From Manifesto to Murder: A Complete Timeline of the FLDS Church

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

1832-1833

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.”

1832-1833
1832


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[.]

1832
1842


Joseph Smith prints The Peace Maker


The Peace Maker
The pamphlet advocates for polygamy and the subjugation of women as wives

1842
1862


Polygamy in the U.S. is outlawed with the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Law. 


1862
1879

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.

1879
1887


Edmunds-Tucker Act imposes harsher penalties for polygamy. 

Edmunds-Tucker Act
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!

1887
1890

LDS President Wilfred Woodruff issues D&C Official Declaration 1 or The Manifesto.

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.

1890
1904-1929

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.”

1904-1929
1935


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.


Paul Kingston 
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.”

1935
1942


The United Effort Plan (UEP) is started in Short Creek.

1942
1953


Federal authorities raid Short Creek.

1953
1954


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.

1954
1955

The LeBaron family breaks from the AUB and incorporates the Church of the Firstborn.  

1955
1972


Ervil LeBaron begins the Church of the Lamb of God.


Ervil LeBaron
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.

1972
1975


John W. Bryant leaves AUB and establishes the Church of the New Covenant in Christ.

1975
1977


Alex Joseph establishes fundamentalist group the Confederate Nations of Israel.

1977
1978


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.

1978
1982


Bob Crossfield (AKA Prophet Onias) formally establishes the School of the Prophets, later joined by members of the Lafferty family.

1982
1984


The Short Creek fundamentalist group splinters again. Ousted members establish a group in Centennial Park, Ariz.

1984
1984


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.

1984
1986


Leroy Johnson
passes away and Rulon Jeffs becomes leader of the Short Creek fundamentalists, incorporating as the FLDS Church. 


Rulon Jeffs
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.

1986
1994


James Harmston
founds the True and Living Church. 


Jim Harmston
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. 

1994
1998


The Utah Attorney General’s Office has an unprecedented meeting with AUB membership.


Owen Allred
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.

1998
2001

Tom Green conviction

Tom Green
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.

2001
2002


Warren Jeffs becomes FLDS president.


Warren Jeffs
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.

2002
2005


Charges against Jeffs are filed in Utah and Arizona. State of Utah seizes control of UEP Trust, totaling about $110 million in assets.

2005
2006


Jeffs is placed on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list and apprehended in August.

2006
2007


 Utah court proceedings against Jeffs begin. Jeffs is found guilty of two counts of being an accomplice to rape.

2007
2010


Arizona court dismisses charges against Jeffs, and the Utah Supreme Court reverses the Utah conviction and orders a new trial for Jeffs. 

2010
2011

Jeffs convicted in Texas on two counts of sexual assault of a child and sentenced to life in prison.

2011
2020


The Utah Legislature passes a law to decriminalize polygamy, reducing bigamy among consenting adults from a third-degree felony to a minor infraction.

2020

To learn more about Mormon Fundamentalism, read our introduction here.

Christie Porter
Christie Porterhttps://christieporter.com/
Christie Porter is the managing editor of Salt Lake Magazine. She has worked as a journalist for nearly a decade, writing about everything under the sun, but she really loves writing about nerdy things and the weird stuff. She recently published her first comic book short this year.

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