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Pioneer 1848-1868 Companies

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Danish Saints, 1862:The Poulsen Families (Peder, Christian, James)

To Hamburg, Germany
The spring of 1862 was a time of great activity among the Saints in Denmark. Hundreds of them sold their possessions and made preparations to emigrate to America. Under the counsel of the leaders of the Church, their great desire was to join the main body of their fellow religionists located in the Rocky Mountains.

Small coastal ships made their way in and out of the Danish harbors gathering these emigrants and such baggage as they were able to take on the long journey. In the larger harbors they were transferred to other vessels, where they were accumulated in greater numbers. In this process of gathering, people from many rural areas, and the smaller towns, were thrown together with others whom they had never seen before. Some were poor, others had moderate means, and a few were relatively well off; but regardless of economic status, they were dedicated to the ideal of helping one another.

The steamer, Albion, sailed from Aalborg, April 6th, with 400 Saints. A few days later it docked at Copenhagen, and on April 14th, left, after taking on board an additional one hundred souls. The steamer, Aurora, sailed also from Copenhagen April 17, with another contingent of converts. These are examples of the gathering, which converged toward the great port of Hamburg, Germany, where they were again reshuffled and re-grouped for embarkation on ocean-going vessels. It is not difficult to see the grave danger of diseases, especially children's diseases, being brought by these hitherto widely separated people into groups huddled together in close quarters.

To America
Four full-rigged sailing vessels, the Electra, the Athenia, the Humboldt, and the Franklin lay in the Elbe River off Hamburg. Into these vessels at intervals during the month, the fifteen hundred and fifty-six souls gathered from the Danish ports were dispatched. Of these four ships, our narrative is particularly concerned with the Athenia, which sailed April 21. On board the Athenia were the Poulsen families, and the Peder Hansen family. The group consisted of Peder Hansen, his wife, Rise Sophia Poulsen Hansen, and their children, Poul age 20; Maria Frederikka, age 18; Cathrine Kristine, age 15; John Edmond, (a twin to Cathrine) age 15; Peter, 5; Line 3; (another child Hans Peter was born in 1850 and died in childhood, probably before this time). There were also Christian Poulsen, his wife Bertha (Birte) Hansen Poulsen, her two children by a former marriage, Soren age 14; and Mary, age 12; and their children, Karen Sophia, age 8; Hans Peter, age 6; Carl Evald Jacob, age 3. A pair of twins, Pauline Henrietta Dagmar, and Christina Lena were born December 7, 1861. Pauline probably died in infancy before the voyage began as she is not listed among the children who later died, or among the survivors: but Lena, a babe of only a few months, made the trip safely and lived to a ripe old age. James Poulsen, the youngest member of the Poulsen trio, and his wife Kerstine, had with them their children: Poul, age 8; Frederikka Marie, age 4; and James Peter age 3.

Death at Sea on the Athena
Ole N. Liljenquist in charge of the Saints on the Athenia wrote:

"Before noon, the ship was on the broad face of the North Sea; the course led up around the north of Scotland. The weather was fine." By the 29th, they doubled around the Scottish cape, passed the lighthouse tower in the evening. By mid-night they were on the Atlantic Ocean. For several days the winds were favorable, and there was considerable motion of the sea, which caused many to be seasick. The winds continued favorable for two weeks after leaving Gluckstadt near the mouth of the Elbe; and by this time they were half-way to New York.

"Here is where the wheel of fortune turned against us," recorded Brother Liljenquist. Sometimes the sea was calm; at other times the wind was in the wrong direction. The Captain steered southwest until he reached the gulf stream about three hundred miles south of the Newfoundland banks. Then followed a week of dead calm, with not a breath of air stirring, and the temperature of the water was from 70 to 80 degrees F. The sailing ship practically stood still; and the change from the cool northern temperature was hard on the passengers. The drinking water also became stagnant from the heat, causing sickness. Meanwhile the measles had broken out among the children with appalling results, and many of the adults became seriously ill with dysentery and accompanying bowel complaints. No one can properly tell the tragedy, heartache, and terror of those days as sickness and death began to mount. For a time there was scarcely enough well to take care of the sick. And the bodies of the thirty-three children and five adults who died were sewn up in canvas bags and slid on a board over the railing into the sea.

The Poulsen family was hard hit. All of the children were ill and at least part of the adults. This included the families of Christian, and Rise Sophia (Mrs. Peder Hansen.) It was James, however, who suffered the most staggering blow. His wife, Kerstine, and all three of the children were numbered among the dead, and accordingly their bodies became four of those mute, tightly wrapped packages slid across the railing into the limitless ocean. James himself was so ill that his survival hung on a slender thread. At one time it was a matter of debate whether he was still living or had actually died. Some insisted he was dead and preparations were contemplated for his burial at sea. It is impossible to describe or even identify the moment when the disease began to recede, and the functions of his body began moving back toward normal. Yet there was such a moment. The crisis passed and life triumphed over death. With returning consciousness James Poulsen remembered his beloved family had been taken from him and felt completely shattered and broken. His purpose in life seemed suddenly to vanish. The new world lost its appeal, and even his faith became confused. As his strength returned, he indicated a strong desire to go back to Denmark. The captain ordered the cook to serve oatmeal porridge to the sick in the morning, rice at noon, and sago porridge in the afternoon. James" strength, along with the others, improved rapidly. He was determined, however, to find a ship going eastward if possible. The captain promised him the privilege of a transfer if another ship bound for Europe could be sighted in the lane of traffic, a possibility which seemed favorable as they approached the Newfoundland banks.

