In 2004, the Yearning For Zion (YFZ) “Ranch” began to be constructed by the FLDS in Texas. FLDS told local officials that the land was purchased for a hunting lodge. But these were false reports and the FLDS took great strides to keep their true purposes secret from everyone except the most loyal followers of Warren Jeffs.
On August 10, 2003, Warren had declared that the blessings of the Priesthood had been removed from the community of Short Creek (Colorado City and Hildale). This community was once believed to be a blessed gathering place for the faithful followers of the true Priesthood, but those blessings had been lost. Warren even went so far as to curse the community by performing an ordinance of dusting his feet off against the community on June 15, 2004 which in FLDS doctrine is a most severe curse of the Lord. He removed “the Spirit of protection” and prayed that “the Lord would send the whirlwind judgments upon that place and upon this nation beginning at Short Creek when the righteous are driven from that community and only the wicked remain.” Warren taught that this June 15, 2004 revelation was very important and must be kept secret. It was that the judgments of God upon His people and this nation were now coming in full force.
Warren taught that because of their unfaithfulness, the Lord had withdrawn him from the people. “If I had stayed, many of them would have been judged and found unworthy, so instead the Lord withdrew me to give them a little more time to repent.” Warren had suspended all public church meetings and all ordinances, such as baptisms. He believed that the terrible judgments of God against the wicked would begin in Short Creek. “Short Creek will be without any faithful and only the wicked will be there eventually, and the judgments of God will begin there. They have already begun with the withdrawal of ordinances and meetings from the people.” (Priesthood Record, May 11, 2004)
Warren left the community but he did not remove his influence. Short Creek was his financial lifeblood for higher purposes. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were continually collected from those left behind. He kept in close contact with his family and with local leaders who remained there, including Bishop William E. Jessop and his brother Lyle Jeffs. These men carried out his directives.
Warren turned his focus to what he called, “lands of refuge.” These were secret communities that he had started to build up. David Allred had made the purchases of many acres of land in various states. Wareen taught to only his most loyal followers, that as their scripture taught, these locations would be “for a refuge from the storm, and from wrath when it shall be poured out without mixture upon the whole earth.” (D&C 115) Warren claimed he had seen a vision in 2003 of the “all-consuming fire from heaven” that would pour out among the wicked. But these places of refuge would be strongholds in that day of judgment. There would be no deliverance except for the faithful who would be lifted up.
The lands of refuge were given secret code names so their locations would not be revealed to gentiles (unbelievers), and apostates (former members). They were even kept secret from faithful followers in Short Creek who had not yet been trained and invited to gather to these lands of refuge. These code names included the letter “R” standing for “Refuge.”
The lands of refuge included:
R1 – located in the Southwest corner of Colorado. It is 4-5 miles north of the rural community of Mancos, near Cortez and Mesa Verde National Park. The address is 15252 Co Rd 39. It shares a road with a neighbor. This became Warren’s new headquarters and he brought a number of his wives and children to this location. This included several homes including a large log home with green roof. (two parcels, 120 acres total)
• R17 – YFZ ranch in Eldorado, Texas where children were removed in April, 2008.
• R23 – Compound in South Dakota, outside of Pringle. 140 acres fenced with several log buildings including a massive 15,000 square foot building. It is very remote with ten miles of dirt road to get to it.
Other "houses in hiding" include:
• Roy Allred’s home in Las Vegas, NV
• Jonathan Allred’s home in Albuquerque, NM
• Robert Allred's house in Henderson, NV
• Sam Allred's house in Henderson, NV
• Houses and land in Westcliffe, CO
• Shem Jeffs’ home in Colorado Springs, CO
• House in Fort Collins, CO
• Tom Cox purchased 35 acre secluded ranch outside Fort Collins, CO
• Nathanael Allred's home in Castle Rock, CO, south of Denver
• Home in northern CO
• Home in southern WY
• Farm near Pioche, NV
• Home and 35 acres on B25 road south of Crawford, CO
The houses in hiding weren't set up necessarily to hide from government authorities. Because of Warren's paranoia, he set these up to protect his family from his perceived enemies. "I need to move my family out of Short Creek as quickly as we can, out among the wicked cities, finding houses here and there as it will be more dangerous for them in Short Creek. Yet I know all of this will not satisfy my enemies. They want my blood and to destroy anyone who is part of me and the work of God." (Priesthood Record, January 15, 2005)
These houses in hiding were typically crowded with Warren's wives and children, overlooked by at least one man. For example, at Shem Jeff's home in Colorado Springs at one time in July 2006, there were 14 women, nine children, and Shem Jeffs, for a total of 24. Life in those houses must have been challenging because they stayed indoors in order to not be seen by others. Their time was spent in sewing, house cleaning, scripture and lesson study, and storing up food.
