By Dorothy Allred Solomon
Dorothy Allred Solomon is the author of In My Father’s House and Daughter of the Saints. She has appeared on The Today Show and Oprah.
Seven years after law enforcement had come down on polygamists, my poor father was collecting his families from the four winds, gathering them back into the heart of Zion. Even though he was the undisputed head of our religious group—and his name, Dr. Rulon C. Allred, carried a far-flung reputation for miracle healings—Leona was leaving him, the father of her four children. Ironically, she was leaving him for a man with the same first name, her brother Rulon Jeffs.
It shouldn’t have surprised me: I have always been an inveterate eavesdropper, and I had overheard my father whispering to my mother about the growing tension in his relationship with Leona: When he visited her in Idaho, she stayed up putting curlers in her hair and cleaning house. When he had decided that enough was enough and summoned her to bed, she put him off with promises until suddenly it was daybreak and he smelled breakfast cooking. And when she withheld her tithing for months on end, she confessed that she’d sent it down to her brother’s group—the fundamentalist community situated in Short Creek, at the border of Arizona and Southwest Utah.
Short Creek was a big part of my family’s history. My mother’s father was a member of the mainstream LDS Church, but he had harbored tuberculosis since childhood. Rulon Allred, my future father, was his doctor and recommended that he move his family to Short Creek, perhaps thinking that the dry air would help Grandfather’s congestive lungs and heart, but probably also thinking that living in that polygamous town would convert the Finlayson family to fundamentalism. And, indeed, just before my grandfather died, he gave Rulon Allred explicit directions to take both his twin daughters as wives.
So, one day in 1936, my future father caught the seventeen-year-old girl who would be my mother harvesting ears in a cornfield. He put an arm around her waist, pulled her close and asked her to marry him. My mother hesitated, not because she didn’t love him—she told me that she fell in love the moment she met him—but because he was engaged to marry her twin sister, Melba, and she didn’t want to ride into romance on her sister’s skirts. My mother told Rulon she’d have to think about it. And that’s what she did when she returned to St. George to wait tables at the Arrowhead Café and care for her widowed mother and younger brother. Meanwhile, Rulon went back to Salt Lake with Melba and the plural wives.
My mother was distressed by the thought that she wouldn’t be loved for herself, but rather as part of a matching set. I also suspect she felt pre-empted: As the oldest twin by eight minutes, scriptural precedent was that my father should have married her first, following the Biblical tradition of Jacob marrying Leah, the older, as the price of having Rachel, the younger. My mother was a stickler for order, and she absolutely did not want to be a charity case.
Within the week, my mother wrote to Rulon and, as difficult as it was, told him “no.” From his new doctor’s office in Salt Lake City, my father wrote her letters begging her to change her mind. Then he made a trip to see her and pleaded with her in person. Eventually she became convinced of his love and agreed to become his fourth plural wife. After a time, he married a woman from Tremonton named Athlene, whose father was enraged that his daughter had joined polygamists; and then he married Leona, a daughter of the elite Jeffs family; and just before he went to prison, he married Ethel, the daughter of one of my father’s strongest supporters and the family’s favorite babysitter.
From the time I was born until I was six years old, all seven of my father’s families had lived together in the white house compound, with its meadows and streams and ponds and outbuildings. My mother and her twin sister and their children lived in the main part of the gray house, which had been built while my father served time in the Utah State Penitentiary for “illegal cohabitation.” Aunt Leona lived in the basement apartment with her four children. Occasionally she complained about the dank environment, especially when water dripped through the ceiling tiles from our bathroom into hers. But she kept the place spic and span, just as she kept her family. Her two younger children, Andy and Clarissa, were among my favorite playmates.
