Meliton Gonzalez Trejo was born March 10, 1844, in Garganta-la-olla in the province of Caceres in Western Spain. His father, Don Gerardo de las Mercedes Gonzalez Trejo, was mayor and a teacher in the town’s elementary school. His mother was Geronima Moreno Trejo. Meliton had many relatives in nearby communities.
He was given an above-average education and had the advantages of being a member of a family that included persons prominent in the community. He had a great sense of humor and loved playing pranks on friends. He had a serious side, often asking questions of deep religious importance.
His parents wanted Meliton to become a priest, but he preferred the military. He graduated from a military school and became an officer in the Spanish army. While serving, he made the acquaintance of a lieutenant in the artillery named Barreuco. This officer told Meliton of people in the Western part of the United States who followed a prophet to whom God spoke. He said their church was similar to that of ancient times and that they were called Latter-day Saints.
These statements had a profound effect on Meliton. He longed to meet these people and to become one of them, if possible.
In the hope of gaining this desire, he requested assignment to the Spanish military forces in the Philippines. This request was granted and, in 1872, he and others left Spain on a long journey to reach these islands.
While passing through France, Meliton came into possession of a pamphlet written by Elder Louis Bertrand. This gave him a greater desire to reach the Rocky Mountains and find a place among the “saints.”
Shortly after his arrival in the Philippines, Meliton was assigned to direct the colonization of one of the islands and, for a time, lost the desire to go to America. As a royal officer, he was directing an important work; leaving his country and family would surely bring condemnation. He was torn between his feelings for his people and country, and a desire to follow a better way of life — God’s way of life.
Through much prayer and a “dream,” his soul was subsequently satisfied that the Saints were a people of God and he should have a place among them. Eight months after being denied a leave of absence by the military governor, a new governor granted permission. He sailed for San Francisco, arriving July 4, 1874, and was soon in Utah.
Two weeks later, he was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by Henry Brizzee, also taking up residence with him.
Meliton got right to work, first translating Parley P. Pratt’s “A Voice of Warning” into Spanish and laboring to do the same with the Book of Mormon, as it was his fervent desire that the Spanish-speaking people should be able to read and study the Book of Mormon in their own language.
Brizzee and Daniel Webster Jones had been called by President Brigham Young to “study up their Spanish” to prepare themselves for a mission to Mexico. When Jones moved to Fairview, Sanpete County, Meliton followed him there. He worked alone in a rented office each day, reviewing his translations with Brother Jones each evening.
By spring, the entire Book of Mormon was completed to the satisfaction of himself and Jones, and in June 1875 was presented to Brigham Young for publication. Young did not wish to print the entire book at that time but authorized Meliton to select 100 pages for publication and solicit subscriptions to fund the project. A total of $500 was quickly raised, and Deseret News published “Trozos Selectos del Libra de Mormon” in November.
At the General Conference of the Church in the fall of 1875, Young called Daniel W. Jones, James Z. Stewart, Helaman Pratt, Anthony W. Ivins and several other elders to take as many of Meliton’s Mormon Trozos as they could carry and open a mission in the Republic of Mexico.
Meliton was later called to join them. The missionaries began their labors at El Paso on Jan. 7, 1876. By April, they extended their labors to the city of Chihuahua and met with some success prior to returning home.
The following year, Meliton and Louis Garff opened a mission in Sonora, Mexico, and baptized five persons. In between these missions in Mexico, Meliton did missionary work all over southern Arizona. He was a fluent writer and sent many interesting letters to the Deseret News editor.
In the summer of 1879, Church President John Taylor received a number of letters from a Dr. Plotino C. Rhodakanaty, of Mexico City, inquiring as to the doctrines of the church. Taylor called Elder Moses Thatcher, of the Quorum of the Twelve, Stewart and Meliton to travel to Mexico City and preach the gospel to Rhodakanaty and others.
Arriving there Nov. 16, 1879, they found him very receptive as he read one of Meliton’s Book of Mormon excerpts and had, himself, been publishing a monthly periodical “Voz del Desierto,” which set forth the principles of the new dispensation.
Four days later, Rhodakanaty and Silviano Arteaga were baptized by Elder Thatcher. Rhodakanaty was Greek on his father’s side and Mexican on his mother’s. Arteaga was pure Aztec Indian. Two days later, six others were baptized, and on Nov. 23, 1879, the elders organized a branch of the church in Mexico City with Rhodakanaty as the branch president and Arteaga and Jose Yblarola as counselors.
In January 1880, Stewart and Meliton published Meliton’s translation of “A Voice of Warning.” A month later, Thatcher returned to Utah. Elders Stewart and Meliton continued to build up the Mexico City branch. By 1881, there were 61 members of the church in the capital city.
Eventually returning to Utah, Meliton realized his dream of seeing the entire Book of Mormon published in Spanish. Working with Stewart, he reviewed and revised his earlier translation, completing it May 17, 1884.
While engaged in this work, Meliton met Emily Jones, who had been employed by Stewart to assist in doing housework in his home. Twelve days after the completion of the translation — May 29, 1884 — Meliton and Emily were married in the Logan Temple. Ten children were born to this union between 1885 and 1904.
Meliton, Emily and their family lived for a time in Logan and then in Draper, Utah, where Emily had many relatives. During part of this period, Meliton was engaged as a teacher of language and literature at the University of Deseret (now the University of Utah) and at the Latter-day Saints College, which, in the 1880s, was located in the old social hall on State Street.
When the Saints began to colonize Mexico, Meliton was again set apart as a missionary to that land. Taking his wife and four living children with him, he settled in Chuichupa, Chihuahua, Mexico, where they remained for the next 11 years. Four more children were born in Chuichupa. He tried to share the Gospel with everyone, including his family back in Spain. With the exception of one brother, none of his family was interested.
During the Mexican Revolution, he took his family to St. David and settled on a 10-acre farm, later taking up a homestead in Benson, where he planted many fruit trees. The last six years of his life, he suffered ill health, passing away April 29, 1917. Emily and his seven children survived.
Meliton was truly a remarkable man. He was slight of physique, fair complexion and under medium height. His missionary labors in Mexico required severe hardships, but he bore them cheerfully, never regretting the sacrifices he made in becoming a Latter-day Saint. His life work was of great importance, helping make it possible for millions of Spanish-speaking persons to study the Gospel in their own tongue. He was staunch and true, devoted to the Gospel, the church and his family. Large numbers of his posterity still reside in southern Arizona.
Special thanks to LaRee Ullery for sharing this information on the life of her great-grandfather.