The whole valley was influenced by this one good woman who lived a noble life.
The Sons of Katie Elder is a fun western film about John Elder (John Wayne) and his four brothers who get together for the first time in years at their Mother’s graveside. They start off on a treacherous adventure to right past wrongs, and end up deep in trouble under the western skies.
There is a lot I could say about the film itself, but I’m not here to review it today. This post is just about one of the many people in the film. It is a character sketch of sorts of Katie Elder, the mother of the four western men. (light spoilers below, if you haven’t seen the film you may want to stop here)
I find her one of the most fascinating aspects of the film, and I must admit that she has caught my imagination so much that I once watched the whole film just looking for the ways she impacted her family, town, and the community at large.
That is nothing short of remarkable when you realize that she does not appear on the screen once throughout the entire film, nor is there a line of her dialogue. As a matter of fact, she is dead before the opening credits roll. Yet nobody had more of an influence on what occurs in the film than she.
So, about Katie Elder. From the film we find that she is an unassuming, humble woman who was devoted to her family. She placed great value on her husband’s name and cared deeply about it’s reputation before and after his death. Her sons were all wayward men who went off on their own, leaving her to fend for herself in her old age. Her neighbors obviously thought highly of her and would have been glad to support her, but she was industrious and worked for her own bread, shunning the easy life of welfare and taking pride in her work and responsibilities. After her ranch and land were gone, she rented an old shack on a friend’s land and quietly lived out her days.
“Katie Elder, a woman beloved of all, a hardworking, honest woman, she helped in Your work, O Lord, in a thousand ways. She was a friend to all, a comforter to the sick. She has left this world a little better for having lived in it. Those who knew her, and loved her, are better for having lived in the warmth of her understanding. Katie Elder lived here in Clearwater for many years, all of us gathered here today knew her well. She raised four sons John, Tom, Matt, and Bud, the youngest. She was a woman who wanted nothing for herself, wanted to give rather than receive. She devoted her life to helping her family, her friends.”
As her wild sons come to town to settle her affairs and collect any inheritance that might be left them, they begin to see her for the first time in the reflection of her live and love in the community. This woman that they had deserted was not only highly respected, but had done much to minister to the valley and influence the area for good. They found that Katie was debt free and lived cheerily within her means, thought that meant she only had two dresses to her name (she did have some ambitious entrepreneur projects underway…).
I love watching the brothers slowly change as they are touched by what they see of their mother’s kindness and character. The little things about her start to get to them, and they realize that her neighbors have honored her name and given her more of a tribute than they, her own sons had. So they determine that one of them “ought to amount to something” and be a monument to what a great lady she was.
The thing that gets to me about Katie’s story is how a mother changed her sons through the legacy she left in the lives of her neighbors.
Her sons were off “making a name” and life for themselves as gamblers and gunfighters. Yet she kept up heart and faithfully ministered to her neighbors and community. Years passed, and she died, her wild sons returned, and the valley that she had once influenced with her integrity, love, and care, in turn influenced the lives of her sons.
She probably had no idea that the countless hours she spent serving and loving those around her would someday come back around to her own children.
The far-reaching impact of one person on this world is such a great theme for a story. The film “It’s a Wonderful Life” is a prime example. Of course, in “The Sons Of Katie Elder” it is not as boldly shown. It is subtle, powerful, and masterfully woven into the far-off background of the story where you don’t notice it much, unless you’re looking for it.
So next time you pull out this film to watch it again, look for the hints of Katie Elder’s influence, you may be surprised just how many there are.