Sect has more than just a local following
When Yisrayl Hawkins’ prediction of a nuclear war breaking out on Sept. 12 failed to materialize, local, national and international response was predictable – jokes and skepticism about his credibility.
Hawkins, founder of the House of Yahweh with an office in Abilene and a compound in Callahan County, has made numerous predictions over the years. Usually they have something to do with the end of the world coming soon.
Despite the snickers and raised eyebrows, Hawkins’ Old Testament-based religious sect continues to attract followers worldwide. Locally, many of them live in the compound or in trailers parked alongside county roads in Callahan County.
Getting an exact number of House of Yahweh members is difficult because they are reluctant to talk to the media.
”It’s just really impossible to get a count,” said Bun Barry, chief appraiser for the Callahan County Central Appraisal District. ”They run a tight ship.”
Tax rolls in Callahan and Taylor counties indicate that the amount of property owned under the name House of Yahweh remained the same in 2006 as in 2005.
Property listed under the name Yisrayl Hawkins in Callahan County increased by about 237 acres. In 2005, records show that Yisrayl Hawkins owned multiple properties totaling 424.93 acres. Through Sept. 15, 2006, that figure had grown to 661.929 acres.
”There’s enough activity that you’re going to have some additions and some subtractions,” said Barry, the Callahan County appraiser.
Many House of Yahweh members legally changed their last name to Hawkins in honor of the founder. They also altered their first name to an unusual spelling, including at least one letter ”y.”
A database accessed through www.publicdata.com, listed 126 people, 83 with a Clyde address on their driver’s license, with the last name ”Hawkins” and with an unusual spelling of the first name. That number does not include children.
The Taylor County Central Appraisal District Web site shows 35 listings believed to be property owned by House of Yahweh members based on the location of the property in Taylor County and the name on the listing. The Web site shows more than 35 ”Hawkins” listings, but many of those are in Callahan County.
The Taylor CAD Web site lists Callahan County property that is within the Eula Independent School District, some of which extends into Taylor County.
Barry said someone in his office usually contacts a member of the House of Yahweh when a property inspection is required to update tax rolls. A group member serves as a guide, he said.
The inspections are done once a year to determine whether the property value has gone up or down. The last inspection of the House of Yahweh’s property was done in March.
Barry said he usually leaves that inspection until the end because he knows it will take almost an entire day because of the number of homes in the compound.
Barry doesn’t keep a running total of how many new properties he sees, but ”there always seems like a little increase,” he said.
Steve Odom, Callahan County Justice of the Peace for Precinct 3, is responsible for issuing septic system permits in the county. Odom said he usually issues 10 to 12 permits a year on property owned by House of Yahweh members. This year, however, only five have been issued, including one in September.
The House of Yahweh and its members are a mystery to most outsiders. But people who come into frequent contact with them say they are polite and easy-going.
”Their biggest problem is they’re different,” Barry said. ”And, we’re probably different to them.”
Callahan County Sheriff Eddie Curtis said members are a quiet group and are cooperative. He recalled having to arrest a member for public intoxication. At Curtis’ request, the person was taken to the front gate of the compound without incident.
Two Reporter-News staff members recently drove into the compound unannounced and were directed to an office at the end of the driveway. A woman emerged from another office and said an appointment would be necessary before talking to anyone. She offered a piece of paper with a phone number and times to schedule an appointment.
Attempts to schedule an appointment were unsuccessful. A woman at the Abilene office told a reporter no one was interested in being interviewed.
About the House of Yahweh
It is an Old Testament-based religious group with headquarters on T&P Lane in Abilene and a compound of about 50 acres between Clyde and Eula in Callahan County. The House of Yahweh was founded in 1980 by Bill Hawkins, a former Abilene policeman who left the department in 1977.
Hawkins later changed his name to ”Yisrayl” Hawkins. Many members of the House of Yahweh also change their last name to Hawkins and adopt an unusual spelling of their first name, usually incorporating at least one letter ”y.”
In the news
Founder Yisrayl Hawkins proclaimed on www.yahweh.com that a nuclear war would begin Sept. 12. According to Kenya Broadcasting Corporation’s Web site, about 30 House of Yahweh members there went into hiding underground equipped with facemasks and protective clothing. They prepared a special kind of food to last them more than a year and built sanitary facilities underground, the Web site reported.
A 1-month-old Abilene baby whose parents are affiliated with House of Yahweh was buried in Callahan County. Police said the boy’s 31-year-old father confirmed the July 7 death. The parents told police the boy was not feeling well, so they decided to take him for a car ride in hopes of making him feel better. He then stopped breathing. Tarrant County medical examiner’s office ruled the cause of death as protein calorie malnutrition and terminal asphyxiation. No charges were filed in the case.
A woman associated with the House of Yahweh was arrested in July 2005 after she allegedly performed surgery on her 7-year-old daughter, who later died. According to Callahan County Court records, Deziree Kay Gideon cut the girl with a scalpel and stabbed her with a needle in 2003. The girl had an infection in her leg. The incident occurred in the home of a member of the House of Yahweh.