Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king's horses and all the king's men, couldn't put Humpty Dumpty together again.
BIG WATER, Kane County -- No matter how you scramble it, Humpty Dumpty is a weird eulogy to read at a funeral service.Then again, weird was no stranger to Alex Joseph, the one-time Libertarian mayor of Big Water and celebrity polygamist.
"It's not against the law to be weird in the United States," he once told a reporter. To another, he said, "I spend most of my time trying to be a responsible quack."
Joseph, 62, died Sept. 27 after a long battle with liver cancer, leaving behind seven wives, 23 children, 21 grandchildren and a legacy of self-proclaimed weirdness that has reached folkloric proportions.
He also left behind the town he is often credited with creating, although Joseph typically disclaimed that honor. He said he simply steered the town, now consisting of about 450 people, from a one-time construction camp with bars and bordellos into an enclave for people who eschewed government intrusion into their personal lives.
He proudly boasted it was the only town in America with a Libertarian mayor and an all-Libertarian council. A place, he once noted, where "I can live with all the men, women and monkeys I want to."
Most who came to Big Water were retirees drawn by the low cost of living. A handful came to practice polygamy. Everyone, including Alex's harshest critics, embraced his no-tax Libertarianism.
"When we got here, all there was was a bunch of worn-down trailers and some shanties left over from the filming of 'The Greatest Story Ever Told,' " remembers Elizabeth Joseph, one of Alex's widows. "And the only people living here were retired construction workers (from Glen Canyon Dam and power plant construction) and retired prostitutes."
In typical Alex Joseph fashion, the mayor appointed one of the prostitutes as the first Big Water justice of the peace.
"We took nothing and are trying to build it into a community," Alex said before his death. And according to his supporters, he succeeded beyond anyone's expectations.
In 1983 when the town incorporated, the total assessed valuation of the property in Big Water was about $300,000. When he left office about five years ago, it was $7 million. And today it is approaching $10 million.
And Big Water is still growing, Elizabeth said. A new subdivision south of old Big Water -- complete with trendy homes overlooking Lake Powell -- promises to revamp the town's ramshackle image.
Still, it would be overstating it to say Big Water is booming. The streets are still unpaved, the residences are mostly time-tattered trailer houses, and visitors are greeted by rusted barbecue grills and assorted junk cars.
There are more "For Sale" signs in Big Water than the combined number of businesses, pay phones and stray dogs.
Nevertheless, Big Water, located only a few miles from Lake Powell where Alex Joseph served as a Coast Guard flotilla commander, is ideally situated for speculators. Land prices are obscenely low compared to nearby Page, Ariz., yet the benefits of a temperate climate and immediate access to Lake Powell are virtually identical.
State officials thought enough of the area's potential that they traded School Trust Lands elsewhere for hundreds of acres of federal property around Big Water prime for development.
Tom Kimble, the current nonpolygamist mayor of Big Water, said the town is slowly coming of age. Like any small town strapped for cash, it struggles to provide services that folks in larger towns take for granted.
But the town is growing, the roads are better than they used to be and the future is bright, he said. The town will soon host a visitors center for the new Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and Utah State University is now working with Big Water and trust lands officials to develop a comprehensive plan on how and where to develop properties in the area.
Developers are negotiating with the city to bring new businesses to Big Water, which currently has no restaurant or gas station. (The previous ones burned down and were not rebuilt.)
Those who are coming to Big Water these days are not polygamists. Rather, they're retirees, second-home owners and work-in-Page commuter families drawn by the local recreation, climate and low cost of living.
"Big Water never was a polygamist town," said Elizabeth, the unofficial spokeswoman for the family since Alex's death. "When he died, you had Alex and three other guys in town with plural families. Even if you count our monogamous friends affiliated with us, we constituted only about 10 percent of the population. Everybody else is normal."
Kimble agreed, saying "there just isn't the polygamist presence here that outsiders seem to think there is."
The Joseph clan came to Glen Canyon City in the 1970s after a tense showdown with federal authorities opposed to their attempts to "homestead" public lands near Kanab.
Alex always credited the intense media coverage of the standoff as the only reason the conflict did not turn violent -- a gratitude he continued to express until his death by granting literally hundreds of unflinching interviews with reporters from around the globe. In the process, he became Utah's most internationally recognizable counter-culture figure.
By contrast, leaders of other polygamist clans have traditionally shunned publicity and shunned the Joseph clan. "They thought we were weird," Elizabeth said.
Alex spearheaded the incorporation of the town in 1983, ostensibly so it could have its own cemetery. Ironically, there is still no cemetery there today (in early April, an urn with Alex's ashes will be buried below his throne-like chair inside an assembly hall adjoining his residence).
With the support of close friends and wives -- Alex had seven wives at his death, but he had been married to more than two-dozen at one time or another -- he was elected mayor and served in that capacity for 10 years.
Alex's tenure as mayor was undeniably stormy. In 1989, there were charges of voting fraud, and there was a 1990 petition by Joseph opponents to dis-incorporate the town.
