Polygamist sect lands by Mancos

Cortez Journal/October 26, 2004
By Katharhynn Heidelberg and Lindsay Nelson

Members of a polygamist sect living along the Arizona-Utah border have purchased land north of Mancos, but local authorities and a lawyer for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints say there's no evidence of illegal activity.

Rod Parker, a Salt Lake City lawyer who represents the sect, a breakaway group of the Mormon church, said he believes members of the church are in Mancos, but he has not had contact with the church concerning the land purchase.

"It's well-known that members of the church practice polygamy as part of their doctrine, but whether specific individuals are practicing it, I can't say," Parker said Monday in a telephone interview.

The Montezuma County Assessor's Office confirmed Monday that David Allred, a Utah man reportedly affiliated with the fundamentalist church, bought 60 forested acres in July 2003 on County Road 39, north of Joe Moore Reservoir.

Scott Davis, a deputy assessor, said Allred allowed him onto the property to conduct an evaluation, but did not allow him inside any buildings, insisting they were all part of a corporate hunting retreat to which he himself did not have access.

Davis said Allred met him at a locked gate, escorted him to the building and then followed Davis out, locking the gate behind him. "I've been doing this for 10 years. Nobody's ever done anything remotely like that (locking the gate)," Davis said, although other property owners have turned him away.

He said it wasn't illegal to turn away an assessor.

Davis said his interaction with Allred set off alarm bells. "Everything just felt wrong," he said. "He was suspicious from the word go. Everything he did made me ask questions in my mind."

The Cortez Journal and The Durango Herald could not locate contact information for Allred.

Polygamy is illegal in Colorado, and the traditional Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints disavowed the practice in 1890. The breakaway Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was founded by excommunicated Mormons more than 60 years ago along the Utah-Arizona border, at a settlement first called Short Creek.

The settlement is now known as Colorado City, Ariz., and Hilldale, Utah. All members' property in the community is reportedly legally owned by the church and its current leader, Warren Jeffs. The church also has land in Bountiful, Canada, and owns a 1,691-acre ranch near Eldorado, Texas, where authorities believe another community is being built.

Jon Krakauer, Boulder author of Under the Banner of Heaven, an exposé of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said he believes there's reason for concern about the group's presence near Mancos.

"Religious tolerance is good, and I am religiously tolerant," he said, "but this is a really scary group. It's (as if) the Taliban has just moved into Mancos."

Krakauer said there was little to fear from individual members of the sect, whom he characterized as "hard-working, good people," but he was worried about Jeffs. "He's like Richard III, like something out of a Shakespeare play," he said.

"You guys down there should be worried. He's on par with David Koresh. ... He has thousands of followers who would die for him. He would never deign to be brought before a Gentile judge."

But Parker, the fundamentalist sect's lawyer, said concerns about the church are exaggerated.

"A lot of what you hear about them is pretty overblown. To generalize from specific instances and then attack them on a wholesale level is stereotyping, and it is not accurate," he said. "Stories of arms caches are not true. & I don't think the people around them have anything to worry about. They can be critical of their beliefs, but they are good neighbors."

Montezuma County Sheriff Joey Chavez said his department has had no contact with Allred or anyone else on the property. "We haven't had any reason to," he said.

Chavez said there was no evidence of criminal offenses on the Mancos property, but if evidence were to be discovered, it would be investigated no matter who was involved.

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