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 clothing women are mandated to wear is the most visible example of this control.

FLDS women look as if they just staggered off an 1850s wagon train after a month of bouncing across the Mormon Trail. They typically wear long-sleeve, neck-high, loose-fitting blouses with full-length skirts often adorned with faded floral patterns. Their feet are usually clad in ankle-high, black-leather, laced boots although the younger women and girls seem to prefer running shoes.

Women are forbidden to wear makeup or cut their hair, which is generally swept up high above their foreheads before it is pulled into elaborate braids that extend far down their backs. And many are bloated from too many pregnancies.

Located on the Arizona Strip, Colorado City is cut off from the rest of Arizona by the Grand Canyon to the south and the Colorado River to the east.
Located on the Arizona Strip, Colorado City is cut off from the rest of Arizona by the Grand Canyon to the south and the Colorado River to the east.
The Leroy S. Johnson Meeting Hall.
John Dougherty
The Leroy S. Johnson Meeting Hall.

The fundamentalist Mormon idea is to minimize feminine beauty so it's clear that sex is a sacred duty men and women have to bring "waiting spirits" to Earth.

Mark Twain issued this snippet of sarcasm about the unfortunate appearance of fundamentalist Mormon women in a screed attacking polygamy:

"My heart was wiser than my head. It warmed toward these poor, ungainly and pathetically homely' creatures, and as I turned to hide the generous moisture in my eyes, I said, No' the man that marries one of them has done an act of Christian charity which entitles him to the kindly applause of mankind, not their harsh censure and the man that marries sixty of them has done a deed of open-handed generosity so sublime that the nations should stand uncovered in his presence and worship in silence."

Working-class men in the community almost always wear plaid, long-sleeved shirts and jeans. The handful of professionals wear conservative suits. Hair is trimmed short above the ears, and facial hair is forbidden.

Beneath their clothes, fundamentalist men and women must wear an undergarment that extends to the ankles and wrists. Except when bathing, the sacred long johns are to be worn at all times after baptism at age 8.

Once married, women seldom leave town, except for occasional forays into nearby St. George. A wife who does not submit to her husband's will risks punishment, including beatings, and possible eternal damnation.

In conformance to what the men are told, wives are taught that they must have at least two sister wives to gain admittance to the highest level of heaven.

"[This] has been drilled into them since they were babies," says Annie Bistline, who raised more than a dozen children during her monogamous marriage to Benjamin.

The pressure to accept additional wives is enormous. "I used to pray for another one," says 51-year-old Pamela Black, a former fundamentalist who raised 14 children before breaking away after the church threatened to take away some of her kids.

Spirit Murdered

Growing up, Pamela Black had only one goal.

"I just wanted to get married and have babies because that is all I thought I could do."

Her biggest fear was that she was going to be damned.

"I thought that God would destroy me if I did not do what I was told," she tells New Times.

God has a very real face in Colorado City. At the time, Pamela was a comely teenager. God was embodied in FLDS Prophet Leroy Johnson, or Uncle Leroy.

Typically, girls turned over their name to the Prophet when they wanted to be married. In Pamela's case, the Prophet came to her.

Uncle Leroy showed up at school while Pamela was singing in the choir.

"Wow, he sure seems to be looking at me," Pamela recalls. "Sure enough, he was."

Later that day, 17-year-old Pamela was summoned to a meeting with the Prophet. It is a major event in a young girl's life.

"We have someone for you," Pamela says Uncle Leroy let on.

The official line is that girls can refuse a marriage.

"They give us a choice, but there's really no choice," Pamela says. "You either do what they say because [the Prophet is considered] God, or face damnation.

"So, I got married."

Her groom was 27-year-old Martin Black, a man she barely knew.

After a brief courtship of holding hands and kissing, but rarely talking, the couple were married by Uncle Leroy.

The night before the wedding, Pamela's mother told her about sex.

Pamela spent her wedding night hiding in the bathroom, hoping to avoid the matrimonial bed.

"I was brushing my teeth for an hour," she says. "Eventually, it had to happen."

She got into bed.

"Take off your nightgown," Pamela says her new husband told her. "I said, No.'"

Her new husband ignored her plea.

"And thus the sex act was performed against my will," Pamela says. "I was completely traumatized. I was raped."

The night set the tone for their marriage.

"He literally spent the night alone in the living room while I stayed in the bathroom crying," Pamela says.

That such events transpired should not be a condemnation of Martin Black, Pamela says. Martin is a kind, gentle man of high integrity who raised a huge family on $12 an hour working for the school district.

Martin, Pamela says, was as much a victim of FLDS doctrine as she was.

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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..


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 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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