Thursday, September 27, 2012

Saints amid War: Mormon Colonies during the Mexican Revolution

Bryan Wilson
Rel C393R - Saints at War
March 26, 2008
Saints in Northern Mexican Colonies during the Mexican Revolution

            My great-great grandfather was Joseph C. Bentley (1859-1942).  He was born in Salt Lake City and lived for a time in southern Utah but is known for his love of Mexico where he spent over 50 years of his life.  He resided in Colonial Juarez, situated in the northern state of Chihuahua, and held the office of Bishop for the Juarez Ward and later of Stake and Mission President over the colonies. Grandfather Bentley was known to be a peaceable and pleasant man.  This character proved itself especially important during the Mexican Revolution (1910 – 1920), and in his interactions with the infamous rebel leader/hero Pancho Villa.  This paper addresses a few of the saints’ experiences during the unsettling times of the Mexican Revolution illustrating how obedience to God’s commandments yields protection and peace.
Mexican Artilery.

            A few decades after the Mexican-American War, Porfirio Diaz became president of Mexico, yet over time people became disillusioned with the man.  The popular choice for the election of 1910 showed Francisco I. Madero as the rising president yet result of the actual election announce Diaz as president again.  The result was obviously due to electoral fraud and Madero revolted against Diaz and claimed the Presidency.  This marked the beginning of the Mexican Revolution (http://...Mexican_Revolution).  Not all people were pleased with the new President in office and rebellions rose particularly in the state of Chihuahua.  Mormon settlements were scattered throughout this state in Dublan, Garcia, Colonia Juarez and others.  The saints were not involved in the political upheaval, yet when revolutionary movements were taking place all around, they quickly felt the effects of national unrest.
Clickable interactive map of Chihuahua state, Mexico
State of Chihuahua, Mexico (2004). Don't think the big cities have moved much since then.
            The saints were victims of petty stealing at first.  Efforts were made to put an end to the thefts and the leaders talked to some of the more influential natives, explaining that “it was not a matter between Mormons and Mexicans, but between honest men as friends on one side, and rogues on the other.” (Bentley 138)  More efforts were made to establish order by temporarily nominating a respectable native man and former judge as head of the community, bridging the gap between the two peoples, and chosen to lead a hearing against perpetrators of the law.  During a hearing the next day, a rebel, Juan Soso, spoke loudly against the Mormons, threatening to have them all killed, and then “went among the worst element of the Mexicans and was evidently seeking to hatch trouble.”  During an attempt to bring the man under the law, a brother was assaulted by Soso.  Soso was shot dead.  The event agitated the present tensions between the two groups.
            Wrote a counselor of the Juarez Stake presidency to President Joseph F. Smith,
 “We are very hopeful that everything will go smoothly from this point on, but under our present conditions we are learning that the morrow brings forth strange happenings, and the general conditions are grave.
            Hoping that our actions will not be disapproved by you nor by the Lord, and that we may continue to receive blessings from you and from Him, I am,
                                                            Very respectfully, your brother,
    (Signed) Chas. E. McClellan.”   (Bentley 132)
Soon an organized revolution began to materialize.  Pascual Orozco, the revolutionary general in charge of forces in the State of Chihuahua, was not hostile towards the saints, but would often ask for supplies from the colonies.  As the situation changed, the simple requests became demands.  The apostle Anthony Ivins counseled to “remain neutral and entirely keep out of the matter of the Revolution.  If armed men came into the colonies and demanded our horses and saddles or merchandise to not resist more than an effort to persuade them not to molest us, but let them have what they demanded.” (Bentley 135)  A General Salazar arrived in Dublan and flatly ordered the brethren to surrender all their arms and enforced the command with 50 armed men and six nearby cannons.  With their arms turned over, the saints felt unsafe and immediately made arrangements to move the women and children to El Paso, Texas.  The next day the same demand was made in Colonia Juarez and a similar evacuation was soon underway.  Wrote the Juarez Stake clerk about the return of the men from transporting their families:
Saints leaving Mexico
(Don't know if this picture happened at the same time as story mentioned here)
“It was a sad procession, no one spoke a word scarcely on the return trip except to occasionally remark that they were returning to a desolate and lonely spot that only a few days before had been the scene of happy and contented homes filled with women and children.  For several days the men seemed unable to settle down to work.  The business of doing their own cooking and other house work was new to the majority.  [In Dublan] horses were driven off.  Stables and barns searched for saddles and horses and work teams worth several hundred dollars were taken and used by the rebels.  The stores…were thoroughly stripped of thousands of dollars worth of merchandise.”
(Bentley 139)
The Saints wanted to live in accordance with God’s command to act peaceably and according to law.  “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law,” (Articles of Faith, 12).  They were citizens of a country with deteriorating laws. They submitted quietly to the rebels in command and to the injustices forced upon them.  They were much like the people of Alma who were, for a time, subject to the wicked rule of Amulon (Mosiah 24).  They likewise continued with patience and faith in the power of God’s deliverance.
After additional threats and harassment by the rebels, many of the remaining saints felt it unsafe to remain in Mexico.  Arrangements with the other saints were made under the cover of night to meet at the “Stairs,” at the foot of the nearby mountains where the Stake President and others were waiting.  A message was sent from “President Romney stating that he desired the brethren who were in Juarez to come out in to the mountains, that the Juarez Stake of Zion was there and that night would be their last opportunity to join them as they expected to leave in a body for the United States.” (Bentley, 143).  Most of the remaining brethren decided to gather and left from Juarez at 3:00 AM, reaching the stairs around 9:00 the next morning. 
