Gleaming white against the backdrop of the Texas prairie, the first-ever temple of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints appears to be nearing completion, if it isn't finished already, say observers near Eldorado, Texas.
The polygamous sect itself remains silent, as it has been since construction started.
"They're not making a lot of comments on it," Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran said. "They said, 'Yeah, the structure's completed on the exterior,' but they didn't elaborate."
On a dirt road just a few miles outside of the tiny town of Eldorado, the temple stands out amid the surrounding ranchland. It has a limestone facade. Arched windows around the building lead up to turrets, which surround the roof. Atop it all is a short-domed steeple, reminiscent of the Nauvoo, Ill., temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Above the doorway is the "all seeing eye" and an inscription that reportedly includes the phrase, "Holiness to the Lord in the House of the Lord."
"We believe it's done," Doran said. "We don't know about the interior, but the exterior looks definitely done. They've got sod down, they've got the fence out, they've got metal railing on the stairs."
News of the FLDS temple's completion has reached some in the polygamous border communities of Hildale, Washington County, and Colorado City, Ariz.
"About half the people who live here still don't even know about it," former-FLDS member Ross Chatwin said. "Warren (Jeffs) was very upset when the apostates (FLDS members who have been excommunicated) found out about it."
Anti-polygamy activists revealed the existence of the YFZ Ranch outside of Eldorado back in 2004. Originally, the Schleicher County sheriff was told the ranch was a hunting retreat. "Ranch" officials soon recanted and YFZ, it was revealed, stood for "Yearning for Zion."
Since then, construction has exploded there, with homes, buildings, a meetinghouse, gardens, a rock quarry and a grain silo appearing on the landscape. Reportedly, one of the largest homes on the compound belongs to fugitive FLDS leader Warren Jeffs.
Towering above it all has been the temple, which locals have watched with cautious interest.
"The temple, it's magnificent from the outside," said JD Doyle, a local pilot who has documented the FLDS construction from the air.
He provided the Deseret Morning News with photographs of the temple taken from his airplane. "I don't know anybody that's seen the inside. If the inside is even half as beautiful as the outside, it's going to be breathtaking."
People in Eldorado remain concerned about the temple, Doyle said.
"People have gotten used to them until recently. Now they've kind of gotten nervous again with the temple being finished," he told the Morning News. "It's like as long as it was being built, nobody's gonna come. With the temple being built, it's their Mecca."
Doran said he maintains contact with FLDS members on the YFZ Ranch, who told him members will flock from all over the United States to Texas as a retreat.
"They said they'll do their temple work and return home," he said. Asked what kind of temple work will be performed, Doran said he had no idea.
Police in Utah, Arizona and Texas continue to watch the FLDS Church's activities in Eldorado with interest. Last week, Doran flew to Utah, where he met with Washington County Sheriff Kirk Smith in St. George. The two sheriffs update each other on FLDS activities in their respective states.
The FBI recently announced a $50,000 reward for Jeffs' arrest, adding to the $10,000 bounty already offered by the Utah and Arizona attorneys general.
Jeffs was charged in Mohave County, Ariz., with sexual conduct with a minor and conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor. He is accused of arranging child-bride marriages. Federal authorities charged him with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, and he has been added to the FBI's Most Wanted List.
Jeffs remains on the run and hasn't been seen recently in Utah, Arizona or Texas.
In Eldorado, residents are worried about the potential for a confrontation between law enforcement and Jeffs' followers.
"With Warren Jeffs being wanted, he can stay out there," said Doyle. "Eventually, somebody's going to play the FBI's hand. We're going to come in and find out he's there, and if that happens, all hell is going to break loose. As long as people are level-headed and don't do anything macho or try to show everybody who has God on their side."
If the temple is indeed finished, it remains unknown when or if it will be dedicated and if Jeffs would make an appearance to dedicate it.17 comments on this story
Former FLDS church member Ross Chatwin believes the new temple may mark the end of the polygamous sect.
"They're going to lose the whole thing," he said. "It was built upon money that didn't belong to Warren. It was built on the backs of the UEP (United Effort Plan, the FLDS financial arm) itself, the people that built it."
Over the past year, a judge in Utah assigned a trustee to take control of the UEP. The UEP owns homes, property and business in the twin Utah and Arizona towns.
Smith said he has tried to inquire about the temple among FLDS members in Hildale."They're pretty close-mouthed about the whole thing," he said. "You certainly sense that it's special to them, but they won't talk about it."