In fact, it was Andy who led to my discovery, when I was three years old, that the way we lived wasn’t typical. I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me that we were polygamists, what with all those mothers hugging us and bossing us around! We gathered morning and evening for prayers. We ate Sunday dinners together. My father called everyone sweetheart and kissed us frequently. But somehow I overlooked the fact that he disappeared for whole evenings and that I wouldn’t see him again until he went out to milk the cows before heading off to his doctor’s office. I suppose my confusion was due partly to the fact that I lived in the same rooms as my mother’s twin sister’s children, who were my cousins. But I was very clear about one thing: I knew that my three brothers, David, Joseph, and Jared, were my mother’s sons and that we had the same parents.
One day, I raced indoors from playing with Andy and Clarissa to answer an urgent call from nature. I can’t remember exactly where the three of us had been playing that morning. We could have been mucking around in the ditch, or we could have been moving crates and cinderblocks around on the wide front porch of the white house, or we might have been playing in the tree house niched into the weeping willow planted some years before I was born. In any case, we were playing house—Andy was my husband, and Clarissa was my unwilling daughter—and I could hardly wait to finish my business and get back outside. As I settled myself on the toilet, I announced to my mother that I intended to marry Andy when I grew up.
My mother was trying to tame her thick auburn hair into a bun and frowned in the mirror. She gave a big sigh and removed the hairpins from her mouth. “You can’t marry Andy. He’s your brother. If you married him, it would be incest, and that’s wrong.”
Wrong to marry my brother? I had suspected as much when she refused to let me marry my oldest brother, Dave. But Andy?
“He’s not my brother.” I looked up at her curiously. Surely I would have noticed if she tucked Andy into bed and sang him a lullaby along with the rest of us.
“Yes, he is.”
“He’s not your boy.”
She twisted her hair in the other direction. “This hair! I wish your daddy would let me cut it.”
Tears filled my eyes. “You said I couldn’t marry Daddy. You said I couldn’t marry Dave or Joe or Jerry. I am going to marry Andy!”
She looked at me for a long moment. “Wash your hands,” she said.
Just in case she had forgotten that she hadn’t given birth to Andy, I added, “He’s Aunt Leona’s boy, so it’s okay.”
Again she sighed, and let the long thick curl fall over her shoulder. I could feel her giving up on something—fixing her hair, me marrying Andy, I wasn’t sure what. “You’re right. Andy’s not my boy. But he is your father’s boy. Aunt Leona is your father’s sixth wife.”
If she’d thrown a washtub of cold water over me, I wouldn’t have gasped louder. For the first time it occurred to me that when my father went down Aunt Leona’s steps, he intended to stay for supper; that after I was in bed, he went into her cool blue bedroom with the white bedspread embroidered in blue thread; that he sat and took off his shoes and his trousers and crawled into bed; and that Leona likely crawled in with him, as my mother did in the bedroom we shared except on the nights my father was there.
I was bereft. Of Andy. Of Daddy. And I was brokenhearted on behalf of my mother, who had to share her husband. At that moment, I decided I did not want the trouble of plural marriage in my own life. Although I could not have articulated it at the time, I knew from the dark purple flower that bloomed in my heart that I would not become some man’s first or second or third wife. I would be his only wife.
Despite my initial dismay, I got used to the idea that Andy was my brother, and I decided I didn’t mind because, after all, he was funny; I never laughed as hard with any other playmate. I liked the way his hair got unstuck from the sugar water Aunt Leona used to keep it in place when he was playing hard—pumping the swing high enough to loop over the top, rearing back to throw the ball over the roof in Annie-I-Over, or scrambling through the willow branches to our tree house. When his hair came free, it would hang over his forehead like a rooster’s comb. I would never—could never—marry Andy, but I loved him. And I loved Clarissa and Matthew and Eleanor. And even though Aunt Leona thought my mother’s children were a bunch of yahoos (I could often feel her looking down her nose at us), I loved her, too. When she left for Short Creek, she took some of my favorite people with her, and the loss struck me to the core.
