ELDORADO, Tex. -- By anyone's account, 2003 was a
banner news year in this tiny town on the western edge of Texas's rolling hill
A man killed his father in the first homicide
here in two decades, and an elderly man pushing brush with a bulldozer was
stung to death by killer bees. A local businessman pleaded guilty to insurance
fraud and was hauled off to federal prison, and nine residents, most of them
members of the First Baptist Church, were killed in an accident in Louisiana on
their way to visit historic sites in Pennsylvania.
Sam Brower, left, with Sheriff David Doran, serves a summons on FLDS member
Merrill Jessop, right, in a civil lawsuit filed
against the FLDS. (Kathy Mankin
- El Dorado Success)
"I thought, we'll never have another
year like that," said Randy Mankin, the
part-time city administrator and full-time publisher and editor of the Eldorado Success, a weekly newspaper. "Then in mid-March
this thing came along -- like a UFO landed north of town."
The polygamists had arrived, and Eldorado (pronounced el-doh-ray-doh)
-- population 1,951 -- hasn't been the same since.
"Your first question is 'Why Eldorado?' " said Jeri Whitten, director of the
Schleicher County Public Library, which nowadays has a waiting list for its
small collection of books about the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter Day Saints, whose members are Eldorado's
Local and state officials are trying to find
out why the group chose this location, especially because of recent allegations
against the sect -- which broke away from the mainstream Mormon Church when it
banned polygamy in 1890 -- of child abuse, forced marriage and fraud. The sect,
known as the FLDS, is led by self-proclaimed prophet Warren Jeffs,
48, who, along with two of his brothers, was accused in a civil lawsuit filed
in Salt Lake City this summer of sodomizing a nephew when the boy was 5 and of
coercion for trying to keep the boy from discussing the abuse. Jeffs and his brothers have denied the allegations through
a church spokesman.
The FLDS practices plural marriage, a
spiritual ritual that is arranged by the group's prophet through what the
church teaches are revelations from God. Having multiple wives, members
believe, gives them access to the highest level in heaven, the Celestial
Kingdom. Today, the fundamentalists claim a membership of 10,000 to 12,000,
most of them living in the twin cities of Hildale,
Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., where they run their own schools, police
departments and businesses and boast families that include dozens of wives and
dozens of children.
Recent cases brought by Utah and Arizona law
enforcement authorities to prosecute the problems associated with polygamy --
bigamy, criminal nonsupport of children, child rape, forced marriage of minor
girls and fraud of the welfare system -- have shone the spotlight on the
That attention, said a Salt Lake City lawyer
who speaks for Jeffs and the FLDS, prompted the sect
to look for a new "outpost and retreat" in Texas. Rodney Parker said
the Eldorado compound will be used by about 500
church members, who have no interest in political or civic involvement in Eldorado.
"People can go there to concentrate and
focus on their religious mission without the interferences and pressures
they've been subjected to" in Arizona and Utah, Parker said. "They're
a very private people, and right now they're feeling very picked on."
But the group's efforts here are attracting
widespread attention. An informal squad of local businessmen and officials
flies over the sect's compound regularly. Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran
is in regular contact with the group, and the Eldorado
Success has been running front-page stories on it regularly.
"It's been a nice town until now.
Everybody's like kin to each other; we all know each other," said Eldorado resident Amelia Rodriguez, 60, a retired
housekeeper. "I get kind of scared because there's no telling what's going
to happen. . . . I don't like it. I don't feel it's a good place for them to
The news that the FLDS was creating a
settlement began trickling in at the end of winter after a local pilot noticed
that concrete foundations were being laid for three large buildings on a
plateau about five miles north of town. He relayed the news to the sheriff.
Then a Texas Parks and Wildlife game warden reported a man on the property for
hunting without a state license or proof that he had taken a hunter safety
class. He was from Arizona and "he said he was hunting for food,"
said game warden Doug Seamands.
Doran tracked down the
representative of record for YFZ Land LLC of Utah, the purchaser of the 1,691
acres. That representative, David Allred, said the property
was to be used as a hunting lodge for the company's clients. But the answer
didn't sit right with residents.
2004 The Washington Post Company