Menage a Quatre
In 1985, almost immediately upon arriving in Corvallis, Mont., a town very near the United Brethren town of Pinesdale, three of her young children contracted whooping cough; only the oldest of her five children had been immunized. After five weeks of suffering, 5-week-old Jaden (correction: the boy's age was originally misreported), already weakened by whooping cough, died from a staph infection.
Though her first impression of the community was tainted by her personal tragedy, Janae loved the people. They offered heartfelt condolences and ample help to the new family with a dying child. “Fundamentalists are very group-supportive,” she says. “There was a closeness in the community that I longed for.”
For the next five years, she and Kurt lived monogamously both inside and later outside—but near—Pinesdale. Janae got a job as a physical education and arts-and-crafts teacher at a local school. She apprenticed as a midwife and taught yoga, meditation and aerobics. Kurt traveled selling food-storage equipment and supplies.
All the while, Janae says, she was an outspoken advocate of gender equality and children’s rights. A female friend had been married at age 14, which made Janae fear for her own daughters’ futures living among the United Brethren. “I loved the women but they were so submissive,” Janae says. “I thought I could assist people to evolve. They needed a revolution.”
In 1990, Janae and Kurt put distance between themselves and the Apostolic United Brethren. Rather than tithe their savings as they had been asked to do, they purchased 640 acres near Missoula, Mont., about 60 miles from Pinesdale. “We wanted to get ‘off the grid’ and have our own exclusive community. ... [For a while] it was just us, and we were good.” They called their hacienda “Higher Ground” after the John Denver single, which Janae regards as a veritable hymn. The lyrics about striving for ideals seemed written just for them.
Soon after, they met Christy, a Wyoming woman in her early 20s whose parents were LDS converts to fundamentalist Mormonism and polygamy, just like Janae and Kurt. Christy had one child but had never been married. Living in the rough conditions at Higher Ground, Janae was excited when Christy “had a revelation” in 1992 that she should be Kurt’s second wife. “I had a log home with seven kids, no electricity, no utilities, and I thought, yeah, I could use some help,” Janae says. “[Plus] I had seen some very beautiful polygamous relationships … and Christy is an incredible woman. I felt a real connection to her.”
Janae’s third child, Deserae Pollock, 27, of Missoula, describes life at Higher Ground this way: “We were home-schooled by my father and mother. We did household chores of milking goats and hauling water. ... I think it was hard for my mother, who was raised with electricity and running water and all that, but it was all I knew, so it wasn’t hard for me.”
Help around the house is one thing, but Janae was anxious about sharing her husband sexually. She argued that another man should join the relationship as well. “I didn’t have any support scripturally,” she says. “[So] I never had a consort of my own when I was alone.”
In the end, Janae asked for a one-year courtship with Christy, but that eventually ended in marriage in 1993. Sharing Kurt was harder than she expected. “Seeing my husband walk off with another woman to have sex was more than I could handle. We’d been monogamous for 18 years.” She “suffered” through it, though. With seven children, no income or transportation of her own since they’d moved to Higher Ground—and eight months pregnant on top of all that—she felt stuck, and submitted.
Living 60 miles from Pinesdale afforded the family some leeway on clothing styles and other cultural mores. Janae says they also had sex together—all three of them—after Janae had a revelation that they should do so. That’s not normal for fundamentalist Mormons, Janae says, but then, Higher Ground was not normal. The threesomes were not adequate compensation for sitting alone while the other two were together, but it was something Janae enjoyed.
In 1995, Kurt and Janae were invited to give a talk on herbs at a polygamous community outside Manti. There, they met Sandy, who would also join them at Higher Ground. By now, they had well water and propane heat in their cabin, but still no electricity and only five bedrooms. Janae had nine kids, Christy had two, plus Sandy had three children from a previous relationship. Janae opposed forming a foursome, but again submitted. Though the foursome had great sexual energy together, Janae says, it still didn’t soothe her feelings of inequality. Additionally, the stress of the jam-packed household began to crush her.
After years of submitting, when again-pregnant Janae found out the others in the household were engaging in oral sex despite concerns she voiced that oral herpes—cold sores—could be spread to infect her unborn child, she made a final ultimatum: Either additional men had to join the relationship or Christy and Sandy had to go. This time Janae was stronger than ever, emboldened by ideas she learned and shamans she had met, primarily during return trips to Windstar Foundation. Initially, Kurt supported Janae, and Sandy and Christy left.
Soon after, Kurt insisted that Christy, the mother of one of his kids, be allowed to return. Janae was firm and threatened to leave with her children—though, in reality, she had no means to do so—if Christy returned. In a fit of anger, she swung at Kurt, and he knocked her over in front of the children. This was the first violence in their relationship, but it felt deadly serious. “I thought he would use all of his power to destroy me,” Janae says.
Janae left Higher Ground in 1999 with virtually no belongings and only one of her teenage daughters who wanted to go, too.
“It was the hardest thing in my life. I left a nursing baby,” Janae says. “That’s how he was weaned.”