Book Nook: “Jody’s Journal” promotes faith-based history through editorialism rather than facts

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I love a good biography, but “Jody’s Journal” is as dry as the desert it takes place in.

Complied by Cathy Wright and published by a nonprofit organization called the Hole-In-The-Rock Foundation, the book “Jody’s Journal” is split into two parts — an editorialized biography and a recreation of Josephine “Jody” Catherine Chatterley Wood’s journal. Focused on early southern Utah settlers, “Jody’s Journal” covers events that have taken place primarily in San Juan County.

The reproduction of Jody’s journals was probably the most historically accurate part of the book. However, the only part of her journals that have been included in this book are her records of her travels between Cedar City and Bluff  that are placed within the editorialized part of the book. According to several editor’s notes, there was not much of Jody’s journals to save. 

This lack of content is heavily supplemented by Mormon faith-based interjections throughout the first half of the book as well as by other published works concerning Utah pioneers. One such interjection came in the form of a footnote:

“The reason for the trip was two fold: Jody longed for the care and help of her half-sister Mary Ann Corlett Stewart, and Sam desired to take a second wife.8

8The Mormon Church was still quietly practicing polygamy at this time [1884], and undoubtedly Samuel had lived his life worthily enough to undertake this principle. This was the second reason for returning to Cedar.”

I don’t know the worthiness threshold for when a person deserves to marry another person, but at the very least, this seemed like a biased interjection to coincide with Mormon belief that all the men that participated in polygamy in the early days of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints were good men. The records of polygamous wives from that time would dispute this claim, as would books like “In Sacred Loneliness” by Mormon historian Todd Compton.

There was also a distinctly racist tone to the book when the editor would mentioned the Native Americans that resided near the San Juan County settlers. I would have understood this if it was presented in the historical context of Jody’s own notes, but calling the Native Americans “the great hostile nation of Navajos; on the north of them and all around, the still more quarrelsome and disagreeable Paiutes” was clearly the editor’s choice, as those descriptors were constantly applied whenever Native Americans were mentioned.

There were also grammatical and formatting choices made reading difficult. The entire text‘s alignment is justified — the text is evenly distributed so there is no ragged edge. This leaves large gaps at times as the book was not professionally formatted. Along with being unable to create em dashes and instead using double hyphens (–),  the editor interjected exclamation points where no emphasis was needed, such as here:

“Axle grease mingled with this smell as the sweating men and women (even on the cold days!) toiled over the ridges…”

Overall, even though “Jody’s Journal” is only 149 pages long — with many photos interspersed — it was a slow and sometimes irritating read due to the many problems the book struggles with. However, for those with personal connection to the early Mormon settlers in the area, the photos and the commentary may be of interest.

Dixie Sun News rating: 0.5 suns