The Perfect Place for Your Own Theocracy


This is the place, trust me.

So you’ve decided to found your own Mormon church and you want to create a Nauvoo-style theocracy by taking control of a U.S. county.

Q: What is the most vulnerable county in the United States?
A: Loving County, Texas.

A few years ago when news first broke that the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (or FLDS Church) was building a new community with a temple near Eldorado, Texas, people immediately began to speculate that we might see the Nauvoo experience relived before our very eyes. Eldorado is the seat and sole incorporated town in Schleicher County. The entire county had a population of less than 3,000 — some 7,000 persons less than the estimated membership of the FLDS Church.

In the 1840s, some of the old residents of Hancock County, Illinois, feared that Mormons in Nauvoo would outnumber them and seize control of county government. In much the same way, some residents of Eldorado feared that fundamentalist Mormons might eventually constitute a voting majority in their county. Of course, there’s been no evidence that FLDS members have intended anything of the kind — they hadn’t even become involved at all in Schleicher County politics prior to the April 2008 raids. However, with those raids, the state of Texas made its own ill-considered, preemptive strike against the perceived Mormon threat.

Going back, my question was always: If your plan was actually to take over a county, why move to a county like Schleicher that already has 2,935 residents? The answer is you probably wouldn’t because it turns out that western Texas is brimming with much more vacant counties. In fact, just a few counties west of Schleicher is the smallest county in the U.S. by population: Loving County.

Boasting just 67 residents in the 2000 census, Loving County’s rapidly decreasing population is now hovering around 50. (It also has the advantage of straddling the New Mexico border; vicinity to state and national borders has been popular with Mormon settlements since Joseph Smith occasionally would flee Nauvoo across the Mississippi to Iowa Territory.)

If you were starting your own Mormon church today, you would only have to round up three or four dozen adult members committed enough to relocate in order to take control of Loving County politically.

Mike and I recently decided to visit Loving County to scope out the prospects and the opportunities. The county seat (for now) is Mentone, population: 20. We scouted the place out and took a few pictures.


It turns out there’s not a lot of preexisting infrastructure to worry about.


There is a cafe, but it wasn’t open when we were there.


Mostly, it looks like everything that’s been here is still here.


It turns out that 2.17% of the operational cars currently in the county are Edsels.


Your church’s only competition.

Outside of the metropolis of Mentone, the county is pretty vacant.

I’m always interested in good siting for a community, and at the northwest edge of the county, right on the New Mexico border, there’s a little lake (actually a reservoir on the Pecos River). This will probably serve as the nicest location for your new town (future county seat) and your new temple — it would certainly be the prettiest locale in the county.


You know you want to do it.

Good luck! Just give me a heads up me when you get there, because I have some ideas for how you might want to lay the town out, design your temple, etc.

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Comments

  1. Awesome, John. Great post!

  2. Cynthia L. says:

    Perhaps next time you should check the cafe’s website and yelp profile ahead of time to find out the hours of operation.

  3. Someday, there will be a statue of John Hamer, laptop in hand, wind in his hair near that lake. A bronze plaque will read: “You know you want to do it.”

  4. And there will be a little electrode in the bronze to keep the pigeons from pooping on his perfectly flowing metal hair.

    I heart John Hamer.

  5. excellent.

  6. This was great. And also a great place name for a church, no need to use some old hebrew word. I mean, if you are gonna go you might as well practice polygamy in loving county.

  7. Excellent work, Hamer. I am so in. But I don’t want to be the prophet: I want to be the colorful, slightly foul-mouthed sidekick. Someday people will tell stories about how M Norbert Kilmer once said in a conference talk, ‘Shut up about the white shirts, you crummy bastards!’

  8. That church building looks like a potential alternate location for Slash to perform the November Rain guitar solo.

  9. Well, just to clarify – Slash would want to perform the guitar solo in front of the building. I don’t know if he would go inside.

  10. John:

    Three questions:

    (1) I see the lake/pond but is there enough water to sustain a colony that one would expect to grow exponentially?

    (2) How big is the county in terms of square miles as compared to Jackson County or Clay County?

    (3) How can you point to a location for the temple but not show us the plans for the temple?! That should have been the focus of the post. . . .

