book reviews, LDS, religion

Repost: Sam Brower’s Prophet’s Prey…

Here’s a reposted exmo lit review for those who like that sort of thing.  It’s yet another review of a book I enjoyed and don’t want to have to review again. It was originally written for in November 2012 and appears here “as/is”.

I have been interested in reading about the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) for several years, even before the Yearning For Zion Ranch in Eldorado, Texas was raided in the spring of 2008.  My fascination with fundamentalist Mormonism comes from being married to an ex Mormon.  The mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) does not claim any kinship with the FLDS sect, which parted ways with the LDS church mainly over the issue of polygamy.  They are separate entities, with the FLDS sect mainly operating in the twin cities of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona.  Other branches are located in Texas, Mexico, and Canada. 

Having already read Jon Krakauer’s book, Under the Banner of Heaven, I was intrigued when I saw that he had collaborated with author Sam Brower in writing the 2011 book Prophet’s Prey: My Seven-Year Investigation into Warren Jeffs and the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-day Saints.  I knew if Krakauer had anything to do with the book, it would be well-researched and well-written.  So I ordered it for my Kindle.  A printed version is also available.

The premise

Sam Brower is a private investigator and Mormon convert who moved to Utah after having lived in southern California for many years.  He got involved with investigating the FLDS sect in 2004, when a family asked for his help in extricating themselves from the FLDS.  He accepted a payment of one dollar, which he, in fact, had to loan to the family because they were too poor to pay him.  When they became his paying clients, Brower was able to work on his clients’ behalf. That’s when he began to uncover Warren Jeffs’ amazing fiefdom which had been allowed to exist largely unmolested in Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Colorado.

Brower became familiar with the people involved in fundamentalist Mormonism and had his eyes opened to the extreme control Warren Jeffs, the so-called FLDS living prophet, maintained over his flock.  He learned of girls as young as twelve being “married” to men in their 40s, even though these men already had other wives.  Brower writes of how members of the FLDS were compelled to do whatever Warren Jeffs demanded of them, lest they lose everything.  Jeffs was unconcerned about and unconstrained by federal law.  He ran his compound as if it existed entirely seperate from the rest of the United States.  Over seven years, Sam Brower learned about it all and wrote about his experiences in a comprehensive and well-written account.

My thoughts

I have read several books about Mormon fundamentalists, so I was already familiar with some of the sects’ practices and beliefs.  Nevetheless, it was interesting to read Sam Brower’s account of following the FLDS.  He writes in a personal tone which comes across as both matter-of-fact and occasionally disgusted.  I was definitely interested when he wrote about some of the techniques he used to get information and stop FLDS people from harassing him as he went about his duties. 

Sam Brower is clearly no friend to Jeffs.  He writes in vivid detail about watching Jeffs being loaded onto an airplane in Utah, escorted by Texas Rangers on his way to Texas, where he would stand trial for raping minors.  Jeffs is described as a bit of a nerdy pipsqueak, and yet he was able to command his followers to do his bidding.  I had a hard time reading some of the chapters, especially the one that had to do with Jeffs’ declaration that no FLDS family should own a pet dog and the ones having to do with young girls being forced to marry middle aged or even elderly men. 

Brower includes commentary about the raid on the Yearning For Zion Ranch as well as the court case that followed the raid.  He writes about the incredibly incestuous nature of FLDS families, many of whom are intermarried and interbred.  Brower explains how the children, particularly the young mothers, who were taken from the ranch made it very difficult for investigators to figure out exactly what was going on.  He also writes a great deal about the way members of the FLDS sect use government programs and funding to expand their empire.  And he makes it clear that this sect has been allowed to do these things unbothered for many years– in part, because in Utah, there are many people who are related to FLDS members and are ambivalent about prosecuting them for breaking laws related to polygamy.  Brower also includes photos, which were clear as a bell on my iPad.


If you’re curious about the FLDS sect and want to know more about Warren Jeffs and his followers, I think Prophet’s Prey is an excellent book to read.  Brower is a good writer and has the backing of Jon Krakauer, who is also an excellent writer.  This book held my intention and informed me.  I think it rates five stars.

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book reviews, LDS

Reposted book review: The Sound of Gravel, by Ruth Wariner…

Here’s another reposted book review posted as/is from my original blog. This review was written and posted on April 1, 2018.

A review of The Sound of Gravel, by Ruth Wariner…

Back in 2007, my husband Bill told me about Irene Spencer’s book, Shattered Dreams.   It was about being one of many wives to a polygamist.  It was in Spencer’s book that I first heard of Colonia LeBaron, a Mormon polygamist colony in Mexico started by the LeBaron brothers, who were all excommunicated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for teaching and practicing plural marriage. 

There was a time when mainstream true believing Mormons practiced polygamy, but they were forced to abandon plural marriage when Utah became a state.  Some church members didn’t want to give up polygamy and started their own Mormon offshoots.  Colonia LeBaron is one of the better known of the Mormon fundamentalist groups that broke off from the mainstream church founded by Joseph Smith. 

