The Rainbow Trail (Withersteen 2) (unabridged: The Desert Crucible) (1915)

01 Jul
Rainbow Bridge - Surprise Valley - Utah

Rainbow Bridge National Monument, Utah Surprise Valley

The Argosy May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep 1915
Field & Stream Magazine, 1915
Harper & Brothers, New York, 1915

The Desert Cruicible was originally published in the Argosy magazine and the Field & Stream magazine in 1915. The original novel title was the much edited version The Rainbow Trail, a title that was kept until 2004 when it was restored once again as The Desert Crucible. The Rainbow Trail is set to about 1886 in the Tsegi Canyon in Arizona and the Rainbow Bridge in Utah. (ZGWS)

Before Anglos came to the area in the middle of the 19th century, Rainbow Bridge and Navajo Mountain were claimed by Navajos, San Juan Southern Paiutes, and Hopis as part of their aboriginal homeland. The area was also on the fringe of territory claimed by numerous Native American tribes from southwestern Colorado. But with the Treaty of Bosque Redondo in 1868, the United States government was thrown into the mix of claimants on Rainbow Bridge. The status of the territory surrounding the bridge, an area referred to as the Paiute Strip, was in flux from the moment the Bosque Redondo treaty created the Navajo reservation. Even after the declaration of Rainbow Bridge NM, the status of the surrounding environs was not settled. (Rainbow Bridge)

Credit: Galactic Central

Credit: Galactic Central

The Rainbow Trail/Desert Crucible  is considered a sequel to Riders of the Purple Sage. One of the main differences between the The Rainbow Trail and The Desert Crucible lies in the changing laws of the times. At that point polygamy was outlawed by the US Government. Therefore, the fact that Fay Larkin was forced into a sealed marriage as a plural wife to a Mormon man was downplayed in The Rainbow Trail. Zane Grey was vehement in his criticism of the Mormons who kidnapped gentile girls, then forced them into marriage and basically raped them. I agree completely with him and his criticism.

What he shows us is the way it was for a great deal of polygamist women of the time (The 19th Wife). Shepperd gets a job delivering goods to a village of about 50 women, all said to be sealed wives of mormon men. Due to the outlawing of the practice of polygamy the Mormon men felt the need to hide the reality of their marriages. Finding out about this village could turn out to be a dangerous thing for Shepperd. As it turns out later in The Rainbow Trail the Mormon leaders were correct in worrying about the safety of their secret villages. With the law in hand, the US authorities set out to put an end to what they saw as an evil practice. In fact some of the younger generations of Mormons were also beginning to see the practice of polygamy as evil.

Through the character of Mary we are shown what happens when the Stockholm Syndrome begins to hit. This is a period of time in Mormon history that Mormons have an obligation to be ashamed of. As a formed Mormon myself, I do indeed feel some of that shame and even greater shame in later attempts of hiding what was done to these young girls.

The Rainbow Bridge becomes a character in Zane Grey’s story due to its story and beauty. If not for being declared a national monument by Thomas Roosevelt in 1910, this natural wonder would have become immersed in the waters of another dam project. According to Lorne Grey, the character of Nas-Ta-Bega was based on the Acute guide that took Zane Grey to the bridge in 1910. (Foreword to Desert Crucible)

Mormons baptising indians

A baptism of North American Indians – Mormons posing as the apostles of Christianity, 1882. Credit: Library of Congress


When it comes to the treatment of Native Americans the Mormons were like any other missionary belief. They wanted to convince the Native Americans that what they believed was wrong and that the Mormon belief was correct. The discrimination was the same. The settlers accepted indian aid when that was needed and persecuted the Native Americans when the Mormons wanted what the Native Americans had – including their women and children. So, no difference.

The blurb on The Rainbow Trail reads:

Originally published in 1915, The Rainbow Trail is the sequel to Riders of the Purple Sage (also a Bison Book). At the end of that famous novel, a huge boulder had rolled down to shut off the entrance to Surprise Valley, leaving Lassiter, Jane Withersteen, and little Fay Larkin to a singular fate. Twenty years later a lanky Illinois preacher named John Shefford, disillusioned with the narrow-mindedness of his congregation, appears in Arizona. At a “sealed-wife” village, where Mormons hide the practice of polygamy from the federal government, he picks up the trail of the grown-up Fay. Thus begins an exciting story of captivity, treachery, and last-minute escape.

