Some Believe Polygamist Warren Jeffs Is Hiding in Texas Town
May 15, 2006 — The residents of Eldorado, Texas, are keenly aware of the events that occurred in Waco, Texas, 13 years ago when David Koresh’s compound went up in flames.
In Eldorado, people hope history will not repeat itself with a charismatic leader and his devoted followers who are believed to have taken up residence in the remote outskirts of their town.
Warren Jeffs is an alleged polygamous leader who is on the FBI’s Top 10 most wanted list, and some believe he is hiding on the Yearning for Zion Ranch on the edge of Eldorado.
Randy Mankin, the publisher of the Eldorado Success who has spent the last two years writing about the residents on the ranch, believes he has seen Jeffs while flying over the 1,691-acre compound.
“We photographed him at what we think is the dedication ceremony at the temple,” Mankin said. “As soon as the crowd that was gathered around this individual in a semicircle saw and heard our plane, they clustered around this individual for several minutes. I think that was Warren Jeffs.”
Jeffs has compounds in the United States, Mexico and Canada. He is accused of sexual assault on a minor and conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor for allegedly arranging the marriage between a 16-year-old girl and a 28-year-old man who was already married. The FBI is offering a $100,000 reward for his arrest.
Jeffs has eluded law enforcement for years because he has the support of followers determined to protect him and millions stashed away to help him hide.
What is stunning about the ranch is its size, and just how self-sustaining it has become, according to Judge James Doyle, who regularly flies over the ranch to monitor its activities for law enforcement
“They have enormous warehouses, orchards, vegetable gardens, dairy, chicken coops, a cheese-manufacturing house, their own water plant,” Doyle said. “We have heard they are spending a million a month on this compound.”
Nearly 1,000 of Jeffs’ followers now live in Eldorado, enough to upset the political balance of the small county, which has a population of about 3,000 people. No one at the ranch has registered to vote. Doyle says, so far, the polygamists have been good neighbors
“They have not caused any problems. They seem to be God-fearing people, and we have not had any trouble as far as the law is concerned,” Doyle said.
What about the polygamy?
“Polygamy is against the law, and I guess you can say they are violating the law. But that kind of law is hard to prove because that happens in every town. You have people living together that are not married,” Doyle said.
Doyle said he was worried about a possible showdown at the ranch if Jeffs was hiding out there.
“When you have radicals who are armed, and they say they are, then certainly if they are cornered and someone fires a shot then we may never know what is going to happen,” he said.
Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran is issuing urgent pleas for Jeffs to give himself up. “Warren Jeffs needs to surrender while he still can,” he said. “He is running out of time.”
While Doran is aware how rapidly the situation could escalate, he still believes the polygamists at the ranch are inherently peaceful people.
“They don’t tend to lean towards violence,” Doran said. “They haven’t had that with law enforcement in the past. However, if you get someone in a corner, there is always that potential.”
The ranch has had an unexpected effect on the tiny town of Eldorado. It has attracted tourists.
“The Chamber of Commerce worked hard to beautify the town, and bring tourism in, and basically overnight we became the polygamist capital of Texas,” Doran said.
Many in Eldorado are uncomfortable with the practice of polygamy in their town.
“I think it is appalling they can worship a man who is on the most wanted [list], but they are uneducated and don’t know any different,” said Mary Lee Dunagon, a rancher.
“I imagine they would like to be left alone, but in their situation we can’t afford to leave ’em alone,” farmer David Lloyd said.
Steve Williams is a cotton farmer in Eldorado and believes in a philosophy of “live and let live” within reason.
“I don’t believe their religion, but I know in this country you are entitled to believe anyway you want to,” Williams said.