The Danites, or the Heart of the Sierras

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The Danites, or the Heart of the Sierras is melodrama in five acts by Joaquin Miller (1837-1913)[1]

The play is also known under various other titles, including The Danites, The New Danites, The First Families of the Sierras and The Danites in the Sierras.

The original text

Miller was an American poet and frontiersman, nicknamed the "Poet of the Sierras", who wrote numerous works about the West and the Sierra Nevada region. Miller adapted this play from one of his own works, a collection of prose sketches called First Fam'lies of the Sierras (Chicago: Jansen, McClurg & Co., 1876)[2].

It play is an anti-Mormon melodrama, telling of Danites (a fraternal organization founded by members of the Latter Day Saints or Mormons to serve as a vigilante group during the 1838 Mormon War)[3] who hunted the daughter of one of the murderers of Joseph Smith. The adaptation was apparently done with the aid of actor McKee Rankin and P.A. Fitzgerald. The play opened to surprising success on August 22 1877 in New York with McKee in the leading role, and would remain popular through the 1880s, especially in the American West. In London it was performed in the same period, but under the title The First Families of the Sierras. In 1887 Miller revised the play, calling it The New Danites.

It appears that the stories were re-published in 1881 as The Danites in the Sierras and the play as a four-act drama by the same title in 1882 (Chicago: Jansen, McClurg & Co.)[] - later appearing as a readers' edition under the same (San Francisco, Whitaker & Ray-Wiggin co., 1910).[4]

Translations and adaptations

Performance history in South Africa

1885: Performed as The Danites in the Theatre Royal, Cape Town, by H.C. Sidney and the Sidney-Fiedler company.


David R. Beasley. 2002. "Appendix B" in McKee Rankin and the Heyday of the American Theater, David Beasley: p.349[5]

James Fisher. 2015. Historical Dictionary of American Theater: Beginnings. Rowman & Littlefield: p. 129[6]

Western Literature Association Staff. A Literary History of the American West. Western Literature Association (U.S.): p. 860[7]

D.C. Boonzaier. 1923. "My playgoing days – 30 years in the history of the Cape Town stage", in SA Review, 9 March and 24 August 1923. (Reprinted in Bosman 1980: pp. 374-439.)

F.C.L. Bosman. 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1912. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: p.381.

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