Nov 26, 2016

Polygamy only road to salvation and education, former Bountiful member testifies

Vancouver Sun

November 24, 2016


CRANBROOK — Practising polygamy and being obedient were the most important lessons that Esther Palmer, her siblings and her nine children were taught at home, at school and at church in Bountiful, B.C. 

Palmer’s father, Dalmon Oler, was Bountiful’s presiding elder, husband to four and father to 46.

“He taught us we should never, ever stray (from the faith), and he taught us the consequences of hell — pain and suffering forever and ever — if we ever doubted the faith or questioned the teachings,” she said Thursday.

When she was 16, Oler told her that God had decided she was to marry Brian Palmer, a man who frightened her and was 13 years older. She had never spoken to him, even though he was already married to her sister.

At the time, she believed that refusing to marry God’s choice for her husband — conveyed to her through the prophet — would have brought dishonour and shame to her family. Worse, it might have led to ex-communication and, ultimately, no chance at salvation.

Palmer testified Thursday at the trial of her brother, James Oler, Brandon Blackmore and Emily Gail Blackmore. The three are charged with transporting their under-aged daughters to the United States to be married in 2004. The girls were under 14.

The parents face up to 10 years in prison if convicted. Despite that, Oler and Gail Blackmore have chosen not to have legal counsel.

The prosecution is attempting to prove that the parents would have known that by taking them to the U.S., their daughters would likely be child brides and teen mothers. 

Esther Palmer said Thursday that she “totally expected” to marry at 16. Most of her girlfriends had.

Besides, Palmer wanted to become a nurse, and the only women allowed to take post-secondary training were tethered to the community by husbands and children.

Education is superfluous in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Palmer was told many times that the only thing people needed to know was who God is and how to become like him.

Regardless, in 1983, Palmer said, “I wasn’t prepared to say no” to the marriage.

It was consummated within three days of the wedding. The first of her nine children was born little more than a year later.

Saying no to anything, let alone sex, was impossible, she said. She had been taught to be as unquestioningly obedient to her husband as she had been to her father, the prophet and God. Besides, she had also been inculcated with the belief that women only achieve the highest glory if they bear as many children as possible.

It took years into the marriage before Palmer had the courage to ask her husband’s permission to go to nursing school.

A few weeks later, her husband was notified that God — through the prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints — agreed it would be okay.

She was 25, pregnant and had three children. But she graduated three years later. In 2000, Palmer was also allowed to take a midwifery course so that she and three other women from the community could deliver Bountiful’s babies.

But she left the clinic abruptly in 2002. FLDS  prophet Rulon Jeffs had died, and in Canada and the U.S., church members were divided over his successor.

Half the people in Bountiful chose Winston Blackmore, while the other half picked Rulon’s son, Warren.

Palmer’s husband sided with Warren Jeffs, who had already warned that anyone not following him was an apostate. Anyone who spoke to an apostate would be put on probation and likely ex-communicated.

It tore the community apart.

Palmer was ordered to set up a midwifery clinic in the church office and only care for Jeffs’s followers.

Followers were told to hand over everything they owned to the church. The government-supported private school was shut down. Newspapers, radios and the Internet were forbidden.

Jeffs decreed that once a month, everything in the home had to be washed — “Walls, ceilings, beds, floors, drawers. Everything,” Palmer said.

Men, including her husband, were “sent away”.

“My children were told that Brian Palmer was not their father anymore. Myself and his first wife were told that we were no longer his wives, and that our priesthood head would be Brian, Jr. (Palmer’s son by his first marriage).”

They were to have no contact with Brian Palmer Sr., and would be informed when or if he might be allowed back.

In 2011, Esther Palmer was also found to be “unworthy” and was forced to leave the community.

The trial and Palmer’s testimony continues Monday.


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