ELDORADO, Texas – A temple dedication. A doomsday prophecy. Good, old-fashioned curiosity.
Those are just some of the reasons why this tiny town in rural Texas will be the center of attention today for members of the national and international media. The focus will be on the compound built by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
The church, which dominates the twin cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., has moved some of its members to Eldorado. Besides building dwellings, members have constructed the first FLDS temple, which is rumored to be scheduled for dedication today.
The date, April 6, is significant because it also is the 175th anniversary of the founding of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by Joseph Smith. The FLDS church, which still teaches polygamy as part of its doctrine, also traces its roots to Smith. However, the LDS church denounced polygamy in 1890 and excommunicates members who practice the belief.
With the importance of the day and the first FLDS temple nearing completion, some outsiders, fueled by rumors, believe something will happen today in Schleicher County, which has the bulk of its population living in Eldorado.
Tales of another Waco, Texas, have circulated, referencing the Branch Davidian compound that burned in 1993. There also are rumors about the possibility of the temple dedication.
However, the rumor that caught the most interest surrounded a comment allegedly made by the FLDS church’s self-proclaimed prophet, Warren Jeffs.
Jeffs, in a work meeting for the faithful, foretold today as the end of the world, said Sam Brower, a private investigator hired to find Jeffs in connection with a court case.
Members inside the FLDS church have disputed the claim to some outsiders, but speculation drew more media than anything else to the Texas town of about 1,950 people.
For the most part, the fear and speculation first surrounding the move of FLDS members to the Texas town subsided with more education and knowledge, said Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran.
“We’ve been more busy with the media and interest that evolves from the property,” Doran said.
Doran, who remains in contact with individuals from the FLDS compound, said his FLDS contacts told him that Jeffs never prophesied that today would be the end of the world. He said that he has arranged to be on the property today to help dispel the rumors of a planned mass suicide.
Eldorado Mayor John Nikolauk said local residents have mellowed since last year’s uproar when construction on the compound started. Still, people are concerned for various reasons.
“There’s fear of the unknown and fear of the known,” Nikolauk said.
Nikolauk said he has tried to extend a hand of friendship to the group.
A religious sect like the FLDS is foreign to this community, Nikolauk said, and people can speculate all they want. But he said he’s positive that members of the faith just want to be left alone.
Last year, Rod Parker, longtime attorney for the FLDS church, said the move to Texas was partly caused by the pressure from the Utah Attorney General’s Office and the state’s polygamy investigator. Legal action in Utah included private lawsuits naming the FLDS church and Jeffs. Courts also have convicted a member, former police officer Rodney Parker, of bigamy and unlawful sexual activity with a 16- or 17-year-old.
More recently, Utah Police Officers Standards and Training revoked the Utah certification of Colorado City Police Chief Sam Roundy and another officer with jurisdiction in Utah because of the practice of bigamy, although they both maintain their Arizona certification.
But the religious group again may face laws that could be seen as targeting its members and their beliefs.
Texas Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville, whose constituency includes Schleicher County, filed a bill in the Texas Legislature addressing issues such as the minimum marrying age and defined marriage with a similar Utah phrase of “purports to marry.”
Currently in Texas, Doran said FLDS men, who are known to marry one woman and have a spiritual union with others, are only seen by the law as having a legal wife and mistresses. If the bill passes, the “purports to marry” phrase would further define marriage, he said.
Hilderbran’s spokeswoman, Lindsay Graham, said the bill doesn’t target any one group’s specific beliefs, but it did arise from concerns expressed by Hilderbran’s constituents.
Graham said Hilderbran doesn’t want anyone sidestepping the law or taking advantage of it. He plans to include a section about welfare fraud and looks to change the state’s law concerning home schooling so that it would not adversely affect good intentions, she said.
The informal marriage statement is meant to be a protection for minors, Graham said. She said Hilderbran wants to make sure no abuses ever take place, and his office had been hearing about concerns surrounding the religious sect since FLDS members started moving to Schleicher County.
In Schleicher County, the FLDS compound continues to be built without much disruption. The property sits back, and access to the approximately 2,000-acre parcel is accessible by the easement of a dirt road between two other private property owners’ land.
A dented, locked, green gate barricades any outsider from entering the property, and farther down the road, where the FLDS property starts, an orange building sits – usually, Brower said, guarded by two individuals.
On Tuesday, two individuals stood around the small orange building as members of the media and Brower peered past the gate for a look of the temple.
Construction on the temple ceased Monday, Brower said, after what looked like two frantic days of work.
Brower can’t know for certain what occurred on the property, as the county road sits far from the ranch with smatterings of the typical FLDS single-family dwellings. However, as he took a flight over the property Monday, he said there weren’t any cars parked alongside the highly-visible temple.
“The weird thing (now) is that they’re not working,” Brower emphasized.
But by Tuesday afternoon, as wind blustered through the small hills and a cloud of dust kicked up next to the temple, Brower said it looked like some work was resuming.
Doran said the property houses somewhere between 80 to 150 people. Randy Mankin, publisher of the local newspaper, http://www.myeldorado.net/“>The Eldorado Success, agrees with Doran that the number of members on the private property ebbs and flows. However, Mankin believes as many as 400 individuals have been on the lot recently.
With the number of people moving on and off the property, some local residents fear a takeover of the county government. Because of the small population in the community, some fear that an influx of FLDS members could create a voting block and help their candidates win election.
Mike Carter, who lives about four miles from the FLDS property in Eldorado, said a local political takeover is his biggest worry.
However, Doran said in talking with members, they said they are not interested in local politics. They haven’t filed to run for the positions, and Doran said local officials are monitoring the situation.
Still, Carter worries because the FLDS members came on false pretenses. Claiming the ranch near Eldorado would be a hunting retreat when first purchased, it wasn’t until later that Eldorado residents realized the property was meant for much more.
Carter said what he really fears is the unknown. Members on the FLDS compound keep to themselves, keep the gates locked and interact with few people in town – much like the closed communities of Hildale and Colorado City.
The fear is not the same as when the group first moved in, but there are still some underlying concerns.
“The unknown is scary,” Carter said. “The only time I like the unknown is when it is in a movie.”