11 posts tagged polygamist
Big Love/ FLDS inspired Michael C. Hall photoshoot for Bullett magazine (the shoot was described as “sexy polygamist style")
Well, this is fucking weird.
I wrote this article about FLDS polygamy, and I hope you give it a read! Let me know what you think.
The Salt Lake Tribune has a polygamy blog and, of course, I found it. While I was on there, I couldn’t help but notice that they covered a post I wrote for BuzzFeed: A “Which Sister Wife Are You?” quiz.
Which got me thinking more about polygamy: a subject I’m fascinated by and simultaneously cannot explain exactly why.
It started when I was in middle school and interacting more and more with my Mormon cousins. My aunt converted to the Church of Latter Day Saints when she was in her twenties, after falling in love with a Mormon man, my uncle.
When I was growing up, my cousins weren’t allowed to have soda or chocolate. They would cram into the car on Sunday mornings and head off to church for hours. Hours. Once they took my brother and I along. We were both very little, but I remember sitting in church and eating bread, then going into a classroom to watch a film, and just wanting to go home. I guess it was like any church service when you’re a kid, it’s just not as interesting as being somewhere else.
Missionaries became a fixture at holiday dinners. There was the Thanksgiving when two missionaries, originally from Vegas, came to dinner. They never came back after my Catholic mother asked if they missed seeing strip clubs. Guess it’s tough to have a sense of humor when you’re doing God’s work. Or the Easter where a handsome missionary came to visit and became keen on my non-Mormon cousin, Caroline. She was just 14 years old at the time, but looked about 18. Needless to say, it didn’t work out.
I remember my mom mentioning that Mormons believed in polygamy sometime around middle school. I’m not sure what prompted it, but I do remember not knowing what that word meant, exactly. I ended up researching it online. Polygamy: more than one wife or husband. That seemed so odd. I thought of my aunt and wondered if there were other secret wives shacked up in her house. I wondered if my uncle had ever suggested such a thing to her. I thought of my own parents and how furious I’d be if my mother or father ever cheated on the other. That’s what polygamy felt like to me, like consensual cheating. It sounded heartbreaking. And, yet, there were people out there doing it. How were they doing it? How were they able to stand it? Was there some secret trick they’d learned so that they could endure it?
I also discovered that members of the Mormon church do not, in fact, believe in polygamy. Or, at least, they say they don’t. They officially stopped endorsing the practice over a hundred years ago, but there are documents that suggest the polygamist vein is a hard one to stop from hemorrhaging. (Especially when you consider that the church founders led an openly poly lifestyle.)
Today, the people openly practicing are the fundamentalist Mormons. Those living in communes like Colorado City or Hildale, and function by rulings from an enigmatic leader and reticence from the followers.
Those are the people who fascinate me. It’s less of the mainstream polygamists, like those you may see on TLC’s Sister Wives, (though, admittedly, I still watch the show) and more the followers who are living in the shadows. Most don’t have access to education or Internet. All are expected to live the poly lifestyle or suffer God’s consequences. And not many are getting the opportunity to tell their stories.
Surely, there are people suffering. Men and women who would want to leave the community, but have no opportunities or skills to do so. But those people aren’t talked about nearly enough. Instead we’re seeing people like those on Sister Wives, who seem happy and well adjusted with their circumstances. In a way, their happiness takes away the much needed attention that the smaller and more isolated communities desperately need.
Some members do manage to escape the lifestyle, like the young girls pictured above, and they get the opportunity to speak out about polygamy. But what about the women still in polygamy? Is it possible that some of them really do like it? Or is it just that it’s all they’ve ever known? What happens if you speak your mind about how you’re feeling? Can ideas that oppose the norm ever really exist in a culture that is, essentially, a cult?
While many women escape the poly life and go on to denounce the practice, surely there are those that would also exalt it? What interests me is that, if those women exist (and I’m sure they do), I’d like to hear their stories. Again, not the mainstream polys, like you see in Sister Wives, but the women who are living under the rule of Warren Jeffs and being denied rights that we all get to enjoy, like the right to an education.
Hearing their stories feels very important to me. It’s part of what drove me to visit Colorado City, and part of what makes me want to go back. I want to meet those women and hear their thinking through this process, even though I know I’d never get access or the chance to do so.
