March 14, 2004
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A divided enclave in British Columbia

In June 2003, Hildale, Utah FLDS member Ezra Draper moved his family to Bonners Ferry, Idaho, to join his friend and mentor Winston Blackmorethe in Bountiful, British Columbia. Draper with his toddler Reagan, now lives without the fear of punishment from Warren Jeffs. (Leah Hogsten/The Salt Lake Tribune)

By Brooke Adams
The Salt Lake Tribune

CRESTON, British Columbia -- Bountiful does not appear on any maps.
But just about anyone in the nearby town of Creston, from the checkout clerk at Extra Foods to the cheerful teen at a gas stop, can tell you how to get there.
They know, too, all about the polygamists who live in Bountiful, about their ties to southern Utah and the rift that has divided the families living at the foot of the Skimmerhorn Mountains.
It began in May 2002, when Rulon Jeffs, then leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, telephoned to dismiss Winston Blackmore as bishop of Bountiful. Some believe Rulon's son, Warren Jeffs, orchestrated the move to ensure his own claim to the church's presidency.
If so, Warren Jeffs misjudged the depth of the people's regard for Blackmore, who had led the community for 16 years.
Half of the 800 FLDS members in northern Idaho and Canada sided with Blackmore. Jeffs, now president of the faith, ordered those who remain with his appointee, Jimmie Oler, to have nothing to do with the Blackmore faction.
Deeply intertwined families who live side by side are no longer talking or socializing with one another, mirroring the wreckage Jeffs' actions have left among some followers in southern Utah.
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"It's a terrible tragedy," said Debbie Palmer, who left the faith in 1988 and has tried to interest authorities in an investigation of the sect. She is a sister of Jimmie Oler, ex-wife of Blackmore's father Ray and, through complicated intermarriages, is related to most families in Bountiful.
"You do not see your family. You can not say 'hi' when you are crossing the street," Palmer said. "It's worse than if you were dead."
The difference between Blackmore and Jeffs, say those who know both, is the difference between optimism and despair -- which is what drew Ezra Draper and his family from southern Utah to Bonners Ferry, Idaho, last June.
"The way Warren taught is there was no hope and you had no choices," said Draper, who said he was with Blackmore when the dismissal call came and heard Warren Jeffs prompting his father.
"With Winston, as long as you're willing to do better, there is hope because it starts with you. Winston tells people the only man with the right to rule over your life and mine is Jesus Christ."
For years, that promise has drawn people who have run afoul of Jeffs to Canada. More are ready to come, Draper said, though the sheltered lives they've lived make it hard financially to break away.
Blackmore may be benevolent, but like Jeffs he won't talk to reporters. During a trip to Canada, a Tribune reporter and photographer were invited to a Sunday church meeting, which was then canceled just before it was to begin. One person said it was because everybody wanted to go to a hockey game. Another said a forestry products meeting had come up.
Bountiful lies about 8 miles east of Creston, a town of 5,000 renowned for its cherries, its bird sanctuary, 10 golf courses and the locally brewed Kokanee beer.
Blackmore's uncle and father, Harold and J. Ray Blackmore, came here in the late 1940s, drawn by the same thing that lured polygamists to the Arizona Strip -- isolation. By the 1950s, when Bountiful aligned with what would become the FLDS church, four families were prominent: Blackmores, Olers, Quintons and Palmers.
Those families' lines are now so intertwined that Debbie Palmer can call herself her own step-grandmother. That's one reason there is an exchange of marriage partners between Canada and southern Utah -- new blood.
In an interview four years ago -- his first in a decade -- Blackmore refuted one persistent claim: that underage girls are ferried between Canada and Utah to be brides. Canadian and Utah authorities also say they have no proof that is occurring.
A stocky man, Blackmore is described as hard-working, generous and charismatic -- "rock star" is how Palmer put it. "That is why so many girls are wanting to marry him," she said.
Blackmore, 47, lives in a home that looks like a motel at the entrance to Bountiful. He has an estimated 26 wives and as many as 70 children.
His community includes a birthing center, modern school, a rodeo arena, a mobile home park for young married couples, parks and ponds.
The fundamentalists raise canola, timothy grass and wheat on close to 4,000 acres of farmland they own or share. There's an egg farm, a greenhouse and a trucking company; some women are nurses at Creston Valley Hospital. And Blackmore operates several logging-related businesses.
Dozens of families live in Bountiful, while others are in Kitchener, Yahk, Ryan's Station, Cranbrook and Bonners Ferry, Idaho. On Sunday mornings, traffic backs up at the Porthill border crossing as those on the U.S. side make the 40-minute drive to attend church services in Canada.
Blackmore is said to be worth millions -- some of which he'll need to fend off several lawsuits the FLDS Trust has filed disputing ownership of property in Bountiful. The trust has prevailed so far in one case, forcing Blackmore's followers out of the school near his home. They have since transformed two buildings on a Blackmore farm west of Creston into a new school and a meetinghouse.
In the past, girls often married as they reached their mid-teens and boys moved on to work. Now, Blackmore is said to be encouraging them to finish high school and even college.
"Winston's side is starting to educate youth because they are losing so many," said Marie Louie, who was 13 when her mother pulled out of the faith, angered that her 15-year-old daughter had been married without her knowledge to a man in his 60s.
As in southern Utah, about a dozen teens -- including one of Blackmore's daughters -- have rebelled, acting like wild teens anywhere who get into alcohol and partying.
But unlike Jeffs, Blackmore has made no move to force the kids' parents to turn their backs on them; many young men continue to work for him.
While the Bountiful fundamentalists share their Utah counterparts' religious sensibilities, they are far more integrated in the local community.
"They are great supporters of the town," said Creston Mayor Joe Snopek. "They come and they buy."
Until recently, the Bountiful community rented the ice rink at the Creston & District Recreational Centre one night a week, contributing $100,000 annually to the town's coffers, Snopek said.
Earlier this year, the women of Bountiful held a bake sale outside Extra Foods to raise money for the school. The women work out at the Curves fitness center, join in at Tupperware parties and serve on the Kootenay search and rescue team.
"A few years ago, I don't think the wormen would have been able to do that," said Darlla Murphy, who lives up the road from Bountiful. "It just seems they can do what they want now."
Most years, a Bountiful woman makes the front page of the Creston Valley Advance with the first baby of the year.
While some residents frown on polygamy, Canadians tend to be a live-and-let-live people. That's why the FLDS is such a part of life here.
"They seem like they are happy people," said Michael Carpenter, former president of the Creston & District Chamber of Commerce. "They are definitely part of the culture."

Copyright 2004, The Salt Lake Tribune.
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