In due course, the group of saints arrived in the United States and met with Anthony Ivins.  The question was raised for discussion, “What should be done with the Mexican colonies?”  The opinions greatly varied.  President Romney said he “had grown old” as stake president and wished to remain in the United States unless directed otherwise by church leadership.  Bishop Bentley said he felt safe among the Mexican people but left the colonies to follow the counsel of the stake president.  He then stated that “he first went to Mexico under the sanction of the first Presidency.   He had always felt it was right for him to be in Mexico and desired to return immediately.”  (Bentley, 153)  After about two weeks he and his sons did return as did others.
Despite continued unrest in the country, the colonists enjoyed a reasonable amount of peace.  The cohabitating Mexican natives however felt the hardships that were still at hand.  The Mormons often sought to alleviate their struggles.  The account of Sister Sarah Ann Skousen describes one such example.  February 18th, possibly in the year 1916, a group of soldiers lead by General Salazar arrived at their home.  The soldiers quickly made themselves at home and even treated themselves to anything they found in the mill.  Other soldiers found and captured three “Chinamen.”  Gen. Salazar hated and killed every “Chinaman” he saw, feeling he had been wronged by them long before.  The three men were shot by the river.  The company then went into the city where they ordered all native Mexican men to join the rebels.  “’They must go home, get their blankets, and be back in an hour.’  While they were gone the mothers, wives and children came down to plead for their men folks. … About sundown they all left the mill taking practically every able bodied Mexican in town with them.  After they had gone we rushed around putting up the things they had left and to our surprise we discovered one of the ‘Chinamen’ was not dead.  We took him in, bathed his face and head and found he had five holes in his head but by carefully nursing he recovered and is a very thankful Chinaman” (Bentley, 164).  The Mormon colonists showed care and sympathy to the natives who felt more directly the pains of the revolution.
            The peaceful responses of the colonists often turned back the anger and guns of the revolutionists as illustrated in by Joseph C. Bentley.  The most prominent general of the Mexican Revolution was Doroteo Arango, alias Francisco “Pancho” Villa.  He was a very charismatic man able to convince others to actions of good or evil.  Despite his countless acts of crime and murder, he is now often depicted as a Mexican hero, seen as a type of Robin-Hood, stealing from the government and the rich and giving to the poor.  (http://...panchovilla.htm)  The saints gained respect from this fearful general through peace and friendship offered while still remaining neutral about the revolution.
Panco Villa (middle) and his officers
            When confronted by various leaders of the revolution, Joseph would tell then that “[the saints] were Mexican Citizens (which they were), their children were born here and many wives and children had died and were buried here, this was their home and they planned to stay.”  This touched the heart of Villa upon their first encounter and quickly calmed his anti-American rage.  Villa then said that his men were in need of blankets.  There were none available in the community [Dublan] at the time.  Bishop Bentley left saying he would collect some from Colonia Juarez.  True to his word, he collected 30 quilts and blankets and promptly took them to Villa (Bentley 184).
            Later, after he had been set apart as Stake President, he and a traveling companion were captured by one of Villa’s bands.  They were taken to a certain General Felipe Angeles who casually inquired about the people’s religion. 
President Bentley said in a low tone to [his companion], “Give him all the gospel you can.”
            The conversation continued unabated for several hours.  During this time the officer whom they had noticed giving orders earlier in the day kept entering the room, listening nervously for a few minutes, and then going out.  President Bentley had recognized him as General Villa.
            Several times when General Villa came into the room General Angeles said to him, “Come over here and hear some of this doctrine; it is the finest thing I have ever heard…”
            “Yes,” replied General Villa, “I know all about the Mormons and their doctrine.  I have been in their colonies many times; they are a good and peaceful people.”
            President Bentley finally had an opportunity to talk with Villa and learned that he had once lived with a Mormon family in Sonora and had heard a great deal about the gospel.  Villa said “Many times I might have entirely cleaned up on all of your Mormons, and destroyed the colonies, but I have never had any desire at all to do you any harm.”
            After the usual polite expressions were exchanged, [General Villa] turned to President Bentley and said: “I want you to give my regards and best wishes to all of the Mormon people and tell them that they can expect to have as much help and protection from me and my men as it is possible for me to give them in these times of trouble.  They have been my friends, and I want them to feel that I am their friend.”  (Bentley 186)
            The saints experienced a remarkable amount of safety during the Mexican Revolutions without a single loss of life.  They were never party to the revolutionists or to the government.  They remained neutral but would give aid to those in need.  Colonia Juarex continued to grow and is thriving community.  The Colonia Juarez temple was also one of the first of the smaller temples to be built under the direction of President Hinckley.  Obedience to God’s commandments and living peaceably during times of unrest opened the community to the blessings of Heaven immediately and years later.

Bentley, Joseph. Life and Letters of Joseph C. Bentley. March 26, 2008


Kara said...

A side note-- did you know that the apostle, Anthony Ivins, was Joseph C. Bentley's brother-in-law? (He is Margaret McKean Ivins' older half brother from Israel Ivins' first wife.)

The town of Ivins, UT is named after him-- he owned a large ranch in that area.

Anna @Only Pennies in My Pocket said...

I am a descendent of Anthony Ivins. I have really enjoyed reading some of your blog and seeing some of the pictures you have posted of Israel Ivins home and Mexico. I had heard the surname Bentley a thousand times while reading Colonia Juarez history (AW Ivins granddaughter, my grandmother was born in the colonis) but I had no idea we were distantly related to the Bentley through the Ivins! Thank you for your posts and research.

Wilson Garner said...

Thank you for commenting Anna. I don't post on here enough and didn't notice your post until just now. If you have any photos about our shared relatives, I would love to have copies.

Unknown said...

Well-done. My mother's mother, Madge Webb Westover, was born in Colonia Garcia in 1906 and my dad's mother's father was born in Colonia Diaz in 1888.

Post a Comment