Part of me wonders if I’ll ever get the chance to visit those places again, and part of me has already resigned myself to the fact that I may not. In which case, I’ll just have to keep reading The Salt Lake Tribune’s blog.
Unless, of course, one of you wants to go with me on a trip to Utah again??
Apparently Black Hebrew Vegan Polygamists are mourning Whitney Houston’s death too, k?
Like any good American, I am obsessed with polygamy and, in particular, the TLC show ‘Sister Wives.’ Which is why, when I saw the headline, “Judge allows 'Sister Wives’ suit to proceed,” I obviously stopped everything (including the presses) to find out what these shenanigans were about.
The AP is reporting that:
A federal judge has ruled there’s sufficient evidence to allow a polygamous family made famous by a reality TV show to pursue a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Utah’s bigamy law.
WOWZERS. So, for those of you not caught up with the show, essentially this is a big fucking deal. That’s because last season the Brown family (which includes creepy haired patriarch Kody, and his 4 bride-wives), were forced out of Utah and into Las Vegas. They were under threat of an impending lawsuit that they believed could end with Kody being sent to prison and the families being torn apart. It was all very ’Not Without My Daughter,’ and made for a great episode where there was much ado about packing U-Haul’s.
Now that no charges have actually been filed against the Brown’s, it seems that they are fighting back against the state that chased them away (even though bigamy is against the law, and they were very much flaunting their lifestyle for all of the cameras and the world to see). The thing is, they may actually win this thing if they can prove that, “there’s a real and viable threat to their constitutional rights.”
Selfishly, I would love for this show to stay on the air, so I support whatever the Brown’s need to do. Which, I’m sure, is a huge perk of going on national television and allowing viewers to get to know them as a family. They’ve sparked my sympathy, so much so that I want them to be OKAY and would theoretically write a letter to Congress, or whatever. What I know is that as much as I love the Brown’s, there are still some terrifying polygamist compounds like the one in Colorado City. On one hand, if polygamists don’t need to hide, maybe those compounds wouldn’t exist. BUT, in a more realistic understanding, those communities are run by tyrannical egomaniacs who wouldn’t give up their men and multiple women without a fight. And, by making it easier to practice polygamy, it may lead to increased abuse in the communities.
In other words, what the Brown’s are doing is GREAT if you’re not a 13-year-old girl about to be married off to someone who looks like this. But if you are that teen girl approaching your birthing years, this lawsuit could mean that the state eases up on some of its laws against polygamy (not that those laws have ever stopped people like Warren Jeffs, but you know what I mean).
What do you think about this ruling, should the Brown’s be allowed to sue Utah?
Apparently during his closing testimony, Jeffs spent the 30 allotted minutes staring at each juror and finally the judge before saying, “I am at peace.”
It also came out that the man has 79 wives, 24 of which he married when they were under the age of 18.
As some of you may know I am slightly fascinated with polygamy…
At the beginning of this year I visited Colorado City, Utah and was shocked at what I found. I want to go back at some point and explore more, especially after watching all of this Warren Jeffs coverage.
He might give closing arguments tomorrow, and I really hope they tape and release them!!
Now that I’m back in Los Angeles, I’m ready to talk about going to the compound. WE MADE IT OUT ALIVE!
After leaving the safety of Kanab, we headed towards Colorado City. I was anxious to get there, excited to see what the people were like, and really understand what the layout of the town was.
Unfortunately, we took 89 South instead of Alt 89, and wound up on a deserted stretch of isolated highway, with fog so thick we could only see about 50 feet in front of us. We had one bar of gas left when we figured this out… Awesome.
We turned around, and drove on cruise control at 50 mph, trying to conserve the little gas we had so we could make it back to Kanab. It took us 40 minutes, and bless Elizabeth’s Prius, because it puttered into town and we made it to a gas station without having to push the car.
As soon as we got onto Alt 89, it became clear we were on our way. We passed through a town called Ship Rock, which was one of the poorest towns I have ever seen, and is also part of a Navajo reservation (the picture to the left shows a hotel where the windows were broken out and cats just sort of freely prowled an abandoned car). Then we saw a sign for Colorado City. We were 20 miles outside of it, and this was our time to blend in.
Elizabeth pulled into a gas station and we sat in the car, braiding each others hair (ridiculous as that sounds), buttoning our shirts to the very top of the collar, and taking off all of our jewelry. We also hid our electronics under blankets in the back seat so as to seem less obvious… Though in hindsight, we were in a fucking Prius with California plates.
