A Brief History
On July 26, 1953, the Arizona Department of Public Safety and Arizona National Guard conducted a raid on an enclave of fundamentalist Mormons at Short Creek, Arizona, an enormous law enforcement effort that netted about 400 people taken into custody, including men, women, and children. Their alleged crime? Polygamy, also known as “plural marriage,” which had ended as a part of mainstream Mormonism as manifested by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly referred to as the LDS and comprise more than 95% of all “Mormons.”
On July 26, 1953, the Arizona Department of Public Safety and Arizona National Guard conducted a raid on an enclave of fundamentalist Mormons at Short Creek, Arizona, an enormous law enforcement effort that netted about 400 people taken into custody, including men, women and children. Their alleged crime? Polygamy, also known as “plural marriage,” which had ended as a part of mainstream Mormonism as manifested by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly referred to as the LDS and comprise more than 95% of all “Mormons.”
Offshoots of the main branch of Mormonism are often referred to as “Fundamentalist Mormons” although each group may have their own unique name for their movement. These small groups have split from the main Mormon church to follow their own religious doctrine and are not sanctioned by the LDS. In fact, the LDS does not hesitate to denounce the practice of polygamy, or plural marriage, espoused by some of these smaller sects. When much of the mainstream media questioned the Short Creek Raid and denounced it as “un-American” or “odious,” the LDS owned Deseret News lauded the law enforcement effort. Members of the LDS were far from united in support of the Short Creek Raid, and many expressed dismay and disgust at the heavy-handed government tactics.
John Howard Pyle, Governor of Arizona, was a driving force behind the raid, saying that the polygamous community was akin to an “insurrection” against the government. Pyle miscalculated the public and media support for his raid and invited over 100 reporters to accompany officials on the raid! The media backlash against the raid and the tactics that resulted in the arrest of 400 people, of which well over half were children, is testament to Pyle’s mistake.
When the 100+ law enforcement officials and National Guardsmen descended upon the Short Creek community, they found the Mormons had been tipped off and were in the school house singing hymns. Of the 263 children taken into custody on July 26, 1953, about 150 of them would not be reunited with their family for over 2 years! (Does this call to mind the current controversy about the separation of illegal immigrant and asylum- seeking families in the United States?) An unknown number of parents never did regain custody of their children. Both supporters of the action and critics both called the raid “the largest mass arrest of men and women in modern American history.” The political fallout for Governor Pyle was such that he lost his 1954 bid for reelection, blaming negative publicity from the Short Creek Raid.
Epilogue: The town of Short Creek was later renamed Colorado City in 1960 and remained a haven for out of the mainstream Mormons. Calling themselves Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints a reborn offshoot Mormon movement was established in Colorado City in 1991 under the leadership of Warren Jeffs and remained out of the cross hairs of law enforcement until the late 1990’s when prosecutions for polygamy once more began. In 2006 Jeffs was named to the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List and was arrested in 2007. Jeffs was convicted of child sexual abuse in 2011 and sentenced to life in prison plus 20 years. In 2008, another compound founded by Warren Jeffs in Texas called the YFZ Ranch was raided.
Question for students (and subscribers): Do you believe people in the United States should be allowed to engage in plural marriage (polygamy, polyandry and polygyny) if their religion and conscious allows it? Feel free to share your opinions about this marital practice that is currently outlawed in the United States but is common in Muslim dominated countries in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Bradley, Martha. Kidnapped From That Land: The Government Raids on the Short Creek Polygamist. University of Utah Press, 1993.
Jeffs, Rachel. Breaking Free: How I Escaped Polygamy, the FLDS Cult, and My Father, Warren Jeffs. Harper, 2017.
The featured image in this article, a photograph by Rcragun of the schoolhouse where the Mormon fundamentalists were during the raid, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.