Our guest is New York Times bestselling author Ruth Wariner. In her memoir The Sound of Gravel, she writes about growing up in a polygamous Mormon colony named after her grandfather in Mexico. She shares harrowing and unbelievable details about being her father’s 39th child, living in extreme poverty after her father’s murder – and then eventually escaping the colony that was enabling her stepfather’s sexual abuses. She’s here to share her story and the lengths she’s gone through since her escape to raise her younger siblings and heal from her past.
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And one of the belief system that I know was all over the colony and that my dad, Joel, the prophet that my biological father believed as well was in physical punishment to women when they didn't obey. And they had a saying about, you know, your wife is as your ox and you have to keep them in line, basically.
I'm Gabriela Tavakoli Bailey, and I've worked in unscripted television as an executive producer and TV executive doing what I love most. Storytelling. I'm an extremely curious person, and I decided to do this podcast so I can dig in and learn about fascinating people living extraordinary lives. And I called up my very talented friend, Orly Minazad, who is a writer and journalist, and together, We are going to learn about people's journeys and provide you with a fun listen and a good time.
Welcome to tell us something we don't know.
Our guest today is New York Times bestselling author Ruth Warner in her memoir, The Sound of Gravel. She writes about growing up in a polygamous Mormon colony named after her grandfather in Mexico. She shares harrowing and unbelievable details about being her father's 39th child, living in extreme poverty after her father's murder, and then eventually escaping the colony that was enabling her stepfather's sexual abuses.
She's here to share her story and the lengths she's gone through since her escape to raise her younger siblings and heal from her past. Welcome,
Ruth. Thank you. That was an amazing introduction.
Oh, God, no. I, I gotta say, I don't even know where to begin. orly is the one who told me about this book. And I guess, and I think your 20 year old niece,
Yeah, my niece Shia told me, let's read this book together. I'm like, great. And then by the time the book arrived, she's like, Oh, I'm already done with it. Like we were supposed to like read it and talk about it. And she just,
yeah. And then, and then, so she told me about it and then I started reading it.
First of all, you're a great, an amazing writer and yeah. And, and talking about an opening up about your past, which it is such a. It's like, you know, I don't even think inspirational is enough of a, of a word to explain what you went through and got
And then Gabriela and I were talking earlier saying like, okay, we have no right to ever complain about anything in our lives.
We are done. So I don't know. I don't know. Where should we begin? Should we have her summarize?
So in our introduction, we tried to kind of give some top lines about your memoir, Ruth. Kind of in your own words, explain to us what the, what the book is about and you know, what you went through.
Okay. Yeah. I grew up in a polygamous colony.
Born in 1972 in a church that my father and his brother actually started in order, it was a community that they created to have a safe space to practice their religion. It was in Mexico, the state of Chihuahua at the time, and it was Actually illegal in Mexico to live polygamy as well. But, you know, they did mostly everything in secret, but they felt like they had more religious freedom there.
So by the time I was born, they started the community colonial of Baron in the 1950s. And by the time I was born, they had already split and there was all kinds of chaos. They started the church under the premise that my dad was the prophet of the community and that's what you know They went all over the world actually on mission trips getting people in and having them move to Mexico that time My mom ended up in the church.
She was American and her family was converted when she was 14 So by the time I was born in 1972 they split and Irvall my uncle Ended up thinking that no, he's the one that had the authority. And so there was this massive break in the church. He took a lot of my dad's followers and ended up convincing that him, that convincing the followers that they had in fact been tricked by a false prophet.
And. They use something called the blood atonement, which was early Mormon philosophy that anybody who created, who had a heinous sin, like the one that my dad had needed to be killed in order to save them. So, in other words, he convinced his followers that my dad was such a bad person and had lied to everybody about his authority that he needed to be killed in order to save his soul, basically.
And that's basically what they ended up doing. I mean, that's a story in itself. About the way that he was killed. Eventually they set him up in an open house and three people arrived and beat him up pretty badly. He was a big guy, like he's over six feet in Sonata, Mexico and shot him twice. And that was, I was actually a baby and my mom was with aunt at the scene, but they took her on a wild goose chase looking for keys.
And she always told me the story. I was three months old and she always told me the story of how she was taken with her kids. She had four kids. I was her youngest at the time and yeah, they were taken on a wild goose chase. By the time she got back to the house, he, his body had already been removed. And they found out at that point that he was killed and his brother, herbal, everybody knew that, you know, they'd been having fights and that, you know, there was a lot of violent rhetoric and stuff around that.
But so I ended up growing up in the community that they started under this very contentious and violent time because herbal, my uncle, his church didn't stop threatening us. So they were basically. Yeah, still bombing communities. They were in the states killing people and then the threats were still coming back to us so I grew up in that state of Okay, here's this mass murderer and he's coming to get us and he's going to kill my family in the way that he killed my dad.
Ugh. I mean, and my mom. Yeah, go ahead. No,
I was just going to say, it's, it's what you said. It's like a story within a story within a story in this, in your memoir. Sorry. And what were you going to say about
your mom? Well, and my mom was a devout follower because she had ended up marrying the prophet. She was only 17.
His fifth wife, he had children older than she was, and he was 42. Wow. So she was just somebody that got into the religion when she was 14, and she was just a diehard devout believer in my father and his divinity. And, you know, she
was 17, sorry, she was 17 years old and your father was 42.
Yes. That's when they got married.
That's when they got married. Yeah. But yeah, at the, at the, at that time, her, my grandparents, they were from the States and you know, they had all been converted by herbal and my dad, Joel, and they left the church. So everybody else left the church, but my mom. She stayed behind. She was the one that married the Prophet, and she was the devout believer, even still, after his death.
So, she stayed, and then she ended up, and Lane, my stepfather, she met him, I think I was... Like three years old and ended up marrying him. She loved him because he was another devout follower. You know, he was pretty high up in the church and held a position in the community that was pretty respectable and had a few wives of its own.
And so continued the religion that way while the rest of her family left. And so that was always a lot of conflict in the family. And I think my grandparents thinking back at them, and it was my grandfather. That made the choice to move south of the border and it was, they both passed away with a lot of guilt and a lot of heaviness because when they got into the church, they saw, they really thought these people were divine.
