Field & Stream, January 1912 – July 1913
Grosset and Dunlap, 1912
Riders of the Purple Sage was set to Southern Utah around the time of 1871. (ZGWS) At this point in time Mormons had a bad reputation, and rightly so in many instances. Polygamy was common practice among the leaders. Sometimes they would even marry the wives of “lesser” men. Whether they actually stole the wives of gentiles, I do not know.
Zane Grey was generally positive to Mormons. But when it came to their views on women and their practices with regard to polygamy he was not a fan. (Romancing the West) In fact Zane Grey considered the plural wives of mormon polygamous marriages to be the unhappiest women on the earth.
Jane Withersteen’s was a Mormon woman of privilege. Her father had been Patriarch Withersteen and a fairly wealthy man. When he dies and leaves his land to Jane, she is left with more choices than quite a few widows of the time. One of those choices is to be kind to Gentiles. Some of them worked for her on her farm (Ventner) and the recently arrived gunman, Lassiter. Both try to protect Jane from the Elders of the Mormon church.
It was still daylight in the open, but under the spreading cottonwoods shadows were obscuring the lanes. Venters drew Jane off from one of these into a shrub-lined trail, just wide enough for the two to walk abreast, and in a roundabout way led her far from the house to a knoll on the edge of the grove. Here in a secluded nook was a bench from which, through an opening in the tree-tops, could be seen the sage-slope and the wall of rock and the dim lines of canyons. Jane had not spoken since Venters had shocked her with his first harsh speech; but all the way she had clung to his arm, and now, as he stopped and laid his rifle against the bench, she still clung to him.
“Jane, I’m afraid I must leave you.”
“Bern!” she cried.
“Yes, it looks that way. My position is not a happy one—I can’t feel right—I’ve lost all—”
“I’ll give you anything you—”
“Listen, please. When I say loss I don’t mean what you think. I mean loss of good-will, good name—that which would have enabled me to stand up in this village without bitterness. Well, it’s too late…. Now, as to the future, I think you’d do best to give me up. Tull is implacable. You ought to see from his intention to-day that—But you can’t see. Your blindness—your damned religion!… Jane, forgive me—I’m sore within and something rankles. Well, I fear that invisible hand will turn its hidden work to your ruin.”
“Invisible hand? Bern!”
“I mean your Bishop.” Venters said it deliberately and would not release her as she started back. “He’s the law. The edict went forth to ruin me. Well, look at me! It’ll now go forth to compel you to the will of the Church.”
“You wrong Bishop Dyer. Tull is hard, I know. But then he has been in love with me for years.”
“Oh, your faith and your excuses! You can’t see what I know—and if you did see it you’d not admit it to save your life. That’s the Mormon of you. These elders and bishops will do absolutely any deed to go on building up the power and wealth of their church, their empire. Think of what they’ve done to the Gentiles here, to me—think of Milly Erne’s fate!”
Lassiter is looking for his sister, Milly Erne. He fears she has been kidnapped by Mormon Elders. Sadly, he discovers that to be the truth and also discovers that she has already died. Milly Erne was lured away from her husband by Mormon Bishop Dyer. Dyer then turned her over to Withersteen who tied her up and raped her until she became pregnant with his child. Millie was then hidden away with the other wives of Patriarch Withersteen.
Jealousy and greed always looks for an excuse to do what is “right”. Elder Tull wants both Jane and her farm, but she does not want him. You all know that he is not going to be happy about Jane refusing him. The elders decide to use nefarious methods to carry out their goal and they do seem to succeed for a while. Gradually they frighten away most of her cowboys, and rustlers steal away her cattle, but the gunman Lassiter stands by her as the inevitable confrontation draws near.
Riders of the Purple Sage on Gutenberg
- Ann Cummins
- History Hoydens
- Sue Cauhape
- Thom Svennes
- Victor Carl Friesen
- 1924: Purppurarinteiden ratsastajat (Finnish)
- 1924: Den sorte rytter (Norwegian)
- 1924: Purpurviddernas ryttare (Swedish)
- 1930: Das Gesetz der Mormonen (German)
- 1932: La valle delle sorprese (Italian)
- 2008: Librivox recording
- 1976: Lassiter (Italian)