Bound by Fear: Polygamy in Arizona

For decades the state has let a feudal colony of fundamentalist Mormons force underage girls into illegal polygamous marriages

The probe so far has only confirmed the obvious. Polygamous marriages like Ruth Stubbses are routine in Colorado City.

"We've got quite a few names of young girls who have . . . turned 15, and they're gone. So they have been married," attorney general's investigator Ron Gibson said in a transcript obtained by New Times.

"Poofer" is the Colorado City slang for a girl who has vanished from her parents' home into a husband's abode.

Colorado City town marshal Sam Roundy has several wives.
John Dougherty
Colorado City town marshal Sam Roundy has several wives.
Lenore Holm was served eviction papers after she objected to the planned marriage of her 16-year-old daughter as the second wife to a 39-year-old man.
John Dougherty
Lenore Holm was served eviction papers after she objected to the planned marriage of her 16-year-old daughter as the second wife to a 39-year-old man.

"One day they would be there, and the next day they were gone – poof," explains Mary Mackert, a former plural wife who left Colorado City after 16 years in a polygamous marriage as the sixth of seven wives. "When they are married is a secret [to the overall community]."

The grand jury investigation has netted no indictments because "we need a victim," maintained former assistant attorney general Leesa Morrison, who oversaw the inquiry until Governor Napolitano appointed her director of the state Department of Liquor Licenses and Control in January.

The search for an underage plural wife willing to take the stand against her fundamentalist Mormon husband has been complicated by the fact that many teenage girls want to be part of the system. In fact, many have lobbied the Prophet to pick a husband for them.

"They are champing at the bit to get married," says Craig Chatwin, a 30-year-old ex-fundamentalist who is one of the few men to leave Colorado City and pursue a college education.

The teenage girls' eagerness to "turn themselves in" to the Prophet shows how deeply ingrained the religious beliefs and customs are in the rapidly growing community.

"They know no other way," Chatwin says. "For [many], it's the most exciting thing in the world to participate in this system. Outside of it, they would crash and burn."

As a young girl, Mackert said, she remembers sitting under the kitchen table during quilting bees listening to women talk about marriage.

"The old women would talk about a poor girl who was a first wife, and how much she needed to have a sister wife," Mackert recalls. "It was talked about like it was such an awful thing to be the only wife."

Such discussions have powerful influence on young minds, particularly in a town with strict censorship of publications and where watching television is strongly discouraged.

Moreover, there is no way in and out of town for a teenage girl who has no money and no access to a car. There is no bus service, and the church will send out a posse to round up any young female trying to flee. Few girls even think about leaving.

Girls typically begin discussing marriage when they are about 12.

"That's just what you talk about. Who you're going to marry," says Jenny Kesselring, an ex-fundamentalist who left Colorado City when she was 17 and moved in with cousins in Salt Lake City.

This is even though the girls know they have no control over who becomes their mate.

"We were just scared to death it was going to be an old guy, or an ugly one," Kesselring, now 24, says. "Everybody worries about that."

In many cases, marriage is seen as a way to quell teenage rebellion. If a teenage girl is seen so much as talking to a boy, her father is likely to ask the Prophet to find her a husband.

"If she's good-looking, the Prophet might marry her [himself]," says local historian Ben Bistline.

By turning in his daughter for marriage, the father not only takes care of the problem teen, he gains favor with the Prophet, increasing his chances for future wives.

Naturally, fathers in town marry each other's daughters. The Prophet is the broker in these swaps. "They are chattel," Bistline says of the girls.

Frequently, the girls are shipped out of town, to a sister FLDS town in Creston, British Columbia. In turn, that town ships girls to the Colorado City area.

Chatwin says seven of his sisters were married to members of the Canadian FLDS congregation.

Two of Chatwin's sisters were married to the same man on the same day. The groom was Winston Blackmore, the bishop of the FLDS' Canadian church. Blackmore already had a dozen wives.

Chatwin recounted what his sisters told him about their wedding night:

Blackmore approached Zelpha, 21, and Marsha, 17, asking which one wanted to have sex with him first. He said, "We are in the business of making babies."