You had a divine calling. And by the time his daughter, three of his daughters were in the church that left it, but my mom ended up staying, and I think that that was something that always affected them and was quite a burden on their souls, the fact that they allowed their 17 year old daughter to marry an older man that way, and then to have You know, just grow up in poverty or to exist in poverty with men that were not around, you know, when you say
poverty, I mean, this is extreme poverty in the beginning of the book, you talk about how the walls aren't even, you know, patched up fully the smell of mouse droppings, you go into such detail that I, I mean, I have not heard of that type of poverty
before, All right.
When you mentioned the house, the adobe house, I mean, basically dirt bricks that weren't filled in. So you always had the air flowing through and we had a barrel heater. We didn't have central air, we didn't have electricity. We didn't have like any heating other than a barrel heater that burned wood. You know, that my stepfather had made into a heater, basically, it was, it was more than just about being.
Physically poor and having barely enough food. It was, you know, there was an, there was poverty of the spirit, if that makes sense and an emotional poverty and, you know, and, and an educational poverty where the women didn't go to school and didn't finish high school, you know, they didn't have exposure to ideas and.
Other ways of life. I mean, I think my mom did because she was raised in the states, but in reality I mean, she didn't finish high school. So, you know, you're you're marrying these young women and They're pregnant all the time and you know it kind of limits your choices about what you want to do with your life and how you want to live your life, but It also contributes to the poverty.
But then also how does one man, you know This is the problem that I have with polygamy like The practice of it. It's like, how does one man and one woman or several women. You know, how do they educate all these kids and give them all the love that they need and the emotional support. And I think that is reflected also in the relationships of people.
Like the way that my mom was treated by my stepfather and according to her, by my, my real father, you know, my biological father who decided
your dad was the prophet.
According to the way I was taught it, it was my grandfather who gave him, who put his hands on his head on his deathbed, put his hands on my father's head and gave him his authority of being a prophet.
Oh, I see. According to our family's belief that my grandfather, Al Madya al Baran, also was the prophet at that time and he passed his authority onto my father. Got it. Okay. Yes. Gotcha. Gotcha. Okay. Gotcha. So that was the lineage.
Urville is a whole nother story also, because he ends up in jail and this wasn't the only murder that he had
Oh, there were, he had, he never killed anybody. They called him the Mormon Manson, but he had his followers kill at least 25 people that they know about. I
mean, so many directions
too many. Yeah. Yeah. I know. Yes. He went to
jail and he is no longer living. Correct?
Yeah. He died in the early eighties. He didn't jail in jail.
Okay. Yeah. Like you, you know, if you're saying you were in constant fear because your uncle told your
father and he was free for almost a decade before they can arrest him. Oh my God. So that's that whole
You know, And over 25, over 25 murders is just, I'm, it's unfathomable. So one, one thing I just want to kind of understand in the top line, and there is this one moment that you talk about in the book
where you're in the
car and you're, the way that your stepfather Lane describes his beliefs.
In terms of having children, and which is such a crux of this fundamentalist Mormon religion of, that you were raised in, in that he genuinely believes just having like a handful of kids is judged by his eyes. Like how could someone just have a handful of kids? You need to have, you know, 10 to 20 children at least, because that is kind of a, you know, I guess having children is the conduit to, to what, can you describe that?
Because that's in the heart of, of, of what this whole religion was about, right?
Yeah, exactly. To his, it was, it was exact. That's exactly right. So there was no belief in any kind of birth control. And basically if a woman didn't have a lot of kids. They didn't believe they would go to heaven. So the, I think this is in the traditional Mormon beliefs too, that you create a life here on this earth that proves you holy enough, then you not only get to see God, but that you create, you get your own universe or your own world.
So from their perspective, we on this earth are, this is one of many earths. And our God is somebody who has been through this life and proven and had lots of children and many wives and in the afterlife ended up having a world of his own. And we are now living in that world, going through the same test that that God did.
And the women are set up to be servants. Both now and in the afterlife and the number of children you have is also something that you are the number of spirits that you get in the afterlife as well as far as, you know, if they didn't make it and make their own world to see God, but. Basically, there was one way of being, so it was a very linear belief system in the sense that women married, men were polygamists, and they had together all the children they could have, possibly have, and that set up their afterlife, but also set them up as being holy.
You know, I didn't have children of my own and that was totally an abomination to everything that they believed, you know, that was something that was really hard to work with because it was really the belief system. The fundamentalism was more than just polygamy. You know, there was this, and that was actually allowed because men needed to have as many children as possible.
And that was pretty much, yeah, the basis of what they believed. All in preparation for the afterlife
with Lane specifically because he was I feel confident. I'm allowed to say this. He was a piece of shit You think that he truly believed any of those things that he really believed that? He was helping by having so many wives and so many children or, and, and we'll have you explain, you know, all the abuses and stuff you went through with him, but I'm just curious about how much of this was genuine belief in something and how much of it is, Oh, I'm hiding out behind this comment.
How much of it was coming from a place of opportunism. Exactly. You know, I think. And I think about my mom and the way she believed. I think they were all brainwashed. I think that in his own mind, he did believe that. Okay. Yeah. I think he did believe that. And the problem that I had with the religion and the reason that I didn't stay in it was that he, they all said one thing and did it completely other, you know, I mean, it's just like they have these beliefs, but then you're not taking care of children.
You don't take care of your wives. Like, where's the rest of it? You know, where's the depth to this. So I think at an intellectual, more superficial level, I really do believe that they believe that they believe that my dad was the prophet and that he was divine, you know, God's mouthpiece on earth and that he, you
so lane married your mom when you were three, right?
Yes, that's right. And then I lost track of how many kids they had after that. Yeah, but there were a lot. Yeah. So. So what happened? So she got married and
then she got married and then we moved into that Adobe house that you were describing earlier. No electricity at that time. We didn't have a bathroom.
We had an out an indoor bathroom. We have an outhouse that we went to. And so, yeah, it was, I have early memories of going back to that house and just remember the cold cement floor and the dust. And then in the wintertime, in spite of, in spite of the fact of it being, you know, the Mexican desert, it was cold, you know, we didn't even get snow sometimes.
