• Photo illustration by Jessica Wentzel. Cover photos by Comstock/Thinkstock and Gage Skidmore.
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

Related to the presidential candidate by blood and religion; each traveling separate roads.

On a sultry day in Council Bluffs, Iowa, in July 1846, 496 Mormon men, accompanied by many wives, children, and at least 18 laundresses, set off on a long march for San Diego to do battle with Mexico on behalf of the United States of America. When they finally arrived here in January 1847, the so-called Mormon Battalion had been worn down to 335 weary soldiers, plus remaining camp followers, and the fighting with Mexico, which never amounted to much in the first place, was over.

Hannah and Miles Romney with their son Leo, in Mexico around 1891. Hannah: “If anything will make a woman’s heart ache, it is for her husband to take another wife."

As far as has been recorded, none of Mitt Romney’s ancestors belonged to the weary band that straggled into the dusty Pueblo de San Diego at the end of their long desert trek. The journey had been personally sanctioned by Mormon president Brigham Young, who furnished the volunteers knowing they would be paid by the federal government for their mission into the vast new western spaces, where he counted on them to promulgate the faith of the church, founded just 16 years before in upstate New York.

Clyde Romney (left) campaigning for the San Diego County Board of Supervisors in 1986. Clyde had been a Democrat but switched his registration in 1983, when he became chief of staff to GOP Congressman Ron Packard.

Having arrived in San Diego, they fanned out from their small base to Orange County and Los Angeles, then north to Monterey and San Francisco. A few ended up at a place called Sutter’s Mill near Sacramento. Other ex-brigadiers headed northeast to San Bernardino, cutting a wagon road through the Cajon Pass and on to the Salt Lake Valley in Utah, where seven-year-old Miles Park Romney, the great-grandfather of Mitt Romney, arrived with his family in 1850, two years after gold was discovered in California.

The Romneys of England produced a famous 18th-century portait painter, George Romney.

Miles would eventually take five wives, conforming to the practice of polygamy dictated by the edict of church founder Joseph Smith and enforced by Brigham Young, who himself had been “sealed” to 55 brides. “They were trying to build a generation out there in the desert,” Mitt Romney has said, “and so he took additional wives as he was told to do. And I must admit I can’t imagine anything more awful than polygamy.”

Miles Romney, the Dancin’ CPA, is the life of the party at Petco Park.

Mitt Romney’s great-grandmother, Hannah, Miles’s first wife, apparently agreed. “I used to walk the floor and shed tears of sorrow,” she wrote in a letter quoted by Romney biographers Michael Kranish and Scott Helman in their book The Real Romney. “If anything will make a woman’s heart ache, it is for her husband to take another wife, but I put my trust in my Heavenly Father and prayed and pled with him to give me strength to bear this trial.”

Mitt’s father George W. Romney, eventual governor of Michigan, was born in Mexico in 1907.

In 1881, another order came down from the church. Miles and his family were instructed to move from Utah to Arizona. A slow and dangerous trip of 400 miles, write Kranish and Helman, landed them in a rough-and-tough town called St. Johns, where a newspaper railed against the Mormon men and their multiple wives. “Hang a few of their polygamist leaders such as . . . [Bishop David] Udall [and Miles] Romney . . . and a stop will be put to it.”

In the 1920s, Orson Douglas Romney and his wife were year-round regulars at the Hotel del Coronado.

The newspaper called Romney “a mass of putrid pus and rotten goose pimples; a skunk, with the face of a baboon, the character of a louse, the breath of a buzzard and the record of a perjurer and common drunkard.”

Miles struck back with his own paper, the Orion Era, further inflaming an already volatile situation. One night in 1885, with a federal marshal in close pursuit, Romney headed for the Mexican border. “The marshal had a gun in one hand and handcuffs in the other,” recalled Hannah. “I told him Mr. Romney was not at home. He said he had better give himself up to save the country expense and himself more trouble.”

Matt Romney, Mitt’s son, who currently lives in Rancho Bernardo, takes public credit for calling his part of the Romney clan to San Diego County.

