7 Famous Polygamists (and their many, many wives)

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It's been pretty hard to miss what's been going on at the Yearning for Zion Ranch near Eldorado, Texas. In case you haven't heard, here's a quick recap: the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which believes in polygamy, (which is different than the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) has a large following near Eldorado where this YFZ Ranch is located.In late March, the Texas Child Protective Services hotline received a call from a girl claiming to live at the ranch who said she was being abused. This led to a huge raid by Texas law enforcement and child welfare officials, who ended up removing 452 children (some pregnant and/or already mothers) from the ranch.

So, that's the rundown. I think there has been plenty of media coverage, so I don't need to go into great detail. Just Google "Yearning for Zion" for more information. Instead of rehashing what has already been splashed all over the Internet, let's look at some notable polygamists.

Joseph Smith, Jr.

Let's start with the founder of the Mormons, Joseph Smith, Jr. While it was well-known that his "main" wife was Emma, he may have had up to 33 wives in addition to her. The ages ranged from 14 years old to 60 years old. It would seem that Emma sometimes supported the polygamist lifestyle and was sometimes vehemently opposed to it. Although she actually attended one of the weddings of her husband and another woman, she also went on record saying that her husband had only one wife and that polygamy was never advocated in their household. Some theorize that Emma really didn't know much about his other marriages "“ Joseph knew she disapproved and he secretly married others anyway, including some of her friends. It's unknown how many children Joseph Smith had "“ DNA tests are still being done on people who claim to be his descendants.

Brigham Young

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By contrast, Joseph Smith's successor, Brigham Young, had marriages that were extremely well documented. In order, he was married to Miriam, Mary Ann, Lucy, Augusta, Harriet, Clarissa, Emily (who was also married to Joseph Smith), Clarissa, Louisa, Eliza, Elizabeth, Clarissa, Rebecca, Diana, Susanne, Olive (also married to Joseph Smith), Mary Ann, Margaret, Mary, Emmeline, Mary Elizabeth, Margaret, Olive (also married to Joseph Smith), Emily, Martha, Ellen, Jemima, Abigail (who was the mother of Brigham Young's first wife, Miriam), Phebe, Cynthia, Mary Eliza, Rhoda (also married to Joseph Smith), Zina (also married to Joseph Smith), Amy, Mary Ellen, Julia, Abigail, Mary Ann, Naamah, Nancy, Jane, Lucy, Mary Jane, Sarah, Eliza, Mary, Eliza, Catherine, Harriet, Amelia, Mary, Ann Eliza, Elizabeth, Lydia and Hannah.
That's three Clarissas, three Elizas, three Mary Anns, three Marys, two Olives, two Abigails, two Elizabeths, two Harriets, two Lucys, two Margarets, five who were also married to Joseph Smith and one mother-daughter duo.
With so many wives, it's almost surprising that he only had 57 children. To accommodate his gigantic family, Brigham Young had the Lion House and the Beehive House built. One of Young's contemporaries wrote, "It was amusing to walk by Brigham Young's big house, a long rambling building with innumerable doors. Each wife has an establishment of her own, consisting of parlor, bedroom, and a front door, the key of which she keeps in her pocket".

The Jeffs

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First, we have Rulon Jeffs (that's him on the left with two of his wives). He was the eighth prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, serving from 1986 to 2002. As mentioned before, the FLDS is a sect of the Mormon Church "“ when the Salt Lake City-based Mormon Church banned polygamy in the 1890s so Utah could become a state, the FLDS was created because, among other reasons, they still believed in polygamy. Jeffs had 19-20 wives, 27 daughters and 33 sons. That brings us to Warren Jeffs (on the right), the son who declared himself the ninth prophet of the Fundamentalist Church after his father's death. He married most of his father's widows, making him the stepfather of some of his brothers. He also married women who were close relatives, but claimed that it was necessary because as a descendant of both Joseph Smith and Jesus Christ, he needed to preserve the family bloodlines. He believes that a man must have at least three wives to make it to heaven, but the more wives, the better. He is estimated to have somewhere between 70 and 80 wives, including Naomi, who married his 90-year-old father when she was only 17.
Warren was on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List in 2006 for arranging marriages between adult men and underage girls. He was arrested a couple of months later and charged with that, plus sexual conduct with minors and incest. He was found guilty of two counts of rape as an accomplice and sentenced to 10 years to life in prison, which he is now serving.

Tom Green

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Now, the FLDS members know their beliefs are taboo when compared with that of most people's, so they tend to keep a low profile. But not Mormon Fundamentalist Tom Green (not THAT Tom Green). He appeared on Dateline NBC, Queen Latifah, The Jerry Springer Show and The Sally Jesse Raphael Show to promote a polygamist lifestyle. He pretty much dared police to come after him, saying that marrying as many women as he wished was his constitutional right. They accepted the dare and came after him when they discovered that his first wife, Linda Kunz, was born in 1973 and had her first child in 1986 "“ which means she was only 13 when she had sex with Green. He was convicted in 2002 for child rape and was released from prison last year. He's still married to Linda. Oh, he had five wives altogether "“ Linda, Carrie and Hannah, who were sisters; and Shirley and Leanne, also sisters. He has 25 children with the five wives.

Ervil LeBaron

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When the Mormons abandoned the idea of polygamy, several families, including Ervil's, moved to Mexico so they wouldn't be under United States jurisdiction. When Ervil's dad died, his eldest son, Joel, became the leader of the community, which he eventually called the Church of the Firstborn in the Fullness of Times. In 1972, Ervil and Joel were warring over control of the Church. Ervil split off into a group of his own called the Church of the Lamb of God. He had Joel killed. Younger brother Verlan then assumed leadership of Joel's group, so Ervil tried to have him killed too. He was unsuccessful that time, though.
However, he was successful in having his followers (often his wives) kill rival polygamous leaders and their wives. He has also been linked to the death of his own daughter, Rebecca, who criticized the group. Ervil was arrested in 1979 and taken to the U.S., where he was convicted of having ordered the death of one of his rivals. He was sentenced to life in prison at the Utah State Penitentiary, but died of natural causes after serving less than two years. For the short time he was in prison, though, he kept instructing his wives, children and followers to continue to murder. It's estimated that at least 25 people were killed from LeBaron's orders in prison. His daughter, Jacqueline, is wanted by the FBI.

Tran Viet Chu

Not all polygamists are Mormons or Mormon offshoots, though. Tran Viet Chu of Vietnam says he has no problem keeping up with his 14 wives and 80-plus children.
"Poor me, every time I see a voluptuously shaped woman I find no way to resist my sensitive feeling. I seem to have been born with this flirtatious tendency," he told the
Cong An Nhan Dan (People's Public Security) newspaper. He lives with some of his family, with each wife supporting her own children. Chu provides for himself. He says he's lost count of all of his wives and kids, but says he has "at least" 14 wives. And yes, polygamy is illegal in Vietnam, and so is having more than two children per family.

Saleh al-Sayeri

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This 64-year-old businessman has had 58 wives, but doesn't remember the names of most of them. He has 10 sons and somewhere between 22 and 28 daughters "“ he's not exactly sure. He does know, though, that all of his marriages and settlements have cost him more than $1.6 million.

Islamic law allows men to have up to four wives at a time, but he says he has kept the same three for the past 20 years or more "“ it's the fourth wife he rotates out. "It's the one for renewal," he said. "I like to change my fourth wife every year."

One of his sons, Fahd al-Sayeri, said he was out with friends when they heard celebratory gunshots coming from a tent, signaling a wedding. When he conversationally asked who got married, Fahd was informed that it was his own father. Again.

May 1, 2008 - 7:02am
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