The City of the Saints
Among the Mormons and Across the Rocky Mountains to California
by Richard Francis Burton
London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, 1861 (707p.)
Additional publications of this title
Santa Barbara, CA: Narrative Press, 2003 (640p.)
In 1860 Burton left England and his fiancé to explore the American West and visit the Mormons. His descriptions of the land and people are better than photographs:
The Sioux are tall men, straight, and well-made: they are never deformed, and are rarely crippled, simply because none but the able-bodied can live. The shoulders are high and somewhat straight; the figure, is the reverse of the sailor’s, that is to say, whilst the arms are smooth, feeble, and etiolated, the legs are tolerably muscular…The feet being more used than the other extremities, and unconfined by boot or shoe, are somewhat splay, spreading out immediately behind the toes, whilst the heel is remarkably narrow. They tread, like the anteater, more heavily on the outer than on the inner edge.
As is often Burton’s way, he goes into great grisly detail on many Indian customs, including scalping. "In the good old times braves scrupulously awaited the wounded man's death before they "raised his hair"; in the laxity of modern days, however, this humane custom is too often disregarded."
During his three weeks in Salt Lake City, Burton attended services and dances, checked prices in stores, and wandered through cemeteries. Polygamy interested him keenly. He compares it to what he has seen in other cultures – he knew African chiefs with 300 wives, and had visited the inside of a Moslem harem.
While in the city, Burton got to know Brigham Young and describes the man – his appearance, mannerisms, and character – in astonishing detail: “There is a total absense of pretension in his manner, and he has been so long used to power that he cares nothing for its display.”
Lively, detailed, and highly entertaining, The City of the Saints is a wonderful report. [publisher blurb]