Once into Mexico, Romney continued south 90 miles to the Piedras Verdes River valley, where he had been instructed by church leaders to help found a polygamist colony, which became known as Colonia Juárez. There polygamy would thrive beyond the authoritarian reach of the United States government and its intolerant citizenry. Mitt Romney’s father, George, the future governor of Michigan, was born there in 1907 to Gaskell Romney, one of Miles’s sons by his first wife Hannah.

Craig Romney, Mitt’s youngest son, was a California delegate for his father at the Republican Convention in Tampa Bay.


On a calm, sweltering fall day in 2012, the phone rings in a Palm Springs condo; it is answered by the genial-sounding voice of Douglas Wayne Romney, age 67.

His grandfather was Orin Romney, Sr., a son of Miles Park Romney and half-brother of Gaskell Romney, which makes Douglas a relatively distant cousin to Mitt (but still family, which counts for a lot among Romneys). Gaskell’s mother was Miles Park Romney’s first wife Hannah Hood Hill; Orin was born to Miles Park Romney’s fourth wife, Alice Marie “Annie” Woodbury, a school teacher.

Douglas, or Doug as he is known, is well acquainted with the family’s history in Mexico, how the Romneys prospered there for many years, cultivating vast tracts of idyllic farmland. Then, in July 1912, Mexican revolutionaries besieged the colony, causing Gaskell and his family, including his only wife and five-year-old son George, to hastily pack their bags and flee north across the border to El Paso. They would never return.

Doug’s clan remained in their Mexico colony throughout the most violent days of the revolution, later passing down stories of collecting the bullets left by marauding revolutionaries. Many Romneys are still there, though Doug’s father and grandfather and their families eventually returned to the United States.

“My father came out of Mexico a year or two before World War II,” Doug recalls. His parents, who met in Mexico, were married in the Salt Lake Temple in May 1941. It is a sacred place, which, to nonbelievers (known as “gentiles” by church members) is strictly off limits. His mother went to the University of Utah, was a missionary in New York for two years, and was a member of the church’s General Board of the Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Association.

Doug was born in the hospital at Hill Air Force Base, Hillfield, Utah, in 1945, and grew up in the Salt Lake City and Bountiful, Utah, of the 1950s.

  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

More from SDReader


MillyStrodtman Oct. 24, 2012 @ 11 p.m.

Bob Filner is our only choice for Mayor of San Diego in 2012. When you live in the Largest Military Town in America, you need experienced leadership. Many in the Military Community do not think Carl DeMaio could do a good enough job running a City like ours San Diego, CA. This City has had ineffective leadership for so many years leaving our City in shambles. Bob Filner has the knowledge and the proven ability to restore San Diego to its former glory. DeMaio has no way to handle this much responsibility at this point in his career. DeMaio says he will stand up to the downtown interest and this is simply not true. DeMaio talks about closing some of our Military Bases which would leave our Nation more vulnerable in the future. Bob Filner will take care of Americas Veteran’s and ensure our Nations Security for many years to come. Bob Filner is our only choice for Mayor of San Diego, 2012.


SurfPuppy619 Oct. 25, 2012 @ 8:20 a.m.

Stop spamming the place with your copy and paste propaganda.


SurfPuppy619 Oct. 27, 2012 @ 3:43 p.m.

Ouchie-Filner may not recover...I cannot recall what happened with that, but will bet $10K Filkner was never charged.


Javajoe25 Oct. 25, 2012 @ 8:20 p.m.

Yea, Milly, this is not the way to convince folks to vote for Bob Filner. This is where we get to talk about those crackpot Mormons.

Very wealthy crackpots, but total looney-tunes just the same. The one thing I do like about the Mormon religion is that it got rolling as the result of a conversation Joe Smith had with an angel named Moroni. Check it out-- an Italian angel! Who would have guessed? Anything that gets the Italians top billing is cool with me. And now I understand what the deal was with those plates that Smith and Moroni passed back and forth: Pizza! Had to be.

