nephew of Brigham Young. During the polygamy raids and federal harassment of the late 19th-century, John R. and clan moved from Orderville down to the Old Mexico colonies and settled mostly in or near Pacheco. In 1909 or thereabouts the group left the Mexico colonies, due mainly to the Mexican Revolution. They settled in Blanding among the already established Hole-in-the-Rockers.

Both groups had historic Mormon heritage. Both groups had sacrificed greatly–either by fleeing the country and braving the desert to keep alive the principle, or by hacking out a grueling trail and a colony in the arid desert in response to a call from the prophet. Interestingly, when the Pachecoites, as the Old Mexico colonists came to be called, settled amongst the Hole-in-the-Rockers, who had (or whose ancestors had) carved their way into the valley, there began to develop somewhat of a class distinction between the two: the Hole-in-the-Rockers as the established colonists and the Pachecoites as the newcomers.

There was never any real serious tension between the two groups, and, as my wife’s grandma’s own life attests, there were plenty of young Romeos and Juliets to bridge any lingering clannishness. (She said she wasn’t even aware of it until after they were married and moved from Monticello to Blanding where she began to see traces of it, even learning that one of her husband’s friends–a Pachecoite–wagered a Stetson hat that he couldn’t get that Perkins girl–a Hole-in-the-Rocker–to marry him.) But I find it nonetheless a fascinating dynamic–the class tension  that could occur when even such an elite group of Mormon bluebloods as the Pachecoites were moved into a new colony and encountered an already established elite, subsequently inheriting, even if only mildly so, a somewhat relegated status (at least in the perceptions of some few) to the original inhabitants who had carved the colony out of the sandstone.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Stan: Interesting post. Any idea where the name Pachecoite came from?

    Comment by David Grua — November 25, 2007 @ 11:57 pm

  2. Pacheco was one of the Mexico colonies; apparently the group who came up from the colonies and settled in Blanding came primarily from Pacheco, or at least became associated with it. The locals referred to them as Pachecoites. At least that’s how my grandma-in-law refers to them.

    Comment by stan — November 26, 2007 @ 12:05 am

  3. Ah, ok. So Pacheco comes from their place of origin, not from following a leader by the name of Pacheco (which would have been strange, considering that, to my knowledge, there weren’t too many Mormon leaders with Spanish last names at the time).

    Comment by David Grua — November 26, 2007 @ 12:09 am

  4. David: This also might be of interest to you. I asked my wife (a descendant of both Pachecoites and Hole-in-the-Rockers) if she considers herself a Pachecoite or a Hole-in-the-Rocker. Even though she has never lived in San Juan County, she responded without hesitation: “a Hole-in-the-Rocker.” When I asked her why, she responded, “I don’t even like to think about what the Pachecoites were doing.”

    Interesting reflection on the dynamics of memory and polygamous heritage vs. memory and pioneer heritage.

    Comment by stan — November 26, 2007 @ 12:11 am

  5. These Pachecoites also hold the honor of establishing the last offical United Order of the LDS Church. Begun in 1893 (about 20 years after any previously organized UO efforts), it lasted three years before being disbanded (see Arrington, Fox, & May, Building the City of God: Community and Cooperation among the Mormons, 309-310).

    Comment by Christopher — November 26, 2007 @ 12:14 am

  6. Oops: correction (Becca just read my post). That’s not what she said (my short-term memory must not be to great) she actually said, according to her recollection, that she doesn’t really know anything about the Pachecoites.

    Comment by stan — November 26, 2007 @ 12:14 am

  7. Stan: That is a fascinating view into the ways that individuals choose what aspects of their ancestry that they want to emphasize and deemphasize in their self-representations. It’s also intriguing to see how place relates to memory (and identity) here, even when your wife is far removed from both locations.

    Comment by David Grua — November 26, 2007 @ 12:18 am

  8. I like the first version better.

    Comment by David Grua — November 26, 2007 @ 12:19 am

  9. I would imagine that any class distinction wold likely be economic. The few firsthand accounts that I have read of people leaving the colonies in the 1910’s are heartbreaking. Poverty, sickness and death. It is hard for any settled community to absorb refugees without creating distinctions.

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 26, 2007 @ 11:24 am

  10. I’ve noticed something similar in my own family. My mother’s ancestors were “handcart” saints and my dad’s were “train” saints (having arrived in Utah after completion of the transcontinental railroad). Altho she’s never really said it aloud, there’s a little smugness present when she reminds him of the fact.

    Another little dig she gets in now and then that while his family were farmers, hers were ranchers, a classic western conflict.

