Polygamists in Texas Town

Dallas-Fort Worth CBS 11 News/May 24, 2004
By Jack Fink

The people who live here in Eldorado call it your typical West Texas country town.

"Very friendly... community oriented... Neighbor helps neighbor."

And the hottest topic among the neighbors isn't the newest item on the menu at Rosa's Cafe.

It's the new people moving into town. A fundamentalist sect of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints... or the F-L-D-S. They are polygamists.

"They did explain under their religion, having three wives will get them on the higher end to heaven."

Schleicher County Sheriff Dave Doran recently held a meeting in the town square to calm many nervous residents.

"The devil is here... We're afraid something may happen here."

Something is happening here. But you wouldn't know it from outside the gate to this 16-hundred acres on the north side of town.

These trucks... and a crane are the only clues... a community is rising.

"They came in basically under the radar."

The only way to see what's going on here is from the air.

"It looks like the beginning of a town."

And since construction began in January the sect has put up five buildings. And crews have laid the foundation for a sixth one.

"They do a lot of their coming and going at night.. so we never do see what's brought in."

At first, the F-L-D-S said they were building a hunting retreat.

But then came the truth... they're building what they call the "yearn for zion" ranch. A place where Prophet Warren Jeffs can move 200 of his most loyal followers.

As many as eight thousand people now live in the border towns of Colorado, City Arizona and Hildale, Utah.

It's a secretive society... and their elders don't do any interviews.

They've attracted a lot of attention there. Amid accusations some of the men marry girls 16 and under... and have children with them.

Flora Jessop who says she fled the polygamist society is now on a mission. During the middle of the night she helps other teenage girls get out.

"It's the only chance they've got to live."

In a highly publicized case, Jessop helped 16 year olds Fawn Broadbent and Fawn Holm escape.

"I don't want to become a 50 year old man's wife."

The F-L-D-S attorney has defended the church's practice.

"This is a situation where everyone knew what was happening and everyone consented to what was happening."

During a recent meeting, Sheriff Doran confronted church elders about having sex with underage girls.

"I said, is that something you're going to do in this community? They advised, we can't say that hasn't happened in the past because it has... they don't plan on practicing the procedure out there."

But Sheriff Doran admits it's going to be difficult to make sure no laws are being violated on the ranch. That's because it's a closed society... people keep to themselves... and he says unless someone from inside the ranch files a formal complaint... he can't investigate.

"You can't send in an undercover officer lke a motorcycle gang because you have to be of their religion to be accepted in."

But polygamy itself doesn't violate any state laws as long as it's a spiritual marriage and not one recognized by the state.

"I wish they really wouldn't have come here in our community... but since they're here, we'll make the best of it. "

He says church elders insist they are peaceful people... and won't cause any problems.

But some townspeople are worried their new neighbors will burden the social services system... as they have done along the Arizona-Ytah state line.

No word on when construction will wrap up... but the sheriff and residents will be watching.

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