And so that barrel heater was, uh, kind of, it was nice to have it, but it was also dangerous because you couldn't touch it, you know? So, like... Yeah, those kinds of things, but my early earliest memories of my stepfather was just him screaming like he was You know, it's like these people had all these kids, but they didn't have the tenderness at least not in my family I should qualify that but you know that he didn't have this tenderness towards children or even understand how to relate to them in a way that wasn't Coming from a place of severe disciplinarian, that was his personality.
I think they even operated, you know, kids are bad. And so we need to make sure that we correct them and make them good people. And he felt like. From his own upbringing, he felt like that was by physically, a lot of physical abuse and one of the belief system that I know was all over the colony and that my dad, my, my dad, Joel, the prophet that my biological father.
Believed as well was in physical punishment to women When they didn't obey and they had a saying about you know Your wife is as your office and you have to keep them in line, basically Well that kind of stuff like the trauma affected me in ways that I never imagined. Yeah. Yeah Yeah, and I'm still definitely dealing with
and I want I want the the listeners obviously You know, it's an incredible book and everybody listening needs to go and read this, but I, I'm just going to give some top lines about, you know, about the shocking things that happened to you.
So, you know, your, your biological father was murdered by your uncle, extreme poverty. I mean, living in Mexico, all of you guys were like these toeheaded, blonde kids. Talk about fish out of water, you know, these sister wives who, how many sister wives did Lane
have? My stepdad only had one wife when my mom and married him.
He had been divorced twice. It's like so crazy the situation, but he eventually had four wives. My mom was one of them. Yeah.
Gotcha. So he had four wives. So, you know, being raised with sister wives around you, with your own mother, your mother being uneducated, the sexual advances and abuse that your, your stepfather
You had an older sister who, Audrey, who. Ended up going to a mental institution and, and all the, you know, the trauma that you experienced with that and seeing that your little sister, Mary,
and then, you know, Your, your brother, Micah, who you care, who cared for, who you saw his death before your eyes, your mother who passed away in front of your eyes right after that, I mean, it's, it's just like, you know, like we talked about, it's one thing after the other for you.
When I talk about kind of the fish out of water of being raised in Mexico, right? And all of you guys have this blonde hair and I only bring that up because you guys stand out. And did you feel fish out of water? Did you feel like your family stood out? Talk to us
about that. I definitely felt like I, I mean, I have a lot more compassion, I think for minorities in our country, just because of the way that I was raised as a minority.
I did feel, and I also didn't speak the language. Like that's not the language that was spoken in our house. Spanish wasn't, and my mom didn't speak Spanish. So I didn't really start learning Spanish until I went to the Mexican public school in the first grade. And so, yes, I always. But like, I didn't know how to communicate well, even in our own colony, in our own neighborhood and community, I stood out as pretty blonde and white and a lot of, you know, my dad had a lot of Mexican wives and so they were all dark and spoke Spanish as their first language as well.
So I think that feeling of being a fish out of water has something been a feeling that I've had. Not just in Mexico, but then having lived in that community and being orphaned at 15 and then escaping to the United States to live with my grandmother and my little sisters. My younger brother and sisters, like that was also something that was very different, you know, I, so I think that that's definitely something that still affects me like being a fish out of water there and also being a fish out of water here.
I mean, I've, I've managed and I've learned some coping skills and communication skills and things like that.
Shifting a bit to the dynamics among your mom and the sister wives. I remember in your book that there's this one moment your mom was so upset because one of the sister wives got the showerhead and she didn't and he she had saved up for this showerhead.
So you guys are in Mexico. You're around
how old at the time? I was six. So you're six years old and to
kind of talk, talk to us a little bit about how many sister wives there were at this moment and what your mom kind of, what she went through with this shower head.
I remember at the time I stepped out only having his first wife.
So his first wife is the one that in these kinds of communities, the first wives usually have. Get the first of everything and I'm pretty sure that Alejandra was like the only wife at the time and she was his first wife and so she had the bigger, nicer house down the street. We lived on a ranch, you know, with a couple of acres between us and my mom.
Was on welfare. She was the American, my, her sister wife was Mexican and she, my mom had always been on welfare. And so she actually used her money for that. She got from the States, I think at an El Paso address to help take care of Lane's families. Cause one thing that Lane was not good at was providing financial support through all of this.
And she supported herself through the welfare system. And saved up money from that to get a showerhead because we didn't have indoor hot water at all. We had cold running water that we heated up on the stove to take baths in a small tin tub, basically. And at that time we still didn't have an indoor bathroom.
So she saved up this money and Lane had been installing a part, a room that was going to be our bathroom. And part of that was a pipe that ran up that, that we basically, in order for it to work, we just needed the showerhead in order to have some hot running water in the bathroom and she saved it up and he, my mom's sister, wife.
Was from the neighboring town, Casas Grandes, which was the biggest, uh, Mexican city close to us, uh, pretty big metropolitan area. And that's where her family was from, my mom's sister wife, and so they went up to see her family, and she gave Lane the money to buy the showerhead. So, come to find out, I think it was a couple of days later, he came to spend his night with my mom.
And my mom was like, where's the showerhead? And he said, well, I put it in at Alejandra's house. And she said, but that was my showerhead. I gave you the money. He's like, you know, automatically got defensive and was pretty quick, you know, angry already. And he's like, she's my first wife. I'm the head of this family and I decide who gets the showerhead.
And she said, but that was my money. And the conflict escalated to a point where she handed me the baby. And she was in his face and she's like, that's, you know, screaming at him. Like, this is, this is what I bought. This is my, this was my shower head. And he gets up, throws her down on the ground and takes his belt off, which is what he commonly did for discipline.
And just started to whip her all over her body. And she was screaming at him, like, what are you doing to me? And. My siblings and I were all just like watching, you know, just watching it all unfold. There was no, like, consideration for children, I don't think, in that, in that kind of situation. But it was at that point, my youngest sister, Mary, she was the newborn at the time.
There were five of us. And she went into her bedroom, her glasses fell out, and my, I was making a bottle for my little sister Mary, and that spilled all over the floor, and it was just a mess, and she was somebody, her glasses were kind of her. You know, she always needed him. She was had really bad. She was nearsighted pretty badly And I just remember crawling on the floor looking for his her glasses after laying left to go to be with this first wife I imagine and Putting the kids to bed and taking care of my sister while she recovered in her bedroom.
