Making history in Hildale: Hundreds gather for landmark event at former Warren Jeffs compound; STGnews Videocast

Gates originally built to keep outsiders away have been opened to people from all walks of life, Hildale, Utah, Nov. 29, 2014 | Photo by Cami Cox Jim, St. George News

HILDALE – Some were wearing blue jeans, some were wearing prairie dresses. At the end of the day, attire and personal background didn’t matter, and all were gathered peacefully together in one place Saturday afternoon for what was, for the small border town of Hildale, a landmark event in a community that has seen much pain, much recent change and, historically, much separation from the outside world.

“We’ve had a lot of people here from out of town – a lot of people driving in from all walks of life,” Willie Jessop, owner of America’s Most Wanted Bed & Breakfast in Hildale, said. “The numbers have been staggering.”

(Story continues below)

Videocast by Leanna Bergeron, St. George News

Saturday, America’s Most Wanted, which is housed in a compound originally built as a home for jailed Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints prophet Warren Jeffs – though Jeffs never actually lived there, as he was in prison when it was built – was the host site for a large community gathering the likes of which Hildale and neighboring community Colorado City, Arizona, have never seen. (See ed. note)

“We’ve had hundreds show up – several hundred more than we expected,” Jessop said. “The food held well, and it was yummy.”

Saturday’s event was a belated Thanksgiving feast, offered free to anyone and everyone living in and outside the two border towns, commonly known to locals as Short Creek. For some in attendance, it was their first Thanksgiving meal in many years.

Under Jeffs’ leadership, FLDS members have been restricted from celebrating holidays like Thanksgiving, Jessop said.

Even before Jeffs’ time, FLDS members have led very private lives and have been, for the most part, far removed from the outside world.

Jessop said Saturday was the first time he’s aware of that a large, public Thanksgiving feast like this has ever been held in Short Creek – an occasion when outsiders, non-FLDS, former FLDS and even some current FLDS members – who came to the event discreetly, he said – have gathered in one place to give thanks and share a meal together.

“It’s a big family reunion,” Laura Randall, a resident of Apple Valley, said.

Randall was the second wife in a polygamous marriage before leaving the FLDS church in 1984. Her tale is a common one shared by hundreds of former FLDS members who have either voluntarily left the FLDS community or been evicted from it: being separated from family members who aren’t allowed to speak to her; being barred from family events like funerals; and being generally disenfranchised from a community she was once a part of.

Hundreds gather at a public feast at America's Most Wanted Bed & Breakfast, Hildale, Utah, Nov. 29, 2014 | Photo by Cami Cox Jim, St. George News
Hundreds gather at a public feast at America’s Most Wanted Bed & Breakfast, Hildale, Utah, Nov. 29, 2014 | Photo by Cami Cox Jim, St. George News

In addition to welcoming non-FLDS members and people from outside the community to Short Creek, Saturday’s event additionally afforded an opportunity for Randall and other former FLDS members to return home and see faces they hadn’t seen, in some cases, for decades.

“I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about coming here today,” Randall said, “but I feel so grateful.”

She said there has been a feeling of tension in Short Creek since Warren Jeffs, and his father before him, came into power. Now, she said, there’s a different feeling taking hold in the community.

“Events like this are changing this community,” she said. “There’s a feeling of love here.”

Ben Jordan, his wife and their children traveled from Cedar City to attend the event. He said his grandparents were among FLDS members in the 1950s who had their children taken away, were driven out of Short Creek and were arrested and imprisoned for practicing polygamy. He said his grandmother was held in an internment camp that had housed Japanese-Americans during World War II.

“I think it’s a part of American history that most people don’t know about and don’t want to acknowledge,” Jordan said.

Sharon Jordan signs the gratitude board, Hildale, Utah, Nov. 29, 2014 | Photo by Leanna Bergeron, St. George News
Sharon Jordan signs the gratitude board, Hildale, Utah, Nov. 29, 2014 | Photo by Leanna Bergeron, St. George News

Saturday was the first time Jordan’s children have ever been to Short Creek. He said he has a love for the community and felt it’s time his kids learned about this part of their heritage.

“I want my children to see what my grandparents sacrificed for and were imprisoned for,” he said.

Jordan called Saturday’s event “a triumph of freedom.” He said he’s considering buying property in Short Creek, now that land is for sale there and changes are happening.

An atmosphere of enjoyment permeated the grounds at the former Warren Jeffs compound as community members, old friends and even some curious outsiders gathered en masse to enjoy turkey, trimmings and dessert while festive music played in the background.

A “gratitude board” hung near the area where food was being served by volunteers wearing aprons emblazoned with the message “Friends Serving Friends.” Attendees were invited to write messages of thanks on the board.

