Short Creek, 1953

Art Remillard

For some historical perspective on the Texas polygamy case, take a look at Newsweek's recent article on the raid of an FDLS community in 1953.
It was July 26, 1953. In the pre-dawn hours, 120 heavily armed
Arizona lawmen prepared to descend upon the small polygamous community of Short Creek, home to the roughly 500 men, women and children of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The governor, J. Howard Pyle, had ordered a two-year investigation into polygamy and the marriage of teen girls to older men, and the cops arrived ready to take almost the entire town into custody. But the plans hit a snag. FLDS lookouts spoiled the raid by setting off a dynamite charge when they spotted state troopers and National Guardsmen approaching. Fearing a shootout, the lawmen cranked their sirens and sped into town, guns drawn. "You are all under arrest!" shouted the sheriff over a loudspeaker. "Stay where you are." But no one was going anywhere: officers found the residents of Short Creek gathered in the schoolyard, unarmed and singing hymns...

Despite the harsh claims, the prosecutions fizzled. Six months after the raid, the men were home on probation. A photo spread in Life magazine showed the "Lonely Men of Short Creek" living forlornly without their missing wives and children, and the case seemed less about polygamy than the rights of parents to keep their kids...

But public sentiment has changed. It's been fueled by the recent prosecutions for sexual abuses—and by last year's conviction of the FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs, now in prison for charges related to performing a marriage of a 15-year-old girl to her older cousin. Texas officials focused on child welfare—unlike at Short Creek, the men have been left in place pending criminal investigation...
Still, could Eldorado also turn into a prosecutorial dry hole? "This isn't going to be like Short Creek," says state Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, a Republican who worked with the local sheriff and other officials in 2005 to revamp state marriage laws in response to the Eldorado community. Thirty-one of the 53 girls between 14 and 17 years old are either pregnant or mothers already, Texas officials say. But attorneys for the Texas families say many of the young moms are 18, and they complain that the FLDS parents are only practicing their faith. There has been media criticism, and civil libertarians are worried. Lisa Graybill, legal director of the ACLU's Texas office, says opposition is building: "We're concerned that the proceeding didn't meet the requirement in Texas law of imminent harm to a child. We have been inundated with concerns from the public." The lessons of Short Creek may not yet be fully absorbed.


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