  11. Dang, that Edsel is sweet.

    Let’s make that desert blossom as a rose!

  12. When the FLDS church was building their community in El Dorado, I was serving as an LDS missionary in Midland. The whole community was very worried, and much of my time tracting was spent explaining the differences between “us and them.”

    It wasn’t a very productive time. The FLDS set everyone on edge.

    However, your pictures bring me back to the glory days of my mission! I had never lived anywhere quite so barren and desolate. I never served in the Loving area, but I did serve in some similar areas nearby, like Andrews, Hobbs, and Carlsbad.

  13. This is awesome, John. Is that other church in town actually operating? It looks like there is some sort of historical marker on the front. Any idea what denomination it belongs to?

  14. John Mansfield says:

    It is odd to a westerner how Texas is a western-sized state, but divided into a couple hundred little eastern-sized counties.

  15. Excellent. Now all they need is a competitive town down the river with an enthusiastic newspaper editor named something close to “Sharp.”

  16. Mark Brown says:

    Is that an outhouse next to the cafe? Questions about handwashing come to mind…….

    I nominate Kilmer to be O.P. Rockwell.

    I nominate Hamer to be in charge of the town’s militia. We would all salute him and call him general Hamer. Who knows, maybe he could even run for president of the U.S.

    Ben beat me to it, but I think this town needs a newspaper, so I volunteer myself to be editor and publisher of The Mentone Expositor.

  17. I have to show this to my husband…he was offered a job the next county over, but we choose to be near civilization instead…now we’ll know how much we missed out on!

  18. Thanks, and good points all.

    Norbert: Well, consider this step #2 of your plan. For you, step #1: recruit prophet.

    I always think that a colorful 2nd-in-command would be my preferred role too — being prophet is pretty much a full-time gig and I have stuff to do — but it turns out the prophets can be hard to stage manage. Look at how it worked out for J.C. Bennett (twice, no less, since he was also in Voree with James Strang). When you do it, I expect you’ll find there was wisdom in the maxim “If you want something done right…”

  19. John F (#9): Loving County’s area is 677 sq mi (1,753 sq km), which is a bit smaller than Hancock County’s 815 sq mi (2,110 sq km) and a bit larger than Caldwell County’s 429 sq mi.

    The Loving County Plan is specifically designed for those prophets who are a little more modest in their expectations: 50 or so followers now, maybe maxing out at a comfortable 20,000-50,000, and there’s more than enough water for that.

    If your church is anticipating exponential growth, I’ve scouted out a great location in Delaware for you with a two-step take-over. You need about 80,000 members to seize the county, but when you get 400,000 adult members, you own a whole state. Plus, you’ve got some beautiful, warm Atlantic coastline that’s pretty well beyond the hurricane zone.

    As for the temple and community plans; those are not one-size-fits-all either. I need to know something about your church, its distinctives, its resources, etc., to help you plan out something nice, but doable.

  20. Danithew #7-8 and Jeans #10: We were really wishing we had a high quality camera with us and a whole day to photograph this little town. Some very cool images were everywhere around, waiting to be captured. If there had been anyone around to ask us what we were doing (there wasn’t), I got the idea I would tell them I was a location scout — since this was definitely a picturesque location for expressing something.

  21. Delaware?

    (recalling the bit from Wayne’s World…)

  22. Fabulous.

    The little church is great. I want to move into it. Everything is holy now, right?

  23. But I just looked up “godforsaken” in the dictionary and there was a cross-reference to “Loving County, Texas”.

  24. Mark Brown says:

    Oil derricks, grain elevators, and water towers, the landscape of the southern plains. And I’m surprised that a tornado hasn’t taken those tin roofs and put them somewhere in the next county.

  25. One need not only look back at Nauvoo or Far West to learn lessons in seizing a county, there are also many lesson to be learned by reading up on the Rajneeshpuram community founded in Wasco County, Oregon during the 70’s. They made a lot of mistakes such as trying to poison the locals with salmonella before the elections and stuff. It should be required reading for any prophet thinking about making a play for a county.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rajneeshpuram

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhagwan_Shree_Rajneesh

  26. I hope – HOPE HOPE HOPE! – that a small newspaper in Texas picks this up and breaks the story of an impending Mormon conquest.

