Riders of the Purple Sage
A sharp clip-crop of iron-shod hoofs deadened and died away, and clouds of
yellow dust drifted from under the cottonwoods out over the sage.
Jane Withersteen gazed down the wide purple slope with dreamy and troubled
eyes. A rider had just left her and it was his message that held her thoughtful and
almost sad, awaiting the churchmen who were coming to resent and attack her
right to befriend a Gentile.
She wondered if the unrest and strife that had lately come to the little village of
Cottonwoods was to involve her. And then she sighed, remembering that her
father had founded this remotest border settlement of southern Utah and that he
had left it to her. She owned all the ground and many of the cottages.
Withersteen House was hers, and the great ranch, with its thousands of cattle,
and the swiftest horses of the sage. To her belonged Amber Spring, the water
which gave verdure and beauty to the village and made living possible on that
wild purple upland waste. She could not escape being involved by whatever
That year, 1871, had marked a change which had been gradually coming in the
lives of the peace-loving Mormons of the border. Glaze--Stone Bridge--Sterling,
villages to the north, had risen against the invasion of Gentile settlers and the
forays of rustlers. There had been opposition to the one and fighting with the
other. And now Cottonwoods had begun to wake and bestir itself and grown
Jane prayed that the tranquillity and sweetness of her life would not be
permanently disrupted. She meant to do so much more for her people than she
had done. She wanted the sleepy quiet pastoral days to last always. Trouble
between the Mormons and the Gentiles of the community would make her
unhappy. She was Mormon-born, and she was a friend to poor and unfortunate
Gentiles. She wished only to go on doing good and being happy.
And she thought of what that great ranch meant to her. She loved it all--the grove
of cottonwoods, the old stone house, the amber-tinted water, and the droves of
shaggy, dusty horses and mustangs, the sleek, clean-limbed, blooded racers,
and the browsing herds of cattle and the lean, sun-browned riders of the sage.
While she waited there she forgot the prospect of untoward change. The bray of
a lazy burro broke the afternoon quiet, and it was comfortingly suggestive of the
drowsy farmyard, and the open corrals, and the green alfalfa fields. Her clear
sight intensified the purple sage-slope as it rolled before her. Low swells of
prairie-like ground sloped up to the west. Dark, lonely cedar-trees, few and far
between, stood out strikingly, and at long distances ruins of red rocks. Farther
on, up the gradual slope, rose a broken wall, a huge monument, looming dark
purple and stretching its solitary, mystic way, a wavering line that faded in the
north. Here to the westward was the light and color and beauty. Northward the
slope descended to a dim line of canyons from which rose an up-Hinging of the
earth, not mountainous, but a vast heave of purple uplands, with ribbed and fan-