The blurb on The Desert Crucible reads:

The collapse of one of the stone walls of Surprise Valley, which has imprisoned gunman Lassiter, Jane Withersteen, and young Fay Larkin for ten years, results in their capture by a hooded Mormon. Then Lassiter and Jane are offered a deal: their lives in exchange for the immediate marriage of Fay Larkin to the mysterious, cruel, Mormon leader. This unforgettable story can at last be read just as Zane Grey wrote it, without the editorial cuts made to the original publication.

 Outlet_of_Surprize_sic_Valley_Colorado_RiverJim Shefford, Jane Withersteen, Ventner, Lassiter and Fay Larkin once again become the characters we get to meet most often. There is plenty of action and many descriptions of nature in either version. If I was going to purchase/get hold of this novel now, I would go for The Desert Crucible – the one that the publishers considered too controversial for its times.

“What’ll they do to Ruth?” demanded Shefford. “We can’t accept her sacrifice if she’s to suffer—or be punished.”

“Reckon Ruth has a strong hunch that she can get away with it. Did you notice how strange she said that? Well, they can’t do much to her. The bishop may damn her soul. But—Ruth—”

Here Lake hesitated and broke off. Not improbably he had meant to say that of all the Mormon women in the valley Ruth was the least likely to suffer from punishment inflicted upon her soul.

“Anyway, it’s our only chance,” went on Joe, “unless we kill a couple of men. Ruth will gladly take what comes to help you.”

“All right; I consent,” replied Shefford, with emotion. “And now after she comes out—the supposed Ruth—what then?”

“You can be natural-like. Go with her back to Ruth’s cabin. Then stroll off into the cedars. Then climb the west wall. Meanwhile Nas Ta Bega will ride off with a pack of grub and Nack-yal and several other mustangs. He’ll wait for you or you’ll wait for him, as the case may be, at some appointed place. When you’re gone I’ll jump my horse and hit the trail for Kayenta and the San Juan.”

“Very well; that’s settled,” said Shefford, soberly. “I’ll go at once to see Ruth. You and Nas Ta Bega decide on where I’m to meet him.”

“Reckon you’d do just as well to walk round and come up to Ruth’s from the other side—instead of going through the village,” suggested Joe.

Shefford approached Ruth’s cabin in a roundabout way; nevertheless, she saw him coming before he got there and, opening the door, stood pale, composed, and quietly bade him enter. Briefly, in low and earnest voice, Shefford acquainted her with the plan.

“You love her so much,” she said, wistfully, wonderingly.

“Indeed I do. Is it too much to ask of you to do this thing?” he asked.

“Do it?” she queried, with a flash of spirit. “Of course I’ll do it.”

“Ruth, I can’t thank you. I can’t. I’ve only a faint idea what you’re risking. That distresses me. I’m afraid of what may happen to you.”

She gave him another of the strange glances. “I don’t risk so much as you think,” she said, significantly.


She came close to him, and her hands clasped his arms and she looked up at him, her eyes darkening and her face growing paler. “Will you swear to keep my secret?” she asked, very low.

“Yes, I swear.”

“I was one of Waggoner’s sealed wives!”

“God Almighty!” broke out Shefford, utterly overwhelmed.

“Yes. That’s why I say I don’t risk so much. I will make up a story to tell the bishop and everybody. I’ll tell that Waggoner was jealous, that he was brutal to Mary, that I believed she was goaded to her mad deed, that I thought she ought to be free. They’ll be terrible. But what can they do to me? My husband is dead… and if I have to go to hell to keep from marrying another married Mormon, I’ll go!”


The Rainbow Trail on Gutenberg

The Desert Crucible on Kindle








Making It Work: Monument Development, 1910-1955

The 19th Wife

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Posted by on 2014-07-01 in Books


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