After my father gathered us from our exile in Nevada, I enrolled in Irving Junior High, located in the Sugarhouse area of Salt Lake City. There, my mother and her children lived in a single-family home, blessedly anonymous, liberated from being a “plygie kid” as we’d been called in Granite School District. At Irving Junior High, I could invent a whole new life for myself. Despite being considered “brainy,” I began to wear makeup and shorter skirts.
The other mothers warned me that if I didn’t watch out, I’d end up like Eleanor. I wasn’t sure what they meant, and I was half-flattered to be compared to the beautiful, long-limbed blonde Aunt Leona had left in Pocatello when she returned to her brother and the Short Creek group. I knew that Eleanor bleached her hair with lemon juice and sunshine, that she started on her tan in early March, and that she was always reading Seventeen magazine, trying to keep up with the styles. I eavesdropped during our family gatherings as the older girls whispered that Eleanor had refused to pack her things for Short Creek; instead she had stayed in Idaho and married her high school boyfriend. They had a baby, and then another. Her life didn’t sound so bad to me. She didn’t want to live polygamy any more than I did. And she had found a way to get out.
Eleanor’s refusal to follow her mother into the Short Creek group may have been what made Leona decide to sever ties with our family. I think she blamed my father for Eleanor’s defection since he was far more liberal than the leaders in Short Creek. My father was a firm believer in agency. He was an advocate of free will and romance. He insisted that his children go to public schools and he encouraged us to get good grades, to participate in civics, and to be excellent athletes. He allowed his wives to wear street-length skirts and he didn’t punish his daughters for cutting their hair. He said that we should not “become a mockery to God” by calling attention to ourselves.
After Aunt Leona had abandoned one Rulon for another, I did not see Andy or Clarissa or Matthew until my father died. Everyone was devastated; our father had been murdered in cold blood while attending to patients in his office. We knew from the threats delivered over the preceding two years (dismissed by the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office) that the perpetrator was likely Ervil LeBaron. Ervil had proclaimed himself the One Mighty and Strong; he insisted that he was destined to lead the fundamentalist groups, the LDS Church, the nation, and eventually the world to prepare for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. But there was nothing Christlike about Ervil LeBaron, who had previously ordered the murder of his brother Joel and his own wife and daughter, along with a good many unfortunate souls who refused to do his bidding. I’m still not sure what he’d ordered my father to do, but I knew my father would rather die than accept Ervil’s rule.
I saw Andy twice that day, once at the funeral and again at the Cottonwood Mall, not far from the home where we had been children together. He was taller and thinner than the fourteen-year-old boy I’d known before his mother took him away, but he was still his witty self, making jokes as he introduced me to his first wife, Martha, and another young woman who was likely his second wife. A passel of young children surrounded them. As my little daughters smiled at them, I said, “These are your cousins,” which made them suddenly round-eyed and open-mouthed; they thought they had already met their cousins. I didn’t try to explain that Andy’s children were merely the tip of the iceberg.
After the funeral luncheon, Clarissa and I hugged and I asked her if I could visit her in Short Creek.
“You mean Colorado City,” she said, smiling demurely. “It’s official.”
Official. Since when has that mattered to fundamentalists? I wondered. “Yes. If I drove down there, could I come to see you?”
Clarissa’s eyes slid to the left. “Uh…I’m very busy.” She hugged me goodbye and turned away.
I have suffered slights from other siblings who regard me as a black sheep, but Clarissa’s rejection stung my open, grieving heart. When I asked my mother if Clarissa was mad at me because I hadn’t entered plural marriage, she thought a moment then shook her head. “Even if you had, she wouldn’t be able to receive you as a guest in her home. In that group they discourage married girls from associating with their paternal families. The fact that she’s your daddy’s daughter makes it even worse. They won’t even let us get together with Leona for old times’ sake.”
I asked who “they” were. “Oh, the priesthood council in the other group. They are very rigid.”
