The BookBrowse Review

Published June 22, 2022

ISSN: 1930-0018

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Book Jacket

The Colony
Faith and Blood in a Promised Land
by Sally Denton
28 Jun 2022
288 pages
Publisher: Liveright/W.W. Norton
Genre: History, Current Affairs and Religion
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An investigation into the November, 2019 killings of nine women and children in Northern Mexico - an event that drew international attention - The Colony examines the strange, little-understood world of a polygamist Mormon outpost.

On the morning of November 4, 2019, an unassuming caravan of women and children was ambushed by masked gunmen on a desolate stretch of road in northern Mexico controlled by the Sinaloa drug cartel. Firing semi-automatic weapons, the attackers killed nine people and gravely injured five more. The victims were members of the LeBaron and La Mora communities―fundamentalist Mormons whose forebears broke from the LDS Church and settled in Mexico when their religion outlawed polygamy in the late nineteenth century. The massacre produced international headlines for weeks, and prompted President Donald Trump to threaten to send in the US Army.

In The Colony, bestselling investigative journalist Sally Denton picks up where the initial, incomplete reporting on the attacks ended, and delves into the complex story of the LeBaron clan. Their homestead―Colonia LeBaron―is a portal into the past, a place that offers a glimpse of life within a polygamous community on an arid and dangerous frontier in the mid-1800s, though with smartphones and machine guns. Rooting her narrative in written sources as well as interviews with anonymous women from LeBaron itself, Denton unfolds an epic, disturbing tale that spans the first polygamist emigrations to Mexico through the LeBarons' internal blood feud in the 1970s―started by Ervil LeBaron, known as the "Mormon Manson"―and up to the family's recent alliance with the NXIVM sex cult, whose now-imprisoned leader, Keith Raniere, may have based his practices on the society he witnessed in Colonia LeBaron.

The LeBarons' tense but peaceful interactions with Sinaloa deteriorated in the years leading up to the ambush. LeBaron patriarchs believed they were deliberately targeted by the cartel. Others suspected that local farmers had carried out the attacks in response to the LeBarons' seizure of water rights for their massive pecan orchards. As Denton approaches answers to who committed the murders, and why, The Colony transforms into something more than a crime story. A descendant of polygamist Mormons herself, Denton explores what drove so many women over generations to join or remain in a community based on male supremacy and female servitude. Then and now, these women of Zion found themselves in an isolated desert, navigating the often-mysterious complications of plural marriage―and supported, Denton shows, only by one another.

A mesmerizing feat of investigative journalism, The Colony doubles as an unforgettable account of sisterhood that can flourish in polygamist communities, against the odds.

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"Denton, the author of The Bluegrass Conspiracy and other acclaimed books, employs the 2019 murder of several young wives and mothers from the sister Mormon communities of La Mora and LeBaron as a point of departure to examine the tumultuous history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the U.S. and along the border...Thorough research and balanced reporting combine in a riveting investigation." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"[I]ntriguing...Drawing on interviews with former 'sister wives,' Denton brings nuance and sensitivity to her discussion of the LeBarons' polygamist practices and the status of women in the community. The result is a fascinating tale of religion, violence, and family secrets." - Publishers Weekly

"Reminiscent of Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven, this is exhaustively researched and riveting." - Booklist

"Riveting, insightful, ripped from the headlines, this should appeal to fans of true crime and of Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven." - Library Journal

"In The Colony, Sally Denton tracks the convoluted path of the LeBarons, who created a generational context for murder culminating in the deaths of three plural wives (one of them my cousin) and six children in Sonora, Mexico. This slice of modern history―November 2019―simulates a Wild West that should have ended with the nineteenth century, yet was resuscitated by a cadre of fundamentalists who make being right a matter of life and death...Denton's no-nonsense voice and transparent prose render a profound sense of this drought-ridden, machismo-infested land where terrified children and overworked women are slaughtered." - Dorothy Allred Solomon, author of In My Father's House: A Memoir of Polygamy

"The Colony is one of the most gripping and disturbing true stories I've ever come across. It opens with the horrific massacre of Fundamentalist Mormon women and children in 2019 in northern Mexico, initially thought to be the work of cartel gunmen who mistook their SUVs for those of a rival gang. But the true story is far more complex...This is far more than the usual true crime book; it is a deep historical exploration of evil. I could not put The Colony down." - Douglas Preston, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller The Lost City of the Monkey God

"The story told in The Colony, of the murder of the Mormon Fundamentalist women and children in Mexico in 2019, is as disturbing as it is riveting. Reading this mesmerizing account of a tragedy that has never been fully explained, I felt I was in the hands of a master storyteller. Sally Denton's deep knowledge of her subject, whether it be the complexities of polygamy or the power of the Mexican cartels, allows her to approach the horrifying crimes with a singular historical understanding and empathy. An important book, and a deeply satisfying one." - Judith Freeman, author of MacArthur Park

Sally Denton is the author of eight books, including bestseller The Bluegrass Conspiracy, and the coauthor of a classic account of Las Vegas, The Money and the Power. She lives in Nevada.

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