Little Bits of History

July 26

Posted in History by patriciahysell on July 26, 2017

1953: The Short Creek Raid takes place. Short Creek, Arizona lies in the northwest part of the state, close to the Utah border in Yuma County. It was founded in 1913 by members of the Council of Friends, a breakaway group from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). The members picked a remote location in which to practice polygamy, a practice abandoned by the LDS Church in 1890. On this day, under orders from Governor John Pyle, the Arizona Department of Public Safety and Arizona National Guard entered Short Creek to put a stop to what Pyle called “the foulest conspiracy you could possibly imagine”.

At the time of the raid, about 400 people lived in Short Creek. The Mormon fundamentalists, practitioners of polygamy, had been tipped off about the raid. The 102 Arizona officers of public safety and their National Guardsmen entered the town and found the adults singing hymns in the schoolhouse while the children played outside. They arrested them all, except for six people who were found to not be fundamentalist Mormons. There were 263 children brought into custody. It was over two years later before 150 of the children were finally returned to their parents. Some parents never regained custody of their children.

Pyle had invited over 100 reports along to see his raid and efforts to clean up the state’s miscreants. Because of the methods used and the number of children taken into custody, most media  attention was negative. Even though this was the same week as the Korean War Armistice Agreement, both Time and Newsweek had pieces about the raid, decrying the actions as “odious” and “un-American”. It was noted that the raid was the first time in American history where polygamists were seen sympathetically. Their plight was likened to the treatment of Native Americans in the 1800s. Pyle lost his next bid for re-election and noted it was probably backlash from this raid.

One of the few news outlets to applaud the raid was from the Salt Lake City Deseret News, owned by the LDS Church. They were fearful of the harm the polygamists might have on the reputation of the Church as a whole. They did not applaud the children’s removal from their parents, however. There have been parallels drawn between this raid and that of the FBI arrests of Warren Jeffs, who was arrested for sexual abuse of minors in 2008. (Within five days, they had removed 416 children from Jeffs’s compound located in Texas.) Eventually, fundamentalist Mormons began to return to Short Creek, but they changed the name of their town to Colorado City.

So many times in the history of Mormon polygamy, the outside world thought it had the movement on the ropes only to see it flourish anew. – Scott Anderson

Those who imagine polygamy to be handy cover for promiscuity are apparently off the mark. If polygamists share one quality, it is that, polygamy aside, they are extraordinarily strait-laced. – Molly Ivins

Polygamy: An endeavour to get more out of life than there is in it. – Elbert Hubbard

Bigamy is having one wife too many. Monogamy is the same. – Oscar Wilde