I swear; I am not making any of this up. The hero of this story was born Buffalo Bill Hawkins (his legal name) in 1934, in the tiny town of Purcell, Oklahoma. He was the sixth of eight children. His father was an honest hard working sharecropper and his mother was a devoutly religious woman, one third Cherokee.
In 1952 Bill married Rosa Bell Boulding in Muskogee, Oklahoma, and they then moved to Enid. A year later Rosa moved out, and a woman named Darlene moved in. In 1954 Bill followed his older brother, J.G. Hawkins, to a Christian bible college, but Bill dropped out after just two months. He made his living selling bibles and “ice makers” door-to-door. The ice makers did not work. One relative later told Robert Draper for “Texas Magazine” that Bill, “…could charm a rattler”. A brother-in-law told Draper, “…there isn’t a bigger liar in the world than Bill Hawkins”. The brothers (and Darlene) now moved to Graham, Texas and formed a rockabilly band, “Buffalo Bill and His Whippoorwills”. Bill sang out front and kept track of the money, and according to one of the members, “he always kept the biggest part for himself.”
In the early sixties the brothers went their separate ways. J.G. moved to Romney, Texas and founded a church. Bill moved to Cross Plains, Texas, and raised coonhounds and opened a welding shop. He also convinced Darlene to use a settlement she had received to invest in a pair of Laundromats. Then, in 1967, he joined the Abilene, Texas police department and moved Darlene and their four children to that city. In 1969 J.G. had a vision and moved to Israel. He began calling himself “Jacob” or sometimes “Yaagob”.
In 1972 one of Bill’s children found him in bed with another woman and shortly thereafter Darlene left with the children (although she might have forced Bill to leave, the details are in dispute.) That was also the same year that Bill’s father fell ill. Bill raced back to Oklahoma where he sold his father’s pigs and his truck, before returning (with the cash) to Texas. In 1975 Yaagob (J.G.) Hawkins returned from Israel with another vision. He opened a new church in Odessa, Texas, which he called “The House of Yahweh, Odessa”. He preached a doctrine that celebrated the Jewish holidays and following the 613 laws contained in the Torah. It also relied heavily on the doomsday predictions in the New Testament Book of Revelations. Most importantly the theology preached the importance of tithing, with 1/3 of all a convert’s earnings going to the House of Yahweh. That part of Texas was fertile ground for church start-ups in the 1970’s and Yaagob’s church quickly grew.
In 1976 Bill filed for divorce from his first wife Rosa Bell. Why he chose just then to finally make this move is unclear, as he does not appear to have ever been legally married to Darlene. The next year Bill legally married a woman named Kay, with whom he bought a trailer park, although she now contends he told her he only managed it. Bill resigned from the police department and was ordained as a priest in his brother’s church. He also invested in a Dale Carnegie Course in public speaking. But the brothers soon fell out over theology. Yaagob preached that God’s true name was Elohim. Bill preached that it was Yahweh. In addition Bill opened his own church in his trailer park, “The House of Yahweh, Abilene”. And on December 2, 1980, Buffalo Bill Hawkins dedicated a new church building outside of Abilene. And in 1982 Bill legally changed his name to “Yisrayl (pronounced Yis-Ireal) Hawkins”.
Bill’s church quickly outstripped his brother’s in growth. The House (Abilene) built a world wide following with newsletters, a fancy web site, tapes of all Yisrayl’s pronouncements and the careful crafting of Yisrayl’s message by Kay and the support of her son., Justin. And the tithes poured in, including money from ex-members of the white supremacist Posse Comitatus. By 1990 the tithing for the House of Yahweh allowed High Priest Ysrayl Hawkins to buy 44 acres surrounding his church, where he established a gated compound. The 1-200 members who had “bought” a share of the property (actually it was a lease) were also allowed to buy trailers from a company owned by Yisrayl. And after the House began to preach the end of the world was coming in the year 2000, they also began buying survival supplies in vast quantities, from Life Nutrition Products, a company owned by Yisrayl. By this time converts where divesting themselves of all worldly property and turning it all over to the House. There were also cutting themselves off from all family and friends. The House, by any definition, had now become a cult.
In 1991 Yaagob (J.T.) died if cancer. It was reported that at the funeral Yisrayl fell on Yaagob’s coffin and bid him to rise from the grave. Yaagob refused. In 1994 Kay confronted Yisrayl (Bill) with irrefutable proof that he was sleeping with another woman. He informed her that God had told him in a revelation that all men should practice polygamy. When Kay then filed for divorce from Yisrayl both she and her son Justin were excommunicated from the church and escorted off the property. By 1994 some 300 members of the House had legally changed their names to Yisrayl, to make it easier for God to recognize them on the coming doomsday, October, 2000.
As we all know (now) the world did not end in October 2000. This lack of disaster was explained by Yisrayl as a mis-reading of the pronouncements of Yisrayl by his followers (Yisrayl did not make mistakes!). What he had actually said was that October 2000 was the beginning of a period of trial for humanity, culminating on July 12, 2006 with a nuclear holocaust, when the “nuclear baby” is born and “…a third of man (is) dead in a fourth part of the earth.” On July 12, 2006 several hundred followers in Kenya put on gas masks and retired to bomb shelters. But unfortunately, again, the nuclear baby was either still born or had miscarried at some point. However Yisrayl now claimed his followers had once again mis-read his statements, and the new date for doomsday was Thursday June 12, 2008. Alas, if you can believe it, that date also passed sans the wraith of God.
However, in a possible note of hope, in May of 2008, Yisrayl (Bill) was arrested and charged with bigamy and child labor law violations. His trial is set to begin in September. So, with any luck, come September 2008 Yisrayl (aka Buffalo Bill) Hawkins may yet face his own personal doomsday, as we all eventually do. And then God can figure out what the hell to do with him. But can you believe this guy got away with all of this stuff for this long?
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