The Society for Strang Studies
founded in 2000 to facilitate research into the life and accomplishment of James Jesse Strang

   

 
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J.J. Strang Writer's Society
Issue No. 1
September, 2001

Welcome to the first issue (I hope of many) of our J.J. Strang Internet newsletter. Note that I said “our” newsletter. To be meaningful it needs input from all of us. Ask questions, answer questions, give suggestions, tell us about your problems (about Strang writing, that is), new sources of information – well, you get the idea.

I thought I’d start out with excerpts from e-mail received from each. In the future, please let me know if I have your permission to include your messages in upcoming issues. Also does anyone have a suggestion for a better name than “J.J. Strang Writers Society?” – Bill Olson

Anne-Marie Oomen oomeninterlochen.k1.mi.us has a second draft completed of a play, part one of a four-part series, each depicting the stories of one of the wives (the cousins collapsed together.) This one is focused on Elvira and is basically a “loss of faith” story. And transformation.

Carolyn Lewis sunwriteix.netcom.com writes, “As for me, on Strang, so far I have one novella that really is a long short story, and half fiction and half not. It placed in two national awards and never sold. I cannot figure that one out, and would love to hear people's ideas. I'm now rewriting it as part of a short story collection I hope to finish and find a publisher for it this fall or winter.”

Sam Han shanMetLife.com “I actually have two in the works. One will be finished this year, the other will not be finished until 2002. The one closest to completion is set in contemporary time on Beaver Island. It supposes that a follower of King Strang returns to take back the island and reestablish Strang's kingdom. This character who is known as J.J. (James Jessie Grants) is a polygamist with a shadowy past. "Grants" is an anagram of Strang. He does not claim to be a blood descendent but says that an angel appeared to him and told him to "finish Prophet James work." Like his predecessor, he produces engraved copper plates and part of the King's celebrated lost treasure. He also holds a coronation ceremony. He is a powerful preacher and a ruthless manipulator. I hope to show that his character is very similar to Strang's. I tell the story from two points of view, Lisa, J.J.'s third wife shows the inside view of the Kingdom. Dave is the Beaver Island resident deputy sheriff who represents the islanders and society in general. The book is completely outlined and about two-thirds written 85,000 words to date.

“The second novel I have in mind is set in the period immediately following Strang's attack. It supposes that the colony on Beaver successfully resists invasion and that the King is able to recover and return to his throne. The government is called to account for its part and just when everything seems to be splendidly successful for the kingdom, until Strang's unchecked excesses begin to recoil upon him. I have not finished outlining this yet.

“... I would be very enthusiastic about sharing ideas. I have been in the communication business for many years as a minister and a salesman. Most of my writing has been of a technical and (depending on your bias) non-fiction.”

Bill Olson (your newsletter editor): “My home is on Washington Island on the west side of Lake Michigan. It is a bit smaller than Beaver Island but with a few more year-round residents. I am writing a novel about the Mormon period at Beaver Island. Although I have written several chapters I am still pretty much in the research stage and have been reading various books including The Kingdom of St. James by Quaife, King of Beaver Island by VanNoord, Washington Island, 1836-1876 by Conan Eaton, The King Strang Story by Doyle Fitzpatrick, A Child of the Sea ... by Elizabeth Williams, Crown of Glory, A Moses of the Mormons by O.W. Riegel, and various articles.

“I plan to have two or three protagonists. One will represent the anti-Mormon or ‘Gentile’ viewpoint (possibly based on Joseph Lobdell, a Washington Islander who lived on Beaver for a few years and was keeper of the Beaver Head Light after the Mormons had been driven off Beaver.) The other will see things through Mormon eyes, but I have not as yet decided who this will be (It will NOT be Strang). I may have a third, a native American, but I haven’t found much information on this segment of the Strang story. I believe that there were rights and wrongs on both sides. The old saw about history being written by the victors certainly seems to apply as books showing the Mormon viewpoint are rather rare.

“This will be my third novel set in the latter half of the 19th Century but the first about Strang. The first which I self-published is The Islanders. It has had some success. The second is Murder at the Pottawatomie Light, which I published this spring. It has sold quite well, with over 1/3 of the initial printing already sold. I also have done a good deal of free lance for two newspapers (I had a column "The Town Square" in our local weekly for four years), and several regional magazines. I have only had one Mormon friend. We were in the same military unit in Japan for almost a year. (This was in 1953).

