10. The Mormon Colonies

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Chapter Ten - The Mormon Colonies

 

Now that our story of our Grandfather has returned to Mexico and his families were again united, let us pause and reflect a moment. It seems certain that there have lived, in other times and other places, men like John A. Whetten. Not men of the crowd, but souls tempered by fire, fervent in their stand for righteousness and fair play, heroic, good helpers, and friends to mankind.

 

A quote from Thomas Romney's book The Mormon Colonies in Mexico gives us some insight into the original flight of the colonists. "It is historically true that the immediate cause for the wholesale migration of the Mormons from Mexico was the demands made by the rebel forces for their goods and firearms. More fundamental causes were to be found in contrasting natures, traditional habits, and ideals of the colonists and their neighbors manifest in and the period of years resulting from material and social progress of the colonists as expressed in their thriving settlements, well cultivated orchards and farms, convenient and comfortable homes, and an up-to-date educational system for their children."

By 1910 the strong hand that had ruled Mexico for so many years had become weak. When revolution started, it spread like fire in dry tinder. The town of Casas Grandes in particular, and the state of Chihuahua in general, were traditional places for trouble to start. Casas was soon in the hands of rebels and not long after all the Northern Chihuahua. The Mormon colonists within this territory soon were forced to suffer one indignity after another as military demands were placed upon them for provisions, horses, and firearms. When this situation became intolerable, the colonists exited the country, back to the United States.

In October of 1917, when John A. returned, he must have relived those trying times when he had to put his wives and eight little children on the train at Pearson, not knowing what hazards lay in the future. And what was the place like that he was going back to?

Geographically the colonies in Mexico can be listed under the following: Mountain, Plateau and Sonoran. The plateau colonies were Colonia Juarez, Colonia Dublan, and Colonia Diaz. All are nestled along the banks of the Casas Grandes river and its tributary the Piedras Verdes. Colonia Diaz is to the north and near Columbus, New Mexico and some 60 miles north of Colonia Dublan. Dublan and Juarez are 16 miles apart near the Mexican town of Casas Grandes.

The sources of the rivers along which the plateau colonies were located are in the mountains and canyons of the Sierra Madre to the west. The streams flow out onto a mostly treeless plain except for the cottonwood trees which line their banks. Otherwise the plateau is slightly rolling grassland with a lot of low mesquite bushes and occasionally punctuated with gullies. The elevation is from between 3500 and 5500 feet. Fruit trees, such as apples and peaches, do well there as do grain crops such as wheat, corn, and barley.

The Sonoran colonies were situated on the Bavispe River, a tributary of the westward-flowing Yaqui. Colonia Oaxaca was settled in 1894 and Colonia Morales was started in 1901. These colonies were a short way south of Douglas, Arizona and were in a very fertile region. Crops were good there with particular success being experienced in raising corn, melons, and sweet potatoes. These towns were somewhat isolated from the main body of colonies and were not resettled after the 1912 exodus. The mountain colonies consisted of Cave Valley, Colonia Pacheco, Corrales, Colonia Garcia and Colonia Chuichupa. They were located west of Colonia Juarez and Dublan and were at the altitude of from between 6500 and 8000 feet.

Cave Valley (where John T. Whetten first settled in 1887) is appropriately named due to its close proximity to a series of caves that had been used by prehistoric people as places to live. The caves were walled up at the mouth having openings through which to enter and exit. Inside the caves were partitions to make rooms. The outstanding cave was the "Olla Cave" situated part way up moderately steep hill. The entrance to it was some distance above the valley floor in a pine forest. The mouth of the cave is quite large and the cave itself is fairly deep, containing a number of rooms. An olla, or great earthen vessel, with a large circumference and reaching from the floor to ceiling was built within. It was likely used as a storage vessel. This colony was first settled by people from Colonia Juarez and Dublan. There was plenty of timber available for lumber so a sawmill and also a gristmill were established there.

Colonia Pacheco was named in honor of a Mexican General and is located high into the Sierra Madre Mountains in a valley known as Corrales Basin. Farming was not too extensive there but timber was abundant and the area was fairly inviting to a cattleman. Strawberries, blackberries, and such grow well there as do cabbage, squash, sorghum cane, corn, and oats.

Colonia Garcia, or Round Valley, is ten miles further into the mountains from Pacheco. The valley forms an almost complete circle. The land was purchased by A. W. Ivins from or through a man by the name of Telesforo Garcia, hence the name Colonia Garcia. The settlers there engaged in farming and cattle raising and in the lumber and shingle business. The lumber and shingles were saleable in the towns below the mountains and also were shipped from the area and sold.

Chuichupa in Indian tongue means "The Place of the Mist." The title is well applied in the rainy season and also at times when a cloud rests on the valley. The little town is located on the back bone of the Sierra Madre at an elevation of 8000 feet. It is 35 or so miles on beyond Garcia in a southerly direction. The streams teem with trout and the forest around abounds in deer and turkey. Not too far out can be found the haunts of lion and bear. The range land is not rocky and is well suited for cattle raising. Oats, corn, potatoes, and many vegetables are raised without irrigation because of the heavy amounts of rainfall.

These were the towns and settle­ments where John A. grew up. He ran cattle with his friends the Lunts from Pacheco, the Farnsworths in Garcia and the Browns, Judds, etc. from Colonia Chuichupa. For miles around each Colony, in between and round about, John A. knew every peak, valley, and canyon. Peaks held a charm for him-the higher the better and the further he could see! In his later years, he had great pride in a brown mule he called Avion whom he could trust to carry him where only a mountain goat could climb. In 1940, when he had his first look at the Grand Canyon in Arizona, he thought it was great all right but he knew lots of places in the Sierra Madre that were prettier, deeper, and wider.

And now after more than five years he was coming back to where he had lived for more than 20 years of his young life. Many of the inhabitants of Colonia Dublan and Colonia Juarez were only away from their homes a short while and only went as far as El Paso when they had to flee. Conse­quently, their homes and property were not so badly torn up. The mountains were less safe and the mountain colonists were not able to be near and protect their belongings, thus they suffered more.

John A. had some years of tremendous experience in the business world during his stay in the United States. He had also a taste of business. His rough experiences and schooling had been put to the test and he had gained confidence — to think and to do and to be a leader of men. His superiors recognized his ability and had begged him to stay with the lumbering company. The U.S. Government was in need of lumber for the war effort of World War I and was willing to pay good money to men having John A.'s talent to do logging and lumber work. Although the offer had its merits, the overwhelming need to get his family reunited demanded that he refuse. Time and miles had separated them long and far enough. The conditions in Mexico were not yet ideal. Money was scarce, the country was still in large measure lawless, and the things we of a later day take for granted such as medical care, indoor plumbing, easy communications, and good transportation, were nonexistent. Nonetheless, the call of church and family brought John A. back to Mexico, well prepared to face the rigors of life there and to succeed.

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