After my father’s death, his brother Owen claimed leadership of the Allred group’s priesthood council (which would become known as the Apostolic United Brethren or AUB) and I no longer felt as welcome when attending a choir concert or a musical play involving my mother’s piano expertise. Other changes were also afoot: I learned from my mother that the leader of the Colorado City group, Brother Roy Johnson, was ailing. Even before he was dead, a controversy was roiling: Should one man, namely Aunt Leona’s brother Rulon Jeffs, take charge of the group? Those who pulled for Rulon were voting in favor of “One Man Rule” while those who objected lobbied for “Council Rule.” (Obviously, no one’s vote really counted—not in a context where the word “rule” was used to describe man’s reign over others.) And so those who supported Council Rule went one way and named themselves “the Centennial Park Group,” while the others, under the One Man Rule of Rulon Jeffs, called themselves “FLDS,” for Fundamentalist Latter-day Saints (to the dismay of members of the mainstream LDS Church, including me).
As years passed, various events marked the map of Utah with discomfiting reminders of polygamy. A violent standoff in Marion, Utah between polygamists John Singer and Adam Swapp and law enforcement officers resulted in the death of Officer Fred House. My journalist friend, Dawn House, lost her brother and best friend in that fiasco. The loss changed her beneficent attitude toward polygamous communities into suspicion.
Some years after her brother’s death, Dawn and I met for lunch at the Bistro in downtown Salt Lake City. She was still cloaked in sorrow, her pretty face drawn with tension.
“Do you know this Warren Jeffs guy?” she asked.
I said I knew him only vaguely, from childhood when he had visited Aunt Leona—a puny kid who couldn’t pump his own swing, who was forever following us around and whining and tattling to his mother.
“Why do you want to know about him?”
Dawn shrugged and pulled at the straw in her iced tea. “Rumors. That he’s pushing Rulon Jeffs out of the way, assuming his father’s power.”
“Well, I know that Rulon Jeffs is telling people that if they’re obedient, they’ll be caught up in the Rapture at midnight of the year 2000. That’s pretty weird.” I had to smile. Of all the Y2K mania building around us, Rulon Jeffs’ prophecy that the worthy saints would be lifted up on the dot of midnight was perhaps the quirkiest.
“Yes. According to rumor, he’s gone downhill fast.” Dawn took another long drink of her iced tea. “But Warren is worse than weird. People who’ve been cast out say that he studies Hitler. That he pumps everybody up, asks them what they think, then overrides them and does whatever he wants. And more alarming stuff.”
“Marrying little girls—the one I heard about was twelve years old. Telling everybody they have to dress alike. Telling them what to eat. Telling them when to have sex. Moving families around.”
“Moving families around? Like from Colorado City to Salt Lake? That’s always happened.”
“No.” She leaned closer. “He’s moving the wives and children from one man to another. Especially if they defy him. If they really piss him off, he takes their wives and children for himself or his counselors. If the husbands protest, he sends them away. That’s how he punishes anybody who dares to speak against him.”
“Wow.” I remembered reading about Joseph Smith demanding spiritual marriage to the wives of his supporters—most notably Heber C. Kimball’s wife Vilate. I thought about Parley P. Pratt, murdered for taking another man’s wife as his own. “All of it sounds like a prelude to theocracy. And violence. Makes me think of Ervil LeBaron.”
She nodded vigorously. “That’s my worry.”
Back in the 1980s, LDS president Spencer W. Kimball had given a conference talk about fundamentalists. He’d warned the congregation that fundamentalist leaders would come to them in sheep’s clothing but within they were ravening wolves. At the time, I had been offended, thinking he was maligning my dead father. But I told Dawn that I was inclined to agree with President Kimball that fundamentalist leaders had undue access to follower’s minds and hearts, that they were convinced that they were always right, and that they had power to incite violence in the name of God.
She nodded again, as if confirming something to herself. “I think people need to be warned.” I saw a fierce, haunted look in her eyes born of the death of a loved one at the hands of a tyrant.
“I’ll ask my mother,” I promised. “She usually knows something.”
