By Monica Alonzo
By Ray Stern
By New Times Staff
By Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Monica Alonzo
By Stephen Lemons
By Robrt L. Pela
As the Mormon Church stepped up excommunications of polygamists, followers acquired land on the Arizona-Utah border to create a community where the practice could go on unabated.
The isolated area, called Short Creek, was perfect for its intended purpose. The closest civil authorities opposed to polygamy were more than 200 miles by road in the Mohave County seat of Kingman. The closest town was St. George, Utah, a former home of Brigham Young's. The steep cliffs and canyons of Zion National Park served as a buffer to the north. The Colorado River was a natural barrier to the east, while the Grand Canyon cut off approaches from the south. The western flank was protected by the treacherous Hurricane Cliffs.
Polygamists began moving to Short Creek in large numbers in the mid-1930s under the direction of the senior member of the Priesthood Council, John Y. Barlow, whose descendants now control key positions of civil authority in the area.
Despite Short Creek's isolation, Mohave County prosecuted two Short Creek polygamists in 1935. The men were sentenced to 18 to 24 months in the Arizona State Prison in Florence. It was the beginning of several unsuccessful efforts by Arizona, Utah and the federal government to dislodge the polygamists in the Arizona/Utah border area.
In 1944, Utah police and FBI agents raided Short Creek and the homes of polygamists in Salt Lake City, arresting 46 people on various charges, including conspiracy to commit unlawful cohabitation.
In May 1945, 15 of the defendants, including five of the seven members of the polygamous Priesthood Council, were sentenced to between one and five years in the Utah state prison on conspiracy convictions.
Seven months into their sentences, 11 of the defendants were granted parole after signing a pledge to stop teaching, practicing or advocating plural marriage. These men included several members of the Priesthood Council, among them John Y. Barlow.
The parolees immediately returned to Short Creek and Salt Lake City and resumed living with their plural wives and performing plural marriages.
The last significant government intervention occurred in 1953. Under pressure from cattle growers angry over having to pay increasingly high taxes to support the Short Creek public school district, Arizona Governor Howard Pyle ordered state police to raid the town.
Pyle, morally outraged over polygamy, worked in conjunction with the mainstream Mormon Church in the months leading up to the raid – which netted the arrests of 36 men and nine women who were jailed briefly in Kingman.
Meanwhile, about 47 married women and about 177 children were transported to Phoenix. Pyle's plan was to have a juvenile court strip the children from their natural parents and move them into foster homes.
The criminal charges soon collapsed from lack of evidence. In December 1953, the case was settled when 26 men pleaded guilty to misdemeanors. It took another 16 months to determine the fate of the women and children. During that time, they were sent to live in foster homes, mostly of mainstream Mormons in Mesa, Snowflake, St. Johns and St. David.
In March 1955, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ordered that the children remain in the legal custody of their parents, and the women and children returned to Short Creek.
The high-profile effort to rid Arizona of polygamy ended in political disaster for Pyle, who was defeated in the next election.
The Arizona side of Short Creek was renamed Colorado City in 1963.
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