    Comment by John — November 26, 2007 @ 12:59 pm

  11. John: Eric Eliason in his dissertation on the image of the Pioneer in Mormon culture, recounts how some “train” Saints would get off the train and walk a few steps so they could claim that they had “walked” to Zion (Eliason, “Celebrating Zion,” 37). Commenting on our penchant to privilege the 1847 folks and the handcart Saints in our collective memory, Eliason comments:

    Because the saga of the Mormon pioneers serves as heroic sacred history that excemplifies the spirit of sacrifice that Mormons still today regard as being expected of them by God, the experiences of the least typical, but most exceptional, groups form the basis of many Mormons’ mental constructions of pioneer reality (38).

    I find it remarkable that for a religion that emphasizes unity, many LDS participate in a culture that constructs difference so easily.

    Comment by David Grua — November 26, 2007 @ 1:14 pm

  12. J: Good point. My grandma-in-law actually mentioned that. The Hole-in-the-Rockers had been there awhile and were more established; many had pioneer brick homes, while many of the Pachecoites came “with only the shirts on their backs” and lived in tents for a time. The John R. Young group came a few years before the main body of Pachecoites, however, and apparently had a little more by way of wealth and means.

    Comment by stan — November 26, 2007 @ 1:37 pm

  13. I?ve noticed something similar in my own family. My mother?s ancestors were ?handcart? saints and my dad?s were ?train? saints (having arrived in Utah after completion of the transcontinental railroad). Altho she?s never really said it aloud, there?s a little smugness present when she reminds him of the fact.

    And then there’s us: Sport Utility Vehicle and Plane Saints.

    Comment by Jacob M — November 26, 2007 @ 1:44 pm

  14. Minor clarification: John R. was Brigham’s nephew, son of Brigham’s brother Lorenzo Dow Young.

    I’ve been collecting stories of emigrating by train, specifically to counteract (yeah, I know it’s hopeless) this penchant for granting upper class status to some groups while dismissing the efforts of others as of little worth. Train Saints may have come faster, but some of their hardships were as deadly and heart-breaking as anything faced by walkers. What is it like to have your child die aboard train, then leave his body lying on the siding at the next stop, paying strangers to bury him after you go because your train must keep moving?

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — November 26, 2007 @ 4:08 pm

  15. Ardis: That sounds like a very worthwhile project. I’ll look forward to seeing your article in print.

    Comment by David Grua — November 26, 2007 @ 4:30 pm

  16. I second David, Ardis. I love what you are doing.

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 26, 2007 @ 6:57 pm

  17. Ardis: Thanks for the clarification.

    Comment by stan — November 26, 2007 @ 7:32 pm

  18. Fascinating, stan. Thanks for sharing.

    Ardis: As always, I am in awe.

    Comment by Ray — November 26, 2007 @ 8:33 pm

  19. Stan, you don’t have to go as far as the deserts of southeastern Utah to get these kinds of distinctions.

    For 14 years, my family and I lived in a Davis County, UT community. It was a great place, and we deeply felt a sense of loss when we moved from a place with many wonderful folks. I say this, because I don’t want the rest of this to reflect negatively on them.

    In spite of living there for fourteen years, and having served on city committees, and being involved in many civic, church, and other aspects of life there, we were always newcomers. The First Ward in that community always referred to themselves as the (Community that is not to be named) Ward, omitting the number. When the block meeting program came out, and as the city expanded, our new ward was moved to a historic older chapel, but as interlopers, were always relegated to the last block of the day, while the long time resident wards rotated their meeting times each year without us.

    I don’t think anyone meant to be mean spirited, but they all looked at the fact that many of their ward members were third and fourth generation residents and garnered a sense of entitlement. I got some cold crusties when in a city meeting I mentioned that unlike others who were citizens in the community by accident of birth, my family and I was there by choice.

    Lest you think you know which community this is, I could repeat the story for any one of about four different Davis County communities.

    I find we are able to make all sorts of distinctions if we want to.

    Comment by kevinf — November 27, 2007 @ 1:41 pm

  20. Thanks for your comments Kevin. Guess all is not well in Zion, or probably anywhere more than one human being is gathered. We could work on that, us humans.

    Comment by stan — November 27, 2007 @ 8:08 pm

  21. The obvious reverse comparison would be longtime “mountain west” (Utah, Idaho) saints moving into other areas. When I was growing up in NY, this was a big problem. There was very liberal use of the phrases “living in the mission field” and “the way we do it in Utah (i.e. the right way) is”.

    Now that there are so many converts in the church and a bit more sensitivity on the issue, this is not as big a problem, but it still exists.

    Comment by E.D. — November 4, 2009 @ 4:06 pm


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