The other thing I like about Mormons is that they build temples that look like Disneyland. I cannot understand how people who have such incredible architectural ideas, can be so delusional about everything else.

And then there's the polygamy thing. Oh yea. I hear you, brothers. The more the merrier...as long as the girls buy it, I'm down. That never would have flown with the ladies I've known, but hey-- you know what they say: What Moroni wants...


Burwell Oct. 25, 2012 @ 10:58 p.m.

Carl DeMaio is a corn fed carpetbagger from Dubuque Iowa who came to San Diego to strip the city bare.


Javajoe25 Oct. 26, 2012 @ 12:30 p.m.

I could not agree more. I just hope a majority of SD citizens see that. DeMaio would be a disaster for SD. He's worse than a Mormon!


monaghan Oct. 26, 2012 @ 2:37 p.m.

I loved this story. Lotta research. Calm tone and well-written. Illustrates the foundational "core values" of these made-in-America Mormon folks: polygamy, $ucce$$ in material matter$ and homophobia.

And since Milly has forced the issue onto every page of Matt Potter's handiwork, let's all get behind Bob Filner for Mayor.


Dorian Hargrove Oct. 28, 2012 @ 11:09 a.m.

Mindy, where was "Brother Clyde's" character ever questioned? I'm sure he was a nice man, a great big teddy bear as you say. But this story wasn't about Clyde and his great big heart, but about the Romney's presence in San Diego County. And, if using Clyde's own words makes him look bad, well that was Clyde's fault.


Dorian Hargrove Oct. 31, 2012 @ 9:23 a.m.

No, you didn't call Clyde a "snake-oil salesman" and neither did the author. And I never called you a hick.


monaghan Oct. 27, 2012 @ 11:02 a.m.

Gosh, Mindy, I thought the author was remarkably detached and even-handed in describing the history of Romneys out here in SoCal. What was "inaccurate?"

The commenters are another story, of course, as they seem to carry some strong bias about Mormonism, but maybe you, as an insider, can correct any alleged errors that made it into print.


Javajoe25 Oct. 27, 2012 @ 9:08 p.m.

Mindy, is sounds to me like you are going through a lot of pain over this so I'm not going to get into it too much with you here.

I'm happy for you if you have fond memories of the Romneys and how they brought Christmas trees and presents to your door when you were in need. But you should keep in mind that Mitt Romney became a very wealthy man by shutting down American companies and having the work done overseas, and the thousands of people who lost their jobs as a result did not have anyone show up at their door with Christmas trees or presents. That's the thing with the Mormons; if they think you are worth it, they will help you out. Otherwise, as far as they are concerned, you can go to hell.

If you're a believer, you better pray Romney does not get elected President or we will all see just how little he really cares about this country and the people who live in it.


SurfPuppy619 Oct. 28, 2012 @ 12:59 a.m.

But you should keep in mind that Mitt Romney became a very wealthy man by shutting down American companies and having the work done overseas, and the thousands of people who lost their jobs as a result did not have anyone show up at their door with Christmas trees or presents.

I have the same problem with Romney-he sent jobs overseas, now wants to be president-that's why I would not vote for him.

Obama is no better and has been a full on flop. I did not vote for him either-I did a write in protest vote for Hillary Clinton. Could not vote for either main party candidates with a clear and clean conscience.


SurfPuppy619 Oct. 28, 2012 @ 1:03 a.m.

If you're a believer, you better pray Romney does not get elected President or we will all see just how little he really cares about this country and the people who live in it.

Obama hasn't done jack to help anyone except gov employees. His work at getting the economic engine running again has been a complete and total failure, and he has broken all promises that he made to get elected. He has taken more Wall Street money than any previous president and not prosecuted a SINGLE Wall Street scammer.

Total failure IMO. Healthcare was a great goal, but at the wrong time.


SurfPuppy619 Oct. 28, 2012 @ 12:56 a.m.

You can imagine how well I fit in there.

Hahahahah...Yeah, I have the same problem, I won't let anyone roll me!


monaghan Oct. 28, 2012 @ 1:23 p.m.

