Prophet’s Hometown Eerily Silent

Colorado City and Hildale are twin towns, tucked beneath the majestic red peaks of Utah and Arizona. The scenery is beautiful, but the atmosphere is hauntingly silent.

Not a single person is out on the street, every house has its blinds closed tight and a strange quiet fills the air. When you do find people getting in their cars or running into stores, not a part of their skin is showing — the women are dressed in long prairie dresses and the men in long shirts and pants.

These towns have become the focus of a joint investigation between the states of Utah and Arizona, culminating this week in the trial of Warren Jeffs.

Most people in this remote part of the country believe that Jeffs is their prophet. In fact, when we asked one woman in town whether there were any church leaders we could talk to, she replied, “He’s in prison.” She made it clear to us that there was nobody else in charge of the church, only Jeffs.

To members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Jeffs, the church’s president, is the mouthpiece of God. His status in this community is evident by the enormous size of his home — a walled compound spanning multiple city blocks.

Living Outside U.S. Laws

No one knows exactly how many wives or children Jeffs has. No one is quite sure how many people even live in these towns. That’s because FLDS members do not always register their marriages or their children. They don’t abide by many of the laws of the U.S. government. Polygamy is illegal, but they continue to practice it as part of their religion.

The school in town is completely deserted. A few children play down the street, but when we get close they run away. A few even throw rocks at us and yell. There are some children riding horses and others riding ATVs. At one point the sound of laughter and playing fills the street, but the children are careful to keep their fun and games out of our sight, behind a very high fence. I have been told that most children stopped attending school years ago.

The church or community center is by far the largest building in town. We were told today that they stopped having church services because of “the persecution,” and the parking lot is deserted. Now they only practice their religion in their homes.

Many of the homes are beautiful, gigantic masterpieces. And others are small, humble dwellings. A good portion of the homes are not finished. The community has turned to other construction projects, leaving less time and money to complete their own houses.

Today we spent a good part of the afternoon in Cottonwood Park. The park was beautiful. There was a picnic table tucked under a giant tree, with the majestic cliffs towering behind.

I’m told a train used to drive around the park and take kids for a ride. But, like most of the town, the park here has lost its luster. Today, only a rusty playground and swing set remain from what was once a very happy place.

You can tell this is a place where families moved full of hope and dreams for the future. Now they are locked away in their homes, full of fear that this trial and the media coverage could end their way of life.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday September 22, 2007.
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