My mother knew only fragments about the changing leadership in Colorado City. She reminded me that, according to Leona, Warren’s mother had spoiled him. That sometime in the late 1990s, Rulon Jeffs had suffered a stroke, and that Warren used his father’s incompetence as a premise for arranging marriages, dictating behavior, and generally increasing his power.
In 1998, Aunt Leona died. I was traveling for work and didn’t attend the funeral, but I heard from my siblings that Eleanor had been refused admittance to her mother’s funeral unless she would agree to foot the bill. Warren presided at the funeral and in his sermon he announced that Leona would be sealed for all eternity to her brother Rulon Jeffs. He added that my brothers Andy and Matthew would be changing their names from Allred to Jeffs.
Spiritual Incest! The phrase ricocheted inside me like a pinball, lighting up various memories. My father had always objected to the Short Creek group’s habit of allowing cousins and other close relatives to marry. He had witnessed many distressing deformities in the children, resulting in miscarriages, stillbirths, and severe mental retardation. He had attended one birth where the child’s head was so enlarged its delivery broke the mother’s pubic bone. I had heard my father criticize the precept of eugenic breeding, saying that the brethren who gave this as a reason for plural marriage were misled. The point of plural marriage wasn’t to perpetuate a royal bloodline: Every human being was a child of God, and any person could achieve celestial glory through the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the laws and covenants of the gospel.
According to the mothers in my family, Leona hadn’t remarried when she joined the Short Creek group. Perhaps she had been waiting to die so that she could be sealed in marriage to her brother—spiritual eugenic breeding.
I remembered how, in preparation for her brother’s family’s visits, Aunt Leona had starched and sugar-watered Andy and Clarissa and Matthew—all of them stiff and unhappy as they waited for their Jeffs cousins to come to dinner. How her brother had run his finger along the windowsill to see if the Allred wives dusted properly. How Aunt Leona had declared the righteousness of her brother at my father’s expense. The Jeffs had always acted superior, as if they were more disciplined and intelligent and beautiful than the rest of us. They behaved as if they were following suit with royal African families or the dynasties of ancient Egypt, deciding that it was better to allow brothers and sisters to marry rather than corrupt their familial righteousness.
But Aunt Leona’s children weren’t uppity. Andy was delightful and full of life. Whenever I would think of his starched white shirt and his sugar-watered hair, I wondered if anybody else was glad when his cowlick broke free. I remembered how desperately my three-year-old self had wanted to marry him because he was so free, so funny, so dear! I wanted him to be free to live his life. So when I thought of Warren changing my brothers’ last name to Jeffs, something akin to rage boiled up in me. Drawing on the respect for agency cultivated by both my parents, I felt that no man had the right to dissolve or dictate human bonds without regard for the laws of God and Nature.
At the turn of the millennium, thousands of FLDS gathered in the courtyard of their church to be lifted up in the Rapture. Rulon Jeffs had promised this would be the reward for those who were obedient. But nothing happened. No flash of light, no winged angels to carry them off, no funnel cloud to lift them up. Warren speculated that his father had mistaken the year. When the same nothing happened as the year turned to 2001, Rulon Jeffs’ health failed precipitately, and in 2002, he died. Surprise, surprise, Warren took over as president of the FLDS, promptly claiming his father’s many wives in addition to his own.
As with the other members of the FLDS, Andy, Matthew, and Clarissa had turned over their assets to the FLDS United Order, where Warren now made all the decisions. He defined what members could and could not read or hear; he prescribed their exercise, their schooling, and their diet. Their marriages were arranged and their sex-lives dictated by “the prophet,” as Warren called himself.
In 2006, Utah filed suit against Warren Jeffs on behalf of Elissa Wall for insisting that as a 14-year-old girl, she marry a 19-year-old cousin she had always disliked, and then forcing her to stay married to him although he repeatedly raped her, resulting in a series of miscarriages and a stillbirth.
