Achurch that grew from the violent frontiers of the Old West now fills the halls of modern and modest meetinghouses, but members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are not the only faithful who call themselves Mormons. Hundreds of groups profess to be the truest iteration of the church that was founded by Joseph Smith, and a subset of them has captured renewed national interest through recent documentaries and the FX series Under The Banner Of Heaven. What do we really know about Mormon Fundamentalists? How much do the documentarians and the TV writers get right? Consider this complete FLDS church timeline as an initiation into Mormon Fundamentalist faiths.
Timeline of Mormon Fundamentalism
The founder and prophet of the Mormon Church, Joseph Smith, takes what could be the first of his plural wives, Fanny Alger, but his revelation to practice plural marriage was not recorded in the Doctrine And Covenants (D&C) until years later.
Doctrine And Covenants section 132
“For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.”
Joseph Smith prophesies of “one mighty and strong.”
Doctrine And Covenants section 85
“And it shall come to pass that I, the Lord God, will send one mighty and strong…to set in order the house of God, and to arrange by lot the inheritances of the saints whose names are found… enrolled in the book of the law of God[.]
Joseph Smith prints The Peace Maker
The Peace Maker
The pamphlet advocates for polygamy and the subjugation of women as wives
Polygamy in the U.S. is outlawed with the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Law.
Reynolds v. United Statesrules on polygamy.
The Supreme Court rules against the Latter-day Saints’ practice of plural marriage. The ruling states religious belief is protected by law but religious practice is not. LDS President John Taylor tells general conference, “no legislative enactment, nor judicial rulings” would stop the Saints from obeying God’s command to practice plural marriage, and church members continue to live in plural marriage and enter into new plural marriages.
Edmunds-Tucker Act imposes harsher penalties for polygamy.
Penalties include a $500 fine and five years imprisonment. The act also dissolves the corporation of the LDS Church and directs that all church property over $50,000 be forfeited to the government. President Taylor responds with a sermon in which he asks, “Are we going to suffer a surrender of this point?” and then he answers, “No, never! No, never!
LDS President Wilfred Woodruff issues D&C Official Declaration 1 or The Manifesto.
President Woodruff declares, “We are not teaching polygamy, or plural marriage, nor permitting any person to enter into its practice. Inasmuch as laws have been enacted by Congress forbidding plural marriages, which laws have been pronounced constitutional by the court of last resort, I hereby declare my intention to submit to those laws, and to use my influence with the members of the Church over which I preside to have them do likewise.” However, the church continues to perform new plural marriages until at least 1904.
LDS President Joseph F. Smith issues the so-called Second Manifesto on plural marriage. And, Lorin C. Woolley founds the Mormon Fundamentalist group Council Of Friends.
The Second Manifesto
It reads in part, “In as much as there are numerous reports in circulation that plural marriages have been entered into contrary to the official declaration of President Woodruff…commonly called the Manifesto…I, Joseph F. Smith…hereby affirm and declare that no such marriages have been solemnized with the sanction, consent or knowledge of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
A rift in the Council of Friends spurs Elden Kingston to break off, calling his group the Davis County Cooperative Society Inc., also known as the Kingston group or the Latter Day Church of Christ.
The Kingston group’s secretive leader since 1987 is an attorney and accountant and may have hundreds of children. He maintains multiple corporations and mining companies worth millions (some say billions) in at least six states. The Primer states that marriage partners within the Kingstons sometimes “are so closely related that the union is legally defined as incestuous.”
The United Effort Plan (UEP) is started in Short Creek.
Federal authorities raid Short Creek.
The fundamentalist group splits again with the death of leader Joseph W. Musser.
Joseph White Musser
Musser was president of the LDS Church’s Quorum of the Seventy in 1901 before his excommunication in 1921 for performing plural marriages after the practice was banned by the LDS church. After Musser’s death, the fundamentalists in Short Creek followed LeRoy S. Johnson—the group which would become the FLDS—while the fundamentalists in Mexico and Salt Lake City follow Rulon Allred and the Apostolic United Brethren (AUB), now sometimes referred to as the Allred group.
The LeBaron family breaks from the AUB and incorporates the Church of the Firstborn.
