Short Creek raid remembered
First of three parts
It was 48 years ago today that a tiny town in the far northern reaches of Mohave County went from relative obscurity to national infamy.

"Striking swiftly through the pre-dawn darkness more than 100 Arizona police officers moved on tiny Short Creek, Ariz., last Sunday morning to stage the largest mass arrest of men and women in modern American history," wrote C.R. Waters in the Aug. 30, 1953, edition of the Mohave Miner. "The entire populace of the small farming community, with the exception of five adults and the children, were charged with conspiracy which includes polygamy." One hundred men were arrested; 236 children were taken into custody by the state. Then-Arizona Gov. Howard Pyle orchestrated the raid that he later said destroyed his political career.

His target was the members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The fundamentalist Mormons had been living in their isolated enclave since the late 1800s.

There they practiced polygamy, an original tenet of Mormonism that was rejected by the church in 1890 as a condition of Utah statehood.

Pyle and other government officials claimed that the Short Creek residents were openly flaunting state law by practicing polygamy as well as allegedly defrauding the welfare system with filings from polygamous wives who claimed to be single mothers.

Kingman resident C.D. Tyra was one of the officers involved in the raid. Tyra, then a Department of Public Safety patrolman based in Casa Grande, was partnered with another patrolman and the two joined the silent caravan on the long drive to Short Creek.

"It was late when we got there, early in the morning," Tyra recalled. "Our function was a certain house and we were to take charge of the house and see that there were no problems."

When the officers arrived they found most of town's men and several women and children calmly awaiting their fate in a meeting hall. "We were there to keep the peace…but…nothing happened."

Tyra and his partner bypassed the hall and went directly to their assigned home. They knocked on the door and introduced themselves to the four women and numerous children who lived there.

Before the raid, Tyra knew little of Short Creek and its polygamous community.

"I really didn't understand, before we went up there, what we were going for."

Once in Short Creek, however, Tyra was struck by the poverty in homes where money was short and families were huge.

"When you see 15 children in the house… I don't know how these people made a living."

Tyra was also unmoved by the political backlash from the raid.

Newsreel images of children being wrested from the arms of their fathers shocked the nation and Pyle's action was condemned. Pyle later attributed the ultimate failure of the raid with his political downfall.

But Tyra saw more than the newsreel images.

"We didn't feel much resentment about what we had done because some of those people had married girls not yet of marrying age. I'm not criticizing the religion, but one of the (wives) in the house we were in was just a young girl."

During the day the two men stayed near the house. At first the women and children were nervous around them but they eventually relaxed.

"One little girl, she must have been about seven, wanted to show me her new shoes. She was wearing slippers with cardboard soles."

At the end of the day, Tyra and his partner were told to take two men to the Kingman jail.

The long drive was a mostly silent affair, Tyra said. But shortly before arriving in Kingman the men asked the officers why, when there were such crime problems in the Phoenix area, the police were bothering with them.

"We said, 'Well, we're doing the job we were told to do.'" Beyond that, Tyra said he believes laws should be enforced. "If you're going to break the law about that, you can break the law about anything."

Now, 48 years later and retired from a long career with DPS, Tyra still thinks about the people he encountered that day.

"I sometimes wonder about those families with 35 people to sit down to supper…and one man to support them. If it wasn't for welfare I don't know what they would do."

Dan Barlow was on the other side of the raid. Barlow was 21 at the time and had a wife and three children. Now the mayor of Colorado City (formerly Short Creek), Barlow clearly recalls the night of the raid.

The town had been tipped off in advance of the raid and Barlow stood sentry at the edge of town on that dark night when the moon was obscured by an eclipse.

"I sat on the knoll," he said. "As the police cars came up I ran back to town and notified the people that this was real."

He was arrested along with most of the other men in town and taken to the small jailhouse next to the county courthouse in Kingman.

While the experience was unpleasant, Barlow said his values never wavered and he held tight to his belief in his right to practice his religion.

"America is good and sometimes people have to suffer for the freedoms of everybody," he said. "But it was extremely stressful, of course, to have your children taken away."

Barlow was in jail for just a week when prosecutors reached a plea agreement under which 26 men pleaded guilty to "open and notorious cohabitation," and were released on a year's probation. When he got back to Short Creek, however, his children were gone, taken as wards of the state.

After a two-year court battle, during which time he saw his children periodically, his family was returned to him.

These days, he said, the anniversary of the raid passes quietly in Colorado City, but not unnoticed.

"A lot of older folks are keenly aware of (the anniversary)."

The Short Creek raid also sparks memories for longtime Kingman resident Helen Graves. She came to the aid of two "sister wives" who were actually sisters. The sisters, 23 and 30 years old, and their eight children needed a home while their husband (who had a total of seven wives and 53 children) was in jail. Graves organized aid for the sisters. A home was found for the family. People donated clothing, furniture and household items and the family settled in to a new life.

Graves became friends with the quiet women.

"They were nice and the children were behaved. The children liked being here. One wife said she liked it here and hoped to stay. They were very withdrawn and backwards when they arrived. They weren't used to people…I felt sorry for them."

The family lived on welfare and money earned from sewing jobs until, two years later, the women's husband returned for them, Graves said.

She stopped by the house one day and found the husband and his brother packing up the furniture. She told them to leave the donated goods behind and her reply was a "hateful" look. The men left but two days later Graves stopped by the house again and found it stripped clean. Everything was gone, along with the two sisters and their children.

"I didn't even get to say goodbye," Graves recalled.

Graves has never been to Short Creek and has not spoken to the sisters since they left. The experience has left her with questions about the polygamous lifestyle.

"I really don't think that's the best environment for young girls," Graves said. "They never get to know anything about life."

Ultimately, the Short Creek raid was a political disaster and law enforcement officials have since generally left the isolated community alone. The negative publicity from the raid actually had a cohesive effect on the community.

In 1960, Short Creek was renamed Colorado City in Arizona and Hildale in Utah, to avoid association with the raid. Today Colorado City is the smallest of Mohave County's four cities with a population of 3,332. Most of the town's residents are FLDS members and practicing polygamists.
Originally published Thursday, July 26, 2001