All Roads Lead to Bountiful

AuthorCraig Jones
All Roads Lead to Bountiful
The Persistent Polygamists of Lister
So let me return to the story of Harold Blackmore and Bountiful in the
years after the Second World War, at which point he took the leash o
what I say was his evolved preference for polygyny. By the 1950s, Harold
had became the patriarch of a small polygamist community as more fol-
lowers were convinced to move there and adopt the polygamist family
structure, referred to in fundamentalist Mormon doctrine simply as
e Principle. His founding family was joined by those of Eldon Palmer,
Dalmon Oler, and Ray Blackmore, who was Harold’s nephew (John
Horn Blackmore’s son) but was around the same age. Each was by then a
polygamist. Later they were joined by the Bartons and McKinleys, and
then others still.
e Bountiful group al igned themselves with the main fundamental-
ist Mormon group in the United States, which was run by its own prophet
Joseph Musser and made its home base in Short Creek, Arizona. In time,
Musser would be replaced by LeRoy Johnson, then by Rulon Jes, and
nally by his son Warren Jes.
No sooner had the founding families of Bountiful established them-
selves and formalized t heir contact with their Southern counterpa rts, that
the Short Creek polygamist community in the United States came under
the government’s most determined attack. In 1953, the town was raided
by Arizona authorities and many of its men arrested. Hundreds of chil-
dren were seized by the state.
is hardline approach, though, back red. Life magazine ran sym-
pathetic pictorials that painted the polygamists as harmless, simple folk
whose only crime was being dierent. And they weren’t even that dif-
ferent: patriarchal families were hardly radica l in the United States of
the 1950s, and the men, like Mormons everywhere, had short hair and
conservative clothes. e Short Creek persecution (for many viewed it as
A Cruel Arit hmetic: Inside the Case Against Polygamy
just that) seemed to mirror the paranoid pursuit of Communists in the
same period, and there was widespread outrage from the Left, but also
from the Right, who saw the raid as the nanny state run amok. And as
I’ve said, the men of Short Creek, aside from their peculia r marriage be-
liefs, on other levels seemed exemplary — clean-cut, hard-working, deeply
religious, and intensely American (when the raid began, the men of the
community were gathered around the ag pole, singing patriotic songs as
they awaited arrest). Despite the fact that the raid revealed unequivocal
evidence of serious problems (and in particular chi ld brides), the families
were reunited and the state slinked o, beaten and humbled. Short Creek
was left alone to grow and nurture its “peculiar institution,” and the 1955
events set a tone that endured from decades to come. e raid became a
signicant episode in the persecution mythology of the polygamists, and
would be held up, even in 2010, as the archetype of heav y-handed and
inept state response. For governments, or at least for politicians, it was a
cautionary tale whose lesson was c lear: as painful as inaction on polygamy
was, taking strong measures could be far worse still.
e ties between Short Creek and the Lister enclave that would be-
come Bountiful were strong. ere was an old “rumr unners’ road” that
led from the Bountiful propert y across the American border, and entire
families could move back and forth at will. At least in those early years,
niceties of borders and customs did not need to be observed.
But the bucolic excitement of the early settlement came up against
some hard realities soon enough. It is one thing to establish a polygam-
ist colony through migration, but it another thing to sustain it through
the generations. When the polygamous pioneers arrived, they brought
with them their own unnat ural gender balance, with several women for
each man. But they tended to have children in equal numbers of males
and females, and as their chi ldren grew up and looked to marriage, the
diculties of the mathematics would play themselves out as Bountiful
increasingly fell under the inuence of the strict and conservative Amer-
ican wing of the church, which became, over time, if anyt hing more
oppressive as time went on.
As his community grew, Harold Blackmore came to bridle under the
authority of the FLDS (as the Short Creek church came to be called) and
its autocratic rulers. He was over time squeezed out of the Lister com-
munity and ordered by the church to move to Short Creek to supervise
construction in 1964. Depending on whom you listen to, Blackmore was
either persuaded to sign the BC properties over to the FLDS’s trust, the
United Eort Plan, or he had them stripped from him aga inst his will. In
any event, by 1968, Blackmore, who remained devout in his fundamental
beliefs, had become so disenchanted by what he perceived to be the hypo-

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