In Sally in Three Worlds: An Indian Captive in the House of Brigham Young, Virginia Kerns relates the story of the settlement of Utah through the life of Sally, a Pahvant Ute woman who lived in Brigham Young’s household. On its surface, the book is a narrative of the life of one woman, but Kerns argues that “a single life can illuminate an entire cultural and social world, or reveal an unremarked but vital part of the human story” (1).
Kerns is a professor emerita of anthropology at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. She has written three books, including the award-winning Scenes from the High Desert: Julian Steward’s Life and Theory (Champaign, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 2003). In Sally in Three Worlds, Kerns tackles the challenge of telling Sally’s story even though she left no records of her own. In addition, rather than relying on the accounts of the leaders of the Latter-day Saint settlers, Kerns instead focuses on the perspectives of natives, settler women, and strangers in the Salt Lake Valley. By examining the complex experiences of both natives and settler women, Kerns constructs an evidence-based narrative of Sally’s life both as a Pahvant Ute in a “civilized” community and as a woman in a male-dominated society.
Kerns introduces Sally’s story by setting up a wild-civilized dichotomy that Kerns uses as a lens through which to examine Sally’s experiences and the observations of the people around her. The book is divided into three parts that coincide with the “three worlds” Sally finds herself in throughout her life. The first part, “Mountains and Sky,” describes the first interactions between the native tribes and the settlers in the Salt Lake Valley. It also explores Sally’s introduction into a new community and lifestyle. Part two, “The Heart of Civilization,” presents details of Sally’s daily life while living with the other women in the Lion House and Beehive House. The final part, “Exiles,” examines Sally’s marriage and her “mission” to encourage other natives to adopt a civilized lifestyle. Kerns concludes by addressing several contradictory accounts that have misrepresented Sally’s actual experiences.
While addressing themes such as violence and the environment, Kerns presents a sensitive narrative in a way that is both informative and impactful. Anyone with an interest in the settlement of Utah and the experiences of a variety of individuals will find new insights in Sally’s story and appreciate Kerns’s efforts to rediscover someone who has been overlooked for so long.