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Orson Pratt Brown - Adventures in the Mormon Colonies

section header - History

Francisco Dorotea Arango "Pancho" Villa

Born: June 5, 1878 at San Juan Del Rio, Durango, Mexico
Died: July 20, 1923 at Parral, Chihuahua, Mexico

Compiled by Lucy Brown Archer

After the exodus from the Mormon Colonies in 1912, several hundred Saints returned back to their colony homes. They still lived in fear because the violence of the revolution still raged. Wards were again organized in Colonia Juárez and Colonia Dublan. In about 1915, these Saints came to know the famed revolutionary leader, Francisco (Pancho) Villa. Villa was known as a ferocious, savage revolutionist, with little regard for human life. Many of the Saints would again flee the colonies for fear of Villa. Yet, there were tales left behind of Villa's respect for the Saints and their way of life. In September 1915, Villa's army of 1,500 men rested in Colonia Dublan for a month. Many of the Mormon men became well acquainted with Pancho Villa. In later months, Villa became outraged at the United States' involvement with the revolution.

Elder Robert E. Wells shared the following story about Pancho Villa at a BYU devotional on June 29, 1982. Elder Wells is a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy and served as a mission president to Mexico.

A story comes to my mind that I'm particularly close to. It appeals to me because it involves my dear wife's father. Brother Walser was one of the Mormon colonists in Mexico when this incident happened, and afterwards he was one of the witnesses, having spoken with one of the men who was with Pancho Villa at the time this little miracle occurred.

Pancho was very much incensed at the intervention of the United States in internal Mexican political affairs. I'll not go into all of the details, but in retaliation he took his army across the border into Texas and proceeded to harass and burn and murder and so on. [He raided Columbus, New Mexico]. And then on returning into Mexico, he found the Mormon colonies directly in his path. He was angry; he was going to cause more trouble. The Mormon colonists knew that his army was approaching them, and they sensed the threat of danger, and so they met together.

The bishop [Anson B. Call] who was there with this particular group called all of the priesthood leaders together, and they discussed what they should do. Some said, "Well, we have our deer rifles and our shotguns. Let's defend ourselves." Another said, "No, let's take our wives and families and flee to the mountains." Another said, "Well, let's set up an ambush for them," or "Let's put dynamite in certain places" or let's do this, or let's do the other. There were different options. The bishop, a wise, humble man, facing several options that he felt he really was not competent to decide among, finally said, "I think we ought to go home, have prayers, turn out the lights, go to bed, and leave it in the hands of the Lord."

Immediately there were some other discussions: "No, let's do this," and "No, let's do the other," and so on. Then one of the brethren stood up and said, "I'm going to follow the example of the bishop." Then another one did the same thing, and pretty soon they all went home, had prayers, turned out their lanterns, went to bed, and left it in the hands of the Lord.

Late that night Pancho Villa and his army arrived at the border of that little farming valley. He held up his hand, stopped the troops, and said, "Wait, there's an ambush. I can see the faint glimmers of fires all throughout the valley. The other army must have arrived here before we did." Others who were with him said, "No, we can't see anything." He disagreed strenuously with them and instructed the army to go around the valley and off in another direction.

One of his guides was known to my father-in-law, who happened also to have been a guide for some of Pancho Villa's army in another case in which he was taken as a hostage and threatened with his life unless he led them through a pass which he knew because of his deer hunting experiences. He was one of several witnesses to that incident where the men around Pancho Villa said, "We can't see anything." The colonists had done nothing, but Pancho Villa himself could see remains of fires in the valley, and he was certain there was an ambush there threatening him.

Some people theorized that Villa might have seen the reflections of the moon on the windows of the town. Harvey Hyrum Taylor recalls that a fence around an orchard had caught on fire.  The reflection of the fire on the glass windows of neighboring homes gave the illusion of numerous campfires. This illusion was interpreted by Villa and his men as a company of soldiers waiting to ambush him.  Villa made the decision to go around the town and forego his usual foraging of food, supplies, etc. from the towns people.

A few days later, on March 17, 1916, U.S. General John J. Pershing arrived in Colonia Dublan with several thousand American soldiers in pursuit of Villa. Pershing stayed in Colonia Dublan for nine months. When he withdraw his troops, many feared that Villa would return. This was the second exodus from the Mormon Colonies.

A newspaper article in El Paso, on January 29, 1917, reported about this exodus of Americans, Mormons, and foreigners. Like the flight of the children of Israel from Egypt, more than 1,500 refugees are following in the wake of the American Expeditional forces on the march out of Mexico. Mormons were riding in automobiles, covered wagons of the prairie schooner type, in farm wagons and on horses and mules, according to cattlemen. They were driving their milk cows ahead of them, while behind tramped hundreds of natives, Chinese and others who had not means of transportation on the long trek to the border. Nothing that could be brought out was left behind. (Romney, The Mormon Colonies in Mexico, 244).

Doug F. Dobbins shared with LDS-Gems an interesting Church News article from the late 60's about Pancho Villa that he has in his files. The reference is: "He Remembers Preaching Gospel to Pancho Villa," Church News, Nov. 11, 1967, p. 5

"He Remembers Preaching Gospel to Pancho Villa"

At 86, James Elbert Whetton still remembers the time he taught the Gospel to Pancho Villa, famous Mexican revolutionary leader. He had been given the assignment in 1919 of supervising the missionary work in Mexico under the direction of the Juarez Stake presidency. Revolutionary upheavals in Mexico had forced the closure of the Mexican Mission.

