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For week ended December 05, 1999 Posted 24 Feb 2001

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Mormon 'King' Strang subject of documentary in Canada (Strang but true)

Summarized by Eric Bunker

Mormon 'King' Strang subject of documentary in Canada (Strang but true)
Edmonton Sun (CP) 30Nov99 D5
By Canadian Press

SUDBURY, ONTARIO, CANADA -- Toronto-based Lynx Images, which produces book/video sets that explore Canada's rich history, has put out its latest project, "Mysterious Islands: Forgotten Tales of the Great Lakes," which aired on Canadian Cable's History Television.

In their research, they discovered that for a short time in the middle of the 19th century, all the islands in the Great Lakes belonged to one man: the not-quite-legendary James Jesse Strang, or King Strang as he liked to call himself.

Strang was the self-appointed Mormon messiah and fringe cult leader who set himself up as king on Lake Michigan's Beaver Island with hundreds of followers who were former church members that left in the Nauvoo period. His offshoot sect built a thriving little community that existed in a state of uneasy proximity to the island's existing Irish population.

The bombastic King Strang ruled from a mossy throne, declaring himself owner of all the islands in the lakes, although he didn't make much headway in holding his claims. It appears that his biggest secret was the true nature of his ever-present assistant, Charles Douglas, who in fact, was really Elvira Field, a young woman Strang had made his second wife.

Oddly enough, the old king soon met his end after being shot in retaliation for his insistence that the women of his congregation wear bloomers. After his death, the remaining Strangites were eventually run off the island by the Irish mainlanders. However, because of their excellent example, a strain of anti-Mormon sentiment still lurks in the area today.

As they researched the history, Andrea Gutsche of Lynx Images, says, "I could not believe the animosity and rage that still lingered towards the Mormons -- all because of King Strang. It was clear there was strong anti-Mormon sentiment, but just how that came about wasn't clear until we heard the story of King Strang," Gutsche says. "It put it all in context."

The thriving history of the Great Lakes is often forgotten, as ruins are rare and stories rarer. But the Lynx team still enjoys digging up the truth and getting the word out.

"There's often not much in the way of tangible history in this area," Gutsche says. "But the stories are still there, and they can be retold."

Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 Kent Larsen · Privacy Information