The world watched in fascination as the State of Texas seized 460 children from their polygamist parents in a raid on a mysterious breakaway group of the Mormon Church. People thought it was a first time look into a multi wife settlement.
But several years ago I managed to get into a small secretive Utah town and convinced some of it’s 2,500 residents to accept me doing a story on their private lifestyle. If everyone knew how to have more than one wife, I’d suggested, polygamy could be legal and men with more than one wife would no longer be persecuted.
The Texas children raid has brought dire consequences to that little town. And now Texas authorities are looking for further branches of the breakaway church. Is Manti one of them?
It began in Salt Lake City when I asked a man at the Hertz office if he knew of a nice town in Utah where men had more than one wife. He smiled knowingly and sent me off in my rental car to Manti, 130 miles to the south.
I wondered what would it be like to have two wives, maybe three or four – maybe even five. A friend in Kenya had four wives but Mohammed Hatami said it was Hell, that in an argument his street would fill with eight angry wives and mothers-in-law. If one wife had a headache, all four would share it and he’d get nothing. But he was a Muslim. What did he know? American Manti might be different.
The town was surrounded by mountains, and as I drove in, I saw no billboards, supermarkets, neon signs or much traffic. It was old time America and very appealing.
But weren’t its people breaking the law every time they went to bed at night?
Manti is deep in polygamy country. A survey showed that 60,000 American families live under polygamy with one father and more than one wife.
As I drove in I looked carefully at its people. ‘Is that man standing on a lawn with two attractive women sleeping with both of them? They’re beautiful. How does he get away with it?' There goes a woman with seven children following. Is she their mother or one of many? Do they all share the same husband?
In the Western world having more than one wife is illegal and considered so immoral, people who did it were once burned at the stake.
The Mormon Church changed polygamy forever when its American founder Joseph Smith took more than one wife. Later, when Smith was lynched by a mob his followers fled into the American wilderness, founded the state of Utah and openly practiced polygamy until modern times. Women in those days died often in child birth. Life was hard. Those early Mormons wanted their faith to spread.
Today’s official and powerful Mormon Church, headquartered in Salt Lake City and with branches throughout the world allows only one wife. But thousands have refused to give up the church’s old way – which ended when Mormons in Utah agreed to give up polygamy in exchange for statehood in 1896.
The people of Manti, because they practice polygamy – what they simply call plural marriage – have been thrown out of the Mormon mother church.
Manti’s Quorum of Twelve, as it is called, is part of the excommunicated members of the Church of Latter Day Saints. The dozen men have more than forty wives among them. (See Picture) These ladies are not plain-looking religious fanatics dressed in plain old time dresses, but beautiful women, many with college degrees, who don’t mind sharing their husbands. One of them, (she doesn't want her name revealed) came to do a story 15 years earlier for the Chicago Tribune Newspaper, and stayed and married the leader.
The group wants to spread polygamy so that when everyone has more than one wife there will no longer be any reason to persecute them and people will realize polygamy is the natural order of life.
They expect opposition, especially in Western European societies where many men have secret girlfriends and would like to have several wives, but are afraid.
Bart Malstrom, 39, owner of a small homeopathic medicine factory, run by him and his four wives and fourteen children, was a tall, handsome man. Although he is surrounded with responsibilities he seemed very happy, relaxed and fatherly. Before taking pictures, we sat down in his spotlessly clean home. He said any man can legally have more than one wife as long as they are joined in church weddings and not a state marriage.
He got right to the point. “Men have the urge to have more than one woman and women have the urge to have more than one child. That’s the difference of our God-given roles.”
He told me no woman is forced into plural marriage or pressured to remain and that he is proof. A year ago he had five wives, now he has only four. He admitted there other break-away Mormon groups that marry very young teenage girls. “We have nothing like that here. We would never allow that. They give all Mormons a bad name.”
These Mormons base their many-wife practice on the Bible which revealed that Patriarchs such as Abraham and Jacob had several wives. They bitterly accuse the mother Mormon Church of giving up its principles for the sake of being politically correct.
I had started off by going to the office of the Sanpete County Sheriff Department and spoke there with Deputy Blake Edwards, who said: “This is an area of low crime. The Mormon polygamists are peaceful and law abiding as long as they have church weddings. The moment they try to have state sanctioned marriages I would have to arrest them for breaking the law. These Mormons are perfect citizens. They may be breaking Civil laws with plural marriages. But they are the most honest and decent people I’ve ever met.” Then he gave me the names and addresses of several Mormon members to see.
