When most of us think of the Mexican Revolution, we usually think of Pancho Villa, Gen. Pershing, Columbus, N.M., etc., etc. But do we often think of refugees? And I'm not writing about Mexican refugees. Today, I'm writing about Mormon refugees.
In 1876, a group of Mormon missionaries settled in Juez. By 1885, a subsequent Exodus (always spelled with a capital E), had rumbled south out of Utah, all at the invitation of Mexican President Porfirio Diaz. Hundreds of these individuals forded the Rio Grande, creating a polygamous group of Mormon islands in the midst of a Catholic culture that would not even accept divorce.
In Sonora and Chihuahua, the Mormons purchased thousands of acres, property evaluations reaching $10,000 per family, or roughly $8 million altogether. Their settlements became known as Mexican Missions, the Juárez branch being established in December 1895, the first Stake in Mexico. And over time, total Mormon investments reached $7 million or $8 million.
However, resentments arose. Mexican Revolutionary leaders Jose Ines Salazar and Pascual Orozco insisted upon a Mexico for Mexicans, ordering out the Mormons, and daring the U.S. to intervene. (On Sept. 11, 1912, in a somewhat hysterical speech, Sala zar referred to President William Howard Taft as a "vile dog.")
The El Paso Morning Times blistered Salazar, saying "his mighty army consists of a few hundred hungry, barefoot, ragged, poorly armed thieves whose chief concern is to find a meal of sufficient
So during one of history's great mass displacements, the Mormons abandoned Mexican property valued at between $7 million and $8 million. By July 30, thousands of men, women and children had streamed out of Mexico, pouring into El Paso, where they initially found housing in a huge shed at the R. Walter Long Lumber Co. on Magoffin Street.
Long donated wooden floor space, the city providing water and sewage. Plumbers and electricians contributed their time. Fort Bliss commanding officer Col. Steever donated $10,000 from the "Water and Sewer Supply at Military Posts Fund."
The shed became one huge, continuous bed, everyone sleeping in blankets on the floor amidst a confused mass of baggage, children and adults.
On Aug. 7, Mrs. David Brown gave birth to the first child born in the lumber shed camp. And on that same day, B.H. Allred, a 65-year-old male, became the first to die.
Congress appropriated $20,000 for the Mormons, and Fort Bliss erected over 300 tents on Texas & Pacific Railroad property. A Mormon refugee headquarters opened in the Downtown Buckler Building.
But additional Mormons continued arriving, the refugees locking their buildings and walking away, putting women on trains, the men riding horses and carrying weapons and family possessions. Proceeding under a flag of truce, they crossed the international line at Hachita, N.M., and headed for El Paso.
One such Mormon group settled in Canutillo, the school board initially refusing admittance to Mormon students, arguing that it would have to hire another teacher.
So while most Mormons remained in the U.S., Mexico soon asked for their return. And many did so.