As I wiped the color off my lips, I looked up and saw a woman, probably in her late 40s, with hair that was unmistakably polygamist. What do I mean by that? A large poof in front and a long braid in the back (a sort of Martha Washington in the front, farm girl in the back, if I may). She was also wearing a long, sky blue dress that went down to her ankles and cuffed at her wrists.
“Elizabeth,” I whispered.
I could hardly breathe at this point, I was so excited. And just as Elizabeth looked up, another woman in identical garb and hair popped up. She was younger, perhaps in her early 30s, but they could have been related, they looked so similar. Then came a man behind them, who was old. Like, dude had a hunchback and deep set wrinkles and white hair and was driving a Buick (for real).
I pulled out my camera phone.
“Don’t, don’t, don’t,” I heard Elizabeth saying, but I couldn’t help myself. I quickly snapped a photo as their backs were turned.
Then, perhaps with a changed heart and some moxi, “Do you wanna go in?” Elizabeth said.
“Yeah,” I replied, halfway out the door.
I guess we expected that this was a polygamist gas station, that because we had seen one family we would see more. But when we went inside, it was essentially filled with the Navajo people whose reservation butted right up to Colorado City. They looked at us, and we grumbled in disappointment. I bought a bag of wasabi peas because I felt guilty for expecting something.
We got back in the car, re-energized and nervous. We had seen our first polygamists, gotten a taste of what lay ahead, and now all we had to do was get there. As Elizabeth drove, I shoveled handfuls of peas into my mouth and imagined what I would say if asked a question.
Why are you here? One wife would ask.
I think we should be friends? You fascinate me? Can I just sort of poke around your house and maybe you could tell me what it’s like to BE YOU?
Okay, I had no idea what the fuck I would say. If they spoke to me, maybe I would barf. I had built them up so much in my mind, and was so very equal parts intimidated and horrified that I had no clue how I’d actually react come the time.
Then we saw the sign for our turnoff; Colorado City this a way!
We could see the outlines of homes, or what looked to be long ranch houses. They were speckling the land in front of us like freckles, and we knew that this was where we were headed. We turned off onto an unmarked dirt road and were immediately in the thick of it. Colorado City is not hidden off the highway, though Alt 89 is a bit off the beaten path. But everything is visible from that road. There are no armed guards, no fences keeping people out, anyone and everyone can drive right on if they cared to.
Once in the compound, we were sort of in a panic as for what to do. I could feel Elizabeth accelerating, maybe scared or worried that we would be noticed if we drove too slowly.
“Slow down, it’s okay,” I said, gaping around at the homes, eager to see someone pop out from one of them. We took a left down a row of houses, and saw our first people. A little girl, maybe 7 years old, wearing a blue dress and crossing the street on a miniature horse, her kid sister chasing behind…
It was fucked. Kind of like watching an old film, because they looked like they were from a different era, a simpler time where bread was freshly baked and little girls spent their Thursday afternoons riding ponies.
We kept going though, and checked out the homes which were large, multi-level, and dilapidated. Through our research we had heard that many of the houses in Colorado City are unfinished, and that was true. Sometimes we would see windows boarded up because there was no glass. There was a house that had brick going halfway up and then abruptly stopped, the rest was just particle board. Apparently when families run out of money, which is often, they just leave things unfinished and continue to live in them. But it gave the place the feel of being abandoned, a ghost town with huge homes and little life. Granted, it was snowing and perhaps under the snow there were manicured lawns and bright colors. But from our vantage point it looked dull and dank.
We came to the Cooperative Mercantile, the local grocery that I had read about, and I told Elizabeth to pull into the parking lot. I was ready to go in, but Elizabeth was nervous. She had to drive, and I’m sure the threat of being chased out of town by hummers had gotten to her.
“Alright, I’m going in, don’t worry,” I said. Then I took off my sunglasses and marched towards the store.
Around me were women and children, pushing carts filled with food, who barely glanced at me. I’m not sure if that was a purposeful effort on their part, or if they really didn’t notice me. But I clearly was not one of them, and I felt my chest tighten as I entered the store and heard a male voice behind me.
“Hey,” he said.
I turned and saw a man in a UPS uniform. He was carrying a package and eyeing me.
“Weren’t you in Kanab yesterday?” he said.