Ervil LeBaron begins the Church of the Lamb of God.
The LeBaron family established the polygamous community “Colonia LeBaron” in Mexico during the 1920s. Ervil’s brother later started Church of the Firstborn, with Ervil second in command. Ervil split over leadership and started his own church. He ordered the murder of rival polygamist leaders, including Rulon C. Allred, leader of the Apostolic United Brethren, in 1977, and many others. Imprisoned in 1980, he continued to order killings from jail until his death in 1981.
John W. Bryant leaves AUB and establishes the Church of the New Covenant in Christ.
Alex Joseph establishes fundamentalist group the Confederate Nations of Israel.
Gerald Wilbur Peterson Sr. breaks off from the AUB after the death of Rulon Allred, forming the Righteous Branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Bob Crossfield (AKA Prophet Onias) formally establishes the School of the Prophets, later joined by members of the Lafferty family.
The Short Creek fundamentalist group splinters again. Ousted members establish a group in Centennial Park, Ariz.
Dan and Ron Lafferty kill their sister-in-law Brenda Wright Lafferty and her 15-month-old daughter Erica.
Dan and Ron Lafferty
Raised in a strict LDS household, the brothers helped form the School of the Prophets, espousing polygamy. Dan was excommunicated by the LDS Church for trying to take his 14-year-old stepdaughter as a second wife. Both he and Ron started railing against the LDS church and the U.S. government. In early 1985, both were convicted on two counts of homicide for killing their sister-in-law and niece. Dan is serving a life sentence. Ron was on death row, where he requested to be executed via firing squad before dying of natural causes in the Utah State Prison in 2019. They are the central figures in Jon Krakauer’s Under The Banner Of Heaven.
Leroy Johnson passes away and Rulon Jeffs becomes leader of the Short Creek fundamentalists, incorporating as the FLDS Church.
This tax accountant was FLDS leader and father of Warren Jeffs. He generated considerable wealth for the UEP Trust and solidified power under “one man rule,” a divisive approach creating considerable enmity among some followers.
James Harmston founds the True and Living Church.
A former real estate agent, Harmston established the TLC in 1994 after claiming to have a revelation. In 2002, a jury awarded two former members nearly $300,000 after they said Harmston wanted money in exchange for a meeting with Jesus Christ. A 6th District Court threw out the verdict, but the Utah Court of Appeals allowed an amended civil suit to be refiled in 2005, reducing the settlement to $60,000. Harmston has claimed that he is the reincarnated Joseph Smith.
The Utah Attorney General’s Office has an unprecedented meeting with AUB membership.
The former leader and patriarch of the AUB fostered a dialogue with the Attorney General’s office, laying groundwork for openness between polygamous communities, law enforcement and the outside world.
Tom Green conviction
Convicted in 2001 of marrying and having sex with a 13-year-old in 1986 when Green was 37 and for criminal nonsupport for stealing child welfare payments, he served six years in prison and was released in 2007. It was Utah’s first high-profile bigamy conviction in half a century. Green publicly promoted polygamy on talk shows and in numerous interviews, bringing national attention to Utah and polygamy in the state, but he later denounced polygamy.
Warren Jeffs becomes FLDS president.
After his father’s death in 2002, Jeffs took over as head of the FLDS. He wed most of his father’s wives and eventually married up to 90 women, by some estimates. Jeffs is currently sentenced to life in a Texas prison.
Charges against Jeffs are filed in Utah and Arizona. State of Utah seizes control of UEP Trust, totaling about $110 million in assets.
Jeffs is placed on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list and apprehended in August.
Utah court proceedings against Jeffs begin. Jeffs is found guilty of two counts of being an accomplice to rape.
Arizona court dismisses charges against Jeffs, and the Utah Supreme Court reverses the Utah conviction and orders a new trial for Jeffs.
Jeffs convicted in Texas on two counts of sexual assault of a child and sentenced to life in prison.
The Utah Legislature passes a law to decriminalize polygamy, reducing bigamy among consenting adults from a third-degree felony to a minor infraction.
To learn more about Mormon Fundamentalism, read our introduction here.