The Bishop of Bountiful: The Blackmore Family

The Fifth Estate/January 15, 2003

Winston Blackmore, head of the family: The most powerful man in Bountiful, he has 26 wives and some 80 children. "I'm just a guy who wants to mind his own business and raise his family and I have a nice family by the way. And I do love my ladies by the way and I love my children."

Jane Blackmore, as the first of his 26 wives Jane says she lived a privileged life and stood by Winston during their 17 years of marriage bearing him 7 of his reported 80 children. In an exclusive interview with the fifth estate, Jane Blackmore talks about growing up as a woman in Bountiful and reveals that she has decided to leave it all behind. "It was expected that I would be a very obedient girl and grow up and marry whom I was appointed to marry, and be a mother."

Debbie Palmer, Winston Blackmore's stepmother: Raised in polygamy Debbie was only 15 when her father gave her away to a 57 year old man. She would become his 6th wife and stepmother to 32 other children. It was only after her third 'celestial marriage' that she found the courage to run from the community with her 8 children. After years of silent suffering she has emerged as a leading activist speaking out against the abuses she saw and experienced in Bountiful. "British Colombia was a perfect place, right there close to the border&You can get lost, you can do whatever you want to do really, and people aren't going to ask questions."

Debbie Palmer spent 34 years in Bountiful. She was also one of Dalmon Oler's daughters. Her father gave her away to be wife number 6 to a 57 year old man when she was only 15. She immediately became a stepmother to 32 children, most of whom were older than her.

Hana Gartner: Even if you were a fervent believer, this is a 57-year-old man -- it's gotta be scary.

Debbie Anderson: If that's all you've ever known and you see girls that age being married to men that age and older all the time it's really not that difficult of a stretch of the imagination.

The statistics of Palmer's former life are overwhelming: six mothers, 46 siblings, 3 husbands, 8 children, 86 stepchildren - one of whom is Winston Blackmore.

Debbie Palmer: I was his stepmother, several of his sisters were married to my father so he was an uncle to me. I was actually ended up being a step grandmother to him as well.

She left Bountiful when she was 34 because she couldn't keep quiet about the lifestyle any longer.

Hana Gartner: Is life in Bountiful about sex or salvation?

Debbie Palmer: It's all about sex, it really is. There is great pretence that it's a very moral sort of back to basics family fundamentalist type of community but there's sex everywhere.

Hana Gartner: What are the logistics of intercourse? How does it work? Does somebody keep a big chart and say - Oh Betty, you're ovulating - Thursday is your night.

Debbie Palmer: I know in the larger families, they do, do that, they have to.

Hana Gartner: Really?

Debbie Palmer: Well like I mean in a good size dairy, you have to know when a cows going to come around so she can be serviced properly by the bull, or you don't have calves and you don't have your cows freshened properly and if you've got very many wives in your family then somebody needs to keep track of of the really horrific things about some of the inbreeding that has happened in the polygamist communities is that most of the men that have been in positions of control that have instigated these marriages are men that have studied breeding stock in animals."

Hana Gartner: This is all based on animal husbandry?

Debbie Palmer: Yes it is.

Carol Anderson, Winston Blackmore's half-sister: Born to a polygamous family but raised on the outside, Carol believes that education holds the key to freedom. As a volunteer teacher she reaches out to women within the polygamous community - privately schooling them to read and write - arming them with insights that may affect their choice to ultimately stay or leave Bountiful. "I want to give his people, not just his wives, my family the people I love an education. But what they choose to do with it that's their business."

Carol Anderson is a Canadian Immigration Officer who works on the Idaho/BC border. She's seen alot of American girls visiting in Bountiful but few ever come back. But she knows that they are coming to Bountiful to get married so she turns them away.

Carol Anderson: I've refused admission to them because I didn't think they were visitors. I've refused admission because I felt they were coming here to get married. There is no class under Canada's Immigration law by which they can be sponsored in as a plural spouse. The law prohibits it.

Hana Gartner: But this is very interesting, under the Immigration Act it's illegal to have multiple wives, but nobody is prosecuting anyone in Canada for polygamy.

Carol Anderson: It's a very interesting position and that's one I feel the government is going to have to deal with.

Carol Anderson has in informed perspective on life in Bountiful. She was born to a polygamous family but her mother Aloha got most of her siblings out of Bountiful 35 years ago. But she left behind dozens of half sisters and brothers including Winston Blackmore's sister.

Many years later Winston approached Carol to ask if she could teach some of his girls. She thinks education may the only way out of a polygamous life for these girls.

Carol Anderson: It makes me uncomfortable to talk with them, to talk with members of the community who have no education who might have Grade 1 or Grade 2 and we're talking adults, one's with Grade 7&they don't have an education. That makes me nervous because if you do decide you no longer want to practice polygamy or you no longer want to be in that community what are your options?

She holds daily classes for the girls where she teaches them to read and write ... and listen to some ideas they have never heard before.

Like many people who live in Creston Carol Anderson says the community of Bountiful is a major economic force.

Carol Anderson: Bountiful generates a lot of money, they have a big crew, they have a big business and that money doesn't stay in Bountiful it goes into the community. When Wal-Mart in Cranbrook opened, every female in that community was there and they spent a lot of money.

Money talks and that's why she believes people in Creston turn a blind eye to the polygamists living in Bountiful.

Carol Anderson: They are a major economic force and if you're in a capitalistic society that the bottom line is business, - the bottom line is - Don't bother Bountiful because they are good business.

Craig Chatwin, Winston Blackmore's brother-in-law: He resides just outside of Colorado City on the Arizona/Utah border. He escaped polygamy but 12 of his 16 sisters were taken and married off in Bountiful. "It bothers me that males here with authority use their authority to leverage sexual favours from young girls."

Craig Chatwin lives in Colorado City, the headquarters of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Saints, home to some 10,000 polygamists. He was born into a large polygamous family and has some 32 siblings. He passionately opposes polygamy.

He worries about the sisters he left behind. Twelve of them have been married off in Bountiful, Canada. In fact, two of his sisters are married to the same man, Winston Blackmore.

Craig Chatwin: Bountiful ended up being particularly interesting to me because that's where the majority of my sisters were married. I'm from a large family. I have about 30 brothers and sisters - 32 and the majority of those live in Canada now. They've all been married up there. And that's about 11 or 12 sisters all shipped up there.

He views the polygamous community there and in Colorado City as a cult.

Craig Chatwin: Girls raised in this cult, and there's just an enormous amount they have no comprehension of an outside world. It bothers me that males here with authority use their authority to leverage sexual favours from young girls. And that is essentially what they are doing- they take young wives, these older men and they're using their authority positions to gain access to young females and they do it - by the hordes. The brothers here in the top positions have 50 plus wives - unbelievable.

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