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L E O N A R D A R R I N G T O N and J O N H A U P T * Community and Isolation: Some Aspects of “Mormon Westerns” “Let Zane Grey take you out of the world you’re in,” an­ nounced a full-page advertisement in a recent Sunday edition of the Los Angeles Times. For one dollar you can receive “three of the greatest books Zane Grey ever wrote,” including Riders ofthePurple Sage, “perhaps the most popular W estern ever written.” For the m odern urban dweller, trapped in an environm ent he did not make and frustrated in his attempts to change or control it, Grey’s Manichean world is inviting — a world where “thin­ lipped, soft-spoken men, squinting against the sun, carve out their destinies . . . on their own terms.”1 The world of the fictional W estern was, and still is, inhabited by a m ultitude of authors who, liberally borrowing and building upon each other’s style, m ethod, and attitudes, erected and pre­ served the so-called W estern myth. During the last two decades historians and literary scholars have begun re-m apping this fas­ cinating terrain, reconstructing the popular assumptions and ide­ als behind familir symbols and images. Using Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage as a framework, this essay examines one aspect of the role of the Mormons in western American fiction.2 Because *Leonard Arrington is professor of history at Brigham Young University, and was a visiting professor of history at the University of California, Los Angeles, when this article was “blocked out.” Jon Haupt was Professor Arrington’s graduate assistant at the time and is now a candidate for the Ph.D in history at U.C.L.A. lLos Angeles Times Home Magazine, February 16, 1969, p. 80. 2On other aspects see our “Intolerable Zion: The Image o f Mormonism in Nineteenth Century American Literature,” Western Humanities Review, XXII (Summer, 1968), 243-260; and “The Missouri and Illinois Mormons in Ante­ bellum Fiction,”Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thoughts, V (Spring, 1970), 37-50. See also Neal Lambert, “Saints, Sinners, and Scribes: A Look at the Mormons in Fiction,” Utah Historical Quarterly, XXXVI (Winter, 1968), 63-76; Kenneth B. Hunsaker, “The Twentieth Century Mormon Novel” (Ph.D. dissertation, Pen­ nsylvania State University, 1968); and Cassie Hyde Hock, “The Mormons in Fiction” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Colorado, 1941). 16 Western American Literature Riders of the Purple Sage was (and perhaps still is) a major source of popular knowledge about the Mormons, an analysis of Grey’s book seems relevant. W hat do Grey and his literary predecessors tell us directly, and by im plication, about nineteenth century American fiction? It would seem useful first to summarize briefly the somewhat complex plot of Riders.3 The action takes place in 1871, at Cot­ tonwoods, “the remotest border settlement of southern U tah” (1). A rich and beautiful M ormon girl, Jane W ithersteen, is out of favor with her church because she has been doing charitable work for poverty-stricken non-M ormons. More im portant, she scorns Elder Tull who, with the backing of the local bishop (Dyer), “sued, exhorted, dem anded that she marry him” (84). Meanwhile, Jim Lassiter, a w andering Mormon-killer “born without fear” (22) who has been spilling blood and spreading hate on Utah trails for eighteen years, arrives in Cottonwoods and saves one of Jane’s innocent Gentile riders (Bern Venters) from the wrath of Elder Tull. Lassiter learns that his long-lost sister Milly, who ran off from Texas eighteen years earlier with a M ormon missionary, ended up in Cottonwoods and quit the church, but was forced to rejoin it when the M ormons kidnapped her baby girl. Milly then dies of a “broken heart.”J ane knows the name of the Mormon proselytizer who caused Milly’s ruin, but, fearing more bloodshed, refuses to tell Lassiter. The Mormons step up their pressure on Jane. Some 2,500 of her cattle are stolen, and Bern trails Oldring, a local rustler in league with Tull, into the hills. En route, Bern shoots a mysteri...


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