Nielsen, John, 1866 (age 8), Abner Lowery ("Sanpete") Company
I, John Nielsen, was born on the 9th day of June, in the year of our Lord 1858, in Bukkehave, Maribo Ampt, Lolland, Denmark. I was the third son of Peder Christian and Magdalene Rasmussen Nielsen. My parents embraced the gospel of Jesus Christ, known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, in the year of 1855, or thereabouts. By trade Father was a flax-man and a basket-maker, but he was glad to work at anything he could get to do. What we called a flax-man was a man who could take the flax in its raw state as it came out of the field at harvest time and prepare it for the spinning wheel.
After he had joined the Church, it was sometimes hard for him to get anything to do, as the people did not take very kindly to anyone who left the Lutheran Church to which my parents had belonged. When Father could not get anything better to do he would make baskets. His children would go out to sell them, but it was hard for us to make a sale, and more so if they knew we were Mormons.
When I was seven years old I started to go to school. All children had to start at that age. Parents were compelled to send them. What was more, .all children at the age of seven had to be able to read well. Parents had to teach them at home. When they were fourteen years old they were supposed to be able to graduate from their school work and become wage earners. The way the schools were run was alternately. The larger children would go one day and the smaller ones the next day, six days a week with no Saturdays off. As luck would have it, I was the one boy who was the most noticed, being the only Mormon child in the school. As my name was John they did not fail to connect me up with "John the Baptist" of Bible fame. They would often offer me their wooden shoes and ask me to get some water in them and baptize them in it.
Financing the Trip to Utah
As a rule we were glad to have the missionaries come and visit with us for we were always in hopes that they had solved a way whereby money would be available for us to emigrate to Zion. However, there were exceptions. I have seen my parents worried instead of joyful when the missionaries had stepped in and their cupboards and purses were empty, for that meant there would not be much to eat for any of them, and sometimes we five children would not get anything at all.
Well do I remember the day when the missionaries brought us the welcome news my parents had been hoping and praying for, for eleven years. Father was sitting in the house making a basket and at the same time humming a tune, when a knock came on the door. Father said, "Come in," and in walked two missionaries. While they were shaking hands with us, one of them said, "You must be in good humor being as you are singing." "Yes," Father answered, "I guess it is of no use to cry." After the greeting was over and Father had bid them sit down, he picked up his unfinished basket and began to work on it. I noticed that our visitors glanced at each other with smiles on their faces. As they were talking to Father I thought they were amused to see him making the basket. Finally one of them said, "It is possible that you will emigrate to Zion this year." The look on Father's face I remember well as he looked up at them and said, "That will surely please me." They then told him that a Mr. Gregersen, a rich man who belonged to the Church, had sold out and was going to Zion and that he was going to help a few others so they could go too. One of them took a notebook out of his pocket and then asked Father how many there were in his family. It happened that Mother had gone to the bakery to get a loaf of bread. Seeing her coming I ran to meet her and told her that "the missionaries are here and we are going to go to Zion." She uttered one word, "Really?" and with a loud and joyous shout ran to the house. I say ran, but if I said flew, it would be nearer right. How surprised I was to see my mother run so fast! She was 44 years old and carrying a 12 pound loaf of rye bread. I was nearly eight years old and a pretty good runner for my age, but I was not in it with her. Of course she was overjoyed with the good news and it was not long before she had a dinner ready. As soon as dinner was over the elders departed. Father was told to get ready at once so we could go at any time the call would come. But despite our joy there was a little shadow cast over it, as the elders had told us there would not be enough money for all to go, and that Niels, my oldest brother, would have to stay. But as he was nearly grown and was used to working out for a living, it was not taken so hard.
We had one neighbor family who had always been friendly toward us. They had one boy a year or so older than I. He and I always went to and from school together. When I learned that we were to emigrate to Zion you can believe that I was not slow in running over to tell them the news. Their name was Newman. When I got there the first person I spoke to was the lady of the house. I ran close to her and said, "We are going to move to Zion. You should be Mormons too, then you would get to go to Zion." She said, "No, we don't want to go." "Why? If you go there you will have cake to eat all the time." She said, "No, I don't want to go. I would sooner stay here." I had heard the missionaries say that people of Zion did not have to eat rye bread but had wheat bread to eat all the time, and wheat bread was cake to us as we did not get a taste of it very often. I do not know how long it was after Father had been notified to get ready to emigrate, but it could not have been more than a few days, when one of the missionaries came, as he said, to visit us once more before we left. But when we learned what the nature of his visit was we did not enjoy it at all. He told Father and Mother the ship fare had raised and that one more of the family besides my eldest brother would have to stay behind. There were four of us children who were booked to go and it was understood that my oldest brother was to remain. I think he was twenty years old. The next oldest was Sane, age sixteen; then Rasmus, age fourteen; next, John or Johanes, that being myself, seven years; and Tora, age three. This was in the spring of 1866.
