Three years ago, a resident of Eldorado, Texas, showed up at a hastily arranged press conference in the Schleicher County Sheriff’s Office parking lot with a sign that read, “The Devil is Here.”
While other residents distanced themselves from the statement, it captured the apprehension and fear that FLDS members have faced every where they’ve gone, from Colorado to South Dakota, Montana and Nevada.
It didn’t help that David Allred, the FLDS member who bought the 1,691-acre property on the small town’s outskirts, said it would be used as a hunting preserve. Instead, the YFZ Ranch- named after a song penned by Jeffs, “Yearning For Zion" - in Eldorado is the FLDS’ most developed outpost outside their historical base in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.
The ranch includes numerous homes, a community hall, manufacturing sheds, a dairy, orchards, gardens and, its centerpiece, a massive limestone temple. It is estimated that between 70 to 200 people live at the ranch.
But so far, anxiety about the polygamous sect’s member - that they’d drain local social services, takeover local politics, try to convert their neighbors - have proved unfounded.
“They stay to themselves and nobody even knows they are here except their fuel supplier,” said J.D. Doyle, a pilot/photographer who supplies bird’s eye views of the secluded ranch. “They are out of sight, out of mind and they pay like a slot machine.”
Taxes on the property were $401,960.68 in 2006, a nice windfall for the county. Just over half that sum went to the school and water districts.
Most of the tax bill is assessed on the temple, which as near as Doyle can tell, sits empty and unused.
There is very little interaction between Eldorado residents and their FLDS neighbors. The children are home schooled. The women go to the much larger city of San Angelo to shop, though men do buy fuel in town.
Over time, relationships, if not friendships, have taken root.
A handful of FLDS men recently attended the funeral for Dan Griffin, who owned the fuel station they frequented.
“They were right in the middle of the congregation and the congregation didn’t have a clue,” Doyle said.
In Custer County, South Dakota, the reviews are much the same.
In late 2003, Allred also bought approximately 150 acres in the isolated area of Red Canyon, outside of Pringle. It now includes some homes, a workshop, a warehouse, garden, orchard and a few cows.
Custer County Sheriff Rick Wheeler figures there are about 100 people there; as in Texas, the six school-age children are educated at home.
“We just don’t hear nothing out of them,” he said. “They stay pretty much to themselves.”
Custer County Commissioner Leonard Wood said most residents near the FLDS outpost consider them “good neighbors.”
“They blade the road, which is a big issue,” Wood said. “We’re a pretty Republican state, but we’re more Libertarian than anything which means mind your own business and they seem to be doing that.”
The FLDS have other secluded settlements, including one in Mancos, Colo. But elsewhere, such as Mesquite and Las Vegas, Nevada, they have settled into established communities.