You were six years old I was six. You were six
Years old. I mean, yeah. And thank you for sharing that story. And I know I can see, obviously, you get really, really emotional about it. And I think that that I mean, that's, that's the hard part about doing this memoir for you. I wonder often about people who write memoirs, how do they, you know, go back and relive the trauma?
And how do they remember certain details? You do such a good job of Uh, putting your, your listener or your reader, I, I listen to your, I listened to your book and you did it on in your own voice. You actually read your book and those little details that you would just make us all feel like we're, we're part of it.
Another thing I remember is in the book, you were in class. Maybe as a first grader. And then you realize that one of the students in your class is actually your sister from the biological. So biological father who had passed away. So
right. How many
siblings do you
do you have from my dad's side of the family?
He has 42 children and I'm his 39th and the only reason I know that is because there were two born after me the day, the year he died. So we have, when he had nine wives at one point, but when he died, he had seven wives at that time. And within those seven wives. He had five kids in that same year that he was killed with all the different wives.
So I have siblings and the ones that I refer to in the first grade, because I was being raised with my stepfather, I wasn't as close to my dad's side of the family, if that makes sense. Like we, I, even today we feel closer and I see more often my step family because those are the kids that I was raised with.
Um, And so we lived on the outskirts of town on a farm, and the girls that I met actually were neighbors, so they knew they would go to church together, and they knew that they were sisters. But I didn't at that point, understand the dynamics of the family and Brenda, my sister was from my, she's my biological sister from my, my dad's first wife.
So she's Mexican. And so she, Spanish was her first language because she grew up in the Spanish speaking house, but she also understood English. And then my other sister, Natalia, she. And again, they're my same age. It's so interesting. Yeah, exactly. From, from my dad's sixth wife and, you know, English speaking household, but they, she understood more Spanish because she had more interactions with the community basically.
And I started the Mexican public school and I loved my teacher immediately because she had great makeup and great hair and just this cute young Mexican woman. And, but I didn't understand anything she was saying because my, you know, I just hadn't been exposed. And so they came and helped me learn, you know, they were helping me learn the bowels and, and it wasn't really until I was.
You know, in school and it was like, Oh yeah, like I don't even remember at what point like that they were, Oh, you know, I'm your sister. Yeah. Sorry.
Can you just walk us, you talked about very, you know, specifically describe to us that moment.
I remember being afraid. Because I didn't understand what was going on in the classroom and having somebody sit next to me and speak to me in English and understand what was going on.
And then to realize that she was my sister. It was such a relief and so comforting. But I think we were learning the vowels, A I O U, which are the same in Spanish. And she came by and she's like talking to me and giving me directions. And I, and then her sister Brenda came by and they were all just talking and having lunch and it's like, Oh yeah, you're my sister.
So at that time I felt a connection. I don't think I had felt before in any community because I actually had somebody there. To help me when
you're looking at Brenda, when you're looking at Brenda, are you like, does she look like you
actually, as we've gotten older, she does look more and more like, yeah.
So she's darker, but I think we have a lot of the same facial features. Cause we look like our dad. We both take after our dad, but yeah, I looked at my pictures, the pictures of my sisters, brothers and sisters from, you know, like my dad's Mexican wise, we all look kind of alike. You know, the people that took after my dad, it's, yeah, and Natalia takes more after her mom.
So she looks like her mom's side of the family, but, but, you know, that, but talking about the sisters and my relationship with them, although somewhat disconnected, feeling closer to somebody that, because back at home, obviously my life was pretty chaotic. Right. And my mom had three special needs kids and so they took a lot of her time and my older sister Audrey was autistic and pretty violent and so I was afraid of her.
But seeing the sisters at school gave a sense of connection in a way that I hadn't had in my own house, if that makes sense. Yeah.
Yeah. Cause there was always a sense that despite all these kids, you were a little lonely.
Oh, definitely. Yeah. That I didn't, I felt like, again, to your point about feeling like a fish out of water, like that was not a normal situation.
And then going to school and having met and meeting sisters there gave me a little bit a sense of a community that I don't think I had felt before. Yeah. Yeah.
So it's funny. And I want you to talk about, you know, whatever your thoughts on religion and God and all that is. But I wonder, like, there's so few happy experiences you have.
And this was one of the nice ones, you know, is there anything you did take out of this Mormon colony that you think back to in a positive light?
Yes. Yeah, there are a lot of things, and that's actually a really good question, and it's not one that I've been asked very often. Because, I even think about, I'll just go back to the sisters since we were on that topic, like, I left so abruptly and didn't get to say goodbye to any of my sisters that were there.
And that I had built relationships with, and it's not until now that I'm getting older and I'm like, you know, I gave up my relationships with all of my sisters, you know, so I think having that type of support and family was something that was a positive, definitely that I think helped make my decisions about my own sisters from my mom's side later on.
And. You know, having that family, and it's so funny, it's like, I will talk to my sisters now, we're not really close, but once in a while we'll go to a wedding or a funeral or something, and I sit down with them, and they have so many of the same experience, and I relate to them at a deeper level, you know, it's kind of refreshing to go back to that, even though that's not, you know, I didn't choose that lifestyle, and it's not what I wanted for my own life, so the goodness, you know, that people had, and the care, and the love, and Um, It's so ironic because my mom and I think this is something that really frustrated me as her teenage daughter was Such a kind person like she I talked to my brothers my siblings And we grew up in a severely religious area, but my mom had a lightness that was not common She had a kindness that was That shined pretty brightly in that community and I have my siblings now They'll come to me and they will say I wanted your mom to be my mom because she was so kind So and that's that was what was so hard is that you know We just adored her and loved her so much and you know, like she was our world But and did her best because she was so she did her best from what she knew exactly So my point about education and life and she did do her best So you've talked
about how there's been some backlash against your mom and Towards your mom and a big about the decisions that she made went in your childhood And I remember there's one moment when you were I think around nine years old when Lane your stepfather It was like maybe the first time that he Touched you inappropriately.
Was it around nine years old?
