A couple of months back, Mrs. Sarcasm and I toured some of our National Parks, among them, Zion National Park in Utah. Not far from Zion, on the Utah/Arizona border, is a tiny enclave called Colorado City, AZ. This is where our story ends.
It begins, however, nearly 200 years ago, in upstate New York. There, a young fellow named Joe, who’d made his living as a con man, had fallen on hard times. So it was with some fortune, Joe had a dream one night. In the dream an angel revealed celestial secrets, opening Joe’s mind to new religious possibilities. When Joe told others of his dream, he was delighted to find that some people actually believed him, and were willing to shell out their hard earned cash to learn these secrets too.
A new religion was formed, and Joe’s followers, called Saints, followed him all across the USA, looking for their fabled promised land. With Joe as prophet, life was good. But, Joe had a problem. You see, Joe liked the ladies. And the ladies liked Joe. But one person didn’t like the ladies liking Joe, and liked Joe liking the ladies even less. That person was Joe’s wife. This caused Joe some consternation. But, as luck would have it, Joe, as prophet, had something of a hotline to the Almighty. And wouldn’t you know, the Lord let it be known that Joe’s dalliances with the ladies were okay, so long as he married them. All. At the same time. And so, plural marriage, the taking of more than one wife, became the law of Joe and the Saints. Joe’s wife wasn’t necessarily cool with this, but he was, after all, prophet. Not much she could do. Once again, life for Joe was good.
Eventually Joe and his many wives earned their celestial reward, but the Saints left behind faced growing criticism by those outside the faith, known as Gentiles, who didn’t have the same reasonable tolerance for the principle of plural marriage. Eventually, the Saints decided the bad PR was no longer worth it. The Lord, it seemed, had made a mistake. Plural marriage – not so good. They turned their backs on Joe’s testimonial.
Here is where our story makes its way to Colorado City. Some Saints were none too happy with their leaders turning their back on Joe’s ways. They split off and formed their own faith, one in which Joe’s principles are still practiced today. They have many compounds throughout the land, but the most famous is Colorado City.
I first read about this most bizarre community in Under the Banner of Heaven, by Jon Krakauer. I was fascinated by the isolated lives of the residents, whose existence is closely monitored by their current prophet, the venerable Warren Jeffs, now serving time for multiple counts, including sexual misconduct with minors and incest.
While the esteemable Mr. Jeffs may be serving hard time, his, and Joe’s followers, are still serving the principle. When I learned just how close Colorado City was to Zion National Park…well, a side trip seemed in order. I expected a walled compound with armed sentries, but instead found an unassuming town at the base of desert peaks. If you are a fan of HBO’s Big Love, this town was the model for Juniper Creek.
It was all there. Pastel colored prairie dresses. Bouffant hair. Houses with random additions for the many children of the many wives. Hundreds of bicycles, giving the illusion of a school playground, in each front yard.
Of course we didn’t fit in. Within minutes, it was obvious we were being followed. Monitored. Gentiles not so welcome. We booked out of town after about ten minutes, but not before Joe made his presence known.
On the way out of town, the cell phone started ringing. It was off. Yet ringing. There was no answering it. Or shutting it down. Only by removing the battery could the phone be killed. Much like Joe had been killed in a gunfight by Gentiles who didn’t believe in the principle.
One visit was enough for me. But if you’re in the neighborhood…