An attempt to found a colony of Mexican converts in the north didn’t end up going as well as anyone had hoped, to disastrous results.
The most important teachings, aside from the scriptures, we receive through our own lives and experiences. These are the most important because they affect us directly and they touch us personally. In fact, those which teach us the most are those which are the most difficult challenges or trials for us as individuals. This is when, if we are susceptible to the Spirit and have faith, we can see the hand of God reaching out personally to each of his children.
~ Horacio A. Tenorio
This is part 11 of a history series in connection with the Mexican Mission Hymns project.
One of the core conflicts between Plotino Constantino Rhodakanaty and Moses Thatcher was that Rhodakanaty wanted to establish a United Order community for members in central Mexico while Thatcher felt that gathering the Latter-day Saints into a geographic location close to the Anglo-American colonies in northern Mexico was the route that they needed to go. In 1887, within a couple years of the process of establishing the colonies beginning, Thatcher’s plan began to be enacted.
While there were religious considerations to the idea of gathering, there were some political considerations that were a part of the picture too. Even though the political leadership of Mexico was very interested in having non-Mexican colonists establish settlements in remote areas of the country, they still wanted to make sure that Mexican citizens had a presence in those areas as well. Because of this, it was a requirement that all colonization companies set lands aside for native Mexican citizens. Thus, when Latter-day Saint leadership shared their plans to have members of the Church from central Mexico move north, the government was eager to support the plan and offered to assist the Church in purchasing additional land and covering some of the costs of relocation for the Mexican Latter-day Saints.
The venture didn’t end well. Henry Eyring briefly summarized the experience when he recorded that: “a Company of our Mexican brethren and sisters arrived in May  from lower Mexico. After staying for a short time, the majority of them returned dissatisfied.” There were a few reasons for this result. One was that it was a difficult land to settle – a mountainous desert climate without established settlements. Most of the Latter-day Saints who had already settled there were living in tents or dugouts and were struggling for survival. While the Euro-American Latter-day Saints there faced pressures that forced them to remain and make things work (i.e. prosecution of polygamy in the United States), the Mexican Latter-day Saints did not have the same pressures and were both willing and able to leave and return to their former home region. In addition, the Euro-American settlers had been in the area for a couple years at that point and had already claimed the best land out of the choices available to them, which meant that the Mexican Saints didn’t have good options for their own settlements. These were some of the logistical challenges that the Mexican Latter-day Saints were up against in trying to establish settlements in the north alongside their Euro-American counterparts.
Racism and differences of culture also contributed to the rapid collapse of the colonization efforts of Mexican Latter-day Saints. As discussed previously, the Euro-American Latter-day Saints (including missionaries and colonists in Mexico and Church leadership back in Utah) saw indigenous peoples and mestizos as a fallen and uncivilized people in need of their efforts to redeem and civilize them into their brand of Euro-American culture and lifestyle. This paternalistic attitude was heavily tainted by American stereotypes of Native Americans and Mexicans that had become linked to the concept of Lamanites in the minds of many Euro-American Latter-day Saints.
As an example, in some of the histories that discuss the Church in Mexico, some of these attitudes have remained. For example, Ignacio M. Garcia and Cindy Gonzalez noted in a review that the author: “Blamed the poverty, lack of education, social misbehavior, and an inability to assimilate into American or western ideals on the local culture that they believed promoted instant gratification, deviant sexual behavior, and a ‘what will be, will be’ attitude toward the future.” As a result, the author:
Demeans the culture by consistently blaming the branch leaders and Church members for being dragged down by their ‘traditional Mexican culture’ instead of being inspired by the ‘social conduct, ethics, and . . . understanding . . . informed by a gospel culture.’ Drunkenness, fornication, gossip, and other ills are blamed solely on the Mexican culture, though American Saints and others also confronted these same problems. …
He makes the mistake that others have made when writing about Saints of color, confusing righteous living with institutional loyalty and involvement in the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Mexican Saints show few “fruits of the gospel” until they have become educated, economically successful, and more entrenched in the institutional structure. This view of religious fidelity through institutional lenses fails to capture the real essence of people’s faith, which they developed in spite of the challenges they faced for being Latter-day Saints. This “essence” of faith is living those gospel principles that can be practiced even when there is little institutional structure: faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, humility, charitable work, scripture reading and prayer, and living a virtuous life—all while maintaining a firm belief in Joseph Smith’s teachings.
