Life at polygamist ranch was austere, controlled

Associated Press/April 1, 2009

Eldorado, Texas - It was a year ago that the outside world got its first glimpse beyond the battered green gate of the YFZ Ranch. Women wear pioneer-style dresses with their hair swept up in braids. Men marry multiple times - sometimes, it was said, to underage girls.

A year ago Monday, Texas officials raided the ranch in search of an abused teenage girl named "Sarah." Since then it's become clear Sarah didn't exist, that calls made to a domestic abuse hot line were probably faked.

And since then, all but 1 of the 439 children who were taken away in 1 of the largest custody cases in U.S. history have returned to their families. A spokesman for the polygamous sect, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, says about two-thirds are back at the ranch.

But life at the ranch near the West Texas town of Eldorado (ehl-duh-RAY'-doh) hasn't returned to normal. Sect prophet Warren Jeffs is serving a Utah prison sentence after his conviction as an accomplice to rape and awaits an Arizona trial on a similar charge. He's also under indictment in Texas for sexual assault of a child and bigamy.

And Jeff's followers have yet to recover hundreds of boxes worth of Jeffs' journals and teachings, letters from FLDS members, family photos and detailed church census records that were seized by authorities in the raid that began last April 3.

The documents obtained by The Associated Press offer a window into an industrious, prayerful community in which marriage was considered a mandatory ticket to heaven, where legal marrying ages are secondary to divine matches ordained by Jeffs.

But more than anything else, these papers testify to a simple truth: At the YFZ Ranch, Warren Jeffs controlled everything.

The men quarried deep enough to find white stone for the four-story temple.

The construction of the temple and two dozen other buildings was funded with millions of dollars given by roughly 7,500 FLDS members who lived and ran businesses elsewhere.

Women and children cleared rocks and cactus off land later layered with top soil for sprawling vegetable gardens and tree orchards.

Milk from dairy cows is used to make cheese. There's a chicken coop, and the people of the ranch keep honey bees. Processed sugar and cereal are forbidden because Jeffs believes they can destroy women's ability to have children.

Life's generally austere at the ranch. Toys, including simple wooden blocks, were forbidden by Jeffs as "selfishness." Nonreligious music is forbidden, and there was no television.

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