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The Lebaron Family: A history of conflict

After The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) officially abandoned the practice of polygamy in 1890, some polygamous Mormons, who were later excommunicated from the LDS Church, moved south to Mexico to continue the practice without the interference of U.S. law enforcement. Alma Dayer LeBaron, Sr. was one of these people, and in 1924 moved his family, which included his two wives and eight children, to northern Mexico. There, the family started a farm called “Colonia LeBaron” in Galeana, Chihuahua.

When Alma died in 1951, he passed the leadership of the community on to his son Joel LeBaron. Joel eventually incorporated the community as the Church of the Firstborn of the Fulness of Times in Salt Lake City, Utah. Joel’s younger brother, Ervil LeBaron, was his second in command during the early years of the church’s existence. The group ultimately numbered around 30 families who lived in both Utah and a community called “Los Molinos” on the Baja California Peninsula.

The LeBarons declared that their family possessed special priesthood authorities in the restored earthly kingdom of God, with their ultimate leader said to possess the “One Mighty and Strong” title which meant, their kin was the Presiding Patriarch in All the World and rightful heir of Joseph Smith Jr.’s mantle as leader of the early “Latter Day Saints’ Council of Fifty”.

Joel LeBaron and his brothers Ross and Floren visited Salt Lake City, Utah, in September 1955, and organized the “Church of the Firstborn of the Fulness of Times”. Joel was ordained President of the Church, with Floren as first counselor in the First Presidency and Ross as head patriarch.

Soon after, Joel reported being visited by nineteen former prophets, including Jesus, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, and Joseph Smith. In early 1956, the LeBaron brothers returned to Chihuahua. Their father Alma and brother Ervil became the fourth and fifth members of the new church; their mother Maud eventually joined them too. Several months later, Ervil LeBaron published a booklet titled “Priesthood Expounded”, which became a foundational text for the order.

A rival organizational structure for the order, was formed in 1955 by Ross Wesley LeBaron. Wesley believed he had been sent to prepare the way for the One Mighty and Strong, who would be “an Indian prophet”. Now Joel and R. Wesley respectively claimed their special “Firstborn order” priesthood lines of authority from Alma Dayer LeBaron, ordained by Benjamin F. Johnson, who had received these priesthood authorities from Joseph Smith.

Ervil ordered the murder of his brother Joel in Mexico. In 1974, Ervil was tried and convicted in Mexico for Joel’s murder. His conviction was overturned on a technicality; with allegations of a bribe. Ervil LeBaron’s attention was focused on rival polygamous leaders. In April 1975, he ordered the killing of Bob Simons, a polygamist who sought to minister to Native Americans. In 1977, LeBaron ordered the killing of Rulon C. Allred, leader of the “Apostolic United Brethren” another Mormon fundamentalist sect. Ervil LeBaron’s 13th wife, Rena Chynoweth, allegedly carried out the murder with Ervil’s stepdaughter, Ramona Marston.

In her memoir, Rena Chynoweth mentioned she was tried and cleared for Allred’s murder. She also described her experiences in the LeBaron’s group, as “fear controlled”

Also in 1977, Ervil LeBaron allegedly ordered the murder of his own 17-year-old daughter Rebecca, who was pregnant with her second child who wanted to leave the group.

On June 1, 1979, Ervil LeBaron was apprehended by police in Mexico and extradited to the United States, where he was convicted of Allred’s death. In 1980, he was sentenced to life imprisonment at the Utah State Prison in Draper, Utah, where he died on August 16, 1981 at the age of 56.

In 2009, the LeBaron enclave in Mexico once again received national attention. The LaBaron family, according to different media, engaged in a war against drug dealers in the northwestern region of the state of Chihuahua. On May 2, Erick Le Baron, 17, was kidnapped for an attempted ransom amount of US$1 million. However, the entire LeBaron clan announced their decision not to pay any ransom. Erick LeBaron was released by his captors on May 10.

Throughout this event, in the state capital, Chihuahua, the community spokesman said in a press conference to national and international media, that even with the growing insecurity experienced in the region they would maintain its refusal to pay ransoms in cases of possible kidnappings.

On July 6, 2009, Erick’s brother, Benjamin, and another order member, Luis Widmar Stubbs, were kidnapped and murdered on the streets of “Colonia LeBaron” by a group of sicarios, who left a written message with the victims’ bodies stating that the crime was in retaliation for Benjamin’s activism against the cartels. After this turn of events, the Mexican Mormons barricaded and prepared themselves to face the armed cartel members.

In 2012 Chihuahua state legislator Alex LeBaron campaigned for a change of Mexican gun laws in order to legalize arming citizens for self-defense.

The same year, a dispute over water between the LeBaron clan and neighboring Mexican farmers became violent. Members of the family shot at a group of 500 people who wanted to destroy what they claimed to be “illegal wells” drilled on the ranch.

Once again in May 2018 “El Barzon” a Mexican NGO who claim to fight for social and economic equity, corruption and the defense of land and territory, accused the LeBaron family of violating a 1957 agreement by drilling hundreds of illegal wells in the municipalities of Namiquipa, Riva Palacio, Buenaventura, and Ahumada.

Now, in 2019, 9 people, including women and children, from the LeBaron family and members of the Church of the Firstborn, were shot and burned alive while driving to Nuevo Casas Grandes, Chihuahua.

The current leader of the community is Julián LeBarón, a social activist in Chihuahua and a member of the “Movement for Peace Justice and Dignity”. It was him who a decade ago organized his people with the purpose of demanding justice for his murdered brother Benjamin.

In an editorial published in The Dallas Morning News in 2010 following the events of his brother´s death, Julián LeBarón said that “Mexican society was governed by criminals and not by the law”.

On Monday November 4th, after learning that family members had been shot, LeBarón told Mexican media that the Mormon community had already denounced the violence in Chihuahua. “This is a war zone and we’ve been asking for help for a long time.” he told Formula Radio.

When asked who had led the attack, he replied: “We don’t know, cartels and all kinds of thugs operate in this region”.

Since its founding, the enclave has been within the jurisdiction of the Galeana Municipality, in Chihuahua, México. Allegedly, a segment of the LeBarons still practice polygamy and at the census, members of Colonia LeBaron declared not to be affiliated with the order. On census report, some of them said to be Roman Catholic and most of the remainder identified themselves as “Evangélicos” (Protestant).

Mitt Romney, a former candidate to the presidency of the United States, has family roots in Mexico. Romney’s great-grandfather, Miles Park Romney, established a polygamous enclave in Mexico in 1885 in order to escape federal prosecutors in Utah who were denying polygamists the rights to vote, sit on juries, or run for office.

Though polygamy in Mexico was illegal as well, according to a 1902 Mormon history by William Alexander Linn, the Romney enclave at Colonia LeBaron, in the Sierra Madre foothills, survived and prospered down to present times. Mitt’s father, former Michigan governor George Romney, was born in Chihuahua in 1907.

In 2009, Meredith Romney was one of two leaders kidnapped and held in a cave for ransom, which was paid for his release. The other kidnapping victim, was Eric LeBaron, the grandson of Joel LeBaron.

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