Plans were made for the time of starting but it was sometime in May before everything was in readiness and we, at last, began our long-looked-for journey. We took a boat from our island (Lolland) to Copenhagen and stayed there a few days. There, for the first time in my life, I had the pleasure of playing with Mormon children. From there we sailed to England via Hamburg, Germany, and landed in Hull, and from there by rail to Liverpool where we boarded the vessel Sampa bound for America. It was a tedious journey. Niels Nielsen was presiding Elder. He was a missionary returning to Brigham City, Utah. During the voyage there was one sad thing happened, one of the sailors fell overboard and drowned. Two of our company died on the way and received a watery grave.
To the Missouri River
After ten long weeks of sailing we reached New York. After we had lain at anchor a day or two a physician came to examine the health of the company which, on the whole, was in fair condition with the exception of one man and his son who were quarantined and left in New York. We learned afterward that the man died and a year or so later the son made his way to Utah.
From New York we proceeded on our journey westward, alternately by rail and boat toward Florence, Nebraska, or in that vicinity. I do not remember how long we had been on our way from New York when we were put off in a station for the night. We were aroused early the next morning to board a train; then we went on board and continued our journey up the river. No incident of importance happened with the exception of occasionally the boat would get stranded on a sandbar, but by setting the lifting machinery in motion it would soon be lifted off and we would speed on again. I do not recall just how long we were on the river before we got to our destination.
Our luggage was then taken off the boat and we were huddled together on the river bottoms. There was some apprehension as to whether the Church would have their wagons waiting for us and while the people were talking about it Niels Nielsen, the presiding Elder, left the company. I saw him start out and climb the banks of the Missouri River. When he got to the top, I saw him pause, stand and look around for a few moments, and finally disappear. I do not know just how long he was gone but not long after I saw him coming down the hill. He approached us with a smile, bidding us prepare to carry our luggage up the bank for the Church wagons were there to take us to Utah. You can imagine the joy with which the Saints received that message. After all the weary weeks and months of preparation and travel, the Church had actually sent wagons for us. There surely was much joy. We felt like one who had wandered among strangers and had at last reached home sweet home, and friends.
After we got our luggage to the wagons we were instructed where and how to place it. Provisions were meted out to us which some of the company sorely needed. As near as I remember we were there three or four days, or maybe more, before we started on our journey. On the morning of the day that we were to make the start, all the women and children were ordered to get into the wagons, which were run together in two half-circles, forming a corral with open spaces at each end. Presently we spied a big herd of cattle coming toward us which proved to be the oxen which were to draw the wagons. These were driven into the corral. The teamsters were very busy for some time, each picking out his oxen and yoking them up. That was the first oxen the great majority of the company had ever seen. When they finally had them hitched to the wagons, ready for the start, all women and children able to walk were ordered out of the wagons, as they were so heavily loaded with freight, that being the only way they had of getting freight to Utah. I was old enough to be considered able to walk, having my eighth birthday en route. I walked almost the entire distance from the Missouri River. Many times I felt as if I could not go another step I was so tired, but the Lord gave me strength to go on.
Our journey took us along the Platte River. There was plenty of grass and, to the best of my recollections, a little wood. Where we could not find wood we burned buffalo chips. As soon as the wagons began to make the circle for camp, the race was on. Many times, just as I stooped to pick up a nice, big chip, I was pushed over and would have to go further on.
Cholera Left More Than 100 Dead
Shortly after we left the Missouri River that dread disease, cholera, attacked the company to an alarming degree. For a time there was never a day without someone having to leave a loved one in a lonely grave on the plains. The captain of the company was a husky man by the name of Abner Lowry. The outfits had come from Sanpete County, Utah, and were known as the "Sanpete Train." The captain was very considerate of the company. He had a large tent which he had pitched every evening. His teamsters would assist in carrying the sick into it in the evening and back into the wagons in the morning. Terrible was the suffering and sorrow that the Saints were called upon to endure. The deaths were far past the hundred mark. In history it has gone down as the "Ox-team Cholera Company of 1866." As we neared the mountains the disease abated, but it left practically every family broken up. My mother took two families of children into her care whose parents had been taken from them. What a relief it was not to be worrying every minute about a loved one lying ill! And so the going was easier, though we were weary and worn.
But then we had a new experience. Just after dark we got an Indian scare, (when) six or seven Indians rode boldly into camp, but they proved to be friendly. The captain had a tent erected for them and had some of the teamsters care for their horses and cook supper for them. They made the captain understand that they had been off to some other tribe smoking the pipe of peace and that friendship was restored between the two tribes. Every morning the company sang a song and had prayer. The morning the Indians were there they came over when they heard the singing and joined the prayer circle. One of the Indians had a great long sword. Afterward, one of the women in the company, having read of the Sword of Laban and the Lamanites, was wondering if that was the Sword of Laban which he had. When we neared Fort Bridger we encountered a big snow storm and our provisions were getting short. About that time we were met by a relief train which brought us ample food to last us on the remainder of the journey.
