LaMond Tullis, emeritus professor of political science at Brigham Young University and author of Mormons in Mexico and Lord and Peasant in Peru, among other works, tries in his latest book to put his ancestors in their rightful place. He tells the story of the Henrys, from the Scotch-Irish John Henry who settled in Rhode Island in the late 1600s down to the generation of his mother’s family, who settled in the Uintah Basin. Migrating from New England through New York to the Midwest and the Rocky Mountains, these westering Henrys are placed by Tullis into larger contexts, their stories woven into and symbolic of American life. The experiences of these “migratory risk takers” in the Uintah Basin of Utah clarify what it cost to settle in that stern and exacting locale (xv).
As the title indicates, these ancestors are also studies in the human need and hope to find a place of their own. Tullis broadly defines this “sense of place” as the merging of a person’s internal and external landscapes, a situation where they feel right. The “place” framework is also enlightening in a story with so much movement. The term is loaded with enough meaning in the prologue to make the reader pause to consider how it is used when encountered, as it frequently is, in the text (xix–xxi).
As a descendant eager to elucidate his ancestors, Tullis writes as lively a history as the sources and his proficient pen allow; as more original sources become available with each new generation researched, the family subjects transform from silhouettes, whose circumstances are better preserved than they are themselves, to complex characters in more vivid settings.
The Henrys’ story ably illustrates larger American themes. Tullis frequently broadens the scope to national events or fills in details on premodern aspects of American agriculturalists, from frontier medicine to hog slaughtering. The book succeeds on many levels, and due to the many layers of this work, it will be of use to those interested not only in the line of Henrys but in the early history of Uintah Basin settlement, in reliving earlier American semisubsistence lifestyles, and in considering questions of migration and belonging. What, after all, puts us in our place?