Short Creek starts to move beyond its past as a fundamentalist fief

JUDGING BY its shops, Short Creek seems more like a trendy suburb of somewhere like Portland than a small town on the Utah-Arizona border with just shy of 8,000 people. There are two health-food stores, a bakery and a vape shop. The occasional sight of women in prairie dresses and the huge houses with thick walls are the only conspicuous evidence Short Creek was once home to an American theocracy.

When the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), better known as the Mormon church, abandoned several controversial doctrines in 1890, there were dissenters. Some, seeking to preserve abandoned institutions such as “plural marriage” (polygamy) and communal ownership, formed communities practising “Old-Fashioned Mormonism”. By the early 1930s Short Creek was such a place.

The settlement was largely ignored by the outside world, apart from the occasional court case over polygamy and an ill-advised raid by the state of Arizona in 1953, when 263 children were taken from their parents and held for up to three years, inciting widespread sympathy for the town. Short Creek ultimately incorporated as two places: Hildale City, Utah in 1962 and Colorado City, Arizona in 1985. It was not until the turn of the century that outsiders started paying attention again.

Short Creek’s church, by then called the Fundamentalist...

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