Elizabeth Wood Kane

© 2009 Utah Humanities Council

The Story:

Most students of Utah history are at least familiar with the aid Pennsylvanian Thomas L. Kane gave the territory’s early colonizers.  Not only did Kane help Mormon refugees fleeing westward from Illinois in 1846, but he also attempted to mediate between the federal government and the Mormons during the Utah War of the late 1850s.  Less well known, however, is the way the Pennsylvanian’s wife, Elizabeth, affected our knowledge of Utah’s past.

Elizabeth Wood married Thomas Kane, her second cousin, in 1853, and moved to McKean County, Pennsylvania, where she raised four children.  As Thomas’s relationship with Brigham Young and other Mormon leaders intensified over the ensuing decades, Elizabeth came to learn more about the Latter-day Saints’ Great Basin commonwealth.  But it wasn’t until 1872 that she was able to witness it firsthand on an extended visit to Utah.  The letters she sent home from the West, coupled with her journal of the experience, became the manuscript for the book Twelve Mormon Homes, which her father published in 1874.  As an outside observer of Utah culture, Elizabeth shed light on a variety of important subjects including frontier social customs, Mormon-Indian relations, polygamy, Latter-day Saint worship, the territory’s natural environment, and pioneer Utah architecture. 

Her descriptions of Utah’s landscape are especially textured.  Utah Lake, she wrote, was a “shining sheet of fresh water” and near its shore “were several flourishing villages, appearing in the distance as large fruit-orchards, with detached dwellings scattered through them.”  About Beaver she humorously recalled being told “that no mice existed there because the soil was too hard for them to work.”  Of the settlers’ penchant for using adobe bricks for construction, she wrote that their “general tint is of a soft dove-color, which looks well under the trees.”  And when the Mormons whitewashed the adobe, she wrote, “its dazzling whiteness commends it to the housekeeper’s, if not to the artist’s, eye.”


See Elizabeth Wood Kane, Twelve Mormon Homes: Visited in Succession on a Journey through Utah to Arizona (Salt Lake City: Tanner Trust Fund, University of Utah Library, 1974).  This is, of course, a reprint of the original book.  Everett Cooley provided the introduction and notes.


7 responses to “Elizabeth Wood Kane

  1. Thanks for this, Brandon. As you suggest, Kane’s Twelve Mormon Homes is both an enjoyable read and a helpful resource for interested scholars.

    I used it in my own research on 19th century travelers’ depictions of Mormon women and polygamy a couple of years ago. Her account of attending Mormon meetings deserves further analysis in comparison with what other (oft times more hostile) travel writers had to say about LDS worship in the 19th century.

  2. We commonly hear about negative voices outside of early Utah, which I’m sure to some extent helped spur the egocentrism that we still feel in Utah. It’s fun to hear about an unbiased neutral voice.

  3. Chris-

    Where can one find your research on travelers’ depictions of Mormon women? I’d be interested in perusing it.

  4. The paper was presented at the 2007 Mormon History Association conference in SLC. I co-authored it with Stan Thayne. The Harold B. Lee Library has published it as part of its ScholarsArchive digital project, and it can be found here.

  5. Count me in as another fan of Elizabeth Kane, and thanks for highlighting her.

  6. Thank you for posting information on Elizabeth Wood Kane. I came across her informative book, Twelve Mormon Homes, but there was no information on her. Good material.

  7. Dennis-

    Glad we could help. Feel free to comment on other stories and leave ideas for future content.

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