Author Sally Denton’s latest book may have been prompted by the ambush murders on a dirt road in northern Mexico of three female members of a polygamous spin-off sect of the Mormon Church and six of their children, while en route to the community of Colonia LeBaron, commonly known simply as The Colony, but it is far more than just a true crime book.
Though it begins and ends with vivid accounts of what happened that day in November 2019 and the many scenarios as to why — including the likelihood that it was perpetrated by a drug cartel — in between “The Colony: Faith and Blood in a Promised Land” delves deeply into the founding of and teachings of the Mormon Church, as well as the violence-riddled branches of that religion established more than a century ago in Mexico. The book is exhaustively researched and thoroughly detailed.
Denton readily acknowledges that the book was irresistible, because, as she writes, “As a longtime investigative journalist and author, I have written extensively about organized crime, murdered women, drug cartels, Western history, polygamy, and Mormons. The brazen daylight attack on the controversial LeBaron clan instantly grabbed my attention as a reporter. But as a descendent of Mormon pioneers and polygamists, I had a personal impulse to unravel it.”
In fact, two women who play major roles in the settlement of those Mexican outposts were Denton’s great-great-grandmother and great-grandmother. The exploits of both are recounted in the book. Additionally, in the 1970s Denton apprenticed with syndicated newspaper columnist Jack Anderson, who she described as “the nationally renowned Mormon muckraker,” who had broken exclusive accounts of the bloody deeds of some of those Mexican “polygamous cults,” even labeling one of the polygamist leaders the “Mormon Manson.”
In describing her purpose for “The Colony” Denton writes, “This book is an exploration of LeBaron — the place and the family — in an effort to explain the impulses that drove thousands of women over generations, including ancestors of mine … to join or remain within a novel American religion based on male supremacy and female servitude. Many did not have a choice in the matter, of course, but many others did, and many embraced their patriarchal world.”
The book provides a detailed account of how Mormon leaders Joseph Smith and Brigham Young migrated west to Utah and embraced the “devine Principle,” the practice of polygamy, and something called blood atonement — the killing for a higher purpose, as frequently practiced in true Cain-and-Abel fashion by several LeBarons, literally brother killing brother.
The chapter on the Mountain Meadows Massacre alone is worth the price of admission.
“On September 7, 1857, in a meadow in southwestern Utah, a Mormon militia attacked the Fancher Train,” Denton writes. “After a five-day siege, the Mormons persuaded the emigrants to surrender under a flag of truce and a pledge of safe passage. Then, in the worst butchery of white people by other white people in the entire colonization of America, approximately 140 unarmed men, women and children were murdered.”
She goes on to explain how, why and who ordered the attack, as well as how the closely guarded secret plan was unveiled.
Denton later in the book delves into the laws being passed by Congress in the late 1880s banning and penalizing the practice of polygamy, which made the Mormon Church’s fourth Prophet, Wilford Woodruff, who himself had nine wives, realize the church “could only survive if the US retreated from its hostility and granted statehood to Utah.” Thus, on October 6, 1890, he issued what became known as the Woodruff Manifesto, advising Latter-day Saints to refrain from polygamy. That prompted the LeBarons and others to break from the church.
After recounting the evolving decades of violence and conflict and prospering agricultural endeavors among the polygamist colonists, Denton returns to the present-day hillside massacre case, which many LeBarons and law enforcement agents still see as unresolved despite numerous arrests.
“The Colony” provides a thoroughly eye-opening exploration of a shocking existence and mindset that few of us could ever have imagined in our worst nightmares.