Is that right? Eight years old. Yes, that's right. So when you told your mom
that very first time, talk to us about how that
went for you. That was, I didn't even understand what was going on. You know, we grew up and we weren't allowed to wear shorts or bathing suits. We had to cover our bodies like, you know, be very modest.
And I didn't have any kind of understanding of what had happened to me. And I was so ashamed that it was hard for me to tell my mom. It was excruciating just having to say the words. But I told her, I said, Lane touched me in my bottom, on my bottom. And I was stuttering. And... She was like, she didn't quite understand what I was saying.
And then later on, she would say that she thought I meant my bum rather than, you know, between my legs. And it was so, so uncomfortable because the next time Lane came through town and it was his turn to spend the night with her. He came in and apologized to me. And it was. You know, kind of an apology. He got
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Because your mom confronted
him. I mean, she did talk. She confronted him. Not in front of me, but yeah, she talked to him. So he
apologized, but he continued still doing it. And I think that's probably why a lot of you say that people are angry at your mom because yeah, she stayed with him and you know, she tried.
She tried to get out of that relationship, right? That's
exactly right. And actually, when I was writing the details of my mother and just the way she looked, I just fell in love with her again, you know, just like, yeah. And you realize that there was so much love, even though I was angry and obviously the situation was not ideal.
It was. You know, scary,
right? And that's really, I mean, I, you know, your mom ended up having, I mean, she was, she was pregnant throughout the entire book. Yeah.
Yeah. That's the reality of a polygamous wife. Yeah. How many kids did she end up having, Ruth? She had 10 kids and two miscarriages actually. Yeah. She had 10.
And three of those kids were special needs. So she was dealing with that. But then also trying to make the rest of us feel better because that's hard in families, you know, when you have kids that need more attention. And again, going
back to the fact that she married your biological father when she was 17.
Not, not before. She's still a kid. Yeah. Yes. And he was 42. Yeah. After you pulled away from her own family and then made to start this. new family that is, you know, so, you know, you're, I genuinely believed she, she did her best. Right.
I believe so too. She didn't know
any better. Yeah. So Ruth, now I'm going to have you kind of talk us through something, you know, probably one of the most traumatic moments of your life.
That ultimately led you to escape and then and start a new chapter for you and your siblings life. So can you please walk us through that that day when your siblings passed away and then your mom passed away?
At that point I was 15 and we had running water in the house. We had our own showerhead, we had a toilet, but we had to use water to flush it, so we were still pretty primal.
And electricity had been brought to the house by my stepfather, and he wasn't an electrician, but he had brought electricity to the house and he hooked up our electricity to our neighbor's electricity and then they shared the bills. And the way he did it is he brought wires across the property that we lived on, and in some places there were live wires.
But he had to bring it across our property and then to Alejandro's house, his first wife's house. And what he did is there was this irrigation ditch in the front of both of our homes. And that's how he irrigated the alfalfa fields that surrounded our house. And there was always running water in that.
And he took a plastic hose, if you will, like a hard plastic black hose and stuck the wiring. From the neighbor's house, stuck it through this thin plastic tube and then buried it along the outside of our property, along the fence, along the ditch that went to my mom's sister, wife's house, and at one point along there, the wires, the plastic piping didn't fit.
So he electrical took that black electrical tape. And covered that part of the wires and started another hose going down. So he hooked the stuff together with electrical tape. It was July 10th, 1987 and we had a massive storm the night before. That's one thing you get in the Mexican desert, you get a lot of thunderstorms and we had had one be the night before and we had actually celebrated the twin's birthday.
My dad with his first wife, my stepdad with his first wife, had a set of boy twins and they got along really well with my little brother Micah. They were around the same age. How old? My brother, Micah, was five and they were, had just turned six. They had just turned six, so we were in Casas celebrating with my sister wife's, my mom's sister wife's family and all of that.
Piñata, the whole big deal. And then the little twins wanted to come and spend the night at our house, which was common. They did all the time. And the twin boys and Micah the next morning, sunny. I woke up groggy doing the dishes, you know, regular babysitting, taking care of the kids. And my mom, my sister, Holly, my youngest sister was only five months old.
So she was still in bed nursing my sister and she liked to read. So she always read novels, romance novels. And I was up. And the boys had come in begging to go. They already wanted to go out. It was the middle of July. It was a warm morning. They already wanted to go out swimming. So it's like, okay, get your swim clothes on.
I'll be right out. And I got up. I started doing my chores. And again,
you're 15 years old. I was 15 at that time. Yeah. And then one of the six year old twins comes and knocks on the door, and I look at him and he's all muddy and stuff, and he said, Micah and Lencito, which is my stepfather's junior, Lencito was also his twin, comes to the door and said, Micah and Lencito are in trouble.
And I was like, okay, they, you know, they've been picking pecans from somebody's orchard and they're green. Like this stuff happened all the time. We'd get in trouble with our neighbors because we were disrespecting their property or whatever. No biggie. So I just opened the door, I step outside, and he said they're being shocked.
And I was like, okay. Like at that point I knew we were in trouble because we had had Nobody died, but you know, accidents where people were touched the wires and weren't, you know, had been hurt, but I am standing there and I was like, Oh my God, like, this is, this is not good. And so at this point I started running, jumped over the ditch and went onto the road and walked down the.
I would say just a few hundred feet, not far at all from where our house was. And I saw my brother, Micah and my stepbrother, Laincito, they were both stuck to the fence and just complete silence. I looked at Micah and I touched the tip of his head and the electricity came through me and I was like, Oh my God.
And I just had this, like my second grade teacher in my head telling me not to touch them because I knew that it was dangerous at that point. And I didn't know what was going on because this fence was not supposed to have electricity in it. That's not something that was normal. So I started screaming for my mom to come.
And... At this point, I was pretty sure that the two boys were dead, that, that, that there were not going to make it. And I started calling for my mom and I started saying, Mike is dead. Mike is dead. You know, and I didn't know what to do. So she ran out, not knowing that the fence had electricity in it. And she ran out and as she was running out, it was muddy and she slipped a little bit and lost her glasses and ended up falling on the fence.
