ELDORADO (AP) – When word spread eight years ago that a polygamist sect had settled in a remote corner of Texas, many in the town of Eldorado were nervous.

Some people were even downright terrified, the San Antonio Express News reported Sunday.

Outside the local courthouse in 2004, one woman held a poster that read, “The Devil is Here.” A man invoked visions of the 1993 armed standoff with a religious fringe group in Waco that resulted in more than 70 deaths.

But the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Warren Jeffs, is serving a life prison sentence. The group’s 1,700-acre Yearning for Zion ranch is largely abandoned, and the state is trying to seize it in a forfeiture action filed this week. And many in Eldorado say fears about the sect have subsided.

“It is a non-issue for this community. They don’t interact with this community,” said Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran, whose five-man department was all but consumed with the issue in the first few years.

Eldorado, population 1,950, had been known for cotton and cattle, deer hunting and Friday night football. But then, hundreds of people wearing prairie-style garb began arriving to build the sprawling Yearning for Zion ranch outside town, which is about 200 miles from Austin. The sect is a radical offshoot of mainstream Mormonism whose members believe polygamy brings exaltation in heaven.

“Early on, there were people who worried they would come and take our children, but of course, everyone who knows anything about this group knows they don’t bring in people from the outside,” said Randy Mankin, publisher of the Eldorado Success newspaper.

The FLDS made headlines nationwide in 2008, when authorities raided its compound after hearing allegations that young girls were being forced into polygamist marriages. More than 400 children were seized temporarily but eventually returned to their families.

Jeffs last year was convicted of sexually assaulting two minors whom he described as his “spiritual wives.” The 56-year-old is serving a life prison term but has continued to try to lead his roughly 10,000 followers from behind bars.

Doran said things have been very quiet with Jeffs no longer around.

“Whenever Jeffs was sent to prison, everything seemed to stop as far as construction goes. To me, it appears they are moving away from this place,” he said.

Rod Parker, a Utah-based lawyer for the FLDS, said he had no idea what plans they have for the Yearning for Zion ranch. He termed Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s attempt to seize it as “awfully heavy-handed.”

“They don’t like these people because of their beliefs, so they want to drive them out of Texas,” Parker said.

All the evidence suggests that, at least for the time being, most sect members have left the compound near Eldorado.

During a flyover of the expansive compound — which includes numerous residences, a massive 120-foot-tall temple and even larger but not-yet-finished amphitheater — Justice of the Peace James Doyle said this week little was stirring.

“In the last nine months, they’ve all left, and all the heavy equipment is gone except for one old scraper and an old dozer,” he said.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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