I recall as a kid, enjoying reading the Sackett series of western books by Louis L’Amour.. Joining the Church at 16, I turned much of my reading attention to LDS and ancient literature. Still, I retained a love for good western literature.
Over the years, I’d wanted to read “Riders of the Purple Sage” by Zane Grey (1912), curious at his take on Mormonism a century ago. After all these years, I finally read it this past week, and wished to comment on it.
The story takes place in 1871 in southern Utah. A woman, Jane, has inherited her father’s wealthy ranch. She is LDS, loves her bishop, and is being pressed to marry one of the elders. Meanwhile, rustlers are stealing large herds of cattle, including Jane’s herd.
We quickly see interesting twists in the book. Mormons are pretty much either evil or pressured to comply by the Mormon leadership, who are not above doing evil things They drive off Jane’s herds, work in conjunction with the rustlers, steal her prize horses, kidnap her adopted daughter, etc.
Meanwhile, the two leading Gentile men, Venter and Lassiter are justified in killing others. Jane falls for Lassiter, while Venter falls in love with a young woman that ran with the rustlers. All four seem to be redeemed by their rejection of rustler and Mormon, alike.
The bishop and elder end up being powerful beings that have sweet smiles, but black hearts. It appears all Mormon leaders are of the same ilk, deserving to be gunned down by Lassiter.
It was a very interesting read. A good book, a great Western. That said, it made Mormonism seem like the Mountain Meadows Massacre was a daily occurrence. For Jane to first mentally, and then physically run from Mormonism and the Church leaders is a key breakthrough Grey wishes for us to cheer for in his heroine.
A century later, the Church is very different than the 1870s Mormonism that Grey envisions. Yet there are still those who see the LDS as a dangerous group, lorded over by dangerous men.