enclave in British Columbia |
In June 2003, Hildale, Utah FLDS member
Ezra Draper moved his family to Bonners Ferry, Idaho, to
join his friend and mentor Winston Blackmorethe in
Bountiful, British Columbia. Draper with his toddler
Reagan, now lives without the fear of punishment from
Warren Jeffs. (Leah Hogsten/The Salt Lake Tribune)
By Brooke Adams
The Salt Lake
CRESTON, British Columbia -- Bountiful does
not appear on any maps.
But just about
anyone in the nearby town of Creston, from the checkout clerk
at Extra Foods to the cheerful teen at a gas stop, can tell
you how to get there.
They know, too,
all about the polygamists who live in Bountiful, about their
ties to southern Utah and the rift that has divided the
families living at the foot of the Skimmerhorn Mountains.
It began in May 2002, when Rulon Jeffs,
then leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter Day Saints, telephoned to dismiss Winston Blackmore as
bishop of Bountiful. Some believe Rulon's son, Warren Jeffs,
orchestrated the move to ensure his own claim to the church's
If so, Warren Jeffs
misjudged the depth of the people's regard for Blackmore, who
had led the community for 16 years.
Half of the 800 FLDS members in northern Idaho and Canada
sided with Blackmore. Jeffs, now president of the faith,
ordered those who remain with his appointee, Jimmie Oler, to
have nothing to do with the Blackmore faction.
Deeply intertwined families who live
side by side are no longer talking or socializing with one
another, mirroring the wreckage Jeffs' actions have left among
some followers in southern Utah.
terrible tragedy," said Debbie Palmer, who left the faith in
1988 and has tried to interest authorities in an investigation
of the sect. She is a sister of Jimmie Oler, ex-wife of
Blackmore's father Ray and, through complicated
intermarriages, is related to most families in Bountiful.
"You do not see your family. You can
not say 'hi' when you are crossing the street," Palmer said.
"It's worse than if you were dead."
difference between Blackmore and Jeffs, say those who know
both, is the difference between optimism and despair -- which
is what drew Ezra Draper and his family from southern Utah to
Bonners Ferry, Idaho, last June.
way Warren taught is there was no hope and you had no
choices," said Draper, who said he was with Blackmore when the
dismissal call came and heard Warren Jeffs prompting his
"With Winston, as long as
you're willing to do better, there is hope because it starts
with you. Winston tells people the only man with the right to
rule over your life and mine is Jesus Christ."
For years, that promise has drawn
people who have run afoul of Jeffs to Canada. More are ready
to come, Draper said, though the sheltered lives they've lived
make it hard financially to break away.
may be benevolent, but like Jeffs he won't talk to reporters.
During a trip to Canada, a Tribune reporter and photographer
were invited to a Sunday church meeting, which was then
canceled just before it was to begin. One person said it was
because everybody wanted to go to a hockey game. Another said
a forestry products meeting had come up.
Bountiful lies about 8 miles east of
Creston, a town of 5,000 renowned for its cherries, its bird
sanctuary, 10 golf courses and the locally brewed Kokanee
Blackmore's uncle and father,
Harold and J. Ray Blackmore, came here in the late 1940s,
drawn by the same thing that lured polygamists to the Arizona
Strip -- isolation. By the 1950s, when Bountiful aligned with
what would become the FLDS church, four families were
prominent: Blackmores, Olers, Quintons and Palmers.
Those families' lines are now so
intertwined that Debbie Palmer can call herself her own
step-grandmother. That's one reason there is an exchange of
marriage partners between Canada and southern Utah -- new
In an interview four years ago
-- his first in a decade -- Blackmore refuted one persistent
claim: that underage girls are ferried between Canada and Utah
to be brides. Canadian and Utah authorities also say they have
no proof that is occurring.
man, Blackmore is described as hard-working, generous and
charismatic -- "rock star" is how Palmer put it. "That is why
so many girls are wanting to marry him," she said.
Blackmore, 47, lives in a home that
looks like a motel at the entrance to Bountiful. He has an
estimated 26 wives and as many as 70 children.
His community includes a birthing
center, modern school, a rodeo arena, a mobile home park for
young married couples, parks and ponds.
The fundamentalists raise canola, timothy grass and wheat on
close to 4,000 acres of farmland they own or share. There's an
egg farm, a greenhouse and a trucking company; some women are
nurses at Creston Valley Hospital. And Blackmore operates
several logging-related businesses.
Dozens of families live in Bountiful, while others are in
Kitchener, Yahk, Ryan's Station, Cranbrook and Bonners Ferry,
Idaho. On Sunday mornings, traffic backs up at the Porthill
border crossing as those on the U.S. side make the 40-minute
drive to attend church services in Canada.
Blackmore is said to be worth millions
-- some of which he'll need to fend off several lawsuits the
FLDS Trust has filed disputing ownership of property in
Bountiful. The trust has prevailed so far in one case, forcing
Blackmore's followers out of the school near his home. They
have since transformed two buildings on a Blackmore farm west
of Creston into a new school and a meetinghouse.
In the past, girls often married as
they reached their mid-teens and boys moved on to work. Now,
Blackmore is said to be encouraging them to finish high school
and even college.
"Winston's side is
starting to educate youth because they are losing so many,"
said Marie Louie, who was 13 when her mother pulled out of the
faith, angered that her 15-year-old daughter had been married
without her knowledge to a man in his 60s.
As in southern Utah, about a dozen
teens -- including one of Blackmore's daughters -- have
rebelled, acting like wild teens anywhere who get into alcohol
But unlike Jeffs,
Blackmore has made no move to force the kids' parents to turn
their backs on them; many young men continue to work for him.
While the Bountiful fundamentalists
share their Utah counterparts' religious sensibilities, they
are far more integrated in the local community.
"They are great supporters of the
town," said Creston Mayor Joe Snopek. "They come and they
Until recently, the Bountiful
community rented the ice rink at the Creston & District
Recreational Centre one night a week, contributing $100,000
annually to the town's coffers, Snopek said.
Earlier this year, the women of
Bountiful held a bake sale outside Extra Foods to raise money
for the school. The women work out at the Curves fitness
center, join in at Tupperware parties and serve on the
Kootenay search and rescue team.
years ago, I don't think the wormen would have been able to do
that," said Darlla Murphy, who lives up the road from
Bountiful. "It just seems they can do what they want now."
Most years, a Bountiful woman makes the
front page of the Creston Valley Advance with the first baby
of the year.
While some residents frown
on polygamy, Canadians tend to be a live-and-let-live people.
That's why the FLDS is such a part of life here.
"They seem like they are happy people,"
said Michael Carpenter, former president of the Creston &
District Chamber of Commerce. "They are definitely part of the