Although polygamy is illegal in the United States it has for the most part been ignored for the past 30 years until recently. Pinesdale, Montana is a place where polygamy is practiced by many and openly celebrated by all. The community was created in the early 1960s as a safe place for people who wanted to practice the fundamentals of Mormonism. It was created as a place for individuals to practice beliefs that had been disbanded by the Mormon Church many years earlier. In the 1950’s the federal government and the Mormon Church began working together to eliminate the nuisance of polygamy. Men were put in prison, children were taken from their mothers and families were torn apart. For those men who did not want to give up their families or religious freedoms a small ranch in Montana was the most viable solution.
That small acreage known as The Ranch, later became Pinesdale and was the community where I spent my my young formidable years. When the community was first established it was as many would expect from the commune lifestyle. Women and girls wore long dresses or skirts and were encouraged to grow their hair long. Men and boys wore long pants and shirts with hair trimmed extremely short. While that expectation was not forced on them it was in keeping with utmost morality that members of the community had established as their chosen way of life. Members put full trust in their prophet and his chosen leaders and had complete faith in their ability to lead in absolute righteousness. Early on it was not uncommon for marriages to be arranged between young girls and men with other wives. Many men were supposedly given revelations by God that certain young girls belonged in their families. Those marriages were performed in secret and it was only when I saw a young woman leave her own family and begin sitting with another family at church that I realized a marriage had taken place. Not long after that her belly would begin to grow; a tell-tell sign that the marriage had been consummated. When my own sister mysteriously ended up with child it was not an unusual occurrence.
Over the years the community grew and changed. After our prophet was murdered and our once revered community leader mysteriously disappeared, new more progressive leaders took their place. After I left many other teenagers followed suit, as did many of the women who were forced into unloving marriages. Years passed by and although the community still firmly practiced polygamy as a religious belief and followed the other teachings of the Mormon Church (without the sanctions of the Church), the lifestyle became more relaxed. Women became free to choose their husbands, young boys and girls were free to leave when they became of age, and many women were even allowed to hold jobs in the valley below.
My mother passed away in the autumn of 2000 and I went home a few years ago for my father’s funeral. The community that I knew as a child had grown to nearly 1000 members and new homes dotted the countryside. I was surprised to see how many faces I still recognized and how many young people had chosen to stay and follow the beliefs of their parents and grandparents. The dress and lifestyle were still very conservative when compared to the outside world. But driving through Pinesdale on a cold winter day I was not struck with anything different from any other small town off the beaten path.