The Mormon colonies in Mexico are settlements located near the Sierra Madre mountains in northern Mexico which were established by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints beginning in 1885. Many of the original colonists came to Mexico due to federal attempts to curb and prosecute polygamy in the United States. The towns making up the colonies were originally situated in the states of Chihuahua and Sonora, and were all within roughly 200 miles of the US border. By the early 20th century, many of these were relatively prosperous. However, in the summer of 1912, the colonies were evacuated due to anti-American sentiment during the Mexican Revolution and many of their citizens left for the United States and never returned. Some colonists did eventually return to their settlements, but today only Colonia Juárez and Colonia Dublan in the Casas Grandes river valley remain active. The Colonia Juárez Chihuahua México Temple, built in 1999, is located in Colonia Juárez, and is currently the smallest temple the LDS Church operates.
As early as 1874, Brigham Young, President of the LDS Church, called for a mission to Mexico. In 1875, settlers set out with the dual purpose of proselytizing and finding prospective locations for Mormon settlements. The missionaries returned with positive reports the next year and another group was sent in October 1876. In 1877, Young discussed the idea of colonizing parts of northern Mexico, but it was considered unwise due to the considerable danger from Apache raiders in the area. Young died later that year and leadership of the church fell to John Taylor as the president of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles. John Taylor was ordained as prophet in 1880.
Taylor continued Young's policy of missionary work in Mexico, and through the early 1880s colonization was considered on several occasions without effort to begin the process. However, in 1882 the Edmunds Act was passed by the United States Congress. This was part of the by then 20-year struggle by the US government to curb the LDS practice of plural marriage in Utah Territory and other locations in the American West. Among other things, the law felonized the practice of polygamy and disenfranchised polygamists. As a result, over a thousand Latter-day Saint men and women were eventually fined and jailed. Some were sent as far away as Michigan to fulfill their terms.
In 1885 President John Taylor purchased 100,000 acres of land in Mexico. This act allowed over 350 Latter-day Saint families who practiced polygamy from Utah and Arizona to settle land in Mexico. This was a very strenuous task, but it allowed the men the opportunity to keep their multiple wives without being fined and jailed. These people started their own farming colonies and established their settlements in Chihuahua and Sonora, where they focused their labors on sheep, cattle, wheat, row crops, and fruit orchards.
The anti-foreign sentiment of The Mexican Revolution in 1910 made life there for the Latter-day Saint colonists difficult with many threats; the colonists returned to the United States. When it was decided it was safe, less than one-quarter of the previous population re-settled to Mexico; most of the refugees returned to their Utah and Arizona colonies of origin. The Mexican Latter-day Saints' colonies did not return to their previous success due to the poor living conditions and farming land. Only two colonies remain: Colonia Dublán and Colonia Juárez.
Members of the Romney family have roots in these colonies, including Marion G. Romney and George W. Romney having been born there.
Many Mormon settlements in the United States are in areas that at one time belonged to Mexico, but nearly all of these were already part of the United States at the time of settlement. The exception is Salt Lake City itself, which was settled in the spring of 1847 in what was at the time legally a remote part of Alta California; however the ongoing territorial disputes incident to the Mexican–American War brought the area officially under US control in 1848 as part of the Mexican Cession.
Mormon Colonies in Mexico is also the title of a 1938 book by Thomas Cottam Romney. The book details the story of Mormons who sought refuge in Mexico after fleeing from US authorities for polygamy. The book is published by the University of Utah Press.