HUMANSVILLE, Mo. (AP) — For members of a polygamous community of about 400 people in rural Missouri, their enclave has always been the promised land.
Known as “The Ranch” to its residents and as “The Compound” to people in neighboring towns, the group still practices plural marriage 35 years after it was established on a 600-acre property between the towns of Humansville and Stockton in southwest Missouri, according to a report by The Salt Lake Tribune in collaboration with The Guardian that shined a new spotlight on the little-known community.
Founder Steven Laub was living in southwest Utah in November 1983 when he said he heard a voice and was called up a mountain where the Lord told him to go to Missouri and buy a ranch, according to an oral history made by community members and recorded on a CD shared with the Tribune.
Dirt roads wind through clusters of trees and homes in the community built on one of the Ozark Mountains’ plateaus. Its residents, who share a common belief in plural marriage, include people from at least three polygamous sects as well as some with fundamentalist Mormon beliefs who do not affiliate with a church.
“Missouri is the promised land,” said Sean Anderson, a 51-year-old fundamentalist Mormon from Mexico who has also lived in Arizona and Utah. He had two wives for a time, but those marriages dissolved. He moved to The Ranch in the fall with his current wife and six children.
Missouri has played an outsized historical role in the religion. Latter-day Saints began arriving in 1831, the year its founder Joseph Smith had a prophecy that Zion was in eastern Missouri’s Jackson County and that Jesus would return there one day.
But his followers had conflicts with other Missouri settlers. In 1838, at least 17 Latter-day Saints were massacred at a place called Haun’s Mill. Church members soon began fleeing the state.
The newspaper’s review of Missouri marriage license showed most residents in the polygamous community marry in their 20s, although some have married as young as 17. Typically, the husband has one legal wife and subsequent marriages are ordained in a religious service with no license on file with a county clerk.
In Missouri, someone can be convicted of bigamy if a married person “purports” to marry another person. The offense is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. In Utah, polygamy is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison or 15 years if it’s committed in conjunction with fraud or a violent offense.
Cedar County Prosecutor Ty Gaither said he has received no complaints about crimes at the community. He said if he had three parties who were consenting adults, he wouldn’t have a complaining witness.