Short Creek raid

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The schoolhouse where the Mormon fundamentalists were during the raid.

The Short Creek raid was an Arizona Department of Public Safety and Arizona National Guard action against Mormon fundamentalists that took place on the morning of July 26, 1953, at Short Creek, Arizona. The Short Creek raid was the largest mass arrest of polygamists in American history. At the time, it was described as "the largest mass arrest of men and women in modern American history."[1]


Just before dawn on July 26, 1953, 102 Arizona officers of public safety and soldiers from the Arizona National Guard entered Short Creek. The community—which was composed of approximately 400 Mormon fundamentalists—had been tipped off about the planned raid and were found singing hymns in the schoolhouse while the children played outside. The entire community was taken into custody, with the exception of six individuals who were found not to be fundamentalist Mormons.[2] Among those taken into custody were 263 children. One hundred and fifty of the children who were taken into custody were not permitted to return to their parents for more than two years, and some parents never regained custody of their children.[3]

Public and media reaction[edit]

Arizona Governor John Howard Pyle initially called the raid "a momentous police action against insurrection"[4][5] and described the Mormon fundamentalists as participating in "the foulest conspiracy you could possibly imagine" that was designed to produce "white slaves."[2] More than 100 reporters had been invited by Pyle to accompany the police to observe the raid. However, the raid and its tactics attracted mostly negative media attention; one newspaper editorialized:

By what stretch of the imagination could the actions of the Short Creek children be classified as insurrection? Were those teenagers playing volleyball in a school yard inspiring a rebellion? Insurrection? Well, if so, an insurrection with diapers and volleyballs![6]

In the same week that the Korean War Armistice Agreement was signed, the raid achieved notoriety in media across the United States, including articles in Time[7] and Newsweek,[8] with many media outlets describing the raid as "odious" or "un-American."[9][page needed] One commentator has suggested that commentary on the raid was "probably the first time in history that American polygamists had received media coverage that was largely sympathetic."[10] Another has suggested that the raid's "only American parallel is the federal actions against Native Americans in the nineteenth century."[11]

When Pyle lost his bid for re-election in 1954 to Democratic candidate Ernest McFarland, Pyle blamed the fallout from the raid as having destroyed his political career.[12]

Support from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints[edit]

One of the few media outlets to applaud the raid was the Salt Lake City-based Deseret News, which was owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church).[13] The News applauded the action as a needed response to prevent the fundamentalists from becoming "a cancer of a sort that is beyond hope of human repair."[14] When the paper later editorialized its support for separating children from their polygamist parents, there was a backlash against the paper and the church by a number of Latter-day Saints, including Juanita Brooks, who complained that the church organization was approving of "such a basically cruel and wicked thing as the taking of little children from their mother."[9][page needed] The Short Creek raid was the last action against polygamous Mormon fundamentalists that has been actively supported by the LDS Church.[15]


After the Short Creek raid, the fundamentalist Mormon polygamist colony at Short Creek eventually rejuvenated.[16] Short Creek was renamed Colorado City in 1960. In 1991, the Mormon fundamentalists at Colorado City formally established the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS Church). The members of the sect did not face any prosecutions for its polygamous behavior until the late 1990s, when isolated individuals began to be prosecuted.[17] In 2006, FLDS Church leader Warren Jeffs was placed on the FBI Ten Most Wanted List; he was arrested in 2007 and in 2011 was convicted in Texas of two counts of child sexual abuse[18] and sentenced to life in prison.[19]

