Longform

Bound by Fear: Polygamy in Arizona

Page 6 of 17

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.

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.

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.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty