They are the forgotten victims of polygamy, young men pushed out of towns like Colorado City as older men take on more wives.
Most have eight grades of education or less. Many of them are victims of abuse and have severe emotional scars. They have only rudimentary building skills and speak old-school English, straight out of the frontier 1800s.
“They’re like foreigners in their own country,” said Carolyn Jessop, a former Colorado City polygamist wife who fled earlier this year and moved to Salt Lake City.
Most of them bounce from low-end job to low-end job along 500 miles of the Interstate 15 corridor between Salt Lake City and Pahrump, Nev., west of Las Vegas.
They often live together, sometimes as many as 10 packed into one apartment. According to Flora Jessop, a former polygamist wife now living in Phoenix, many of the young men end up in the jails of Utah and Nevada after being convicted of crimes.
James Black, a travel consultant in Park City, Utah, and former Colorado City resident, said family support is key for the young males making the transition to the outside world.
“There’s a percentage that eventually figures out how to make it,” Black said. “But there’s a lot more who never figure it out.”
Black speaks from experience. When he was young, he was one of the designated men who could rise to be a future prophet in Colorado City’s polygamist society.
But as Black got older, he started asking tough questions. For instance: Why should any man have multiple wives in modern-day America? And why are teenage girls mere chattels for some men who are old enough to be their grandfathers?
That is when he says the church hierarchy ratcheted up the pressure on the 15-year-old Black to leave. His secret love since the first grade “disappeared overnight” and was married to a polygamist in Canada. Shortly thereafter, his second girlfriend meekly submitted to becoming the fifth wife of a Colorado City polygamist.
After an altercation with his father, Black quickly moved to nearby Hurricane, Utah. Black had an eighth-grade education and no marketable skills.
He married and divorced quickly. Loneliness and self-destruction led him quickly to drugs. He finally enlisted in the Navy and straightened his life out over the next four years.
Hardships for young men
The Kingston Clan is a community of polygamists with nearly 2,000 members, mostly in the Salt Lake City area. The Kingstons have numerous business holdings throughout the West including a large chunk of the vending machine market in the Phoenix area.
Two of the Kingston Clan’s sons, Louis Brown and Levi Kingston, can speak of the hardships for young men in a polygamist society. They now live in a small home near downtown Salt Lake City.
Brown, 19, said at age 12 he was forced to begin working in the Kingstons’ coal mine, near the city of Price in eastern Utah.
“As soon as I would get home from public school, we would go to work in the mine from 5 p.m. until 10 p.m. The bosses also worked us on holidays because they knew the state wouldn’t be inspecting those days,” Brown said.
The next year, Brown said, he was forced to work 6 p.m.-to-6 a.m. shifts loading coal trucks at the mine every other day, and “I was just passing out at school.” He dropped out shortly thereafter.
Then, Brown said, the Kingston Clan found out that he was dating a girl who was not a member of the group. He was sent to Idaho for a year as punishment to pick potatoes and carrots and work in the clan’s wheat fields. Brown said he was sent back to load coal at age 15. After he turned 18, Brown took off with little more than the clothes on his back.
Since then, he has been working at odd jobs around the West for others who have left the Kingston Clan.
Levi Kingston, 18, said his father started forcing him out of their household after his mother died three years ago.
If he didn’t leave, God was going to get him, his father said. Kingston said that he finally left last year and that he tried to collect what he estimated to be $3,000 from the clan’s internal banking system after working in its enterprises for seven years. Instead, Kingston said he was given $900.
Prolonged period of acrimony
Some former Colorado City residents had their own problems caused by the locals before leaving town.
David Bateman, 19, said he had been in hot water with the church leadership since he stopped attending services two years ago.
Word got out that he was going to movies in nearby St. George and listening to rock groups like Creed at home.
“They really treat you bad if you don’t conform to their way of thinking,” Bateman said. “People drive by your house and flip you off. Others give you stares and dirty looks. I had two young kids on bicycles ride by me on the street. One of them yelled, ‘Hey, faggot, what are you doing here?’ The other one called me an SOB.”
So, Bateman left town shortly after graduation for Sandy, a southern suburb of Salt Lake City. He said he struggled mightily for a while but finally got a job at a plant that manufactures dental products in Salt Lake City.
Bateman said about 150 young males in his age group have been forced out of Colorado City and Hildale the past four years because the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or FLDS, labels them as “problem children” who don’t follow what the church dictates.
“That number is growing exponentially every year,” Bateman said.
Little wonder, says Shem Fischer, Bateman’s landlord and another Colorado City expatriate. Fischer had been a successful business manager of the town’s cabinet factory.
Things started to go bad for Fischer in the town when the religious hierarchy ordered his then-72-year-old father’s three wives to abandon him. People from the town say wives are sometimes taken from a man to discipline or punish him.
A prolonged period of acrimony between Fischer and the FLDS leadership followed in which Fischer lost his job and his home. Fischer says he is battling the sect for his stock in the cabinet company.
Fischer says that his wife left him after he was forced out of Colorado City and that he has slowly gotten back on his feet by managing a small medical manufacturing plant in Salt Lake City.
Brigham Fischer, 30, Shem’s cousin, also said he turned over his wood manufacturing shop to the United Effort Plan seven years ago because “I’d known for a while that (the lifestyle) wasn’t for me; I didn’t go to church.”
Brigham said he received repeated lectures from friends and the religious leadership of his eternal damnation if he didn’t toe the line.
“It finally got to the point where I had to get on with my life and if I go to hell, that’s what will happen whether I stay here or not,” said Brigham, who ended up marrying a woman from the East he had met during sales work. He now owns a successful cellphone and communications business in Macon, Ga.
Doug Cooke, 47, has not been alone since he bitterly left Colorado City after FLDS head Warren Jeffs ordered his wife to leave him for another man.
Cooke rented what has turned out to be a “halfway house” in St. George, Utah, for teenage boys escaping polygamy. They work for him in his tile-laying business and stay a few weeks or months until they decide it’s safe enough to venture into the outside world.
They also revel in their new freedoms such as shouting obscenities at one another, growing goatees and piercing their ears.
Cooke, however, can’t change his old ways. He notes that he still wears a long-sleeved Western shirt every day, even in the heat of summer, a staple of the Colorado City culture.
“Some things you just can’t change,” Cooke said darkly, shaking his head.