My brain blacked out for a moment, and when I came to I remembered that he had been in our hotel lobby when we arrived in Kanab, delivering a package to the manager there.
“Oh, yes I was! Hi, how are you?”
“I’m good,” he shifted weight onto his other foot and came a bit closer to me. “So, what are you doing all the way out here?”
To be clear, Colorado City is out of the way for anyone. There’s absolutely no reason to go down Alt 89 unless it’s purely to see this city. It’s inconvenient and ill placed and in the middle of effing nowhere.
“Well, um, my friend and I, we—” I could feel women passing me, we were standing in the center of the store right by the entrance and I felt like I was in a polygamous wind tunnel. I coughed. “—are on a roadtrip from Los Angeles. We were visiting family up in Provo.”
I smiled and he nodded warily.
“Los Angeles, huh? Well, you’re a long way from there aren’t ya?”
I suddenly got the intense and overwhelming feeling that this was not a friendly conversation. Yes, he was delivering a package, but I also got the sense that he was part of this community. If not immediately Colorado City, then he was part of the FLDS movement. It was the tone and the way he leaned into me that made me understand that he was investigating my reasons for visiting. Perhaps I was being paranoid, but I got the sense that he was protecting these people and looking out for their wellbeing, and assumed I might be trying to harm that in some way.
“Yes, but you know I had never been to Utah, and it’s so beautiful and the people are so friendly, and we just wanted to stop in for some snacks.” I was rambling like an idiot.
He again nodded, and I smiled and fidgeted with my ponytail. I held my hand up to my face, the one with the wedding ring, as if this would be some sort of peace offering.
“Well, I hope you girls have a safe trip back.”
“Thank you,” I said.
As I turned away from him, two little girls passed in front of me, pushing a shopping cart. They craned their necks to look up and into my eyes, and for the first time I realized that I was being gawked at, with my jeans and long sweater and cowboy boots. I was the obvious oddball in a store of what they would consider normalcy.
The aisle closest to me was filled with candy, and I started piling gum balls and sugar daddies (mildly appropriate, no?) into my hands. I walked towards the cashier, and stood in line to buy my things. I wanted to get out of there, but also be able to just stand still in this place and observe what was around me. I watched a group of girls in the line, who couldn’t have been older than 15, and saw how they interacted with each other. They absentmindedly twirled their fingers around the ends of their braids, wore sunglasses and chewed gum loudly, they seemed to be a normal group of teenagers just getting their sugar fix. But I had no idea if they were sisters, sister-wives, or just friends, and they cast sideways glances at me with a look of what was either disgust or boredom.
Finally it was my turn up to bat.
“Hi there,” I said, trying to stay calm.
“Is that all?” The cashier asked. She was close to 5'10, sturdily built, and had a unibrow that fanned out above her eyes.
“Yes, that’s it for me!” My voice was too excited, and I made a note to tone it down.
“Do you know how much this is?” She picked up a piece of Bazooka bubble gum that I had snatched from a bucket filled with sugary treats.
“Um, uh, I can go check?” I offered, turning towards the candy aisle.
“26 cents, I think that’s what it is,” she said and continued to scan my items.
I wanted to ask her questions, I wanted to find some parcel of small talk to keep the conversation afloat, but I was feeling something akin to empathy for this girl and their community. They were born into this, they didn’t ask for me to haul ass into their town and pry into their way of life. And while I know that things like incest, inbreeding, lack of schooling, rape, and a host of other things take place there, I didn’t want to turn this girl into my pet project. So, I shut my mouth while she bagged my items and told me to have a nice day.
I left the store, and headed back to the car. In a parking lot filled with panel vans, SUV’s, and pickup trucks, our Prius stood out like some ridiculous eyesore. Elizabeth was at the wheel, looking straight ahead, and I felt badly that she probably thought I was being suffocated in some back room while she idled in the parking lot.
“Did you think I was dead?” I asked, sliding into the passenger seat.
“I kind of wondered about it, but I didn’t want to freak out and run in there.”
As I pulled on my seatbelt we discussed what had happened and peeled out of the parking lot. We drove down the dirt roads of the town. Passing more homes with panel vans parked outside, and what were obvious additions tacked onto the sides of the homes.
There was a schoolhouse in the center of town, a long, brick structure with absolutely no one in sight. Again, these kids are home schooled, but the government sets up a schoolhouse for them in the hopes that they’ll attend, I guess. Either way, the money for the school gets funneled back into the town, though where to I’m not sure.