On 3 April 2008, following allegations of physical and sexual abuse by an unidentified caller who claimed to be a 16-year-old girl, law enforcement officers raided a FLDS compound Jeffs had founded in Texas called the YFZ Ranch.[20] As of 8 April, a total of 416 children had been removed from the compound by authorities.[21] A former member of the FLDS Church, Carolyn Jessop, arrived on-site 6 April and stated her opinion that the action in Texas was unlike the Short Creek raid.[22] Others, however, have drawn direct connections between the two events.[23][24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ C.R. Waters, Mohave Miner, 1953-08-30.
  2. ^ a b Ken Driggs, "After the Manifesto: Modern Polygamy and Fundamentalist Mormons", Journal of Church and State 32:367 (1990).
  3. ^ Ken Driggs, "Who Shall Raise the Children? Vera Black and the Rights of Polygamous Utah Parents", Utah Historical Quarterly 60:27 (1992).
  4. ^ Martha Sonntag Bradley (1993). Kidnapped from That Land : The Government Raids on the Short Creek Polygamists (Salt Lake City, Utah: University of Utah Press).
  5. ^ "Parallels to Short Creek raid in 1953 are pointed out". Deseret News. 2008-04-10. Retrieved 2021-03-27. Pyle called it "a momentous police action against insurrection," and described the fundamentalists as "the foulest conspiracy you could possibly imagine," saying it amounted to white slavery.
  6. ^ Arizona Republic, 1953-07-28.
  7. ^ "The Great Love-Nest Raid". Time magazine. 1953-08-03. Archived from the original on December 22, 2008. Retrieved 2009-01-05. Arizona's Governor Howard Pyle declared that the colonists were in a "state of insurrection." Authorities alerted newspapers and press services weeks ahead of time. "This is a white-slave factory," an assistant attorney general announced. "No woman has escaped this community for at least ten years. They are forced to submit to men old enough to be their grandfathers." Warrants charging 122 adults with conspiracy to commit such crimes as polygamy, rape, bigamy and misappropriation of school funds were carefully drawn up.
  8. ^ "People: The Big Raid", Newsweek, 1953-08-03, p. 26.
  9. ^ a b Richard S. Van Wagoner (1989). Mormon Polygamy : A History (2d ed) (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books).
  10. ^ Stephen Eliot Smith, The "Mormon Question Revisited : Anti-polygamy Laws and the Free Exercise Clause (LL.M. thesis, Harvard Law School, 2005).
  11. ^ D. Michael Quinn, "Plural Marriage and Mormon Fundamentalism", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Summer 1998, p. 1.
  12. ^ Abbie Gripman, "Short Creek Raid Remembered" Archived August 17, 2007, at the Wayback Machine, The Miner, 2002-08-02.
  13. ^ By the 1950s, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was opposed to the traditional Mormon practice of plural marriage and excommunicated any of its members that practiced it.
  14. ^ Deseret News, 1953-07-27.
  15. ^ Gordon B. Hinckley, president of the LDS Church, has stated that the decision whether or not to prosecute a Mormon polygamist is "entirely in the hands of the civil officers. It's a civil offence. It's in violation of the law. We have nothing to do with it. We're totally distanced from it. And if the state chooses to move on it, that's a responsibility of civil officers." : Gordon B. Hinckley on Larry King Live, CNN tevevision broadcast, 1998-09-08.
  16. ^ Neil J. Young, "Short Creek's Long Legacy"[dead link], Slate, April 16, 2008.
  17. ^ "The Primer" Archived 2005-01-11 at the Wayback Machine – Helping Victims of Domestic Violence and Child Abuse in Polygamous Communities. A joint report from the offices of the Attorneys General of Arizona and Utah.
  18. ^ Wagner, Dennis (24 February 2011). "Jailed sect leader retakes legal control of church". USA Today. McLean, Virginia. Retrieved 6 May 2019
  19. ^ "Polygamist leader Warren Jeffs sentenced to life in prison". CNN.
  20. ^ "52 children taken during raid". The Eldorado Success. April 4, 2008. Archived from the original on October 21, 2013. Retrieved 2008-04-06.
  21. ^ "Texas takes legal custody of 401 sect children". CNN. April 7, 2008. Archived from the original on 2008-04-11. Retrieved 2008-04-07.
  22. ^ Adams, Brooke (April 7, 2008). "People who have left sect go to Texas to help". The Salt Lake Tribune. Archived from the original on April 8, 2008. Retrieved 2008-04-07.
  23. ^ Adams, Brooke (11 April 2008). "Polygamous crackdown echoes 1953 Short Creek arrests". The Salt Lake Tribune. Archived from the original on 12 April 2008. Retrieved 2008-04-18.
  24. ^ "Polygamy: Where religious liberty ends". The Salt Lake Tribune. 13 April 2008. Archived from the original on 14 April 2008. Retrieved 2008-04-18.

Further reading[edit]

  • Bradley, Martha Sontag (1996) [1993], Kidnapped from That Land: The Government Raids on the Short Creek Polygamists, Publications in Mormon studies, v. 9, Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, ISBN 0585272123, OCLC 45728295

External links[edit]