Confidence in a Utopia by Robert Breuer

When Owen first came to Topolobampo Bay in 1873, he saw potential. He was not preoccupied with the indigenous, Mexican politics, or the bay's state of isolation. He had a vision.

Owen wanted to institute his grand utopian vision of a perfect colony that worked on his system of integral cooperation that merges socialism and corporation into a colony. To accomplish this vision, Owen would go to great lengths with his life and with the lives of others.

Owen befriended the U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant, the Mexican President Porfirio Diaz, and countless investors to fund his utopian dream. Grant gave Owen the connections, and Diaz allowed him to build his colony on Topolobampo Bay as long as it was to provide labor for an international railroad. In 1887, Owen populated the bay with 410 colonists to settle and work the land. 

It was shortly after this that the colony began to fail. Topolobampo proved hostile land that was a host to malaria, was near impossible to farm, and could not provide an environment for the colonists to produce a profitable commune. A place for luxury that Owen envisioned changed from idea to practice; the colonists lived a life of toil, want, and hardship. It was a dystopian landscape that failed even in its lack of council leadership imposed by Owen. Still, Owen sought to fund his colony, produce a railroad, and maintain a population at Topolobampo.

Colonists along with investors sent Owen capital to fund his venture from the start of his vision and after it was clear that things were failing. He sent colonists to their death even after he knew that starvation and malaria were almost guaranteed fates. He stuck to his vision and reminded his colonists to stay strong, but nothing came of it. This is perhaps why people like E. J. Schellhous would describe Owen as a “confidence man” who ruined hundreds of families, broke up homes, and caused “suffering and hardship beyond language to express” (Cat'sPaw Utopia Pg. 138). Owen made a legacy that lasts today as a trailblazer and a man with a vision, but he did so on the labor and the confidence of his settlers who made his attempt at utopia a reality.

This exhibit displays Albert K. Owen as a confidence man or con-man who is remembered today only because he put his dreams before himself and his loyal settlers.