  27. Two suggestions:

    1) Make the temple small and refined, with architectural elements that actually work together. Build a classy-looking temple, and more classy-looking converts will beat a path to its door. This will do wonders for PR, thus furthering the mission and the message.

    2) Be really, really nice to the locals, even if it causes more “locals” to move in. Listen to them a lot, give them stuff, paint their outhouses, offer Jell-O and funeral potato recipes to the cafe proprietor/ess, dropping by often for a cup of decaffeinated Mormon tea (sit with the locals at their tables; tip generously).

  28. Christopher (#12) and Claire (#21): The little church is actually a historic site/schoolhouse that is apparently open for non-denominational worship; although we didn’t see any signs indicating regular services.

    John Mansfield (#13): I’ve always been fascinated by the frontier where the eastern U.S. settlment process (survey, town, plat, county, state) hit the reality of the barren Plains and West. Obviously, standard county formation continued in places like west Texas and Nebraska, despite the fact that the land there couldn’t sustain standard-sized counties.

    Mark Brown (#15): I always knew you had a little William Law in you.

  29. Mark Brown says:

    I’m always happy to serve as a public nuisance.

  30. On the two lane highways between Lubbock and Dallas is King County, (county seat: Guthrie), the third least populous county in the United States, with a population of 356 in 2000. I’ve driven through it many times; it has a nice little general store. It’s owned entirely by the Four 6’s Ranch (or its parent company), so wresting control to found a religion would be difficult.

    People who live in the Mormon Corridor would probably find the landscape barren and desolate. I found the endless sky beautiful after I got used to it.

  31. Joel (#24): I don’t know if that qualifies as having been “tried.” It’s certainly been contemplated, but I’m very confident that your church will do better than that guy’s political movement.

    Steve G (#25): Of course, whenever you get enough people together in your own theocratic society, somebody’s going to want to do something with poison. “Let’s poison ourselves and get into the Celestial Kingdom right now!” “No, let’s poison our neighbors!” You just have to put your foot down and say no to that kind of nonsense. It’s a distraction from your overall goal of building the Kingdom of God on Earth.

    As far as Rajneeshpuram goes, there’s 20,000 people in Wasco County. There’s your first mistake right there. (Thanks for the links!)

    Rick Grunder (#27): Great suggestions. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of a classic/iconic look for the temple. That’s effectively your “logo” for time and all eternity, so get it right.

  32. Mike Riggs says:

    John,
    I think you are on to something about the Mormons and living by State Lines….” On the border by the Lamanites…” ring a bell? Remember Far West was in Ray County before it was partitioned and Ray was the border with Iowa Territory at the time. Nauvoo, of course on the River across from Iowa, and as you point out Winter Quarters….maybe a survival strategy to position themselves for quick “get-aways”?

  33. #32 Mike, Good point and lets not forget Colorado City AZ, which straddles the UT/AZ border.

  34. Over the past year, the many lucid, fact-driven and erudite comments made by PRO-polyamory Constitutionalists have caused me to reconsider my profound bigotry.

    After deep soul-searching (and a bit of googling) I believe now, that I may — in fact– be called to THE PRINCIPLE.

    Now if it was easy….it would be called THE EASY….and not THE PRINCIPLE. So please understand, that it’s with great deliberation and scrutiny that I enter into belief that polyamory might be just the thing for me….AND worth breaking the law.

    So… with my legal husband’s approval (which I’ve yet to obtain, or even ask about) I hope to cast off my bigotry and embrace a new way of life.

    I’m in negotiation with my future brother-husbands — which mostly concerns scheduling of the TV remote and who’s in charge of the grill on Game Day.

    No one said being the Priestess-Holder would be easy, but after all — it is a *calling*.

    Come to find out many posters on the

    http://texasflds.wordpress.com/2010/01/23/open-discussion-24/

    site received this same collective revealtion, we are now in the process of forming the First Church of the Holy Matriarchs at the WTF Ranch. We were leaning towards Marfa, TX as the home location for the WTF Ranch but Loving County may be a viable alternative location.

