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Mitt's LDS roots run deep

Published: Monday, July 2 2007 12:23 a.m. MDT

Two months after Miles and Catharine were married, the child of Miles and Hannah died during delivery. Hannah blamed herself.

"I felt I had caused it by doing so much hard work," Hannah wrote.

Nearly four years later, Miles married again, taking as his wife Annie M. Woodbury, a schoolteacher.

Miles's life in St. George with Hannah, Catharine and Annie briefly settled into a comfortable, devout routine. But church leaders in Salt Lake City intervened, devising a plan to plant Mormon communities in an arc throughout the West. Miles was told by church leaders to uproot his family and help settle the town of St. Johns, Ariz.

The journey of almost 500 miles was harrowing, requiring the wagon trains to skirt the northern rim of the Grand Canyon.

"Here you can see the river hundreds of feet below you winding its way between perpendicular banks of solid rock without a tree to be seen and devoid of vegetation," Catharine wrote her parents, as quoted in a volume compiled by her great-granddaughter, titled, "Letters of Catharine Cottam Romney, Plural Wife."

Finally, the Romneys arrived in St. Johns. It was a sparsely settled town, a Wild West amalgamation of gun-toting farmers and laborers, including American Indians and Mexicans, who were especially resentful of new settlers such as the Mormons. The local newspaper, the Apache Chief, urged on May 30, 1884, that "the shotgun and rope" be used to get rid of Mormon settlers.

"Hang a few of their polygamist leaders such as ... Romney ... and a stop will be put to it," the newspaper said.

Catharine began to fear her surroundings, writing, "I believe there are some as wicked people here as can be found anywhere on the footstool of God."

The tensions accelerated as local authorities sought to try Romney on charges of polygamy. To avoid prosecution, Miles sent Catharine and Annie into hiding.

But authorities brought new charges, alleging that Miles lied about having title to his land. One night, a marshal arrived at the Romney home after midnight, demanding that Miles surrender.

"The marshal had a gun in one hand and handcuffs in the other," Hannah wrote.

A colony in Mexico

Miles fled to Utah, where he was told by church leaders "to go to Old Mexico and build a city of refuge for the people that would have to go there on account of persecutions of polygamy," Hannah wrote. Miles agreed and decided it was safest to go with only one of his wives, Annie. He left behind Hannah and Catharine and their children, hoping they would reunite in the coming months.

After weeks of travel, Miles reached a vantage point in the Mexican mountains.

Gazing upon a valley that extended for miles on the banks of the Piedras Verdes River, Miles Romney saw mesquite and cactus carpeting the flatlands, with stands of scrub oak shading the riverbanks. The valley floor was 5,000 feet high, providing a climate cool enough to support peach and apple trees. Beyond brown hills, the towering, pine-covered peaks of the Sierra Madre curtained the valley, catching the winter snows that would provide ample water for irrigation. This would be the colony of Juarez — Colonia Juarez.

At first, Miles was desperately poor and responsible for an enormous family. He lived out of a wagon, and then a crude hut.

On Dec. 27, 1885, shortly after helping establish the colony, Miles despaired of his plight. He feared federal marshals might come to Mexico to arrest him. He was uncertain about the fate of Hannah and Catharine.

"I sometimes think that I am only an injury now to both my family and my friends," Miles wrote to Catharine's brother Thomas. "I have borrowed my friends' money, and my family receive no support from me, and the prospect ahead seems as black as midnight darkness."

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