…the parched land shall become a pool, and the thirsty lands springs of water…(Isaiah 35:7)

A Buffer Against the World – A Book Review

By Rex Goode


“A Buffer Against the World”
A review of
Blaine M. Yorgason’s Hearts Afire, “Book Two – Fort on the Firing Line”
by Stephen Rex Goode

Order this bookI was attending a conference in Salt Lake City with my wife. It had been many years since we had an opportunity to return to the Manti Temple, where we were married over twenty years ago. Not being familiar with Utah highways, but knowing generally how to get to Manti from Salt Lake, we started our trip.

I’m an impatient driver and have almost no tolerance for large rigs going uphill. As I came upon a two-lane section of road, there was just such a truck in the right lane, going slower than I was willing to go. I passed him with a great sense of satisfaction and continued on my way.

I was greatly annoyed to find that there was construction on the highway shortly beyond that point and ended up waiting about twenty minutes while a flagger jawed with a driver ahead of us.

Passing through several canyons, we were surprised to be passing through Price, Utah. We had both heard of Price, but did not recall that it was on the way to Manti. Still, I had not seen any reasonable turn-off that would have taken me to Manti, so I was quite confident I was still on track.

Not until I saw a sign that indicated it was one-hundred and fifty miles to Grand Jucntion, Colorado, where I had lived for part of my youth, did I realize that I was going the wrong way.

On my flight from Salt Lake, I had begun to read Hearts Afire — “Book Two: Fort on the Firing Line” by Blaine M. Yorgason. It is a continuation of a story he began in “Book One: At All Hazards.” The Hearts Afire series is based on the real-life story of a group of pioneer missionaries called by Brigham Young to settle the San Juan river valley. “At All Hazards” tells the story of their journey from Cedar to Bluff. “Fort on the Firing Line” is the tale of some of their harsh months in what was once known as Bluff Fort.

As with Book One, Book Two employs very few fictional characters. Most characters were actual inhabitants of the region. The two main characters, Billy and Eliza Foreman, are fictional. Among the characters who once lived were several of the Mormon settlers of the area, some non-Mormon friends, and a few Navajos and Pahutes.

While I made my way back along Highway 6, upon discovering that my turn-off had been back at the junction of my impatience with that truck, I couldn’t help but think of the terrain on either side of the road. I imagined what it must be like to try to drive a covered wagon across the tightly rippled landscape. I knew that I was far north of where the San Juan missionaries had once traversed, but I was fairly certain that their route was at least as bad as what I saw along Highway 6.

I felt some gratitude for the kind of spirit that would kindle in faithful hearts a desire to be so obedient to the Lord and his servants, that people would leave comfortable homes to battle such harsh conditions.

In the prologue to Book Two, we learn why the Church leaders had sent this tiny band of settlers to crossroads between the Pahutes, Navajos, Colorado settlers, and the Saints in Zion. They were sent simply to be a buffer between the ancient native rivals and between the outlaws who frequented the region and the rest of Utah. In essence, they were not only to bear the natural hardships of the desert frontier, but also the brunt of the inevitable skirmishes on Zion’s eastern border. Somehow, though I have never lived in Utah and am only a third generation Latter-day Saint, I felt profoundly grateful for the sacrifice of a tiny band of people. Perhaps Yorgason has overstated their importance in the scheme of history, but he does a convincing job.

In Bluff Fort, modernly known simply as Bluff, Eliza Foreman continues on with the rest of the settlement, when Elder Erastus Snow informs them that they will not be released from their mission. Billy has gone to work in Colorado on the railroad with many of the other men, since the San Juan has failed to be tamed and provide water for their irrigation ditch. Of all the hardships she must endure, which included sand storms, snakes, and outlaws passing through the fort, she despises most the raids of the Pahutes and Navajos. Both of those native peoples had a different concept of ownership than the white Europeans then flooding the land.

What the whites thought of as robbery, the Dine’, the “people” considered raiding, a source of pride and an honorable way to obtain things. Eliza begins to loathe the very site of any Indian, after Posey, a young Pahute first encountered by the reader in Book One, threatens to kill one of the young infants in the settlement if Eliza does not give him food. She is saved by Thales Haskel, a missionary and interpreter, who curses Posey’s rifle so that Posey can never kill a Mormon.

In Book One, Eliza had to overcome her hatred for her husband, Billy. Continuing the consuption of her spiritual dross, she must now learn to drop her hatred of the people she had been sent to make peace with and teach the gospel.

As with other novels by Yorgason, doctrinal lessons are explored through scenes where his characters turn to the scriptures to study out and receive answers to their questions.

Adding to the sanctification message of Book One, Book Two focuses on the principles related to personal revelation as Eliza strives to learn what the Lord would have her do in relation to her mission on the San Juan river.

“Fort on the Firing Line” is not as saturated with the quaint similes and language employed by characters in “At All Hazards,” though there is enough to make the dialog feel right. Also, new in this latest installment is a more sensible treatment of the many characters. Book One was so full of characters that I could not really keep track of them. Since I didn’t want spend weeks reading Book One, I ignored the complexities and relied on feeling the gist of the story. To my surprise, in reading Book Two nearly a year later, I remember much more of who was who than I ever expected. I think that Yorgason took a calculated gamble in writing the first book the way he did that readers would comprehend more than they first realized. It worked out that way for me. Since I read Book Two on an airplane, I could not go back and refer to the first book to refresh my memory about certain characters. I can only credit the masterful author for this unexpected retention of information.

The conference I had come to attend was the annual conference of Evergreen International, an organization dedicated to helping men and women of LDS roots and faith as they struggle with homosexuality. As I sat and heard one speaker refer to us as pioneers of a sort, I pictured myself sent to a part of earth life that most Saints don’t want to see, perhaps called to be a buffer between Babylon and Zion. Like the Foremans, I would never have chosen to enter life in such precarious circumstances, bombarded by dangerous temptations and struggling to remain faithful to commandments and expectations that sometimes seem impossible, but like Eliza, I strive to find peace in the midst of these difficulties, putting obedience above all else.

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