Two missionaries assigned to labor in the town of Namiquipa, located several miles from the Mormon colonies, needed supplies, so early in March, Elder Whetton and Stake President Joseph C. Bentley headed out in buggies loaded with food.

Arriving in the town of El Valle, they heard a rumor that the much-feared Pancho Villa was in the area with his insurgent army. A government officer assured them that the rumor was false. They continued on their way with some misgivings.

Passing through a mountain area, the brethren were halted by armed men and taken to a guerrilla camp. Later, they were moved into a town which the guerrillas had captured and held prisoner through the night.

When morning came, they were escorted to a house which served as camp headquarters. Until this time, they had been unable to discover who the guerrilla leader was, although they suspected that he was the notorious Villa. Outside the headquarters building, Elder Whetton heard a man in a neat, blue-checked suit and Stetson hat giving orders to a group of subordinates. The women in the town were not to be molested, the leader told his men. Elder Whetton was impressed.

President Bentley and Elder Whetton were invited to have breakfast with the man in the checked suit and a light-complexioned gentleman. During the meal, the light-complexioned man asked many questions about the Mormons. Elder Whetton answered since President Bentley did not understand Spanish.

The man in the checked suit stepped outside frequently to give orders to his men, but listened with interest in between.

Finally, the light-complexioned man identified himself as Felipe Angeles, a noted and highly trained military officer. He introduced the Mormons to the man in the checked suit--General Villa.

"I always admired the Mormon people" Villa said. "They don't interfere. They are good people and mind their own business."

"General, for my part, I wish the whole republic would turn Mormon. When this revolution is settled, I am going to join this Church if there is an opportunity for me to do it," Angeles declared.

"Why haven't any of your people explained these things to me before?" Villa asked. "This is the first time I have known anything about your teachings. If I had known these things earlier, this would have been a different Pancho Villa.

"Is there any chance for a man like me to join the Mormon Church?' He encouraged the brethren to continue their journey to Namiquipa and gave them a hearty "abrazo" when they parted.

Dave Sudweeks , a great-grandson of Joseph C. Bentley, shared with LDS-Gems a slightly different version of this encounter:

In March of 1919, President Joseph C. Bentley was taken captive by Pancho Villa's men. General Villa made the following statement: "I know all about the Mormons and their doctrine. I have been in their colonies many times; they are a good and peaceful people. It is alright for them to do what they are doing, but this is no time to be doing missionary work. They should go home where they will not be in any danger. Nobody knows what will happen to them around here during times like this."

President Bentley finally had an opportunity to talk with Villa and learn that he had once lived with a Mormon family in Sonora and had heard a great deal about the gospel. Villa said, "Many times I might have entirely cleaned up on all of your Mormons, and destroyed the colonies, but I have never had any desire at all to do you any harm. I would like to help you, and I will help you all I can, but during times of trouble there is no guarantee of safety. You gentlemen should return to your homes and stay there until we get these things settled. Then will be the time for you to do the thing that you are doing now."

Now, back to the Church News article:

Not long afterward, Angeles was captured and shot by the opposing forces. Villa also met a violent death in 1923, at the hands of assassins. Because of the apparently sincere acceptance of the Gospel teachings by the two leaders, President Bentley persuaded the First Presidency that the temple work should be done for them. However, no action was taken at the time. Years passed. President Bentley died and Elder Whetton became an old man. One night, Pancho Villa, whose real name was Doroteo Arango, appeared to him.

"Do you know me?" Villa asked.


"You told me that if there was ever any time that you could do something for me, you would do it," the general said. "You are the only one who can help me. I want you to do my temple work."

Elder Whetton wrote to the Church Offices in Salt Lake City for permission to do the work and received approval. After the genealogical sheets were prepared, Doroteo Arango was baptized by proxy on February 25, 1966, in the Arizona Temple. Whetton himself did the endowment work for the general a few days later. He also had the temple work done for Angeles.

From Maureen S. Bryson: John Alma Hatch (my great-grandfather) was among the colonists in Colonia Juarez during the Mexican Revolution. He was good friends with Bishop Whetten for many years, both during their years in Mexico and afterward where they both resided in Mesa, Arizona. John found out that Bishop Whetten had petitioned the church leaders in Salt Lake for the opportunity to complete the temple ordinance work for Pancho Villa. My great-grandfather asked permission to assist with this work and was granted the privilege of serving as the proxy for the baptism and confirmation. He did this at age 89. (At age 77 he hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back up to the rim in one day!) He always expressed pleasure in being able to participate in completing the temple work for his one-time foe, Pancho Villa.

Pancho Villa's SonoMap of Pancho Villa's Sonora Campaign 1915
Pancho Villa's Sonora Campaign 1915

Map of Pancho Villa's campaign in the area of San Pedro de la Cueva
Pancho Villa's campaign in the area of San Pedro de la Cueva

section header - children


PAF - Archer files = Captain James Brown + (7) Phebe Abbott > Orson Pratt Brown

Photos and information from

"Massacre at San Pedro de la Cueva: The significance of Pancho Villa's Disastrous Sonora Campaign," by Thomas H. Naylor. In The Western Historical Quarterly, April 1977, Vol. Viii, No. 2, pages 124-150.





Additions, bold, [bracketed], some photos, etc., added by Lucy Brown Archer

Copyright 2001 www.OrsonPrattBrown.org



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... Easter 1986 through October 2005


... Published December 2007:
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... Published March 2009:
(unfortunately the publisher incorrectly changed the photo
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Researched and Compiled by
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... Published 2012:
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