Alex Joseph is married to a registered nurse, a schoolteacher, a law school dropout, a ski instructor and a Kentucky beauty contest winner.
An extraordinary woman? No. In fact, the extraordinary one is surely the 38-year-old Joseph. At last count he had 13 wives, ranging in age from 16 to 30, and six children of his own in a rapidly growing family. “There are other girls who want to join us,” says Joseph. “But I haven’t married them yet.”
Joseph is the pistol-packin’ papa of a religious sect in Utah that openly practices plural marriage. Joseph not only keeps an arsenal of semiautomatic weapons around but has taught his wives to use them. (Among his guns is a .41 Magnum engraved with the words “For Christ’s sake.”) “I came here to build a place for my family,” he says, “but they won’t let us alone. There ain’t a corner of this planet where you can go without being molested.”
Joseph’s movement had its beginnings in 1969 when the swarthy ex-Marine joined the Mormon Church (“because an angel told me to”) and began studying the doctrine of polygamy. The Mormons stopped practicing that aspect of their religion in 1890, but Joseph wanted to revive it. He was excommunicated from the church in 1973 for his outspoken views on the subject, but, undeterred, he began collecting wives. Joseph, who has worked as a police officer, freighter, racehorse ranch manager, car salesman, bookkeeper, fire fighter, flying school owner and high school teacher, explains with no embarrassment, “I am good at whatever I do.”
Joseph assures anyone who asks that his baker’s dozen all get their fair turns in the nuptial bed. He once said he “could sleep with three different women in one afternoon and still have a warm, sexual experience with a fourth that night.”
Joseph’s wives echo his contentment. Pamela loves the outdoor life—both riding and shooting. Dale and Leslie love to cook for the group. Judy, 21, a former student at the University of Montana, says, “You have to give up possessiveness, selfishness and jealousy and learn to love more when you become a polygamous wife.” Black-haired Theresa, part Cherokee, says, “A woman’s husband is her god. My relationship with Alex is the same as my relationship with God.”
Joseph prefers to discuss his marital adventures in legal rather than theological terms. “Polygamy is not against the law,” he declares. “The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion.” But Utah’s Deputy Attorney General Robert Hansen disagrees. He is urging that a criminal complaint be filed against Joseph for “cohabitation,” a felony in Utah.
Joseph has had other problems with the law. When he attempted to homestead on public lands, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management filed a suit to remove him. Recently the state accused him of catching fish illegally in nearby Lake Powell. The distraught parents of at least three of his ménage have asked the FBI for help in getting their daughters back. It’s only a matter of time before the Internal Revenue looks him up since, as Joseph says blithely, “I don’t believe in paying any taxes.” And last week Joseph was arrested and jailed on charges of possessing a stolen helicopter, although he said he’d bought it.
In the meantime, he is supporting his wives with earnings from a small cafe, the Red Desert Inn in Glen Canyon City, plus sales of a desert plant, ginseng. Joseph says ginseng has miraculous healing powers. The FDA has been investigating the ginseng operation, but Joseph says he’ll fight that—and other legal entanglements—in court, with the help of one of his wives, the law school dropout.
Joseph’s church, the Church of Jesus Christ in Solemn Assembly, is loosely run and has no formal membership. But he does have several followers outside the family. One is Eric Lassen, 29, a friend and former philosophy teacher at the University of Montana, who lives in a tent nearby with three wives and six children. “If a man just wanted to sleep with a lot of women,” Lassen observes, surely speaking for Joseph too, “there certainly must be an easier way.”