Even though that move was voted down, there was growing discontent among those not affiliated with Alex Joseph that the one-time police officer, health food salesman and manager of country bands ruled the town as a dictator.
Elizabeth, a graduate of the University of Utah law school, was the town attorney and prosecutor. Delinda, who subsequently left Alex but still lives in Big Water, was the town clerk. A nephew was the town marshal. Another nephew and Alex's son, James, once served on the city council. The family also owned and operated the Big Water Times, the only newspaper in town.
Joseph family members made no apologies for being the "most qualified" to hold those jobs. And they continued to win at the ballot box because they voted together as a bloc.
But Alex was not invincible. Opposition to the Josephs' control of City Hall eventually prompted Kane County to take control of the city water system -- the city's primary source of revenue. In turn, that resulted in a city property tax for the first time.
When it came to politics, Elizabeth maintains Alex was a reluctant participant in the democratic process. "He hated democracy. He called it oppression by the majority," she said.
Given his druthers, Alex preferred another kind of government: kingdoms.
"Alex characterized his beliefs as political Christianity," she explained. "Christ was a king, which is a political title. All these democrats in church praying for the kingdom of God to come on Earth as it is in heaven, how much are they going to like this kingdom deal if they are embraced in democracy? So Alex set up a system to practice a kingdom."
Contrary to what his critics say, Elizabeth maintains he never imposed that philosophy on Big Water residents while serving as mayor.
When Alex Joseph stepped down as mayor after his third term at the end of 1993, the Joseph family voted as a bloc for his successor, Geraldine Rankin, a school teacher, plural wife of another Big Water resident and a Joseph supporter. She served from 1994 to 1997.
One by one, Alex's family members quit their jobs working for Big Water. The newspaper was closed down. "As Alex goes, so goes the family," Elizabeth said. "Once he lost interest, we all did."
And with the disinterest came voter apathy. A year ago, Rankin lost her bid for re-election by three votes to Kimble, a former councilman and no particular friend of the Josephs.
"That loss was inexcusable," Elizabeth said. "We had the votes. We had our people drive past the polling place who would have voted for her (Rankin). We learned a valuable lesson."
The loss did not sit well with Alex, who had always been politically involved, first as the darling of the Libertarians and later as a born-again Republican who served as a GOP delegate and campaigner for Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, was counted among the family's close friends.
But when it came to city politics, the Josephs have been watching from the sidelines in recent years. That, the Josephs say, will change next year.
Raymond Rankin, the son of former Mayor Rankin, and Stewart Joseph, a monogamist son of Alex and Elizabeth, will both be making runs for the city council.
The election of both men would add a new chapter in the legacy of bloc voting in Big Water. There is already one person on the five-member council known to be sympathetic to the Joseph bloc.
Like any would-be officeholders, the candidates want to spur economic development, improve local infrastructure and put a stop to drugs and crime. Crime? Big Water is, after all, "where the white trash falls off Highway 89," said Elizabeth, who now works as news director for two radio stations in Page.
"The key to winning is appealing to that large majority of people in Big Water who want nothing to do with political intrigue," she said. Kimble welcomes the news that the Josephs want to be politically active again. "More power to 'em," he said. "If elected, I will work with them. Government should be willing to work with any faction. The bottom line is trying to make the town a better place to live."
The big difference between Big Water today and 10 years ago, he said, is a greater sense of community that embraces everyone whether they be newcomers and old-timers, polygamists and nonpolygamists.
Kimble said the days are long gone when Big Water town government was run by a family clique where "if you weren't for them (Josephs), then you were against them."
"Most of the people in the community, the Josephs included, are trying to overcome that and get along with each other," said Kimble, a Michigan native who moved to Big Water about 10 years ago. "There's more of a middle ground."
So will the next generation of Josephs be as politically provocative as their father? Probably not. "Most of them are normal," Elizabeth said, rattling off a list of Joseph children who are living around the West, some working as prominent engineers and businessmen. Most of the adult children don't live in Big Water.
For the near future, Alex's widows say they will stay in the small town they helped build. And they will retain a strong family identity.
"All of us first and foremost will be Alex Joseph's widows, no matter what else is going on in our lives," Elizabeth said. "Any man who takes up with us will have to accept that."
Alex Joseph was a man known for the outrageous. He claimed to be descended from a Plantegenet queen, the dukes of Norfolk, LDS Church founder Joseph Smith and Jesus Christ.
He once started his own church, called The Church of Jesus Christ of Solemn Assembly, and then turned around and disbanded it. "It was a tax dodge for my business," he told one reporter.
He then formed a quasi-religious organization called Confederate Nations of Israel, a forum for family members and close friends to meet twice a year. The meetings are just as likely to address politics and economics as they are various interpretations of the Bible.
"One of the things Alex spent a lot of time writing about in his last years was his conviction that when Jesus said he would hide the truth in the mouths of babes, what he meant was nursery rhymes," Elizabeth said. "He spent a lot of time translating nursery rhymes. He loved that game.
"He told us we had to recite Humpty Dumpty at his funeral."
So who was Humpty Dumpty? Alex Joseph, of course.