In response to these charges, Warren went into hiding. He moved from place to place, adopted disguises, and ran the FLDS community by cell phone. His followers supported him in eluding the law, just as Mormon communities had helped my grandfathers and great-grandfathers hide from Pinkerton detectives and U.S. marshals near the turn of the 20th Century.
One of my sisters reported that my beloved Andy had been arrested in Kingman, Arizona, accused of aiding and abetting a fugitive—Warren Jeffs. During the next few months, I heard horror stories about his unfair treatment in prison. I still don’t know what is true and what isn’t. Such sordid tales, generally associated with criminals and infidels, are considered unworthy of men of God. In the fundamentalist world, righteous men like Andy take their lumps and suffer in silence, accepting their lot as witnesses to Christ. All I know for sure is that when he was released from his cell in Kingman, despite his loyalty to Warren, Andy was exiled from Colorado City and from his wives and children.
Warren was finally apprehended and brought to trial. During his incarceration, he handed a note to a guard to give to one of his followers. It read, “God wants them dead.” He was likely ordering the death of Becky, Teressa, and Elissa Wall who had testified in the state’s suit against Warren. Warren was convicted, and before the decision could be appealed, the FLDS Yearning for Zion Ranch near Eldorado, Texas was raided. Texas lawmen didn’t mess around: Children were removed to foster homes, patriarchs were arrested, and the FLDS temple was ransacked. A series of videos revealed the many shades of Warren’s tyranny. Texas put him in prison and threw away the key. But using go-betweens and a cell phone, Warren fought to control his group in absentia. He ordered that there be no more clerical participation by the membership. He banished all singing at religious meetings, instead ordering that tapes of songs he made with his wives be played—the most lukewarm, derivative attempts at hymns you ever heard, inducing a kind of twilight anesthesia. He ordered that people no longer speak or recite scripture at meetings, but listen instead to tapes of his sermons. I heard that Matthew, Leona’s oldest boy and the principal at the El Capitan High School in Colorado City, objected to these practices, gently reminding Warren that the FLDS were Christians, not Nazis.
Retribution came swiftly. Like Andy, Matthew had his wives, children, and homes taken away. He was ordered to leave the FLDS community and “repent from afar.” Before long, Andy and Matthew found each other. Homeless, they traveled from place to place, camping when they could, occasionally staying in motels or with forbidden relatives.
I heard that Clarissa had been taken from her beloved husband and given to another man who moved her to an FLDS farm in Colorado. And then I heard that Warren had posthumously excommunicated Leona Jeffs—the woman who had left my father and eventually became sealed to Rulon Jeffs—because she’d had an abortion. I couldn’t believe my ears—righteous Aunt Leona would have never submitted to an abortion—until an FLDS friend explained to me that, according to Warren, even a miscarriage was willful because the would-be mother’s body had refused to carry the child. From his prison cell, Warren seemed bent on eradicating even a hint of my family’s connection to the FLDS community.
In 2015, my family held a party in honor of our father’s one-hundred-and-ninth birthday. As I came up the walk toward the front porch of the house in Santaquin, Utah, I was stunned when a tall, slender man—6 foot 6 inches at least—rose from the glider chair: It was my brother Matthew. And then Andy, thin and palsied, but with the same mischievous smile. And Clarissa, serene and warm, holding me close.
Warren’s incarceration had granted a measure of freedom to the FLDS people, resulting in small but significant degrees of justice. For the first time in more than fifty years, Aunt Leona’s children could gather with our family to honor our father and revive our shared history.
They had not changed from the people I had known as a child. The same clear, blue eyes. The same earnest desire to love and play together, to laugh and cry together, to relive stories and tease each other. Despite my having a husband who told me long ago, “One wife is more than enough,” despite our separate experiences of being cast out, despite the tyrannies of spirit and the ravages of time, we finally shared a mutual paradise. The heartache and confusion of years melted away. As I held my siblings in a circle of hugs, I felt my father’s countenance smiling on us, and I knew that we had chosen each other.
They are still mine and I am still theirs.