Mormon Cowboy

On the morning of September 11, 1857, a wagon train of 120 men, women and children en route from Arkansas to California were murdered near Cedar City, Utah. The killers, history suggests, were likely God-fearing Mormons.

The Mountain Meadows Massacre, as the bloody event is known, provided the inspiration for director Christopher Cain’s new film, September Dawn. The movie, which hinges on a Romeo-and-Juliet love story, promises to be nothing short of a public relations disaster for the L.D.S. church.

“Whenever you do a film of this kind, a film with considerable controversy behind it, it’s not like telling a dirty joke—you’ve gotta do it well,” Mr. Cain, who also co-wrote and produced the film, told The Observer over the phone from his home in Aspen, Colorado. And in the case of September Dawn, a huge part of doing it well meant finding the right actor to play the lead, a maniacal Mormon bishop named Jacob Samuelson.

Enter Academy Award winner Jon Voight.

At 68 years old, Mr. Voight, is apparently still capable of evoking the frigid intensity that won him critical acclaim for his roles in classics like Midnight Cowboy, Deliverance and, more recently, Mission: Impossible. For Mr. Cain’s production, however, which largely took place in the Canadian Rockies, Mr. Voight brings a whole new sober malevolence to his role as Bishop Samuelson, whose sinister gaze and ice-water voice are nothing short of terrifying.

A longtime friend of Mr. Voight, Mr. Cain said he was the obvious choice for the film: “Jon is a very studious actor. He studied as much of the history as he could about this, so we were able to give him a lot of information, a lot of detail.” He continued, “I knew it needed somebody with courage to play this role, and he has that.”


September Dawn will open in theaters nationwide on Aug. 24.

Mormon Cowboy