(I will note that for all of the faults that Garcia and Conzalez point out, the author is responsible for a significant amount of the foundational work in the published history of the Church in Mexico, and this post and series is heavily indebted to his work.) My point in bringing it up, though, is that many of the interactions of Euro-American Latter-day Saints with their new neighbors (as well as the Euro-American assessment of the failure of the effort) seem to have displayed similar mindsets and behaviors.
We can see this in some of the records left behind by the Euro-American colonists. Beatrice Snow Windsor wrote that the Mexican Latter-day Saints were poor because they were “living in a manner not in accord with the Mormon idea of industry and thrift” and “instead of imitating the ways of their white brothers they wanted to be fed without the labor of getting food.” Helaman Pratt noted in the beginning of the initiative that he felt like “the hardest of my missionary labor is still in the future; that is to care for and look after the native Saints after they are gathered.” After noting that there was likely to be cultural clashes, he expressed gratitude that “God has, in my opinion, forced some of our best Saints out here that they may assist in the redemption of His fallen people.” Rey L. Pratt was more understanding of the Mexican Latter-day Saints, though still condescending, when he wrote that:
It may appear to some that they were not very well converted to so soon turn their backs on Zion, and their faces homeward, but when acquainted with all the conditions, it does not seem so strange. They were people taken from a tropical clime, some of them, and others from the unequaled spring-like clime of the Valley of Mexico. In their native homes they were poor, true it is, but for a few cents they could buy in the markets each day what they needed for that day. Then they had their homes in which to live, in some cases, it being only a cane or cornstalk house with a grass roof–but it was the home in which they were born, and in which their fathers had lived before them, and they had no conception of how to start out to make another. Such a thing as laying up anything for the winter had never occurred to them. Just imagine such a people being planted down in such a place as Colonia Juárez was in an early day–and that in mid-winter–where there were no houses, no ditches, no fences, and above all, no “plaza” nor even a store at which to buy, and see if you cannot imagine how they became discouraged.
These were some of the attitudes of the Euro-American Latter-day Saints that, when combined with the logistical difficulties, led the vast majority of the Mexican Latter-day Saints to return to central Mexico.
Many of the Mexican Latter-day Saints left the Church and the story of what they had experienced affected how both members and potential converts in central Mexico viewed the Church. The disappointment of their experience led many of the Saints who had attempted to colonize the north to feel a sense of bitterness. Word of this, along with waxing pro-Catholic sentiment that led to additional difficulties that could be connected to conversion (i.e., loss of jobs, social standing, etc.) led to a drastic decrease in missionary success in the region. Frustrated, missionaries and their leadership in the region began to seriously consider closing the mission. Ultimately, legal problems and the associated strains on finances and families of missionaries because of anti-polygamy legislation in the United States of America led to the closure of the mission in 1889, a decision that left many of the faithful still living in central Mexico feeling abandoned.
 Horacio A. Tenorio, “Teachings of a Loving Father,” CR April 1990, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/1990/04/teachings-of-a-loving-
 Much of this post is derived from F. Lamond Tullis, Mormons in Mexico: The Dynamics of Faith and Culture (Mexico City and Provo: El Museo de Historia del Mormonismo en México), 60-71.
 Henry Eyring, Journal, 1835-1902, p. 64.
 Ignacio M. Garcia and Cindy Gonzalez, “Review: Martyrs in Mexico: A Mormon Story of Revolution and Redemption,” BYU Studies Quarterly 58, no. 2 (2019), 187, https://byustudies.byu.edu/article/martyrs-in-mexico-a-mormon-story-of-revolution-and-redemption/.
 Beatrice Snow Windsor, in Kate B. Carter, “The Mormons in Mexico,” in Treasures of Pioneer History, 3:204.
 Helaman Pratt to his brother, Parley, cited in Journal History, 6 February 1887.
 Rey L. Pratt, “History of the Mexican Mission,” pp. 491-92.