SALT LAKE CITY — The brutal killings of nine U.S. citizens in Mexico has led to some confusion about “Mormon” colonies south of the border, as people try to understand the circumstances leading to tragedy.
Over 130 years ago, several families with roots in Utah left the Beehive State to seek asylum in Mexico.
Professor Christopher Blythe, Ph.D. from the Neal A. Maxwell Institute at Brigham Young University recently completed research on why these pioneers left the United States.
He said it had to do with laws passed that outlawed polygamy. Leaders from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ended polygamy in 1890, but some continued the practice outside the faith.
Mexico became a safe-haven for families unwilling to end the practice.
“The Mexican government … agreed not to prosecute plural marriage cases, which (meant) you can live your religion unmolested in northern Mexico, if you (were) a late 19th century Latter-day Saint family,” Blythe said.
Mexico was safe because in the 1880s, federal agents were arresting Latter-day Saint polygamists. Some within the faith wished to continue the practice and settled in both Canada and Mexico, in areas called the "colonies."
Blythe’s research focused on the fundamentalist colonies. His book, “Terrible Revolution” will be published next year by Oxford.
“When we talk about Mormon fundamentalists living in northern Mexico (now), we’re talking about (and) descendants from these communities,” said Blythe.
One of those families, the LeBarons, settled an area of Mexico, called Colonia LeBaron, and founded their own church.
A peaceful little farming community in La Mora, Mexico was home to the Langford and Miller families, which lost nine members in Monday’s attack. They have married into the LeBaron family. Both have extended family in Utah.
“There’s a heritage of Utah (expatriates) who are living in northern Mexico that still maintain these ties,” said Blythe.
Regardless of the faith of the mothers and children killed, their brutal and disturbing deaths in an ambush at the hands of suspected cartel gunmen has been condemned by U.S. and Mexican officials.
KSL received this statement from a spokesperson for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:
“We are heartbroken to hear of the tragedy that has touched these families in Mexico. Though it is our understanding that they are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, our love, prayers and sympathies are with them as they mourn and remember their loved ones.”