We also passed a communal playground that was empty, which I’m sure was a result of the snow. But it looked sad and depressing, nonetheless.
But perhaps one of the more interesting things we saw was the cemetery. It was on a high hill, and had a large white fence surrounding it. The ground was covered in snow, and we could see pushed up mounds of dirt where fresh burials had taken place, but we also passed gravestones…
Like the one pictured which simply said “Sweet and Sound.” There was no name, no date of birth and death, just those words.
Infant deaths in this community are high as a result of some of the genetic diseases that run rampant when cousins are marrying each other and worse. We imagined the Sweet & Sound stone was likely for a child, and that was a really heartbreaking thing to see.
We drove down the dirt roads and passed by more homes for a good 10 minutes. But when you’re driving a Prius, you start to notice that people passing you are staring, and we got the feeling that leaving might be a good idea.
So, we decided to leave and I took this as an opportunity to snap some photos. There was very little activity in the streets, but we did see play sets in almost every yard, and boarded up windows, and fences that surrounded the homes. This picture to the left is a long shot of some of the homes, included one that could also be a store (?) or a church (?), who knows really.
It was a bizarre experience, but I have to say that I want to go back again. They actually offer tours of Colorado City, and they are led by ex-members of the communities. You pile into a bus and the guide answers questions and gives a history of the religion and the practices. I feel like that may be the only way for me to really get an interview with a polygamist (or in this case, a former poly) and have it remain respectful. Because after being in that community I just still felt that tinge of compassion for what they must go through, and my presence there only seemed to highlight what they don’t have.
Yet despite feeling sorry for this town and experiencing some of the more heartbreaking moments, I was also kind of thrilled. My body was tense and alert, and this pride over being in the midst of this cultish religion and way of life flooded over me. Not a pride that I had been able to go in, but it was more that we had seen something and experienced something that not everyone else has.
On our way out we both also felt relieved, as we passed by a series of mailboxes that were obviously a product of Colorado City and their lack of marked roads.
Anyone out there feel up to a road trip tour of the polygamist communes of America?!?
It has taken me this long to sit down and write a post about the rest of the day’s happenings in Salt Lake, because Elizabeth and I had to go eat dinner at an Outback Steakhouse just to decompress.
Now that some BBQ chicken and a chocolate sundae are behind me, I’m ready to get into it.
So, after the Starbucks we decided to grab lunch and were instructed to head toward the oldest restaurant in Salt Lake, a little place called Lamb’s. On the way we pulled out our map, because despite the city being set up in a perfect grid we nonetheless became horribly lost, and something happened that we had both been waiting for.
“Excuse me, but can I help you ladies find something?”
We both turned to see a straw haired man with a toothy grin pulling out his earbuds. He was wearing a tracksuit and had clearly put a pause on his jog to help us out. There was nothing flirtatious about his approach, nothing that said he wanted anything from us, this was pure Mormon hospitality at its finest.
After he pointed us in the right path, Elizabeth told me that there are reasons you don’t see Mormons wearing crosses. It’s not because they don’t believe in Jesus, they do, but it’s more a standard that they don’t want a crucifix to define who they are. Instead, a Mormon should be definable by their everyday behavior so that any gentile person (such as ourselves) can spot them without the helpful hints of jewelry. This man was a prime example of what their religion is going for in terms of definition by behavior, and it was very charming and I wish people in LA were friendly like this (but not necessarily Mormon).
Okay, so we get to Lamb’s and it’s just so old and adorable and filled with antiques; maroon leather booths and carved ceilings, a big old Christmas tree in the center of the place, and a long bar with cakes and pies behind frosted glass. We eat, it was yummy, whatever- let’s get to the good stuff.
After lunch, Elizabeth and I hustle ourselves over to the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. It’s near Temple Square, so we assume it will have some interesting historical elements, and we’re excited to hit our first Mormon destination. When we got to the lobby there were massive chandeliers suspended above our heads, thick marble pillars, and floating head statues of Mormon dignitaries (see above pic). The place was cold in terms of friendliness, at best. A gift shop attendant snarled at me as I purchased a Joseph Smith bookmark, we walked towards the building’s bistro only to have waiters turn their backs to us, in a panic we darted outside and past a gaggle of men taking down Christmas ornaments who seemed excited to have the holidays behind them. It was not a good start.