Warren explained in a letter to his family about the difference in holiness between the houses in hiding and the lands of refuge. "When people did not live their covenants on a land of refuge, they were allowed repentance and time at a house in hiding. Now you have been gathered to a consecrated land appointed by the Lord for the fulness of Zion to be established there, no matter which land of refuge you dewell on, it was dedicated unto the Lord for the fullness of Zion to be established there." They were expected to live the laws of plural marriage and the Holy United Order (all things in common). (letter, May 30, 2007)
R17 (YFZ) is the most sacred land of refuge, the place where the temple was built. This was the location where the most faithful, by invitation from Warren, would prepare for the fullness of Zion and live with all things in common in the United Order.
By May 2004, 40 men had been called on a mission to R17 to start building up the new community. Jeffs had also relocated some of his family. Preference seemed to be given to Jeffs family members and family of his counselors in the First Presidency (Fred Jessop, and Wendell Nielson. Later Merril Jessop replaced Fred Jessop).
Warren was the only one to decide who could move to R17. He would call them on the mission for the “redemption of Zion.” This was also referred to a “New Zion's Camp.” The first Zion’s Camp was formed in 1834 by Mormon Church founder, Joseph Smith, to march to Jackson County, Missouri (Zion) with the mission to reclaim the lands after the Church members had been driven away by the mobs. Warren taught his most loyal and faithful followers that they were being called on a similar mission to prepare themselves for the future redemption of Zion before the second coming of Jesus Christ. Their ultimate goal was to be worthy for the “fullness of Zion” or to be in the presence of God.
Prior to being allowed to journey to R17 (YFZ), followers had to first receive special training about establishing Zion on the places of refuge, the mission of the redemption of Zion, warnings of the final preparations, and instructions about oneness (unity and loyalty to Priesthood). This training usually lasted about three hours and would be given by Warren in motels (such as Page, AZ) or by phone. Before the training would be given, Warren would dedicate the room for the sacred training. Later the training would be taped and he would give permission to leaders for chosen individuals to listen to the training.
Some of the training included, “I explained to him that those who are qualified to go and build the New Jerusalem (in Jackson County, Missouri) and build up Zion there, before they get there they have to show they will sacrifice their very lives for this mission and cause of Zion and that will be how severe the tests and trials will be upon this Priesthood people, but the doors of deliverance will open up as we prove ourselves faithful and there will be a people preserved who will be used to redeem Zion and those times of severity are upon us.” (Priesthood Record, July 2004)
After the training, they would make serious covenants related to the mission. They were put under covenant to obey the "first two great commanments": to live the law of plural marriage and to live the fullness of the United Order (having all things in common). They also made a covenant of secrecy. They were warned that if they revealed this mission to anyone, even their families at Short Creek, that they could lose their Priesthood. Losing Priesthood involves being stripped of church membership, loss of wives and children, and being turned out the community.
Warren became very paranoid about members who were against him. He worried about their influence on the rest of the faithful so he started to do a massive purge. He called this process “handling,” or “pruning the vineyard.” He would call the leaders still in Short Creek and give them lists of men to inform that they no longer had Priesthood. They were not usually told why, but were invited to send a letter of confession to Warren. They were told to leave the community immediately, have no contact with their family, and not meet with others who had been handled. By mid-2004, over 80 men had been handled. By 2005, the number was well above 100.
Warren believed that this purge was part of the work of gathering for the redemption of Zion. By reassigning women to worthy men, “those ladies are sealed for time and eternity to other worthy me. This is a work of gathering for the redemption of Zion by placing beside these worthy men these families that need a Priesthood connection for the next great trials.”