“Last autumn a group from Washington Island chartered a plane to fly over to Beaver Island for a day and we all enjoyed it very much. It was my first trip. Bill Cashman kindly opened the Printshop Museum and I was very pleased to meet him in person. I had hoped to return for museum week this summer but a speaking commitment kept me home.”

Vickie Speek vspeekcbcast.com says, “Let me introduce myself and tell you how I became interested in James Strang.

“I live in Minooka, Illinois, a small town about 50 miles southwest of Chicago and 8 miles west of Joliet - just off Interstate 80. You've probably driven past our town at some time or another. My husband, Bob, works at a nuclear power plant (like Homer Simpson), and I work as a features reporter for a small daily newspaper.

“I was a stay-at-home mother for 25 years, raising our four kids. Our kids are ages 26, 24, 20 - and...12.

“That's right, our youngest, a boy, is in seventh grade while the others have all grown up and moved away from home. Mike was unexpected, but not unwelcome, as I always say. I waited to go back to work until he was in junior high school.

“I was born and raised in Idaho Falls, Idaho. I'm a fifth and sixth generation Mormon. My ancestors joined the Mormon Church in England and Scandinavia in the 1850s, came to America and settled in Utah and Idaho with other members of their church. I moved away from home when Bob and I got married. We moved to Connecticut where Bob was stationed in the Navy on a nuclear submarine.

“Since then, we have lived in several states, including Michigan and Illinois. From 1990-1996 we lived in Gurnee, Illinois, near the Wisconsin border. That's where I learned about James Strang. I was in Burlington, Wisconsin, about 15 miles from where we lived, when I came across Old Mormon Road. I drove down the road and discovered old Voree.

“To say I was flabbergasted would not be an understatement - I had been an active Mormon all my life, and I had never heard of Mormons in Wisconsin! You see - that's a part of Mormon history that isn't told to active members of the church. Strang and the people who followed him are considered malcontents and trouble makers - people who didn't have enough ‘faith’ to make the journey to Utah.

“That was when I started researching the Strangites. I wanted to know who they really were and why my ancestors ended up going to Utah instead of Wisconsin or Michigan. James Strang seduced me the same way he did everybody else.

“It's been an interesting seven years. I have found that the Strangites were just ordinary people like everybody else. Some were bad. Some were good. It is a fascinating story, one that I don't feel has been adequately told.

“I gave a presentation on Strang at the 1998 national convention of the Mormon History Association in Washington DC, and spoke about his five wives during Museum Week on Beaver Island in July 1999. We dearly love Beaver Island. My son thinks it is the best place in the world. My husband wants to retire there. But I don't like the cold and the snow. I would have hated to be a Strangite on that island in the 1850s.”

In another e-mail from Vickie she tells us about, “...an article I wrote entitled, The Five Wives of James J. Strang, for publication in the Journal of Beaver Island History. The article was actually designed as a character study for a historical novel I am writing about the Strangites. Although I call it a novel, I want to tell the true story of what happened to the Strangites on Beaver Island and Voree. The story is already so fascinating I certainly don't need to make anything up!

“I have spent seven years researching James Strang and his followers. I am also in the unique position of being an active member of the Mormon Church (Utah version–sixth generation) and the descendent of polygamists. I understand the religious conviction and background of the people who followed Strang. My own family had to face the same moral dilemmas. My great -grandfather had two wives at the same time!

“I want to tell the story from the viewpoint of Elvira Field (Charley Douglass) and Sarah Wright. I have also studied the emotional and social background of the people who resisted the Strangites and forced them off the island. I think there were rights and wrongs on both sides.”

Josh Broder whose very interesting Internet address is KingStrangaol.com tells us that, “I co-wrote and produced a theater piece about Strang, and recently co-wrote a screenplay which we're trying to get attention for. I'm a fourth generation summer visitor to the island, though I've missed the last two.”

John Quinn quinnhope.edu writes, “Thanks for thinking of me for the Strang Writers' Club. Sounds fun although I don't know that I'm qualified to be a member, as I'm likely to write something more pedestrian than a play – say, a journal article on The Ancient World in the Mind of Strang.

““But with a bit of whisky perhaps I could write a poem, maybe even (appropriate for B.I.) in Irish.”
 

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