Arrival in Utah
One day, as we were traveling along, I noticed the head team stop, and the next and so on, until an irregular circle was formed. I learned that we had just crossed the line into Utah, and the company all bared and bowed their heads and Niels Nielsen offered a prayer of thanksgiving, after which we proceeded on our journey. On the evening of the 21st of October, 1866, we camped in the mouth of Parley's Canyon. The next day we drove into Salt Lake City and camped in the Eighth Ward Square, where now the City and County Building stands. We surely were happy to know that we had at last arrived in the "City of Zion," as I remember, on October 22, 1866, but with what cost to some of us. My father arrived in Salt Lake City with the same number he had when we left Denmark. I often recall the weary march, though only a lad eight years old. But being I had to walk practically all the way from the Missouri River, it gave me a cause to always remember. Much of the time it was my task to walk with my father in head of the company, driving the worn-out cattle and two cows whose owner gave us milk on the journey as pay for being responsible for the cows.
Just after we were out of Parley's Canyon, myself and sister Sane, who was then sixteen years of age, and another boy were walking ahead of the company and got quite a scare. Off to the right we saw a man sitting on the ground and his horse was feeding. He looked quite dark and we took him to be an Indian. It was not until eight years after that I learned from Charles Claymore Bartlett that he was the "Indian" I saw. He married Anna K. Jensen who was in the company at that time and who also had walked across the plains.
Adjusting to a New Homeland
The same day that we arrived in Salt Lake City, an old-time friend of my father's met us and took us out to Big Cottonwood, now Holladay. It so happened that it was a late fall season, so all of the crops were not gathered at that time. Father got work at a molasses mill owned by Niels Petersen, the old-time friend of my father. Mother and we children got some work digging potatoes with a spade. We also got some corn husking to do. When that kind of work was finished, Father took to making baskets which sold like hot-cakes in the neighborhood for awhile. After the neighbors were supplied, my sister and myself started out to sell or trade baskets for products. Sometimes when I think of it now I imagine that I can still feel how tired I would get carrying what to me was an unduly heavy load. Sometimes we would go to Camp Douglas, a distance of eight or nine miles, and from there down to Salt Lake City and back home in one day, a distance of more than twenty miles. If we were lucky enough to sell any baskets in Camp Douglas we would get the money for them; sometimes we would get a little money in Salt Lake City, but it was mostly products. I am satisfied that we would have gotten more money than we did if we had gone into some of the most pretentious buildings, but we did not dare do that for fear that Brigham Young lived there.
During the first winter that we were in Utah, namely 1866 and 1867, before it was yet spring, the party who owned the house in which we were living wanted it, so Father had to look around for another place to live. He was lucky enough to obtain a piece of virgin land consisting of about ten acres. The price he paid for it, as near as I remember, was two baskets. As soon as he got in possession of the land he went to work and dug a cellar. The ground was frozen so hard and so deep that he had a hard time breaking through it, but finally succeeded in doing so. A kind neighbor loaned him a span of little mules to go up in the canyon to get some material to cover it. We had an old quilt for a door, one or two window panes for a window and a fireplace to take the place of a cook stove and a heater combined. We had a dirt floor, so of course it did not have any open cracks in it to let the draft through. That was the first dwelling place my parents had of their own.
Father, not having any team, rented a neighbor's little farm the first spring that he was in Utah. In his spare time he made baskets and adobes, in order to build another new house the coming fall, which he succeeded in doing. He also bought a cow. That was the first cow my parents ever owned. That same fall, 1867, my sister Sane married William Casto, of Mormon Battalion fame, and Mr. Casto was called to go and settle in the Muddy Valley Mission, at Overton, Nevada. They left immediately for their new home. William Casto had a lot of flax he had raised to get the linseed, but he had no knowledge of how to prepare the straw. My father, being a flax man in Denmark and understanding the business, made three simple instruments of wood. With them he prepared the flax for the spinning wheel. There was a weaver in the neighborhood who had a loom. He wove it into linen cloth, which helped us.
In the spring of 1868 we moved to Brigham City. We hadn't been there long before my father joined in with some other men and went out to the Weber Canyon to work on the railroad, so Mother was left alone with two children, myself and a younger sister, six years old. Food was pretty scarce with us for awhile. Our cow was dry and for a long time Father did not get any money to send to Mother. Finally harvest time came, and we got permission to glean in the fields. We gleaned wheat and beat it out with clubs and winnowed it. We traded some wheat to the store which helped us out considerably, and we could feed a few chickens we had so they began to lay eggs. Our cow soon freshened and things began to look a little brighter...Source: Our Pioneer Heritage © Carter, Kate B., ed. 20 vols. Salt Lake City: International Society, Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 1958-1977. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the publisher. Documents and images are exerpted by permission from the LDS Family History Suite CDROM from Ancestry.