Wow. I'm voting for Obama. And I'm praying for every woman who doesn't have the brain and heart to do the same. And for every student whose school loans will suddenly become unavailable. And for every senior whose Social Security will disappear and whose Medicare will become a voucher plan. And for every mother of a soldier whose child will become more cannon fodder in foreign wars. And for every worker who got a new job after the auto industry was saved from ruin. Obama drew a terrible hand when he got elected in 2008. His record has been solid. I want him back in office to finish the tough job ahead.


SurfPuppy619 Oct. 28, 2012 @ 8:16 p.m.

His record has been solid. I want him back in office to finish the tough job ahead.

His "record" has been a disaster. He has only ran the credit card sky high.

Is Romney any better- I doubt it-but two wrongs never make a right. Stop spinning.


monaghan Oct. 28, 2012 @ 7:49 p.m.

Wow again. I think I'll pass, Mindy: we never hit women. Don't be misled by rich positive-thinking liars: Obama for President. Filner for Mayor.


Andy Cohen Nov. 2, 2012 @ 11:28 p.m.

I appreciate the way of writing and research done (if its all true). Still personally I don't think this will matter enough for Romney in the 2012 US elections. Romney has only one recent issue when he goes through an aggressive debate during Final Presidential Debate http://sandiegofreepress.org/2012/10/shapeshifting-romney-smacked-around-in-final-presidential-debate/. But this will not be stretched long. (just hoping)


Letter to the Editor Nov. 4, 2012 @ 12:04 p.m.

As a woman, Icannot bring myself to vote for Romney/Ryan.

I grew up in the '50s-'60s when abortion was illegal. Women died by the thousands across the U.S. Rich women took a cruise or toured Europe & were gone for a year & either had their child & put it up for adoption, brought it home as a fake adoption, or had a safe, though expensive, abortion in Switzerland. Poor women had no birth control other than denying their husbands & suffered through 10- or 20-odd pregnancies (suffering when she has no rest between pregnancies — 3 years between children recommended), died young, trusted a stranger to abort in unsanitary conditions, or did it themselves with a hanger or other device. Husbands simply remarried - they needed someone to care for their children, cook meals, wash, etc.

Planned Parenthood, vilified by those on the far right, had the best birth control class I've ever taken, including college & post-graduate psychology & physiology classes. Employees were warm, succinct, unshockable. (I was a naive 17-year-old, who thought only young & beautiful people had sex). I'll always be grateful to them for helping people (both men & women) on a sliding scale. Those who bombed clinics didn't seem to realize they treated women, their children, & did very well-qualified prenatal & post-natal care.

No one is in favor of abortion, but I refuse to make a 14-year-old girl risk her life to bear a child as a result of rape. Nor would I expect any woman to bear a child that has no brain, & therefore not the slightest chance of survival. Nor do I want to return to the '50s when a woman's only choices for a career were limited to teaching, nursing, or prostitution. I have no desire to return to being thought of as a second class citizen or criticized for taking a job from a man who needs to support his family. I thank God every day I work as a school bus driver for Title IX, without which I wouldn't have that job. Duke didn't want to hire me, though I aced the written & physical tests: we had to lift a 75lb bean bag in/out of a wheelchair & special needs van, because "all women do is stand around & talk".

I understand a man's resentment of the freedom birth control has given women, & truly wish all people remained chaste until marriage, but they don't. I wish our globe wasn't overcrowded & that there were simple solutions to pollution, but there aren't.

The USA is a wonderful country. I feel blessed to live here, but it's not a business & cannot be run like one. We're full of diverse & amazing people who work hard to make things better for their families, but we also need to take care of poor, lazy, incompetent people as well. The churches haven't managed to accomplish that for several centuries now - I don't see it happening tomorrow either.

It's common sense that if we spend money on healthcare for babies, they have a chance to grow up to contribute to, rather than detract from the economy. I don't think that's socialism. Rebecca Kiperts


Sign in to comment

Let’s Be Friends

Subscribe for local event alerts, concerts tickets, promotions and more from the San Diego Reader