Synopses & Reviews
The richly told story of a nineteenth-century woman–the author’s great-great-grandmother–whose religious faith was betrayed and regained on a journey across the American West.
In the 1850s, Jean Rio was a recently widowed English mother of seven. Rich, well educated, musically gifted, deeply spiritual, and increasingly dismayed by the social injustices she saw around her, she was moved by the promises of Mormon missionaries and set out from England for Utah. On her fifty-six-day Atlantic crossing, she began keeping a diary, and this extraordinary chronicle is the basis of Sally Denton’s book.
We follow Jean Rio from New Orleans, where she disembarks, up the Mississippi by riverboat, and, finally, westward by wagon train. We see her family transformed by necessity–mastering frontier skills, surviving storms, finding their own food, overcoming illness and injury–during the five months it takes them to reach Zion.
We see her initial enthusiasm turn to disillusionment: She is forced to surrender her money to the church. She realizes she has been lied to about polygamy–Mormons do practice it–which she detests. Acts of Mormon violence against nonbelievers repel her. Her musical skills are buried beneath the daily rigors of farming. Two of her sons flee to California. We witness her seventeen-year struggle to make peace with her situation before she, too, escapes to California–to freedom, a career as a midwife, and a new religion that fulfills her.
Dramatic and powerful, Faith and Betrayal is the moving account of one woman’s gamble in an emerging America, and a valuable addition to the history of both the Mormon experience and the long saga of immigrant pioneer women.
"Denton, a journalist who previously explored Mormon history in American Massacre, relays and interprets a British ancestor's experiences in crossing an ocean and a continent to join the Latter-day Saints in Utah. Jean Rio Baker was, by Denton's assessment, a wealthy Victorian woman who "fell sway" to the message of Mormon missionaries in the 1840s. Not long after her husband died, she packed up her children and other members of her extended family and embarked from England on the arduous voyage to Utah. This short biography is at its best when it adheres closely to Rio Baker's own journal of her experiences on the ocean (where she tragically buried a child at sea) and the plains, which she vividly describes in fascinating detail. But for the long stretches of Rio Baker's life where she either did not keep a journal or it has not survived, readers are left with Denton's own rather angry assessment of how her great-great-grandmother was deceived and betrayed by the Mormons. Unfortunately, the book is riddled with numerous factual errors about 19th-century Mormonism and the Book of Mormon, which may cause readers to question other elements in the biography. Despite the sloppy research and some unfair caricatures, Denton portrays her ancestor as a resourceful, independent mother and midwife who heroically survived her religious disillusionment. Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
The richly told story of a 19th-century woman the author's great-great-grandmother whose faith was betrayed and regained on a journey across the American West. In the 1850s, Jean Rio was a recently widowed mother of seven. Wealthy, well educated, deeply spiritual, and increasingly dismayed by the social injustices she saw around her, she succumbed to the promises of Mormon missionaries and set out for Utah. On her 57-day Atlantic crossing, she began keeping a diary. It is that extraordinary chronicle that forms the basis for Sally Denton's book. We follow Jean Rio from New Orleans, where she disembarks, up the Mississippi, and, finally, west-ward by wagon train. We see her family transformed by necessity mastering frontier skills, fending off threats, gathering food, overcoming illness and injury during the five months it takes them to reach Zion. We see her initial enthusiasm turn to disillusionment: her wealth drained from her, polygamy repellent to her, violence and zealotry commonplace among the Mormons. And we witness her 17-year struggle to make peace with her situation before she literally escapes to California, and freedom. A dramatic and powerful book a valuable addition to the history of both the Mormon experience and the experience of immigrant, pioneer women.
Sharing the story of her wealthy, widowed great-great-grandmother, whose faith was betrayed and regained on a journey across the American West, Denton delivers a valuable addition to the history of both the Mormon experience and the experience of pioneer women.
About the Author
Sally Denton is the author of American Massacre: The Tragedy at Mountain Meadows, September 1857; The Bluegrass Conspiracy: An Inside Story of Power, Greed, Drugs, and Murder; and, with Roger Morris, The Money and the Power: The Making of Las Vegas and Its Hold on America, 19472000. She received Western Heritage Awards in 2002 and 2004, a Lannan Literary grant in 2000, and, for her body of work, the Nevada Silver Pen Award of 2003 for distinguished literary achievement. Her award-winning investigative reporting has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and American Heritage. She lives with her three children in New Mexico.