Colorado City, Arizona has been the home for a notorious polygamist sect for more than 60 years. The mainstream Mormon Church (LDS) excommunicated its members and government officials have arrested its leaders three times. But the self-proclaimed "fundamentalist Mormons" still tenaciously cling to their exclusive doctrines, which they believe will afford them space within the highest level of heaven.
These Mormon polygamists actually have a history though that goes back to 1847, during the early days of Mormon pioneer and leader Brigham Young. Back in Young's time he came to Pipe Springs and saw its vermilion cliffs, He supposedly then did something that would later be claimed as somehow prophetic. Brigham Young said, "this is the right place [and it] will someday be the head and not the tail of the church [and]...the granaries of the Saints.''
Mormon leaders later sent the notorious John D. Lee into the same area to evade federal law enforcement. Lee was wanted for the mass-murder of 120 settlers traveling from Arkansas on a wagon train through Utah. They were apparently killed because due to their status as unbelievers. John Lee took two wives into hiding with him and started a ferryboat business and settlement. That settlement is still known as "Lee's Ferry." Lee himself was finally caught and executed in 1877.
Lee's Ferry and the so-called "Arizona Strip" became a preferred hiding place for polygamists. The practice of polygamy was eventually stopped by the Mormon Church largely in response to government pressure in 1890, when then President Wilford Woodruff received a "revelation" to end it. Later in 1904 the LDS church pragmatically enlarged that ban and officially disavowed multiple marriages.
The Arizona Strip polygamists would then claim that church President John Taylor, while staying in Centerville during the summer of 1886, had a discussion with God and Joseph Smith about polygamy. They claim God told Taylor to keep polygamy alive, but in secret. This hidden, but true church, would be somehow vital to God's plan.
The town of Short Creek, which is now called Colorado City in Arizona was founded in 1913 by Jacob Lauritzen, a cattle rancher. But it eventually it became a stronghold for the Lee's Ferry polygamists, who were excommunicated from the LDS Church in 1935 after refusing to sign an oath against polygamy.
During the Great Depression men from Short Creek came to Salt Lake City for work. They found sympathizers there such as Nathaniel Baldwin, an assembly plant owner who gave them work. John Y. Barlow and his friend Joseph White Musser also became involved. These men later formed the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, (FLDS), which would be led by Barlow.
The FLDS Church set up shop in Short Creek, largely due to its isolation. Buffered by the Grand Canyon and with a hundred miles of barren desert between them and the nearest law enforcement in Kingman, Arizona, they felt comfortable there. These polygamists also knew they were near a Stateline, which could easily be strategically crossed if there was trouble.
The Short Creek polygamists brought in more men with their wives by pickup truck to their growing kingdom, which they called "The First City of the Millennium." A "charitable philanthropic trust'' was set up called the "United Effort Plan," which controlled much of their assets. But Short Creek was a burden to the welfare system of Arizona's Mohave County. Many polygamist women and children collected welfare and whatever was available through government relief.
The Mohave County attorney and the sheriff pressed charges against two polygamist leaders, who were sent to prison for two years. The FBI later raided Short Creek in 1944, and 15 more men were sent to prison in Utah. Nine of those men were later released because they signed a pledge to give up polygamy. But most simply broke that promise and returned to the practice shortly after their release.
The welfare problem became worse and Jesse Faulkner, a superior-court judge in Kingman, complained that there was a "taxpayer emergency'' regarding polygamist demands upon school facilities, even though they did not pay property taxes. Cattlemen were upset because the did pay grazing fees, which were allegedly used for polygamist schools.
Arizona Governor Howard Pyle hired private detectives to investigate Short Creek. Subsequently, on July 26, 1953 Pyle ordered a massive police raid. He said, "Here is a community...dedicated to the wicked theory that every maturing girl child should be forced into the bondage of multiple wifehood with men of all ages for the sole purpose of producing more children to be reared to become mere chattels."
Polygamist men from Short Creek were jailed in Kingman, while their plural wives children stayed behind. Arizona officials took days to sort through the families, determining who was related to whom. The LDS Church-owned Desert News supported this government action. But the raid became a public relations nightmare for Pyle, when people saw newsreels of children separated from their parents. The net result was only one year of probation for 23 polygamist men. But the negative publicity ironically helped Short Creek avoid interference from law enforcement for many years to come.
The FLDS Church then sought to eliminate any connection to the "Short Creek raid" by renaming their town Colorado City in Arizona and Hildale in Utah.
Note: Source for this article was "Polygamy: Throughout its history, Colorado City has been home for those who believe in virtues of plural marriage," Salt Lake Tribune/June 28, 1998 By Tom Zoellner