The Ed Harris and Amy Madigan Production of:
Location shot: Flat Pass near Moab, Utah
Location Shot: Dugout Ranch, near Moab, Utah
A Charles Haid Film

The Story

This synopsis is based on the book

and the 1996 version of the movie.

Zane Grey was a prolific and popular writer, and this is without a doubt his best-known novel. It is a timeless story of the right to pursue individual freedom. The last film adaptation of this dark tale of revenge and frontier justice was the 1941 classic starring George Montgomery and Mary Howard. Grey was no fan of the Mormon church, and while the members of the religious sect are not actually referred to as Mormons in this film, it is strongly implied. Grey also did not shy away from having independent women characters in his stories. The lead in this story is no exception -- Jane Withersteen is a strong and capable woman far ahead of her time when compared to other women characters -- not just in westerns or writing of this time period -- but across all genres and for many years after this was written. Riders of the Purple Sage is a novel with a complex plot that develops in many threads. The story is set in Cottonwoods, the canyon country of southern Utah, in 1871. Jane Withersteen, a Mormon-born spinster of 28, has inherited a valuable ranch and spring from her father, which is coveted by other Mormons in the community. When Jane refuses to marry one of the Mormon elders, Deacon Tull. He is angry at her because she has befriended Bern Venters, a young man who works on her ranch and whom she has saved from a brutal whipping at the hand of the Mormons, they begin to persecute her openly. Meanwhile, Lassiter, a notorious gunman, arrives at the Withersteen ranch in search of the grave of his long-lost sister, Millie Erne. It doesn’t take him long to see that this community is controlled by the corrupt Deacon Tull who is a powerful elder. He is trying to take Jane’s land by forcing her to marry him, by harassing Venters and by branding her foreman as a dangerous outsider. He ends up staying on as Jane's defender while Venters is on the trail of a gang of cattle rustlers that includes a mysterious Masked Rider. Jane is eventually driven off her ranch as the persecution escalates, but she and Lassiter fall in love. Lassiter eventually solves the mystery of his sister's death when Jane tells him the story of what happened to Millie, and they also discover that the masked rider is Bess, his niece.  Tull, Pastor Dyer and the men riding with them are all killed, leaving Jane and Lassiter free to love each other.
Riders of the Purple Sage