By The Chronicle staff
Becky Bartholomew, an Onalaska llama herder and retired teacher, released her fifth book and first novel, “A House for Maran,” on Tuesday on Amazon.
The book tells in part the story of Bartholomew’s Danish great-grandmother, who survived the Black Hawk War and polygamy in Sanpete County, Utah.
“In the future, I don’t know how many locals will be interested in Utah history. Lewis County is 2% (Mormon), Washington is less than 4%,” Bartholomew said. “Also, this is not your mother’s Mormon romance novel. Maren and her girlfriend have already converted, and the plot is over. Although her two closest neighbors are polygamists, Maran is not encouraged or forced into polygamy. We see one pioneer woman who leaves Denmark in search of land and peace – and whether or not she can thrive in one of the most rugged, beautiful valleys in the Great Basin.
According to Bartholomew, Maren is a composite of a number of different Danish immigrant women who came to Utah in the 1850s and 1860s.
“I always wondered what attracted them to the (Latter-day Saints) faith and why in heaven’s name some decided to enter into polygamy,” Bartholomew said.
Bartholomew brings her unique insights to her storytelling. A descendant of four Sanpete County pioneer families, she was a researcher for LDS Church historian Leonard Arrington from 1974 to 1984.
Arrington chose Bartholomew to help write his family history and his wife Grace’s autobiography.
Bartholomew’s earlier books have examined his conversion to Mormonism. In her 1995 book “Audacious Women,” Bartholomew explored the fate of 35 British converts to Mormonism, including her English and Welsh ancestors.
“Eliza Worthington is a factory seamstress from Macclesfield. Her husband, who was also her boss, forced her to choose between him and Mormonism. She emigrated in 1858. She and her 8-year-old daughter walked across the plains to Ogden, Utah, where she remarried a widower and had three more children. “However, she told her daughter and granddaughter that she regretted leaving her first husband and wanted to be sealed (married in the LDS temple). My grandmother tried for years and finally succeeded in doing this. So of course I had to look up Eliza’s story.
Bartholomew said he was proud of her work in A House for Maren.
“I wove a lot of events into it during thousands of hours of digging through letters and diaries that have been reposited in Utah’s public and private archives,” Bartholomew said. “It gives a better picture of pioneer life than a true history. If I wrote a biography of one grandmother, I would not be able to capture the panorama of those women’s experiences. … (For example,) if you read white Utah history, you hardly realize that the dominant theme for the first 30 years was relations with the Ute Indians. Maren’s life is as completely tied to her local Sahpeech tribe as it is to her settled neighbors. You don’t get that in traditional history. I only discovered it through her voicing or fictionalizing what must have been her daily, weekly, seasonal concerns.
Bartholomew said she credits the Lewis County Writers Guild for honing her fiction writing skills. She especially credits Doyle McKim, Kyle Pratt, Marcia Jasina, 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 making personal connections with readers.
“A House for Maren” is 563 pages and is available in paperback on Amazon for $16.95. The book will be released as an e-book in December.