1890 – An official manifesto by Church President Wilford Woodruff discourages all members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from plural marriage, helping to pave the way for Utah’s eventual statehood in 1896. Many church members continue to live their marriages in polygamous marriages, but over time the practice is being eradicated from the mainstream church.
1935 – Led by Fundamentalist leader John Barlow, a group called the Council of Friends, a Salt Lake City-based sect that believed polygamy was a central part of their religion, begins sending followers to Short Creek because they believes the small, isolated border town could be a haven where polygamy and other fundamentalist church practices could continue. The population of the small community doubles in less than a month.
Take a closer look: Colorado City and Hildale, once dominated by a polygamous criminal cult, are celebrating their recent arrest
1942 – Polygamists living in Short Creek take a dramatic step forward in solidifying Church influence by selling their lands and homes, often including large buildings and lots built to accommodate multiple families donate to a single trust called the United Effort Plan. Church leaders establish control of the trust and eventually use it to distribute property to favorite members and to take property from those who leave the church or shun its teachings.
1953 – In a move that Short Creek residents say scarred the community for decades, Arizona law enforcement officials advance in a massive raid on Colorado City, taking nearly 400 church members, including 236 children, into custody. Most of those kidnapped eventually find their way back to Short Creek, and the raid, along with numerous smaller operations conducted during the same period, becomes a central story in church leaders’ warnings to members to connect with the outside world.
2004 – Warren Jeffs, who became the leader of the FLDS and their prophet after the death of his father in 2002, creates a major division in the community when he expels a group of 20 men and assigns their wives, children and property to others . Insiders point to the incident as a turning point that led to a split between many members.
2005 – Citing concerns that others may lose their homes at the whims of Jeffs and the Church, Utah takes control of the United Effort Plan Trust, which had grown to include more than 700 residential, agricultural and commercial properties. Court records estimated the properties were worth more than $100 million at the time. Over time, the UEP transfers most properties to beneficiaries and sells some to outside buyers, although most devout FLDS members refuse to cooperate and are sometimes evicted from their homes.
2006 – Utah issues a felony arrest warrant for Jeffs as an accomplice to the rape over allegations that he consummated marriages with children. Featured on the FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted list, he is eventually arrested in Clark County, Nevada during a freeway stop where authorities discover that Jeffs is armed with four computers, 16 cell phones, disguises including wigs and sunglasses, and more than $50,000 in cash was on the way. He spent years going back and forth between prisons facing charges in Utah and Arizona before finally being convicted in Texas in 2011 of two counts of sexually assaulting a child and sentenced to life in prison. At the trial, prosecutors presented evidence suggesting he had fathered a child with one of the 15-year-old girls. Jeffs was 50 when he was arrested and is said to have taken more than 70 wives, including some juveniles.
2008 – An armed robbery at the Yearning for Zion ranch outside of Eldorado, Texas uncovers evidence of widespread sexual abuse within the church, including Jeffs and other men taking girls as young as 12 as wives. During the raid, police removed 468 children from the ranch and 130 women left the ranch voluntarily. At one point, authorities reported that of 53 girls, ages 14 to 17, found at the ranch, 31 either had children or were pregnant.
2015 – In the greatest loss of life from a weather-related disaster in Utah’s history, 13 Short Creek residents are killed when a flash flood from one of the mountain canyons sweeps away two vehicles carrying three women and 13 children. Search teams from both states work for weeks to find all of the victims, with outside law enforcement working hand-in-hand with FLDS members. The tragedy is hurting residents of both cities, but many church members are also gaining more trust from outsiders after seeing how flood victims and their families are being cared for.
2017 – The FLDS is dealt a decisive blow in Hildale when former church member Donia Jessop is elected mayor and other non-church members form a majority on the city council. Jessop and others hailed the change as an important sign of progress in the community, ushering in a series of changes that would result in the establishment of a chamber of commerce, contractual relationships with county and state heads for various services, and the opening of many new businesses.
2022 – Colorado City residents elect their first majority non-FLDS leadership after longtime Mayor Joseph Allred announced his resignation. He offers no explanation, although former or non-FLDS members win a majority of seats on the city council. At this point, local authorities say most of the FLDS’ remaining members have dispersed or left the church, which is theoretically still controlled by Jeffs from his prison cell. Approximately 80% of the properties in Colorado City and 90% of the properties in Hildale have been transferred to private ownership by the United Effort Plan Trust.