I remember telling her over and over again not to touch the fence, but I don't think she even got to the point where she saw my brother and Lencito, but as soon as she touched the fence, her whole body just fell onto the fence. And at that point, I had no idea like how to turn off the electricity. My little sisters were all running around as I tried to pull my mom off, she was heavier set, and she, like I couldn't, it was too much pressure, and I literally just grabbed her, literally, finally by the hem of her shirt and pulled her back, and the shirt ripped all the way up to her armpits, and I was finally, the seam in her armpit area was strong enough to help me leverage her body off of the fence.
So she came back and just fell to the ground. And she was moaning and I, I knew she was still alive. I tried mouth to mouth. I had no idea what to do. We didn't have like, there was no emergency system. We did not have a telephone. And so I started screaming, trying to get the kids away from the fence, but then also calling for help and screaming up and down, jumping up and down.
And finally I saw this truck. It was a white Ford pickup truck. Like one of those farmer type trucks. Started speeding up the road and I could see them coming down and it was two Mexican men that were working on a neighboring farm. They looked at the boys and I was like, take them off, you know, trying to tell them to take them off the fence.
And they're like, we can't take them off, you know, and I said, well, you know, my mom is still alive. She's still breathing. Take her to the doctor. So I jumped in the, my little, my stepbrother, I was like. Get the kids in the house. Don't come back outside and just wait for us to come back. So we lifted my mom into the cab to front of the truck and sped away.
Oh, that's right. And one of the, the young, the men stayed with the kids to make sure he was watching the kids to make sure. And I got in the side of the truck to take her to the doctor, which we didn't have one close by. But as I was, As we were speeding by, my stepdad was in one of his wife's house on the way.
So we passed by the house and. We stopped, I saw him, I jumped out and I told him what was going on. My younger brother, Aaron was there and one of my mom's sister wives. And so he jumped in the truck to take her to the clinic. And then they drove me back to the house to figure out what was going on because they were, it was so disoriented that we didn't, I mean, it was just like, within a few minutes, this, this all went down and we drove back and I remember.
My mom's sister wife. She's like, they're not dead. You're you don't understand you like you're misunderstanding the situation. And to you, I just remember to me. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. She couldn't believe it. Yeah. As we were driving back and We, the first thing we did is we went into the shop, my stepdad's shop, where the electricity could be turned off, and we turned off the electricity.
And at that point, you know, the boys fell to the ground, and I didn't go back out to see them or anything. I was just watching the kids, making sure they were okay. And that nobody went out back outside again, and then people started to show up from all over, you know, they could see that something was going on, and within an hour, it might have even been 30 minutes, Lane came back, came into the house and said that she didn't make it.
I'm so sorry, Ruth. They took her to a clinic that didn't have oxygen and they couldn't save her. So, yeah, it was. Yeah. I mean, well, she was only 38, you know, my God.
Yeah. You know, you forget because you think having had all these kids, but 38 she's, yeah. Her whole life. Yeah. And your brothers. Oh my God. It's just,
and my brother was Michael was five at the time.
I mean, to lose an, and the half brother to lose all of these. Important people in your life within minutes. Yeah. I mean, it completely shifts your life. I mean, it's yeah, there was no going back to normal life. No, there was
no going back to normal.
Yeah. No. And that was what I mean, shortly after you escaped, which is, which is a whole other story.
What was the backlash of the community once your book came
out to you? Well, my. My brother, Matt, he read the book ahead of time. I want, I had all my siblings read it ahead of time before we found a publisher because I wanted to make sure they were okay with me telling our story the way that I did. And I think because I didn't approach it as if this was a bad religion or a cult.
I mean, these people genuinely, genuinely believe that. That Joel, my, my biological father is their prophet. That's what they believe who was murdered. And they still hold onto that belief. And the last time I was down there in LeBaron, it was like 15 years ago. I want to say 14, 15 years ago, I was there and they, it was the middle of July and they were having a huge celebration because my dad's, their prophet's birthday is July 9th.
So they were having these huge festivities and, you know, rodeos and carnivals and all these things. And I saw a school presentation that's a private school that's for our community there in Colonial LeBaron. And the kids would get up and start talking about the founding fathers of their community. And their grandfather LeBaron and all this stuff.
And it was just like watching, they had so much pride in it. Just like we watched on the 4th of July for our country, you know, people get out and, you know, so they have that kind of pride in their community that it's their community, that it's their country. So yeah, it's interesting to see how that's developed over time, but all that stuff, it's really hard for me because I still see the hypocrisy, you know, I don't believe in it and it's their profit though.
And I can't say, you know, we have a lot of profits and a lot of people that believe in profit to them. That's a profit. And that's not for me to say, he's not my profit. You know, I think we need to be the profits of our own lives. You know, it's like, what do I do? You rather than giving up this, our own personal power to somebody else.
Which is usually an old man, you know, it's just like, you know, really,
yeah, yeah. Gabby and I were talking about that. We're like, we don't recall any women starting these religions or
these calls, right? They might be out there, but they're not, they didn't make it that far. Yeah. Yeah.
So do you think that you would have ever left if your mom didn't pass away?
What do you think your life would have looked like? But do you think you would have stayed in the colony? Because you're so attached to your mom. Would you have ever actually said, I don't think you would have left her and your siblings. I don't know. I feel like you had this like intense
attachment with her.
So, but I think I would have left the colony. Okay. I think I probably would have married a local Mexican. You know, like somebody outside the church. Oh, I see. Okay. And
stayed in the
area and close by and watched over everybody. Yeah. Yeah. Because even then, I was already dating the Mexican people. Like, I didn't have any interest in becoming a polygamist.
Like, that was not. Oh, okay. Did your mom
know that when you were 15? I
don't think so. I think she preached at me, but I don't think we ever had really in depth conversations about it, you
know? So, it's crazy to me how you, you know, you, you didn't have... Like the female figures in your lives were religious, the men in your life were religious.
How were you able to be so different? Like what, what do you think made you have this confidence in what you believed at such a young age?
I think coming from the trauma, having that mother bear instinct towards my family, like my little sisters, having a purpose outside myself was definitely part of it.
I think had it just been about me, it would have been a different situation, but also being in poverty and raising three little girls on welfare was incredibly embarrassing and shameful for me. I had a lot of shame in my poverty.
Or you mean afterwards, like when you were raising
them after? After my mom died and we were in the States.