    Holy Preistess LadySadie :)

  35. Mike and Steve (#32-33): There’s plenty more examples where those came from. Winter Quarters/Kanesville straddling Iowa and the then-unorganized territory of Nebraska. Cardston, Alberta, on the US/Montana border. Bountiful British Columbia, on the US/Idaho border. Pinesdale, Montana, on the Idaho border. There are some settlements just over the Colorado and Nevada borders from Utah, and the Mexican colonies were pretty close over the border from the U.S. too, albeit a bit more of a jog.

  36. LadySadie (#34): If those are the husbands you’ve picked out, I think you may be contemplating redefining “the Principle” as “the Easy” — they’re easy on the eyes, anyhow. If you do pick Loving County as your home, you’ll be giving new meaning to the name of the town of “Mentone.” Good luck to you in your spiritual journey & and in your practical attempts to build Zion on Earth. Please let us know how it turns out.

  37. There used to be a real LDS church very similar to the one pictured near Roosevelt, Utah, right off Hwy 40. Last I saw it was over 30 years ago and was functional with a few rows of pews. I hope it’s still in use.

    Must be one of those ‘standard plans.’

  38. Late to the party…but, AWESOME.

  39. Funny, I was reading through “Brigham Young’s Homes” (C. Whitley) earlier today and remarked, after seeing an early photo of Salt Lake City (circa 1860s) looking north toward Ensign Peak, how empty, barren and harsh the landscape looked. Wow. Not exactly a lush and inviting place early on. Now, after years of effort, look how much that same valley is alive, full and active today.

    So, you might be on to something, John. People, move in! (Just bring lots of shovels, seeds, and elbow grease!)

  40. John @ 32 said:
    I don’t know if that qualifies as having been “tried.”

    From the article:

    The newly elected sheriff had barely pinned on his star in January 2005, he recalled, when his phone rang with an old-fashioned warning: “You don’t know it, but you’re in trouble.” A group was planning a takeover of the county, said the caller, a woman in Arizona who promised to send him some information by e-mail.

    The material described the plans of a Libertarian faction in its own words “to win most of the elected offices in the county administration” and “restore to freedom” Loving County. The blueprint, called “Restoring Loving County,” said that land was hard to come by but that a ranch had been split up and members were in the process of buying sections.
    ……
    Days after he received the material, Sheriff Hopper said, Mr. Pendarvis and two other Libertarians, Bobby Y. Emory and Don B. Duncan,
    showed up to look for land and last fall, claiming they had bought property on eBay, filed voter-registration forms.
    ……
    Mr. Pendarvis, reached in Florida, said that his group had a canceled check that proved they had properly bought the 126 acres for $30,000 and that they were operating within the law.“We’ve been trying to buy land for a year,” he said, “but every time they find out who it is they say, ‘Oh, we made a mistake.’ ”
    ……
    Now pictures of the three decorate a poster on the sheriff’s door at the Loving County Courthouse under the timeworn Wild West legend: “Wanted by the Texas Rangers.”

    *************************************

    Yeah, I’m gonna go with “tried.”

  41. As someone who lives in West TX at the moment, these pictures reminded me of how much I hate driving east — hours and hours of desolation to drive through. However, Loving County is quite close to Carlsbad Caverns, which is a real perk.

  42. Boy howdy, if the NSA didn’t have a file on BCC, they do now!

  43. Cynthia L. says:

    Is anyone else wondering what’s in those fridges??? (the Edsel pic)

  44. Joel (#41): I guess you have a different standard of what constitutes actually “trying” to implement a serious plan to seize control of a county than I do. In my book, a couple guys showing up at the courthouse with printouts from Ebay, claiming that they’d purchased land and asking to vote, is hardly any further into the planning stage than what I’ve done for this blog post.

  45. Hey. I’ll be willing to play prophet.

    I’ve been itching to try and build a community from the ground up.

    I love those small communities. You’ve done great job with those pictures. I’m a John Hamer fan.

    If I’m chosen prophet I’ll see that the John Hamer statue is one of our top priorities.

    Hahaha.

  46. Cynthia, my guess is that at least one of them contains a skeleton of an adventurer who found himself in a bizarre model town that was then nuked by the Russians. He survived by climbing into a refridgerator but then couldn’t get himself out and died.

