Sheriff visits FLDS compound, says all is fine

Eldorado, Texas: As a forecast apocalyptic scenario passes, most residents would still like to see the church leave

The Salt Lake Tribune/April 7, 2005
By Pamela Manson

Eldorado, Texas -- For those inside the fence on a West Texas ranch populated by members of a polygamous faith, Wednesday was a holy day.

For those on the outside, it was a day that passed without a hint of the apocalyptic scenario forecast by people in and out of Texas, including some former members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

"What I did observe is that it's business as usual," said Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran, who spent about 30 minutes with FLDS elders at their YFZ ranch a few miles outside Eldorado.

"Things were quiet out there. It was calm," Doran told about three dozen journalists who had come to town to test the validity of speculation that FLDS leader Warren Jeffs had issued a doomsday prophesy and a catastrophic event, such as a mass suicide, could occur.

On the contrary, Doran said, the elders said those now living on the ranch were observing the 175th anniversary of the founding of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, from which the sect broke away in the early 1900s over, among other things, the LDS Church's abandonment of polygamy.

Eldorado residents have worried about some sort of trouble ever since some of the FLDS contingent arrived a year ago from their home base in the twin cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.

The FLDS originally bought 1,600 acres in this Texas hill country and told the seller the property would be a hunting lodge and corporate retreat. But the group, which recently added another 300 acres to its property, instead constructed a small community.

The ranch now includes 11 dormitory-style residences, several workshops, a chicken coop, a limestone-mining quarry, a cement plant, a garden and crop fields. It has its own ambulance, firetruck and garbage truck, as well as its first grave - that of Barbara Ann Barlow Jeffs, reportedly a wife of Warren Jeffs, who is believed to have up to 70 spouses.

And since Jan. 1, FLDS workmen have been working round-the-clock on a temple, the church's first and the ranch's most visible feature.

The temple, combined with the April 6 holy day, made fears spike again. Doran, who has been monitoring the situation on the ranch for the past year and has developed contacts in the FLDS Church, reassured the public that there was no evidence to support the dire predictions.

His visit to the ranch, in the company of two Texas Rangers, was a way to keep the peace. He said the elders told him a church conference had been scheduled for Wednesday, but it was not held in Texas because of the ongoing construction.

Once the temple is complete, FLDS members from around the country reportedly will travel there to perform their ordinances, or sacred rituals, and then return home, Doran said.

When asked why the FLDS moved to Texas, the sheriff replied, "This is their Zion is my understanding. They just want to live their lives under their religious beliefs."

Ken Driggs, an Atlanta attorney and expert on sects that still believe in early Mormon teachings, said Wednesday he believes much of the apocalyptic talk is coming not from FLDS members but their antagonists. "It's from the people who want to make them look and sound bad," he said.

Despite such reassurances, most Eldorado residents would like to see the FLDS leave, and some think there could be a confrontation with law enforcement one day. They point to allegations of underage girls being forced into polygamous marriages with older men and to civil lawsuits in Utah that accuse Jeffs of molestation and other wrongdoing.

Thelma Bosmans described the FLDS presence as a "cancer" in the community. She stood outside the ranch on Wednesday with a sign that said, "God is in control, not Warren Jeffs!"

Doran said if any evidence of a crime surfaces, law enforcement will move in. So far, though, no complaint has been filed and no information of provable wrongdoing has been presented, he said.

"They're here," he said, "and we're going to have to make the best of the situation."

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