I saw my first genuine Utah polygamists the other day when we went to the pharmacy in Hurricane to get my prescriptions transferred down here, a mother and daughter, both wearing floor-length, long-sleeved gowns, homemade out of plain, monochrome fabric.
The girl, about 10 or 11 years old, stared at me uncontrollably, as if I was a unicorn who had wandered into a drugstore. There was no hostility in her gaze, but her mouth fell open and her blue eyes were enormous with fright and fascination.
"This is very curious," I thought to myself. I was feeling good that day, and most likely it showed. I guess this little offspring of plural marriage had never seen an old man looking happy and healthy out in public.
She and her mother were both nice looking -- impressively so. The little one was blonde and pale; and her brown-haired mother young, slender, and tall. I have no idea why the girl reacted to your humble narrator so strongly, but I suspect the polygamy cult's kids are told all sorts of scary stories about men on "the outside."
"Watch out for older men with long hair and Fu Manchu mustaches, for they will spirit you away from here, and you'll never see us again."
Or something to that effect.
Actually, it wouldn't be a bad idea. I've heard (and should probably research the issue so as to confirm or impeach the assertion), that polygamists run most of their boy children out of their closed and ingrown society once they're old enough to fend for themselves, and assign the girls to the patriarchs of the community. If this is true, my fearful little child is probably already staked out by some middle aged fart with a gray beard and two or three "sister wives" under his roof, and she'll be introduced to the joys of marriage by the time she's 14 or 15.
I don't want to judge people whose lives I'm ignorant of. On the other hand, I'm somewhat sickened by this sort of unapologetic patriarchy. Girls of 14, 15, and 16 ought to be with boys their own age. If nature runs her course, they'll pair up and grope their way toward adult sexuality without any help whatsoever.
Sympathetic and mature advice is what older kids need from the adults in their lives, and with help and guidance, they'll find their way.
I've seen a number of "sister wives" in town since then, for the cult is thickest in this corner of Utah, and spills over into Arizona and Nevada. Their numbers are unknown, but thought by knowledgeable people to be fewer than 10,000.
I know there are Americans who would like to root out and exorcise this last remnant of Mormon polygamy, but at this point, these unreconstructed followers of the "prophet" Joe Smith are mostly left alone. However, some see the lifestyle as unavoidably abusive to women and girls, and the future of polygamy in Utah is always in play.