  47. Ron Priddis says:

    Why “ill-conceived” raids? You need to be careful with your conception talk around fundies, Mr. Cosmopolitan! I’d say that’s just how they do things in Texas (if you mean overkill), but it reminds me so much of home. On the other hand, we can agree that compulsion of fourteen-year-olds is wrong, right? Unless we’re talking about Nauvoo.

  48. Ron: I should think that the proposition that the raids were “ill-considered” on the part of Texas officials is self-evident. A single caller without any supporting evidence — which ultimately proved to be bogus — triggered a raid where state officials seized the children of an entire community at a cost of $14 million. In my opinion the fiasco was a dramatic example of extreme state overreach. Your point may be that Texas lacks the capacity to do things in a “well considered” way?

    Yes, compulsion of 14-year-olds is wrong, but obviously there are well considered and established legal procedures to address individual crimes when evidence for such crimes exists. As far as Nauvoo goes, when my great-great-great-great grandparents, Stephen and Nancy Winchester, gave consent for Joseph Smith to marry their 14-year-old daughter, I think that it was wrong. But I also think that while 14 as a marrying age was, by 1843, becoming unusual and distasteful, and was viewed as an indicator of lower class, it was within the broader bounds of acceptability. Obviously, it’s not anymore in 2010 and we are agreed that underage marriages should cease.

    Unfortunately, no matter how cosmopolitan we are, I also don’t think we’re ready to start using the pejorative “fundie” in some kind reformed or ironic sense, because I find that real bigotry against fundamentalist Mormons remains rife and unreformed, even at cosmopolitan places like Sunstone.

  49. Mike Riggs says:

    John and Ron,
    I hadn’t thought about it before, but Joseph taking girls as wives was not the outcry against him in his time…proposing to other men’s wives was though.

  50. re: 44 Too scary to contemplate, Cynthia. Did anybody else here see the original version of ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ ??

  51. #50, I didn’t know he also tried that in NY, PA, OH, MO where there was also a public outcry (and mobbings).

  52. re: 46
    If John Hamer founds it, he gets to run it (at least until he’s martyred). I’ll be First Counselor. Michael Karpowicz can write the hymnal, which will be sing-along friendly. It will all be like this in no time:

  53. John Hamer,

    I’m single, outdoorsy, hoping I can drop by your nation and chat with people. What do you have in a cave or nice bush, preferably near a river and some bee hives?

  54. hilarious. I snorted my hot chocolate twice.

  55. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 54
    Single and outdoorsy will go over very well in John’s and my little United Order. No caves, though. Would you be comfortable in a meticulously restored mid-century modern condo? Come to Zion!

  56. How big is the tub, Mike?

  57. I’m also an amateur orthopterologist. What can you can tell me about local populations?

  58. Would anyone be up to a form of LDS where all passages that say man be switched to woman and vice versa. Then I could be the prophet and quite literally have all the power (I’m an EE).

  59. OH yeah, EE=Electrical Engineer

  60. Ron Priddis says:

    Oh, I don’t think my fundamentalist friends mind me calling them fundies any more than Community of Christ people mind me calling them Mormons. Oh wait, they don’t like that, do they? I can never keep track. But watch the fundamentalists stammer when it comes to referring to gays. They can’t quite get it right. Do I mind? No.

    With regard to the raid, you’re going with the fruit of the poisoned tree, then? Okay. Well, I think most fundamentalists have had enough of despotic leaders breaking up their homes and re-assigning women and children, marrying fourteen-year-olds, and so on. Truth be told, the majority of them are glad someone finally did something.

    But you’re right about the method—the state employing a sledgehammer when a scalpel was needed. Utah has done better. But it still bugs me when people who are the most guilty of trampling on other people’s rights, who want to set up their own kingdoms outside of the laws of the U.S., are the ones who scream the loudest about their Constitutional rights being violated. There’s a parallel to that in our shared history, too.

    Just ask my great-great-grandfather Robert Martin about Brigham Young, for instance. I see your grandfather and raise him one. By the way, what I said about “ill conceived” was supposed to be a joke.

  61. My husband’s neice must have heard about the impending Delaware takeover as she and her family relocated to central NY last month. Now you would only need 399,995 adult members.

  62. Excellent read, I just passed this onto a colleague who was doing a little research on that. And he actually bought me lunch because I found it for him smile So let me rephrase that: Thanks for lunch! :)

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