Romney's rugged Mormon ancestors sowed riches in Mexico

Fri Feb 24, 2012 6:33pm EST
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By Mica Rosenberg

COLONIA JUAREZ, Mexico (Reuters) - In the craggy desert of northern Mexico, U.S. presidential hopeful Mitt Romney's relatives turned an arid valley into lush agricultural land and prospered after being chased from the United States for their Mormon beliefs.

They suffered years of hardship, living in dirt dugouts and overturned wagons, but then went on to build sturdy homes and a thriving school, develop irrigation canals and dams, raise herds of cattle, and plant vast peach and apple orchards from the punishing landscape.

The story of the early Mormon settlers in Mexico, who fled the threat of arrest in the United States for practicing polygamy, is embodied by Mitt Romney's great-grandfather Miles P. Romney, who crossed south of the border in the late 1880s.

His offspring still live in Mormon enclaves in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua around 200 miles from the border and near the house where Mitt's father, George Romney, was born.

There are about 300 Mormons left in the area, and some 40 of them still have the Romney surname.

George Romney spent the first few years of his life here and his pride in the history shines through in a family travel log he helped write in 1941, tracing the flight across the western United States and down into Mexico.

"It is apparent that we are the descendants of a father and a mother who, in turn, were descendants of parents ... who were willing to make the greatest of individual effort for the great cause in which they believed," George wrote.

Mitt Romney, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, has never visited his distant relatives here and rarely discusses this part of the family history beyond saying his father was born in Mexico. His campaign team declined to comment on what links, if any, he has to the Romneys in Mexico.   Continued...

A memorial grave marker for Claude Romney, one of the ancestors of Republican US presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, is seen at the graveyard of the Colonia Juarez, in the Mexican state of Chihuahua February 7, 2012. REUTERS/Tomas Bravo