Eventually, Warren even became frustrated with those at R17 for lack of faith, laziness, missing deadlines, yearning to be with family members back at Short Creek, and revealing secrets to them. To keep these loyal followers under his tight control he threatened them that they could be sent away from this mission back to Short Creek. Many were sent back in tears, thinking that they had lost their chance to help redeem Zion. They also knew they were no longer living at a safe place of refuge. In one instance, Warren ordered all those at R17 and other places of refuge to write him letters of confession. He would read through those letters and use them to identify those struggling with unclean thoughts or other sins and then and then name “certain people to be corrected and removed from the places of refuge.”
Warren recorded, “My great concern is how few are prepared. And even those called into the new Zion’s Camp, how few have been prepared for this mission. They all come with great anxiousness, but not with a full preparation in place. So the Lord in His loving patience and kindness is pruning us and working with us, raising up a people in the midst of this mission.” (Priesthood Record, May 9, 2004)
Warren condemned those who were yearning for their families away instead of focusing their efforts on their Priesthood Leader (Warren.) “For some men, their yearnings are constantly for their families so they are distracted from their mission here and from their oneness with me, their Priesthood head, and thus the Lord.” (Priesthood Record, May 9, 2004)
Warren’s focus was to root out any disloyalty or wickedness. Soon even those who had any doubts were referred to as “halfhearted.” “The Lord is cleaning up this people. The day of the halfhearted people is past. Some have wondered why they can’t have it as it was. It is because the Lord’s schedule, the Lord’s time table is progressing and only the pure in heart can be called forth in the redemption of Zion.” (Priesthood Record, May 1, 2004)
For those who were allowed to remain on R17, he would further explain their mission. “I explained to them that before the Lord would let us go to [Jackson County, Missouri] we must learn how to be temple builders on this land. . . . Our work at R17 was a training to prove worthy to draw from heavens how to build temples and receive ordinances to bring us into the presence of God, and they need to realize that what they are doing on these construction projects and meeting the time schedule through the power of oneness exerted is earning us the greater privilege and blessing to be temple builders and temple workers, and if necessary the Lord would prune this group of men and allow those who qualify to participate in the building of temple.” (Priesthood Record, May 11, 2004)
So, yet another higher class of worthiness evolved – Temple Builders. Men and women were called and had hands laid on their heads to be temple builders. They were put under strict orders of secrecy to not share information with those who were not temple builders.
Thousands of FLDS in Short Creek were left in the dark as to what was happening. Rumors were heard that Warren had cursed the community and that those left behind would be destroyed with the wicked. They longed to be with Warren. They observed families who would disappear in the night (brought to lands of refuge) and they hoped that they too would be chosen. They lived in fear as they saw other families who were ripped apart because the father was “handled” out the Church. The wives and children were assigned to other men and families were moved around to new homes.
Warren expressed very little compassion for these people. “There are many people writing me letters yearning for Zion, ‘yearning to come where I am,’ they say. ‘We want to be where you are’ is what many of the letters say. The Lord has shown me what was happening in Short Creek, that there was a great falling away and that complacency, light-mindedness, and thus the evils of the world were growing among the people in a social religion, and I warned the family (at R1, Colorado) to stay home and not drop in with the relatives (in Short Creek) but that this was a time of fervent final preparation.” (Priesthood Record, July 11, 2004).
“The Lord has warned me there will be men who I have handled who have lost Priesthood that will return to Short Creek and claim they hold Priesthood, and promote great deceptions among the people, causing many halfhearted to fall away.” (Priesthood Record, July 29, 2005)
By 2008, there were several hundred loyal followers living at R17. Their temple was complete and they had received temple ordinances. During the 2008 raid on R17, the most sacred records were taken by government authorities from the secret Temple Annex Vault. Among these records were Warren’s private Priesthood Record revealing his thoughts, motives, and many illegal activities. They also presented a much clearer picture of the true purpose of YFZ. Warren remains in jail. In 2007 he claimed he was not the prophet and didn’t hold Priesthood. However, that was just a test. By 2008, still in prison, he retained his leadership over the people and continued to issue revelations and directives.