Nonethless, once outside we found ourselves staring at the front of the Salt Lake Temple, a massive Gothic tribute to pointy spires and round windows. A wedding with at least fifty people gathered on the temple steps was taking place outside, and I hurriedly snapped a photo before we ducked inside the gates. We decided to head to the south visitor’s center where they have historic artifacts, assuming it might be fun to go on a guided tour and get a feel for the place. We had spent a good 10 minutes working up our back story before going in, “Okay, so I have cousins in Provo and we are both visting, and we aren’t Mormon but we’re curious.”
The lobby was empty, just us and animatronic simulations of the Angel Maroni and Mormon pioneers crossing in covered wagons. We found a children’s corner where you could press a button that stated plainly, “What happens when you die?” and get a videotaped response of a Mormon child explaining that the soul leaves the body and joins the heavenly father. But what I found most interesting was this elaborate doll-house like replica of the Salt Lake Temple (pic to the left). It had doll furniture (?), and exact recreations of the rooms within the temple which, traditionally, gentile eyes are not intended to see. It was elaborate and detailed but also child-like and gaudy.
After our fill of the visitors center, we wandered over to the Museum of Church History & Art, a place where artifacts and histroical gems from the Mormon religion are housed. A well-meaning older gentleman greeted us with a map, “We have some wonderful exhibits this month, including an art section from some Latin American folks…”
As we wandered through the museum we got to see an original page from the Joseph Smith dictations when he found the golden plates… seriously. We also saw covered wagons, quilts stitched with human hair (yes), paintings that replicated historical moments in Mormon history, and the death face mask of Joseph Smith (so, dude was killed and they put clay over his face and we got to see the ensuing product, a sort of Mormon mummy mask).
It was all really interesting and so very unique. The Mormon religion is still relatively new, so their artifacts are recent and in great condition.
But it was cold outside, and once we were through touring the museum we had to find another warm place to store our bodies. We discovered the north visitors center, which was substantially larger and brimming with Mormon missionaries. A Hawaiian gal named Annie led us to their movie theater to watch a film called “The Testaments,” which she assured us was truly great. As we went to take a seat she paused to ask, “Are you part of the church?” to which we both responded with a solid no and got to use our make believe story of family in Provo and an inclination towards learning more about the faith.
“Well,” she lit up, “the Mormon religion has changed my life for the better, I mean, I’m not trying to convert you but it has made such a difference.” She handed us both cards and asked us to fill them out with our name, phone, and address so she could send us a free copy of the Book of Mormon!
“Oh… okay,” I said and quickly created a pseudonym.
We sat down and the theater went dark. For the next 56 minutes, we watched as ancient Aztecs located “somewhere in the Americas” and Jesus Christ, whom the film never refers to by name but instead references as “The Christ” and “The Savior,” somehow intertwine to create two parallel story lines that end with Jesus appearing in a beam of light on the steps of an Aztec temple (movie still to the left).
It was fucked, and we felt scared that Annie would come back for us, so we ran like hell towards the nearest exit. On our way out we had to traverse back through the Joseph Smith building and made the horrifying error in judgement of asking a kindly elderly woman where we could find the parking garage. She followed us down a hall, into an elevator, and past the doors into the garage to a point where I reached for my pepper spray and considered macing her eyes just enough so we could jump into the Prius and get the hell out of there.
Thankfully she left us alone once we said we were from California. We drove and drove and drove back to Provo, trying to figure out exactly why we had felt so terrified the whole day, why our necks were tight, and why we felt sick to our stomaches.
Here are my thoughts:
Salt Lake felt exactly the way I thought all of Utah would. It was completely and utterly Mormon, and being a non-believer there felt like having a red mark on my back. It was as if we were under scrutiny the entire time, and we felt certain that all of these people were against us.
Trying to lie our way through the experience didn’t help, either. But Salt Lake is not the type of place you want to go when it comes to being an outsider. The museums and temples and visitor centers all felt molded to perfectly fit an already converted soul. But having little knowledge of the faith, and looking wild eyed at all of the new information was completely overwhelming. It was like driving for the first time, being on edge every second and trying to take in the experience.
