Susan Ray Schmidt
Author, Speaker sharing her escape from Polygamy
Susan Ray was born into a Mormon family in Utah in 1953. At age six, her parents became disillusioned with the LDS church and moved the family to Colonia LeBaron, a primitive, polygamist, religious community in Mexico. The leader of the new church they had joined was middle-aged Joel LeBaron, husband to six wives, who claimed to be the one and only true prophet of God on earth.
Susan grew up outgoing, headstrong, and fanciful. She attended Mexican schools with the colony’s other youngsters and was quickly indoctrinated into the beliefs and practices of the Church of the Firstborn. When she turned fifteen, she became the child bride of the prophet’s 38-year-old brother, Verlan, one of the leaders of her new church. Verlan immediately hauled Susan to the church’s fledgling colony in Baja California, to meet and begin living with his other five wives and his 24 children.
For the next eight years, Susan’s reality was sharing her husband with his other wives, with his newest female conquests, and with demanding church leadership. Babies came; five of them. Susan and her children lived in squalor, surrounded by Verlan’s other families who suffered along with them. They tried desperately to keep their faith in their husband and in the church.
Meanwhile, another brother, Ervil LeBaron, insisted that he, not the prophet Joel, had been selected by God to lead the church. (This same Ervil had tried his best to marry fourteen-year-old Susan, by assuring her God had given him a revelation that she was supposed to be his wife.) Charismatic Ervil had a devastating effect on the LeBaron church membership, cajoling and convincing about a third of Joel’s followers to drop Joel and support him instead as God’s prophet.
Bloodshed ensued, resulting in the murder of the prophet Joel. A shaken church elected Verlan to be its new president and leader. Enraged, Ervil’s group pursued Verlan as well. Verlan was forced into hiding from his brother Ervil’s murderous lieutenant.
Susan’s faith was shaken. Her belief in polygamy as God’s perfect plan for families was already suffering, and the prophet’s death threw her life into further turmoil. She began studying the Mormon scriptures in earnest in an effort to understand what God required of her. As she read, she discovered glaring discrepancies about polygamy. She finally concluded that she must take her children and leave Verlan and the church.
In November 1976, Susan and her five children fled Colonia LeBaron. She settled in Utah, where she attended high school, received her diploma, and started college, all the while holding a job and taking care of her children.
In 1979 Susan married Dennis Schmidt. She found for the first time the partner and lover her heart had longed for, and the daddy her children so badly needed. They settled in Idaho, where Susan and her family became born-again Christians. She determined to write her story in hope of sharing her life’s journey with other women who found themselves trapped in untenable circumstances.
She worked and cared for her family by day and wrote at night, memories flooding and haunting her soul as the difficult words, handwritten at first, covered the notebooks. Favorite Wife, Escape from Polygamy slowly took shape and was self-published in 2006. It was republished by Lyon’s Press in 2009 and then became part of Micro Publishing Media.
Susan enjoys lecturing at various Universities and sharing her story with churches and women’s groups.