No one who has ever been in the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has ever had a story like Margaret Cooke’s.
Raised by a Methodist-born father and German-immigrant mother who both converted to fundamental Mormonism, she moved, at age 12, to the Utah-Arizona line to live with the more-esteemed members of the sect that became the FLDS.
To learn her whole story, you’ll need to read her memoir, or memoirs.
“For me to write what I really want to write,” Cooke said, “I need to write more than one book.”
Cooke is not the only former FLDS member with literary aspirations.
One of the daughters of FLDS President Warren Jeffs published a book in November. One of Jeffs’ half-brothers has a book expected June 6.
At least three other former FLDS members recently interviewed by The Salt Lake Tribune have said they are working on books, too, though none indicated having a publisher. If they find one, they will enter a market that already has plenty of entries. An Amazon search Thursday found 97 book titles having to do with the term “FLDS.”
But the budding authors say they aren’t chasing book sales. They want to set the record straight and explain to everyone — sometimes including themselves — what happened.
“I’ve been writing things down just because I didn’t want to forget,” said Brenda Nicholson, who left the FLDS in 2012.
She describes her last years in the sect as “hell” that led to depression and thoughts of suicide. She couldn’t talk to anyone in the FLDS about what she was feeling.
“If I did,” Nicholson said, “it would just be proof to them I was struggling and I was wicked.”
She would go to a closet or some private room and write down her thoughts and feelings. Then she would burn the writings, she said, so no one would know she was “wicked.”
Even so, Nicholson said, the writing was therapeutic. After she and her family left the FLDS, Nicholson began writing on a blog and then on Facebook. She wrote about events she experienced in the FLDS, how they made her feel then and now.
“Basically,” she said, “I wrote a book without trying.”
Nicholson also wants people to understand how she says the FLDS has manipulated public perception. She contends the sect has used women, who weren’t telling the truth, to appear as sympathetic characters at events like the 2008 raid on the YFZ Ranch in Eldorado, Texas, and last year’s evictions in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.
“It seems like if you get some crying polygamous women in front of the camera,” Nicholson said, “people believe that a lot more than all these other people saying, ‘That’s not how it happens.’ ”
Explaining how things really were, or are, is also important to Wallace Jeffs, whose book is titled “Destroying Their God: How I Fought My Evil Half-Brother to Save My Children.” He is one of the few former FLDS men to write a book.
“Nobody seems to want to give a male perspective,” Wallace Jeffs said in a recent interview. “That’s kind of why I did it.”
He says the public assumes all the men in polygamy are sexmongers wanting to control women.
“They always put polygamy with group sex,” he said.
Wallace Jeffs said he and other men entered polygamy because they were taught it was necessary to continue the teachings of Mormon founder Joseph Smith. Wallace eventually had two wives and 20 children. He later decided his half-brother was an evil man, and the FLDS had been teaching polygamy incorrectly.
Wallace Jeffs is now a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which officially abandoned polygamy in 1890 and excommunicates members found practicing it. He remarried in 2017. The couple were sealed in an LDS temple ceremony earlier this year.
But about half his children are still loyal to the FLDS, Wallace Jeffs said, and will have no contact with him. Writing the book will help to explain to them the truth of why he left and no longer follows that church.
“I did it so they can understand my side of the story, not the church’s side of the story, which is twisted and not correct,” he said.
It’s not just the general public or the people still in the FLDS whom Cooke wants to reach with her truth. Cooke said that because she wasn’t from multiple generations of polygamists, she was seen by people in the faith as being from a lower caste than people born into it.
She said people who left the FLDS years ago have told her they were still trying to overcome the notion that she was wicked.
Cooke wants to write a history for her children and grandchildren, and also wants former FLDS members to understand what it was like for her growing up. She has worked on a book off and on for years but wants to restart in earnest this summer.
“People should be respected for their character and who they are,” Cooke said, but should be loved no matter what.
“That’s pretty good. I should put that in my book.”