Mitt's LDS roots run deep

Published: Monday, July 2 2007 12:00 a.m. MDT

Soon, Hannah arrived. Then, more than a year after Romney arrived in Mexico, Catharine joined them. A festive reunion followed, with Miles, his three wives, and their children. "21 of us all together had a splendid dinner," Catharine wrote her parents.

The town, meanwhile, began to take shape, due in significant part to Gaskell Romney. At 15, he helped build the canal that irrigated the fields, and helped build a family farm known as Cliff Ranch, in the mountains overlooking Colonia Juarez.

Then the family's world came crashing down once again. Back in Utah, some of the same LDS leaders who had urged Romney to create a refuge for polygamy now turned against the practice.

In September 1890, church President Wilford Woodruff issued what was called the Manifesto: "I now publicly declare that my advice to the Latter-day Saints is to refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land."

The careful wording of the Manifesto might have given some solace to the Romneys. They may have believed that Woodruff was referring to the law in the United States, not Mexico. They continued their practice of plural marriage but even more isolated than before. Indian attacks and crop failures were common.

Miles moved to a nearby town called Colonia Dublan and, in 1897, seven years after the Manifesto, married for a fifth time, to a wealthy widow named Emily Henrietta Eyring Snow, the only wife with whom he did not have children.

Gaskell, meanwhile, married Anna Amelia Pratt, who would become Mitt Romney's grandmother. Anna descended from one of the most important families in the LDS faith. Her grandfather, Parley Pratt, had 12 wives and was chosen by Joseph Smith as one of the 12 apostles.

Gaskell and Anna broke with their family traditions and did not engage in plural marriage.

After 12 years of marriage, the couple had a boy whom they named George W. Romney, the fourth of their seven children.

Revolution and return

The family lived happily in Mexico, where Gaskell and his family operated a prosperous ranch. But in 1912, after a revolution that ousted dictator Porfirio Diaz, rebel factions began mounting attacks throughout the countryside. Gaskell and other Mormons stockpiled guns. In July, the Romneys learned that hundreds of revolutionaries were nearby.

The family, including 5-year-old George, packed whatever they could carry and boarded an overloaded train to El Paso. For years afterward, the often-destitute Romneys moved from house to house, from California to Idaho to Utah. Gaskell eventually rebuilt his life, constructing homes in Salt Lake City and becoming bishop of the church's wealthiest ward. In the Great Depression, Gaskell "lost all he had and more," a family biography says.

He regained his financial footing from an unlikely source: Mexico. He had never given up trying to obtain financial compensation from the Mexican government for losing his family property.

Twenty-six years after the Romneys were forced from Mexico, the case of "Gaskell Romney vs. United States of Mexico" was heard in Salt Lake City in 1938. Gaskell requested $28,753 in damages. He was awarded $9,163, court records show — a sizable amount then.

The records say Gaskell gave half of the award to his son, George, which would have helped to put him on his road to becoming chairman of American Motors and governor of Michigan.

In 1941, three years after receiving the Mexican financial settlement, the Romneys made a sentimental return to Mexico, retracing the route of Miles P. Romney and his wives from Utah to Arizona to Mexico. Throughout the journey, Gaskell told George about his hardships but also his pride in establishing the remote Mormon outpost.

"Despite his many hardships he was never bitter about them," George wrote about his father. "His religion and the Kingdom of God always came first, and as a result he enabled his children to live through economic difficulties without their feeling deprived or losing faith in their future."

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