A gratitude board is covered with messages of thankfulness, Hildale, Utah, Nov. 29, 2014 | Photo by Leanna Bergeron, St. George News
A gratitude board is covered with messages of thankfulness, Hildale, Utah, Nov. 29, 2014 | Photo by Leanna Bergeron, St. George News

All food for the feast was donated, and other similar community events are being planned, where people of all backgrounds and religions, including FLDS, can gather without fear of persecution or discrimination.

“I’m very humbled with the idea that a facility that was created to segregate and isolate be used instead for reunification, celebration and bringing a community back together that has been through so much trauma,” Jessop said.

Ed. note: Addition made for reader clarity that this compound was built for Warren Jeffs but he never lived there, as he was imprisoned when it was constructed.

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  • Justme..... November 29, 2014 at 11:49 pm

    It looks like healing is finally taking place up there. Good on the people who push forward and help facilitate a new beginning. It took generations for the locals to lose their freedoms and to some extent even themselves. It will take generations for them to fully put it behind them…but in 10 years I bet you don’t recognize the town, at all. Kids born today will wonder….Who is W. Jeffs? Oh yeah, he’s the serial racist they sent to prison……

  • Mean Momma November 30, 2014 at 12:54 am

    Willie Jessops idea of “all walks of life” leaves me speachless. Maybe now that he has more freedom to do what he wants, he will take the opportunity to travel and broaden his point of view. Anyhow, I’m glad no trouble was caused by the local hicks and that everyone was able to “keep sweet!”

    • An actual Independent November 30, 2014 at 6:16 am

      If you’d ever spoken with Willie Jessop, you’d know how ridiculous that actually sounds. I’m a complete outsider, not even from Utah, and not even LDS. I’ve known him for many years and had many talks with him. I only wish I had seen and done as much as he has.

      • Mean Momma November 30, 2014 at 7:57 am

        Yes! When I heard it come out of his own mouth on the clip above, I thought it sounded ridiculous, considering the only people I saw in that crowd were white and the majority looked like everyone else there. Are you saying St. George News purposely did not film all the other races and ethnicities in attendance? I doubt it! Again, his idea of “all walks of life” IS RIDICULOUS!

        • An actual Independent November 30, 2014 at 9:57 am

          Event was open to anybody who wanted to show up. Was he supposed to fly in some inner city Chicago kids?

          • Resident of Colorado City November 30, 2014 at 11:32 am

            I was there, I helped serve the food and I did see Native Americans Indians, Mexicans, Canadians and Black people.
            It was a good opportunity to forgive and be forgiven by others. It was very enjoyable.

          • Mean Momma November 30, 2014 at 6:14 pm

            Ummmm…. That’s not the point at all. It was a silly statement to make that’s all, and by your own silly comments, I can understand now that birds of a feather DO flock together.

          • Koolaid December 1, 2014 at 2:30 pm

            Nah! Just get some former Dixie College students to paint their faces black and act stupid, just like they used to.

  • koolaid November 30, 2014 at 5:20 am

    Were these hundreds all related? First cousins? Don’t they go to family reunions to find a date?

    • Dana November 30, 2014 at 5:49 am

      No, they’re looking for future brides. They bypass the “date” phase….takes too long to advance to the baby making phase and the ‘bleed the beast’ phase.

    • Koolaid sucks November 30, 2014 at 3:35 pm

      Once again, Koolaid, the female hygiene product show his intelligence of a two year old.

      • ladybugavenger November 30, 2014 at 6:54 pm

        I like extra sugar in my koolaid

  • Bobber2 November 30, 2014 at 6:23 am

    Long sleeve flannel shirts, a dead give away of a polyg-kid.

    • MickeyD November 30, 2014 at 4:53 pm

      And a name like Bobber is a dead giveaway for an idiot.

  • Street November 30, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    So Wilie was truthful, all walks of life. Imagine Indians, Blacks, and Mexicans inside the holy breeding ground. Rulon’s rolling in his grave, with no more sperm to give, while the world enjoys a good Mormon meal inside the sanctum of Uncle Roy and Uncle Rulon.

  • Nevawords November 30, 2014 at 3:31 pm

    Whatever the reason, the idea that folks are being reunited and things are being offered to reconnect families is a good.

  • Mean Momma November 30, 2014 at 6:19 pm

    RESIDENT OF COLORADO CITY…. I’m happy to here that. It’s good that so many people came and enjoyed the day. I guess it was just not evident by the clip St. George News chose to post.

  • tight magic undies November 30, 2014 at 8:24 pm

    A nice place to meet if you wanna have sex with your 12 year old niece.

    • Resident of Colorado City December 1, 2014 at 9:01 am

      From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

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