Mormonism in Mexico, Part 2: To the Islands or to Chile

The first attempt to proselyte to Spanish-speaking peoples was not directed at Mexico, but was aimed at Chile instead.

“Doing good often means getting one’s hands dirty, engaging in unpleasant things, and coming out of the battle worn and scarred. The battle for the public good is neither about holding onto or giving up everything, it is about knowing when to do much, when to hold back, a little, and when to do nothing at all.”[1]

~Ignacio M. García


This is part 2 of a history series in connection with the Mexican Mission Hymns project.



In March 1849, Elder Parley P. Pratt discussed going “to the Islands or to Chili with a view to establish the Gospel in South America, Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, [and] the various groups of the Pacific Islands”, with President Brigham Young.[2] In 1851, President Young called Elder Pratt to preside over the Pacific mission and personally visit Chile. He had studied some Spanish to prepare for this calling and made his way to Southern California, spending some time preaching to Chilean immigrants in San Francisco and coordinating efforts to preach across the Pacific Ocean. He departed for Chile on September 5, 1851, arriving in Valparaíso on November 8.

Terryl Givens and Matthew Grow explained why Chile was probably chosen rather than Mexico or Central America:

Pratt probably chose Chile because of political problems in Mexico and Central America, as well as his belief that the Book of Mormon prophet Lehi had landed in Chile. … The recent Mexican-American War, including the well-known participation by the Mormon Battalion, made Mexico an unlikely target. … In South America, three nations–Colombia, Peru, and Chile–bordered the Pacific coast and thus were part of Pratt’s jurisdiction.[3]

Mexico’s political instability and hostility to Americans due to the Intervención estadounidense en México caused attention to be turned elsewhere for the first Hispanophone mission.

Ernest Charton, “Plaza de Armas de Santiago de Chile,” 1850.
Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Parley’s experience in Chile was far from ideal. While he and his companions studied Spanish, they did not speak it well enough to really preach or to gain employment to support their efforts. As he noted in a letter shortly after landing: “We are beginning to understand and speak it a very little. We also read and partly comprehend the Spanish prints and Bible.” At the time, the Book of Mormon was not translated into Spanish, but Pratt expressed his hope that that within a “year or two” that he could translate “the Book of Mormon ino their own liquid ‘Lengua’ if the Lord will,” but that it might take as long as two years to master the language.[4] Political instability, limitations on religious liberty, and tensions with the United States of America (over mistreatment of immigrants and ships being stuck in California related to the gold rush as well as other economic and religious issues) also hindered his efforts. By March 2, 1852, he boarded a ship and headed back to California, frustrated with the failure to achieve success.

One particular point was that Elder Pratt’s message focused mostly on the Book of Mormon as the centerpiece of the Restoration. As he summarized his message in his homecoming speech on October 31, 1852:

An angel of God appeared in these last days in [the] United States, and several [have] seen him and conversed with him and heard his voice and bore witness to it, and he has revealed an ancient book that was first written by . . . the old Nephites . . . wherein they had the light and knowledge from heaven. . . . This book [the] angel revealed, [and] showed [them] where [to] find it, showed them how to translate it and it has been published to the world in English and several other languages, and will soon be in Spanish. . . . [It] contains [the] true doctrine of Jesus Christ, a model of his holy priesthood and church as it was revealed in this country, and . . . through [the] angel’s ministry, a young man, [a] chosen vessel was ordained to [the] holy priesthood [and] restored the fullness of [the] gospel to men, [to] correct [the] biases in Christendom . . . [that] all nations may know how . . . to worship, [and] repent of [their] errors, [and] learn more fully, and be one.[5]

The difficulty with giving a message focused on the Book of Mormon was that the Book of Mormon wasn’t available in Spanish at that time, so while he could talk about it, the people he was preaching to couldn’t read it. As he would explain in 1852:

“Didn’t you go out officially [to] open out [the] keys of [the] kingdom to that nation?” . . . No, because I was not fully prepared to do it, neither [did the] spirit of [the] Lord lead me to do it. I had not the language to do [it]. I left [with] sufficient [language skill] to . . . understand . . . freely and defend freely and answer freely, whatever might come. Some of them talked [so] plainly to me that I [could] understand them, but others talked swift and their words sure. [S]ome of them understand [what I] have said, others not at all. Of course [they would] say, “I don’t understand you.”

[When asked], “What . . . now is [your] view [of your] mission? Have you fulfilled it?” I just say I have not commenced it. All [I have] done [is] review the field and [I now] know how to commence it. Hereafter, when I sit down to study that language until I am prepared to translate the Book of Mormon . . . and then unlock the door of [the] gospel by the ordinances officially conferred [upon] them and administered among them, and place elders in their own tongue with [the] fullness of [the] gospel in hand. . . . When this preparation is commenced, with [the] book in their hands, in their own hands, I consider the key turned as Joseph turned it in our English.[6]

That key was not turned in Parley P. Pratt’s lifetime – he was killed in 1857, while selections of the Book of Mormon were first published in Spanish in 1875. While his missionary efforts to Chile were unsuccessful, they did make it clear what needed to happen before proselytizing could happen in Hispanic countries. In addition, both Elder Pratt’s writings and his descendants would play important roles in establishing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Mexico.




[1] Ignacio M. García, Chicano While Mormon: Activism, War, and Keeping the Faith (Lanham, Maryland: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2015), 197.

[2] Parley P. Pratt, “An Epistle of the Twelve to President Orson Pratt,” 9 March 1849.

[3] Terryl L. Givens and Matthew J. Grow, Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 303.

[4] Amasa Lyman to Brigham Young, 14 February 1832, Young Collection (Brigham Young Papers, CR 1234, Church History Library).

[5] Parley P. Pratt, October 31, 1852, “Lost Sermons: Report of His Mission to Chile”, transcribed by LaJean Purcell Carruth,,

[6] Parley P. Pratt, October 31, 1852, “Lost Sermons: Report of His Mission to Chile”, transcribed by LaJean Purcell Carruth,,

1 comment for “Mormonism in Mexico, Part 2: To the Islands or to Chile

  1. Good summary; thx for continuing this series. One suggestion: “Mormon Battalion” in place of present typo.

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