Also, and perhaps this is awful of me to say, but I think the Mormon religion is a tough thing to accept. I have Mormon cousins, and I love them, but golden plates? No coffee? Really? It all seems like too much…
Don’t get me wrong, I completely respect people who devote themselves to something, who try to live better lives and gain a greater understanding of themselves through that. But I guess I have yet to see how the Mormon faith enables that kind of spiritual awakening, or whatever it is that improves the quality of life. It seems restrictive and demanding and secretive; elements that make me nervous when it comes to an entire population devoting of themselves.
Tomorrow we are headed to Colorado City, where three different polygamist sects reside. Perhaps this will push me over the edge to understanding and an increased compassion?
So, last night we did a lot of research into Colorado City and found accounts from people who have been to the large polygamous compound that flourishes there. We have found a lot of differing accounts.
From About.com, circa 2008:
“With the arrest and conviction of Warren Jeffs, the leader of this community, change may be in the cards. Nevertheless, these are not communities that welcome outsiders and, for the time being, should be avoided by travelers.”
That warning obviously spooked us a bit. We are two young women, who are total outsiders, and throughout this journey we have been in a state of acute awareness that we do not belong. Nonetheless, we researched on.
This is a blog post from John Hamer, who visited the compound, again in 2008:
“Colorado City was more like I expected, although I was unprepared for the size of the community — there truly are a lot of fundamentalist Mormons. This much older town (founded in the 1920s) is laid out in traditional Utah fashion, with overly wide streets separating large square blocks — resulting in the unkempt, low-density feel so many Mormon towns share.
The houses in Colorado City were more normal in size, lacking the ostentation of Centennial Park. There were also a large number of unfinished homes, some of which were inhabited while others seemed abandoned. In that way, the community was reminiscent of towns we’ve visited in Argentina…
We had expected a closed community, like the private FLDS town near Eldorado, Texas. Instead we found a rural town with all the public institutions you would expect: post office, town hall, police department, community college, grocery store, hardware store, restaurant, and other services like insurance agents.
Although the grocery store “Foodtown Cooperative Mercantile Corporation,” was communally operated and owned by the UEP trust, its goods were absolutely normal — precisely what you’d expect from any small-town grocer. Notwithstanding the FLDS Church’s reputation for being isolated from the modern world, their Cooperative Mercantile was well stocked with the latest types of chips — I bought a bag of Spicy Sweet Chili–flavored Doritos for the road.
The store was filled with FLDS women wearing the distinctive outfits that we have seen on CNN from Texas. Unlike the Little House on the Prairie garb worn by fundamentalists on the compound in Big Love, FLDS women have a very strange style all their own. To me their clothing resembles over-sized Victorian dresses, generally in a single vivid (often pastel) color. Long hair is universally combed up (often way up) and back. Unlike Amish country, where both men and women look different from regular American society, FLDS men appeared to dress like any other rural westerners.”
Hamer’s account made us feel a bit better, and was sort of more of what we expected to encounter in Colorado City. We anticipate getting strange looks, and we hope that’s sort of the extent of action taken against us.
We also found this post from a UK site called The First Post:
“Colorado City is a frankly bizarre place. It sits under soaring red cliffs, entirely surrounded by wilderness. And many of the vast and palisaded houses really do have far fewer windows than normal; some houses have hardly any windows at all. The streets feel oddly blind.
And the people are equally strange. Everywhere we saw women in long pioneer dresses, with dozens of children in tow. The women were big: like Stepford wives on steroids.
Our visit went smoothly - until we got the camera out. That got people staring and pointing. We backed away. Then one guy started running towards us, and not in a friendly way.”
Who knows if the women will actually be huge there, or if the townspeople will react differently towards us because we are women and not men. My hope is that as a woman, I will be less likely to be chased because I am “harmless”… right?
And finally, a blog journal entry from Thomas, who traveled his way across the Southwest:
“A few interesting facts about Colorado City:
Many of the “houses” (which could more appropriately be called compounds or hotels) have large walls to keep out prying eyes despite their rural location.
The city is situated several miles from the main road and lacks signs marking its location.
Most of the vehicles in town are Surburbans , 15 person vans, or full sized pickup trucks.
There are large playgrounds at almost every house.
I visited on a Sunday, so there was very little activity. The few drivers that passed stared at me as if I were an alien.”
I think part of the fun of visiting Colorado City will be observing how we are received by the polygamist community. We agreed not to take photographs while in the community, because according to all of the accounts we have read that seems to be the point of contention. And right now I have my “wedding ring” on so as not to seem too much like an evil-she devil type of floozy.