Having more than one wife – a different lover to sleep with every night – could be a fantasy come true for many men and I listened as the Mormons of Manti told how to set up a plural marriage.
But, they start with a daunting and serious warning: Plural marriage based only on sex is bound to fail.
There are tremendous responsibilities, they explain, including budgeting sex time for each wife.
“People think its all an orgy and there’s five of us in bed. But that’s not true,” says Tamara, 41, who lives with her husband Randy Maudlsey, 46, and his three other young and pretty wives.
“Each of our marriages is separate and private. I know nothing about my husband’s love life with his other wives. They know nothing of mine.”
While many polygamist husbands have days set aside for each wife, Randy says he just invites whichever wife he feels like into his bed.
Says Randy, “If we all got into bed together it could destroy the whole thing. We’ve had families fall into that trap and it destroyed them.”
Various Mormons hammered over and over again that the number one rule for success in having more than one wife is: Do not have a civil marriage!
“That’s when you get caught and imprisoned,” cautions Jeff Hanks, 38, a Manti chiropractor with two wives. “Be married in a church, but nothing more.” No government can stop a church sanctioned marriage.
Says wife, Joanne, 38, “Choose someone with similar beliefs. If you’re a woman simply propose marriage to the man you want. If you’re a married man, talk it over with your wife and help her face her natural jealousy.
“The first wife and husband must both desire a plural marriage otherwise you’ll have nothing but misery. Work it out and all three of you will have a great life.”
She admits she went through bouts of jealousy when her husband decided to marry a 17-year-old girl. “But I’m over it now and Jeff spends two days with each of us at a time and two days off for himself.”
The Quorum believes you must have even higher ethics than in a monogamous marriage because the feelings of so many are involved.
And that most men haven’t proper spiritual and moral strength so the idea of having more than one wife frightens them and they’d rather have one woman run their life.
Better to follow nature, say members. Nature is perfect. In the animal world males lead and females follow.
“In today’s world women are are doing all the housework and expected to be a bread winner also,” says Jeanine, one of the eight wives of Jim Harmston, leader of the Quorum of Twelve, and the mother of ten.
She says families are better off with firm leadership. In families around the world kids are defiant and rebellious towards leadership because family discipline has been lost.
“A man must lead the family,” says Jeanine. He obeys God, the wife obeys the husband, and the children obey the parents.
Adds Jeanine, “You must let your husband solve the worries. That’s what he’s there for.”
Harmston’s wives say they are more moral than many women around the world who are replacing love with sex, swingers and wife swappers. They are shocked that single girls in countries around the world often have different lovers instead of one.
A Harmston wife, Karen, says, “Women are looking for great orgasms but those great feelings have nothing to do with the perfect marriage.”
Wives in Mormon plural marriages believe they are ensured a place in Heaven by their life-style. Meanwhile, they say there are many advantages: They never worry about baby sitters or being lonely. There is never pressure to satisfy their husband because another wife is always available. And they live in contentment with their closest friends – their ‘sister wives’, as they call them.
According to Jim Harmston, leader of the Quorum of 12, “If an attractive and righteous young woman comes into our church, she can pick any man she chooses, married or not.”
At the home of Church Apostate Randy Maudsley, I asked, if it’s so wonderful for men, then why couldn’t a woman have more than one husband, something known as ‘polyandry?”
“Because it’s God’s law,” thundered black-bearded Randy, causing his four young wives to cringe, “I didn’t make the law. God did!”
When I was leaving Manti Jim Harmston, told me, "Ron, you have leadership qualities. You should stay and we’ll give you a crash course in Mormonism. Then in about ten days I’ll marry you to four beautiful young women.
I told him I wouldn’t mind four wives if they were clones of my wife, Linda. But I couldn’t help asking, “How old would these girls be?
“Seventeen,” he replied.
I soon left for my wife and family in the outside world thinking the people of Manti were among the happiest I’d ever met.
But what is Manti like today?
Randy Maudsley and his four young wives have broken up. Chiropractor Jeff Hanks and his two wives have moved away, Bart Malstrom wasn’t as calm as he had appeared. Bart had suffered a nervous breakdown and his four wives and fourteen children left him and live together now somewhere in Utah. Only Jim Harmston and his State married first wife and seven ‘sister’ wives have survived.
Deputy Sheriff Blake Edwards has died. The new men in the Sheriff’s office describe the town derisively as ‘a bunch of ‘break away Mormons’. The town of Manti once again, is cloaked in secrecy and the local police, who once supported them, are now viewed by townspeople as the enemy, ready to take their children away.
(Source: By Ron Laytner/http://editinternational.com/read.php?id=48220e16294c6)