Irene Spencer was married to Verlan LeBaron.  She was the second of Verlan LeBaron’s wives and bore thirteen of his 58 children.  She died March 12, 2017 in Mexico. 

This morning, I finished reading The Sound of Gravel, a 2016 memoir written by Ruth Wariner, who is one of Verlan LeBaron’s nieces.  Ruth Wariner’s mother, Kathy Wariner, was married to Joel LeBaron, who was one of Verlan’s brothers.  She was Joel’s fifth wife.  Joel LeBaron was the head of Colonia LeBaron and he had many rivals, including his younger brother, Ervil, who’d had a falling out with Joel.  On August 20, 1972, when Ruth Wariner was just three months old, Ervil had two of his followers murder Joel LeBaron.  Ruth was the 39th of Joel LeBaron’s 42 children.  Follow the link for Wariner’s own explanation of the history behind Colonia LeBaron.

Ruth Wariner’s mother, Kathy, eventually remarried, becoming the second wife of a man named Lane.  Lane had several wives, all of whom were having his babies.  Kathy had four children with Joel LeBaron and another six with Lane.  Ruth grew up tending to her younger siblings, as if she was also their mother.  Some of the kids in the colony had severe disabilities, including Ruth’s sister, Meri, who eventually died.  The family was extremely poor and lived on food stamps.  They would take regular trips into the United States to use them at grocery stores near the border.  Lane would also work in the United States to earn money to support his ever growing family.

Lane was a horrible man.  He was cruel and abusive to his wives and children and he exploited the children Kathy had with Joel LeBaron.  The lifestyle in the colony was difficult because they were so desperately poor.  There was little emphasis on schooling, even (and perhaps especially) among the really bright kids.  As one of Kathy’s eldest kids, Ruth was called upon to protect and nurture her mother’s children as she was herself growing up.

I am a sucker for a good memoir, especially one about “fringe religions”.  Mormon fundamentalism is definitely among the fringiest of the fringe religions.  I noticed Wariner’s books got good ratings on Amazon and, having just read Educated, by Tara Westover, who also grew up fringe style Mormon and off the grid, I was game for another good read.  I noticed a few similarities between Westover’s book and Wariner’s, although Westover wasn’t in a polygamous family.  In both families, there was abuse and poverty.  Both families involved members who wanted to live free of government interference, although Wariner’s family was willing to exploit social welfare programs in the United States, while Westover’s family avoided all contact with the government.

I was also attracted to Wariner’s book because she is exactly one month older than I am.  I remember what life was like for me in the 80s.  Ruth Wariner did have some exposure to some of the pop culture of that era.  Indeed, in Colonia LeBaron, there was even dancing and drinking of alcohol.  Of course, Ruth was a child taking care of children and was too busy to really get to be a teenager.  When I think about how difficult it was for me to be a teen, I can’t help but realize that Ruth Wariner had it so much harder than I ever could.  And yet, she still manages to inject some hope and love into her writing.  It doesn’t sound all bad to be growing up in a polygamous colony.  She did have a lot of love for her siblings, cousins, and other relatives.

When she was fifteen years old, Ruth Wariner suddenly became orphaned when her mother, one of her brothers, and one of Kathy’s sister wives’ brothers died in a freak accident.  When Kathy Wariner died, she left behind three very young children, the youngest of whom was only five months old and was being breastfed at the time of her mother’s very sudden, tragic death.  Ruth had told her mother that Lane was sexually abusing Ruth and her mother had made sure he stayed away from Ruth and the other kids.  But when Kathy died, that protection was gone. 

When Ruth determined that Lane was victimizing Kathy’s other kids, she decided she had to act.  It was time to escape to America.  That’s what she did.  I would have been interested in reading more about what it was like to reintegrate into American society and how she managed to help raise her mother’s children to be functioning adults.

To be honest, I think there’s another book in Ruth Wariner’s story.  Ultimately, The Sound of Gravel is about what it was like for her to grow up in a polygamous Mormon cult in Mexico.  It’s not until the end of the book that she escapes with her siblings.  The escape was orchestrated by Ruth’s eldest brother, Matt, and his first wife, Maria.  There’s not much information about the escape itself or the aftermath of it.  Instead, readers get a long buildup to what caused her to make the brave decision to leave. 

Ruth Wariner is clearly very resilient and resourceful.  She earned her GED and went on to finish college and graduate school.  She was a high school Spanish teacher for years.  The Sound of Gravel is her first book, but it’s been very well received.  She is now a happily married writer, speaker, and small business owner in Oregon and stays in touch with her siblings.

I really enjoyed Ruth Wariner’s book, even if parts of it were infuriating.  Her stepfather was truly an evil bastard.  But what a gift Ruth Wariner was to her siblings, whom she saved from abuse and a poverty.  I highly recommend The Sound of Gravel, especially for those who enjoy true stories.  Just be prepared to be shocked and horrified more than a couple of times.

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