On this day July 26, 1953
Arizona Governor John Howard Pyle orders an anti-polygamy law enforcement crackdown on residents of Short Creek, Arizona, which becomes known as the Short Creek Raid.
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.”
Just before dawn on July 26, 1953, 102 Arizona state police officers 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. Among those taken into custody were 236 children. One hundred 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.
Arizona Governor John Howard Pyle initially called the raid “a momentous police action against insurrection” and described the Mormon fundamentalists as participating in “the foulest conspiracy you could possibly imagine” that was designed to produce “white slaves.” 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!
In the same week that the Korean War ceasefire was achieved, the raid achieved notoriety in media across the United States, including articles in Time and Newsweek, with many media outlets describing the raid as “odious” or “un-American.” One commentator has suggested that commentary of the raid was “probably the first time in history that American polygamists had received media coverage that was largely sympathetic.” Another has suggested that the raid’s “only American parallel is the federal actions against Native Americans in the nineteenth century.”
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.
After the Short Creek raid, the fundamentalist Mormon polygamist colony at Short Creek eventually rejuvenated. 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. In 2006, FLDS Church leader Warren Jeffs was placed on the FBI Ten Most Wanted List; he was arrested and convicted in 2007 of being an accomplice to rape for performing a wedding between a 19-year-old man and his 14-year-old cousin.
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. As of 8 April, a total of 416 children had been removed from the compound by authorities. 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. Others, however, have drawn direct connections between the two events.
The call was later traced to Rozita Swinton, a non-FLDS member living in Colorado Springs, Colo. Swinton reportedly has a history of making false reports by phone. A full-scale investigation was launched into possible physical and sexual abuse of children living on the compound. But just two months after they were taken, all of the children were reunited with their parents, except one.