So we lived with my grandmother, just to build a bridge there. We lived with my grandmother for four years, and with her health declining, it was not, she was not able to keep us. So I was 19 and I had to make a decision whether I wanted the kids to be separated, going into foster care, but I wanted to keep them together.
So when I was 19, and they were 2, I think at the time. No, 8, and Leah, and Holly, and Elena. And I decided that I wanted to try to keep them together if I could. And I was 19. We moved to Southern Oregon to live close to my mom's youngest sister. She had just moved there. And then I, and then I started renting this, renting this single wide trailer with three little girls and Luke was living with us at the time.
Aaron was getting ready to move up. And so, yeah, just not being able to pay the bills, being a young teenager, using food stamps, all that kind of stuff, which is what we needed to survive. And I'm incredibly grateful that the government was there to help us. You know, my family didn't have a lot of money, my mom's side of the family.
So, you know, we survived on welfare. I couldn't even get social security for them because my parents never paid into the social security system. So like you were really left very incredibly vulnerable, you know, luckily my grandmother and my aunt and uncle were there, but, but, you know, they were, they had four kids of their own.
They have five kids actually. You know, they weren't in a place to be able to take us in. So, but they helped as much as they could, and within, like, literally three months of me renting this single wide trailer, I got a job in a wrecking yard, you know, I got my GED, was working as a receptionist in a wrecking yard.
And then, but one of my bosses had heard of the Farmers Home Administration, and they were loaning out money for low income families. So she helped me fill out the form at work. Sent it in and like within three weeks, they called that this deal fell through on another family. And they're like, Hey, you want to apply for this home loan to buy this house?
Yeah. So I filled out the paperwork. It was a 700 down payment that my grandmother covered for us. I had no credit. I had nothing like never had anything. Yeah. No idea about finances. That's another story. But ended up in this home, three bedroom, one bath house. With three little girls and that's how it happened, but then I would spend a lot of time in my sister's school when they were still in elementary school.
And I just remember being so excited because I was so excited about learning and I hadn't been given the opportunity like to like finish high school or to do any of that. I mean, I got my GED, but before my mom died, she had already taken me out of school. So I was excited about learning. I was excited about my education.
And I think that that. I started taking all kinds of religion, all types of philosophy. I started at the community college. It took me a while to, you know, get up to speed, so to speak, on my education, because I didn't really go to high school. And man, I would sit in that world religions class and be like, Just so excited that I had a choice about what I wanted to believe and I saw similarities in all these religions And I was just like I did this big research paper on Jesus and Buddha and how they really taught the same thing you know and they were all saying the same thing and So I came at it from a perspective of, you know, that we all genuinely, I guess, more of a humanist perspective that all of these religions, and they're all teaching us to be, you know, the golden rule.
Yeah. To do
it to others, you know. All the extra stuff comes on. Yeah. Yeah. And then the extra stuff comes on and it's like. Wait a minute. That's not the same thing. You're saying one thing and doing another. So yeah, it turns
into a power trip somehow in in the power
and control. Yeah, yeah, exactly. But it's hard for us because we as humans, you know, at least in the cultures that I grew up and have been a part of that we're not taught to trust ourself and to lean on ourselves.
We're always taught to go outside into the religion and I do think we should listen to people and have conversations and be connected, but I also don't think you should give up all of your beliefs about what's best for your own, you and your own life to somebody else. Yeah. Yeah. You know, like those types of things.
Dependency and then it becomes functional and you know,
you give someone too much power. We see what happens, happens over and over and over again.
Yeah. Random question. What are your thoughts about the show? Sister
Wives? Okay. So I try to watch polygamy shows and I hate them.
mean, yeah, probably.
Why do you like polygamy that I grew up in? That's what I was going to say. Are they more fun? Are they, do they seem better? They're, they're more money. . Yeah. . Which is not realistic anything. Yeah. Yeah. Money changes everything, but that's not realistic, you know? Right. Big love that was on, you know, in the nineties, I guess.
It's been a while now. Yeah. But you know, that guy had money. It's like you don't have five wives and money, like those two don't, you know, I Who's bankrolling them. Yeah, exactly. Well, the American government and my mom's situation. Yeah, right. You know, but yeah. But it goes back
to you genuinely believe that, for example, your stepfather believed in the religion and what the prophet and everything, but I think the bigger question when it comes to polygamy for people who are not inside of it, is it just straight that the man wants to have sex with who he wants to have sex with?
You know, I think it's more than that. But I think for a lot of people, they can rationalize it, but it does come down to that. For some people it does. And I think my stepfather was a good example of that. Like, he didn't ever have to take responsibility for all these kids. Yeah. You know, you haven't all these kids and can't take care of like, that's not, how's that?
It's so irresponsible and unloving and inhumane, you know, it's just, so I look at the sister wife show. I did watch it a couple of times and it was like, you know, the guy's just goofing off and the women are taking responsibility for everything. It's like, how's that? Okay. Like who's. Like, how is this even interesting to people?
It's just like, that's how I feel. I don't mean to. You lived it. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
All right, Ruth, we're going to go into rapid fire questions. Are you
ready? Ooh. Yeah. I didn't eat breakfast. Let me think. Okay. Okay.
Do you put ketchup on your eggs? No. Worst. First. Date.
Oh, I have so many blind date sitting in a coffee shop guy was reading a newspaper and not talking to me.
That was awful. Awkward. Okay. Yeah. It's like, man, I should not have shown up to this. Yeah. Yeah.
Well, as they say, you gotta kiss a lot of frogs before you meet a prince charming and you have that, so that's great. Gabrielle, you're cut off. I know, how cheesy was that line? Okay, sorry, I am done. We'll edit that out,
Okay. Okay, a celebrity you wish was your neighbor. Ooh, uh.
Oh, I'm thinking of so many people. Who would it be? I'm thinking
somebody wise. I was thinking somebody hot, but wise I guess is also important.
I'm going between Brad Pitt and George Clooney. I can't decide. Who both
happen to be hot, but you see them
Wow. I like how she twisted it though. It's the wisdom that she
is about Gabriela. He does a lot of good in the world. But wise, no, I'm trying to think of a wise woman like Kathy Bates, somebody like that, you know, Meryl Streep, like somebody. Well, I thought
something you and Gabriela have in common is you both like Oprah.