Zelpha pushed Marsha forward.

Chatwin said, "The next night it was Zelpha's turn. That was the extent of their romance."

Before the marriage, Chatwin had told Zelpha she would be lucky to total three years of the rest of her life with Blackmore because he was spread between so many women and also had extensive church duties.

A few months later, Zelpha wrote in a letter: "Craig, you were so wrong about what you said. I spend far less time with him. In reality, I'm married to the other women."

With arranged polygamous marriages a given, it's not surprising that nearly every aspect of life, particularly that of women, is dictated by the church and its Prophet.

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My Voice Nation Help
2 comments
Lydia
Lydia

Ken, (with regards to your comment on Apr 20th, 2008, 07:50)

I don�t believe what you suffered had anything to do with God; it�s a power struggle being fought by the truly weak and unstable inhabitants of this word, desperately trying to convince themselves of their self-righteousness when it�s so plain to see all they want is to be impervious to our laws and poke fun at morality. These people could sit in front of a mirror and look themselves in the eye and truly believe what they are doing is correct, like the saying �as happy as a pig in s**t� these creatures have never been educated to question, just to accept without question, so have no comparison. As for taking your own life, would you hang yourself in a barn cos the pigs got in the shit again?

What I�m trying to say is that you have broken away from that way of life, as you understood it be wrong, despite the fact it was the way you were raised, so you must see you are a very special, insightful and strong willed person to go against your family, your blood, and do what is obviously right and moral in this very corrupt world, this world needs more people like yourself to stand up for what is write, no matter what the consequences, don�t deprive the world..

Ken
Ken

Living without freedom.

Being born into the Polygamist Cult,FLDS Headquarter at the time was colorado city AZ, Being a child of the Black Family, knowing of others that have left (My couple of Uncles), that joined Satan and the evil people, outsiders the Gentiles as they were called,

It just meant that we would have to make up for the wrong that we had done to the community by being Pure and doing everything that the only proffit of god told us, even if it meant Killing anyone that he had asked us to even our parrents or brothers.

This life was just a test, a test to see if we are ready to Join Jesus in heaven, To build up the kingdom of heaven we need children and wives to bring with us in the afterlife, there are three levels of heaven and to be on the highest level where Jesus is then we need 3 wives, God knows when it is time for us to have children when girls can have children then they must have a child every 11 months and we will follow there cycles so we know when the time is right.

I felt bad for the Gentiles, Asking my Father "Is it fair that they are going to hell?" and the answer was well they might have another Chance but a new world will have to be built but God did that in 6 days so anything is possible.

Then he would add but since you have been chosen by god to be a part of Zion then if you were to leave then God would through your soul into the melting pot of Hell, where you would no longer exist in the afterlife,

I asked allot of questions wich was not good it meant that the evil spirit as my grandma taught me was doubting my faith in God (blind faith),

I remember being punished as a Child, Water torture was the method used by my grandma, I remember her water boarding my younger Brothers, to the point of breaking there spirit (spanking them then runing water over there face from the kitchen sink) , Grandma would say that the young toddlers were susceptible to evil spirits entering there bodies and that by doing this they would leave, Then as we got older around 9 or so she would change the methods of purifying our bodies by as she would say "Shocking the Devil out of us" throwing ice water in our face and making me angry at what point I would run as she would have my Cousins chasing me with water around the Yard and running away.

Remembering why I hate my brothers, I was always active when I was younger, running ect. my grandma would resort to giving me enema's as a form of discipline, she would ask my older brothers was (me) good when I was gone? and they would say nope, I would be like please don't lie, (They would mock me saying how does it feel to have water up my butt?)and laugh at me and my grandma would administer the water to the point I could not hold, crying the whole time, I would talk to my parents, and they would never listen. even to this day,

My mom says that grandma was just trying to help me and I was probly sick. no I was not sick my family was and is.it has been 5 years since I have talked to my family, My dad is dead and my family is living to the best of there ability.

It has been 15 years since being kicked out by my Mom and I was 16 at the time and I still feel sad, Should I have just taken my life when I was younger, so much pain and unhappiness in the name of God.

 

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