We are pleased to host three guest posts from Craig L. Foster, Newel G. Bringhurst, and Brian Hales.
A Visit to the Yearning for Zion Ranch—Part 1 of 3
After providing historical background at a polygamy trial in Cranbook, Canada in April 2017, Brian Hales met a Texas Ranger who had been involved in the 2008 raid of the Yearning for Zion (YFZ) Ranch. The ranch, belonging to the FLDS Church, is located about four miles outside of El Dorado in west central Texas. The Ranger had offered to give Brian a tour, so, taking the Ranger up on his invitation, Brian Hales, Craig Foster, and Newell Bringhurst visited YFZ on October 28, 2017.
We arrived in Eldorado, Texas, the closest town to the ranch, and met up with our Ranger guide who then drove us to the outer gate of the ranch. Yearning for Zion Ranch, with boundaries approximately one mile by two miles, was acquired by Davis S. Allred in 2003. At the time of purchase, Allred represented the YFZ Land LLC and claimed he would be building a business retreat. Within a short time, the outside world realized Allred had been the front man to an FLDS purchase and that there were going to be more than business executives and wealthy game hunters residing at the ranch.
Observers have wondered if this area was selected for the ranch partly because of its distance from large cities. San Angelo, the closest large city to the ranch, is forty-five miles north. San Antonio is two hundred miles to the southeast while Dallas is three hundred miles to the north east. The Ranger agreed stating that Texas land is cheap, they have limited government and their building codes tend to not be as strict so the FLDS were left to build pretty much they wanted. Existing documents also seem to confirm the assumption the FLDS were hoping they and their activities would go unnoticed. Jeffs stated, “We need to keep this particular property so private and sacred and secret that not even the faithful who are driven will know of this place, because this is where the sacred records are. The wicked, in their mind, feel like if they could destroy the records or get them turn over to the authorities, they could destroy us. … The devil knows where we are, but through our faith the wicked and the righteous can be blinded and not find this place.”
At the gate, the Ranger pointed to places where warrants had been taped to the bars—the adhesive residue still being present. He explained how the FLDS leaders on the ranch would ignore the warrants, leaving them hanging there for months. Given Warren Jeffs’ orders to his adherents to ignore legal orders and warrants, it’s not surprising the taped documents were left hanging on the gate as if they didn’t exist.
After driving down a mile-long road, we encountered a second gate that opened into the compound. A guard tower stood conspicuously ahead. Once inside the ranch we continued down to the main buildings. While doing so, our Ranger guide pointed out the grain silos and a tall tower and platform on them. He said when the authorities arrived at the ranch, they saw a couple of men high up on the platform and worried if they had high-powered rifles this could be bad for them. Fortunately, throughout the whole raid and its aftermath, the FLDS were completely peaceful, if not always cooperative.
From a higher promontory the entire complex can be viewed. The temple loomed over the grounds being visible from all quarters. Our guide explained that the grid of the YFZ community is laid out like Salt Lake City with the temple at the center and all streets radiating out from there.
Within the boundaries of the ranch, members of the FLDS discovered an area of limestone sufficiently hard to be used in construction. Evidence of other nearby excavations that uncovered softer rock unsuitable for building exist. Rough-hewn limestones are used throughout for terracing and landscaping. Other limestone blocks were finely finished and used on the temple exterior, as well as the unfinished amphitheater.
Besides the temple, the most fascinating structure is an amphitheater that could hold perhaps 5000 people. Surrounded by a fence, an inner-outer court yard is formed with the amphitheater itself at the center.
The stage portion of the amphitheater is curiously constructed, with no obvious changing areas or set production spaces allocated to the left or the right. It would appear that plays and concerts were not anticipated. Apparently, Jeffs ordered the construction of this amphitheater for the leaders of the world to gather to recognize him as the Lord’s anointed and to hear him preach. The heavy duty overhead supports are consistent with rumors that a larger-than-life stone statue of Warren Jeffs was destined to be positioned above for all to see.
Multiple log structures were already showing the wear of the Texas climate. The logs were said to have come from the FLDS community up in Bountiful, British Columbia and no doubt the dry heat have weathered the exteriors significantly. The log structures were dwellings for plural families, perhaps several in one house. Most entrances displayed signs “ZION” above the doors, similar to the houses of the faithful in Hildale and Colorado City, known locally as Short Creek.
Our next stops included Warren Jeffs two homes, the Temple Annex, and more, which are covered in part 2 of “A Visit to the Yearning for Zion Ranch.”
For more information see Newell G. Bringhurst and Craig L. Foster, eds., The Persistence of Polygamy: Fundamentalist Mormon Polygamy from 1890 to the Present (Independence, Missouri: John Whitmer Books, 2015). See also Brian C. Hales, Modern Polygamy and Mormon Fundamentalism: The Generations after the Manifesto, Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2006.
“Corporate retreat or Prophet’s refuge,” The Eldorado Success, March 25, 2004, https://web.archive.org/web/20050707083014/http://www.myeldorado.net/YFZ%20Pages/YFZ032504b.html, accessed October 30, 2017.
 Karisa King, “Polygamist diary describes secret bed used for sex assaults,” MySA, March 4, 2016, http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local_news/article/Polygamist-diary-describes-secret-bed-used-for-4078569.php, accessed November 2, 2017.