Town sees little impact from influx of polygamous sect
Day passes without incident at FLDS ranch
ELDORADO, Texas – The only thing stirring up any sort of commotion outside the little Texas town of Eldorado on Wednesday came from huge gusts of wind whipping through Schleicher County.
In this community, where the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has built a compound of homes and a temple, members of the national and international media responded to rumors of an end-of-the-world prophecy, a mass suicide and an FLDS temple dedication.
Reporters and photographers swarmed along the county road just outside the gate guarding an easement.
From there, a guard tower marks the beginning of the secluded FLDS property.
The only visible activity came when a man riding a four-wheel-drive vehicle arrived at the gate to allow law enforcement officers access to the compound.
Schleicher Counter Sheriff David Doran and two Texas Rangers went into the religious sect’s gated community and emerged almost 30 minutes later, reporting that no kind of Waco-style event was happening inside the compound, referencing the demise of the Branch Davidians who died in 1993 in Waco, Texas.
Doran, who said he had been escorted by four church elders, said everything was quiet and calm. Members, who recognized Wednesday as a holy day, allowed the officers to get close to the temple.
Wednesday marked the 175th anniversary of the founding of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by Joseph Smith. The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which also traces its roots to Smith, is a group of worshippers who believe in the practice of polygamy. The FLDS church dominates the population in the twin cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., and now has a small group of followers and a temple just outside Eldorado.
The LDS church officially denounced polygamy in 1890 and excommunicates members who practice the belief.
With the notable day, rumors spread of a possible temple dedication or a mass suicide. Another rumor indicated that self-proclaimed FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs told his flock that Wednesday would mark the end of the world. However, FLDS members disputed those claims to some outsiders.
Few others, besides media and law enforcement, were outside the dented gate Wednesday morning when Doran and the others entered the compound.
One woman, Thelma Bosmans, held a sign in her hand saying, “God is in control not Warren Jeffs.”
Bosmans said she was not afraid of the FLDS members. In fact, because the temple appeared to be a permanent fixture of the landscape, she said she would like to know them.
Bosmans, members of the media and others dispersed after Doran held a short press conference, telling those present that he was told by members of the FLDS church that because Wednesday was a special day, members would pray in their homes.
FLDS church members in Texas are trying to live their lives, Doran said.
“This is their Zion, is my understanding,” he said.
Although word circulated about a mass move of the FLDS members from Utah to Texas, Doran said to his knowledge there are only 80 to 150 people on the property.
A population of 200 on the almost 2,000 acres still could boost the population of the county by about 7 percent.
But this increase has done relatively little for the nearby town and its businesses.
The secluded cluster of individuals certainly adds a new dynamic to the county, Doran said. There is also a stress, he said, not from the FLDS community, but from the national interest, which has doubled the workload of law enforcement.
The Schleicher County Sheriff’s Office sits at the heart of Eldorado, a town where everyone seems to know each other, and someone from outside the county is easily recognizable.
And as national media buzzes about the “outsiders” who relocated just outside the city limits, it is the media that town residents recognize as the strangers and those with the most tangible impact on their community.
FLDS church members don’t hang out around town, and the only economic impact they have had on Eldorado is their purchase of gasoline, said Eldorado Mayor John Nikolauk.
Rosa Martinez, owner of a local restaurant, said the only boost to her sales resulted from members of the media coming to town. Eldorado, she said, appears to have become a tourist attraction.
With a small community and with agriculture appearing to be dying out, Schleicher County Chamber of Commerce member Jim Runge said every little bit helps – referring to the business journalists bring.
At least partially, Judge James Doyle, Schleicher County Justice of the Peace, said the FLDS members appear self-sufficient. Doyle flies over the private compound on a regular basis and said he has seen individuals farming, a chicken house and what looks like a small dairy. Church members also build the structures on the property.
Doyle said he sees the men purchase large quantities of fuel at a local gasoline station. The owner of the station declined to comment about the impact or any increase in sales.
When it comes to impact, the largest might be changes to state law on members of the FLDS church. Next week, a bill by Schleicher County’s representative, Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville, is expected to go before a committee. The bill could change the law regarding the minimum marrying age and could redefine marriage with a similar Utah phrase of “purports to marry,” among other things.
A representative from the Utah Attorney General’s Office plans to go to Texas to testify before the committee reviewing the bill, said Utah Attorney General Spokesman Paul Murphy.
If the bill passes, Doran said local law enforcement will be in much the same situation as the Washington County and Mohave County sheriff offices.
Even with the relatively slight presence and impact of the church members themselves in Eldorado, community members worry about underlying issues because the group came under false pretenses. Buyers claimed the ranch near Eldorado would be a hunting retreat when first acquired. It wasn’t until later that Eldorado residents realized the property was meant for a different purpose.
But monitoring the FLDS church members’ activities can be difficult.
West Texas is the heart of private property rights, said Randy Mankin, publisher of the local newspaper, The Eldorado Success, so buildings and other issues can rise before government monitoring will take place.
One issue the environmental control group in Texas has been investigating involves claims of improper sewage disposal.
Water and tax assessment officials also are scheduled to view the FLDS property soon, Doran said.