Oh, yeah, we definitely like Oprah. Yeah.
So I think that's one thing that you guys can all be neighbors together.
Oprah would be a great, great neighbor. She really
would. That's a good, that's a good answer, Orly. You're welcome. Oprah, Oprah on one side, George Clooney on
the other. Oh, best of both worlds.
on fantasy football?
Oh, fantasy football. It's a good escape. It's fun. Let people do it if they enjoy it. I don't even understand football. I don't know. I don't even
that is yet. You know, it's Like, you know, have some fun with it. So that's what I say. Gabriela, does James do it? Oh, yeah. My husband loves
That's why I just, I don't get it. I do
not get it. Well, how do you feel about fantasy? Can I, can I ask
the question? I just, I, you know, I think I'm not, I'm not a big, I, I like the last five minutes of any game. Yeah. I like, I love playing sports, but I'm not a person who watches football and fantasy football, it takes it to a whole other level, but you know, it's a.
I understand rooting for, for people and for somebody. And I think that's kind of
what the, well, you're kind of betting on teams and stuff, right? You're kind of deciding who's going to win.
Yeah. But I always say like, I would watch football. If like every five minutes they would like go into a player's backstory and tell me about their relationship.
What's the story behind that with their partner?
And then like, show me some pictures and then back into the game. Here we go.
I want to probably really into the Kelsey, Travis and Taylor story. Yeah, I mean, must be eating that
one out. Oh yeah, that's a fun one to watch. Yeah. Your biggest pet peeve. Oh, saying one thing and doing another.
yeah. Yeah. You should get that
one. What's something a little more easy, like something not so
yeah. Like chewing loudly or, you know, give us something a little people not saying
thank you when you keep the door open for them.
Oh, yeah. I have issues with that one. He you. I have issues with that too. Yeah.
Not saying thank you. That's a good one. Talking over you. Like, you know, you sit at a table and you know when there's a patriarchal man in the table because he over talks everybody. And doesn't allow other people to speak. So I think that's part of it. And that also comes from my religion, you know, growing up in that religion too, because they don't give you an opportunity to speak.
So I think that's it. Like people that sit at a table with you and don't let, don't ask you about yourself, only talk about themselves.
If you found 100 on the floor and there was no one around, would you just keep it?
I think I would try to, in fact, that's happened before, and I tried to find out who the owner was.
And if the owner didn't come forward, then I would keep it. Does that make sense? For
me it was a quick yes, I'm keeping it. I'm sorry. Excuse me, is this your 100? My God, I found a better wallet. I know.
That just shows me a good person. No, I probably keep it. That's probably the more honest, honest conversation.
Yes. I would keep it. That's right.
Ruth, what's your secret? Talent?
Dancing. Ooh, okay. Yep. Like what kind of dance? Oh, I, I've never been trained in anything fun, but I love to dance. I'm good at it. See music on and dance. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Totally. I'm a natural at it.
And also raising three little girls. I'm sure you did a lot of that, like Yes.
Growing up we
did. Yeah. Yeah. Oh yeah. I chaperoned a lot of dances, that's for sure. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Dancing. Yep.
And lastly, Ruth, tell us something we don't know.
Ooh, back to the title of the podcast. Okay. Something you might not know about me is that I've always, I struggle to find out what I want to do with my life, even at 51.
Like it's been hard for me. Yeah. It's been hard for me to figure that out because I didn't have, I didn't have role models. Yeah, that had that. So me trying to figure that out has been hard.
But you also shouldn't be so hard on yourself because you've accomplished a lot. Let me tell you, I mean,
beyond, yeah, I've, yes, I've, I've done a lot with my life and I'm incredibly proud and my sisters are really close and I'm super thankful for that.
All of those things are very satisfying and mean the world to me, but me personally, I haven't found what I'm like really passionate about. Writing. No? Writing, definitely. But writing is hard. It's just like, you know, it's not so, yeah.
To make it a livelihood also is a different story. Yeah,
it is. Yeah. So finding that one thing, I always, I re I see like teachers that are passionate about their jobs and writers, they're passionate about their jobs and nonprofits and they're passionate about their, but I just haven't found that thing for myself.
And that's probably something. People wouldn't figure about me, you know, I
think you should start a cult. I think, you know, that really.
Oh, my God, dear
God. I mean, look, I mean, she knows a lot. I'm just saying,
you know, all these men can do it. I mean, there's a million, let me just tell you something, there's a million reason why I love Orly and why I'm so honored to be doing this podcast with her.
We're very different people. I think so, you know, but one, I mean, she's so funny. She's one of the funniest people I know, but she's also got
humor. A little, sometimes it can be a little too dark. So I don't even, I mean,
geez, geez, down a notch,
just a little. And then, and then where can people
Ruth at Ruth Warner. com, my website, and also on Instagram at Ruth Warner. W A R I N E R.
And then one more question. Sorry. Why is the title of your memoir, The Sound of Gravel?
The Sound of Gravel happened. I got the idea for that title when I wrote the scene of my mom's funeral and I was at her funeral and I picked up the dirt and almost fell over.
One of my half brothers had to pick me up and carry me and I threw the gravel on her coffin that sounded empty to me at the time. Like, that was the moment when I realized she was gone. And I was like, and that was also the moment in my life when I knew that everything was going to change. Like the trajectory.
And I didn't know how, and I didn't know when, but that was it. And you know, that is that moment losing her was every, that changed everything as far as me getting out of the church and finding a better life. Unfortunately, you know, the bittersweetness of that situation. You think about the sound of gravel, not only is it, you know, something that you feel when you hear it, but, and most of us have memories of that, but I think about like the trips, all the trips that I took, we went on gravel roads, we would, when you're in the United States and we were on the roads in the United States, it was always, Smooth.
Right. You know, there weren't a lot of potholes that weren't, but as soon as we turned off the main highway in Mexico, turned that right to go to LeBaron, it was always the sound of gravel, like the sound of the dirt and the roads and the hardness of life, which for me represented that.
Thank you so much for listening to tell us something we don't know.
You can find us on Instagram at TUSWDK or email us at info at. Tell us something we don't know. com audio and editing by Simon Grefenstette and theme music provided by Signature Tracks.