Riders of the Purple Sage Summary
by Zane Grey

Riders of the Purple Sage book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download Riders of the Purple Sage Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Riders of the Purple Sage Summary

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Riders of the Purple Sage begins in Cottonwoods, a little Utah border settlement where life is made possible by Amber Spring, belonging to Jane Withersteen. Although her father has left her a fortune and she owns most of Cottonwoods, her fellow Mormons, led by the evil Bishop Dyer and Elder Tull, try to dominate her. They especially dislike her friendship with Berne Venters, a young rider who does not share their faith. When they attempt to whip Venters and drive him out of Utah, Jim Lassiter, a Texas gunfighter, intervenes.

For years, Lassiter has been searching for his sister, Millie Erne, spirited away from her husband by Mormons. He now learns she is dead and vows to wreak vengeance upon the Mormon who ruined her life. Jane has taken in a non-Mormon orphan girl named Fay Larkin. She has continued her friendship with Venters and is romantically drawn to Lassiter. Elder Tull—who wants to make Jane one of his wives—Bishop Dyer, and their accomplices attempt to break Jane’s spirit by stampeding her cattle and intimidating her riders. She hires Lassiter to ride for her but attempts to discourage his use of violence.

A gang of rustlers, under the leadership of the outlaw Oldring, is operating in the area. One member of Oldring’s band never appears without disguise and is known only as the “masked rider.” On the range, Venters comes upon Oldring and his rustlers, one of whom is the masked rider. Oldring escapes beneath a canyon wall, but Venters shoots two of his companions, killing one rustler and wounding the masked rider. He discovers to his amazement that the masked rider is a girl named Bess. He nurses her for several weeks, during which time he falls in love with her. Later, the young lovers discover a hidden valley, which Venters names Surprise Valley. The entrance is guarded by a great balancing rock, probably put there by some ancient peoples. Venters and Bess settle down in their paradise like a chaste Adam and Eve. Venters assures himself that, despite the years Bess has spent with Oldring and his men, she is innocent of both criminal and sexual wrongdoing.

From time to time, Venters must leave the valley to get supplies. On one such occasion, Lassiter trails him and learns the location of Surprise Valley. Eventually, Venters rides into Cottonwoods; confronting Oldring in a bar, he invites the rustler outside, where he shoots him to death in the street. Lassiter is also contemplating violence, for he has decided that Bishop Dyer is the man who seduced Millie Erne away from her husband. In an attempt to stay his hand, Jane reveals that it was her own father who despoiled Millie, that it was he for whom she was taken. Lassiter is undeterred. He will use his six-guns to free Jane from the “invisible hand” of Mormonism. The conflict between Jane’s loyalty to her religion and her growing attraction to Lassiter now reaches a climactic point.

Lassiter methodically executes Dyer, torturing him with superficial...

(The entire section is 782 words.)