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Just how big are the polygamous towns on the UT-AZ border anyway?

Published February 27, 2013 9:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The polygamous towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., are pretty small, but during a recent visit I couldn't help wondering how many people actually live there. Most of the streets were empty most of the time and there's no bustling center, so the 10,000-person figure I heard floated seemed like a wild exaggeration.

So I looked up the towns in the 2010 census and discovered that at the most recent counting, Hildale had a population of 2,726 people. Colorado City had a population of 4,821, bringing the combined population to 7,547 people.

That number is closer to what I might have guessed. Driving around town, we saw groups of kids running around and groups of women wearing long dresses working in yards, but that was about it. In terms of street life, the area felt at times similar to even smaller towns like Helper (2,201), or Manti (3,276).

There was, however, an inexplicable number of huge pickup trucks cruising the town during my visit. I'm not sure what that was all about.

Anyway, that there are no bustling streets in the Short Creek area probably doesn't need much explanation. Businesses have abruptly closed, and the only in-town grocery store is still shuttered. There's just not a lot of places to go. And residents are famously wary of outsiders, especially when they're bearing telephoto lenses, as we were.

Some people might live on outlying farms, too.

The census data also offers other interesting nuggets. The median age in Colorado City, for example, is 12.6 years, while for the state of Utah as a whole, it's 29.2 years. And in Colorado City — which I'm using here because it's the bigger of the two towns even though it's not in Utah — a whopping 67 percent of the population is 19 or younger. Across all of Utah, only 34.7 percent of the population is that young.

So Short Creek is much younger than other places, which makes sense because more than anything else, I saw children while I was there.

The gender distribution of Colorado City is similar to the state of Utah, with nearly equal numbers of men and women, and the town is 99.5 percent white. There are 575 households.

One curious thing about the housing in Colorado City is that only 10.6 percent is owner occupied, compared to 70.4 percent for Utah. That figure is presumably due to the fact that the United Effort Plan — an FLDS-created but now state-controlled trust — owns most property in the area. Still, that's a very low percentage of owner-occupancy, which highlights the unique cultural and legal dynamics of the Short Creek Community.

The figures for Hildale were generally similar to those for Colorado City, but on a smaller scale. If you're a Census nerd like me, go ahead and sift through the data and see what you can find.

— Jim Dalrymple

jdalrymple@sltrib.com

Twitter: @jimmycdii