Onalaska Author Releases New Book Examining Frontier Life in 19th Century Utah


Becky Bartholomew, an Onalaska llama rancher and retired teacher, released her fifth book and first novel, “A House for Maren,” on Amazon on Tuesday.

The book in part tells the story of Bartholomew’s Danish great-great-grandmother who survived the Black Hawk War and polygamy in Sanpete County, Utah.

“Right up front, I don’t know how many local residents will be interested in Utah history. Lewis County is less than 2% (Mormon), Washington 4%,” Bartholomew said. “Also, this is not your mother’s Mormon romance novel. Maren and her sweetheart have already converted to the faith, so that plotline is out. Although her two closest neighbors are plural wives, Maren isn’t lured or forced into polygamy. What we see is one pioneer woman leaving Denmark in search of land and peace — and whether or not she can thrive in one of the Great Basin’s most rugged, beautiful valleys.”

According to Bartholomew, Maren is a composite character of a number of different Danish immigrant women who came to Utah in the 1850s and 1860s.

“I’ve always wondered what attracted them to the (Latter-day Saints) faith and why in heaven’s name some chose to enter polygamy,” Bartholomew said.

Bartholomew brings her unique insights to her storytelling. A descendent of four Sanpete County pioneer families, from 1974 to 1984 she was a researcher for LDS Church Historian Leonard Arrington.

Arrington selected Bartholomew to write his family history and to assist his wife Grace in writing her autobiography.

Bartholomew’s past books have examined conversion to Mormonism. In her 1995 book “Audacious Women,” Bartholomew explored the fates of 35 British converts to Mormonism, including her English and Welsh ancestors.

“Eliza Worthington was a factory seamstress in Macclesfield. Her husband, who was also her boss, insisted she choose between him and Mormonism. She emigrated in 1858. She and her 8-year-old daughter walked across the Plains to Ogden, Utah where, remarried to a widower, she had three more children,” Bartholomew said of one of her ancestors. “However, she told her daughter and granddaughter she regretted leaving her first husband and wanted to be sealed (married in the LDS temple) to him. My grandmother tried for years and eventually succeeded in having this done. So of course I had to research Eliza’s story.”

Bartholomew said she’s proud of her work in “A House for Maren.”

“I wove into it many incidents culled during thousands of hours of poring through letters and diaries reposited in Utah’s public and private archives,” Bartholomew said. “It probably gives a better picture of pioneer life than a factual history. If I’d just written a biography of one grandmother, I couldn’t have captured the panorama of those women’s experiences. … (For instance,) if you read white Utah history, you don’t quite grasp that the dominant theme of the first 30 years is relations with the Ute Indians. Maren’s life is tied to her local Sahpeech tribe as fully as to her settler neighbors. You just don’t get that in conventional history. I only discovered it through extrapolating or fictionalizing what her daily, weekly, seasonal concerns had to have been.”

Bartholomew said she owes a debt to the Lewis County Writers Guild for sharpening her fiction writing skills. She particularly credits Doyle McKim, Kyle Pratt, Marcia Jacyna, Dawn Taylor, Amy Flugel and Holly St. Clair for “keeping me on the straight and narrow.”

She said she decided to self-publish her novel in hopes of having personal contact with readers.

“A House for Maren” is 563 pages and is available in paperback for $16.95 on Amazon. The book will be released as an ebook in December.