A new force however began to exert an influence on James Poulsen in the person of a strong, cleared-eyed young woman who had helped nurse his wife and children during their last illness and who now took a special interest in him. She was Maren Kirstina Arff, also a Danish convert from Durop, in one of the northern counties. Kirstina nursed him back to health. She also did much to lift his spirit and cultivate new hope in him. The stern realities of life still existed, she reminded him. The challenge of the future was just as great, and the profound truths of the gospel were just as true. How could he go back? The old homestead at Kirkestillinge was no longer his home. It now belonged to a member of the family who was hostile to his religion. He had sold the homestead and spent the money filling a mission, and supporting his family, except that which had been invested in their passage to America. Kirstina Arff in her quiet, efficient way, helped him to turn the compass of his life back to the star in the west. Once again he could look forward with confidence and faith. A couple of days before the ship docked, death struck again, taking fifteen year old Catherine Kirstina Hansen, twin daughter of Rise Sophia and Peder Hansen. On account of their nearness to New York at the time of her death, they succeeded in gaining permission to bring her ashore. Now they had to make arrangements for her burial. Mrs. Hansen was so weak she could scarcely stand and her baby, Line age 3, was hovering between life and death. James, after his dreadful ordeal at sea, was still far from well and Christian's two little boys, Hans Peter and Carl Evald, were sick. Fortunately they had the help of the Elders and other representatives of the Church stationed in New York to advise them and help take care of their immediate needs, including temporary lodging. Eventually, under the direction of the American authorities the Hansens were enabled to bury their daughter at Ellis Island.

The ship Electra docked within a few hours of the time the Athenia reached New York, and within the next couple of days both companies of Saints were prepared to begin their journey inland. June 9, they left New York by train for Florence, Nebraska, where plans were in operation to accumulate all four of the Danish companies-the Athenia the Electra, the Humboldt, and the Franklin-and reorganize them for crossing the plains.

To Florence
Tragedy still stalked the Poulsen-Hansen families and by their side walked Death. Rise Sophia held her three year old boy, Line, in her arms as the train jostled westward and saw him gradually sinking in spite of anything she could do, which was precious little, and in spite of the faith and prayers offered in his behalf. The child died as the train was approaching Chicago. Again the party had to stop and arrange the burial which took place near Chicago. The record, however, gives no details, but it is part of the family history that the grave of little Line is somewhere in the black soil of the mid-west. By this time the mother's physical and emotional condition was of serious concern to her family. Her husband and the older children, Poul and Marie Frederikka did all they could to comfort and help her. Meanwhile, Christian's two little boys remained desperately ill. James, however, was gradually regaining his strength.

Florence was a bustling frontier camp at the end of the railroad, located on the west bank of the river at a point now known as North Omaha. Here, for the time being was one of the spots where the East and West met face to face. On one side were the railroads and civilization; on the other, vast stretches of wilderness, Indians, deserts, mountains-the great land of the future. As might be expected, the place was seething with people, scouts, traders, freighters, homeseekers, soldiers. With the Civil War raging, the demand for horses, mules, oxen, cattle, every thing for transportation or food was practically limitless. This need was increased by the constant stream of Mormon emigrants going west. Not only were the half-bewildered Danish Saints confronted by many strange people, but strange conditions. The area contained thousands of head of livestock. Wagon trains were being fitted out by Mormon scouts and plainsmen, some of them sent directly from Salt Lake City.

The Poulsen party, of which Maren Kirstina Arff soon became a part, for she and James were married shortly after their arrival, at Florence, adjusted themselves to their temporary location, like the others, the best they could. Life was certainly different. This is where camping out began in earnest. The 1,500 Danish emigrants spread themselves out on the prairie wherever their leaders directed, made themselves such shelter and living accommodations as the circumstances afforded. Some of this large group of people were better off financially and were able to sustain themselves, but a great number became wards of the Church and began participating in what was then known as the Perpetual Emigration Fund, by which they were helped to reach Utah and permitted to pay the cost at a later date.

To Utah
The Danish Saints at Florence were re-shuffled into four companies for crossing the plains. Two companies were organized for those who had financial means to buy all their necessary equipment. These were placed under the leadership of Elders Hans C. Hansen and Ola N. Liljenquist. They broke camp at Florence July 14. For several days they had trouble learning to drive the oxen. Not only were the drivers inexperienced but the oxen did not understand Danish. It has not been recorded which had to learn a new language, the oxen or the drivers, perhaps both, for soon they came to understand one another and the journey was resumed successfully.

The Poulsen-Hansen party was assigned to the third company under the leadership of Joseph Horne, a man of wisdom and experience, who had crossed the plains a number of times. The company left Florence July 29th and was financed or partly financed by the Church through the Perpetual Emigration fund. The members of the family repaid the debt for this service after coming to Utah. The log of the journey reveals that they traveled via the Elkhorn River, Loup Fork, Wood River, Willow Lake, Rattlesnake Creek, Fort Laramie, The Upper Platte River Bridge, South Pass, Green River, and on to Salt Lake City.

More Poulsens Die
It was a hard journey; its course continued to be marked by the fresh graves of the dead. Christina Poulsen's two little boys, Hans Peter, 6, and Carl Evald Jacob, 3, both died on the way and were hastily buried in shallow graves. Rise Sophia's condition grew steadily worse, and by the time the company reached Fort Laramie she was dying. Her condition created a tragic situation for the family. It being impossible for her to continue with the company, her husband, Peder Hansen, and two younger children, John Edmomd and Peter, remained at a temporary camp five miles west of Fort Laramie. The two older children, Poul and Marie Frederikka, were sent on with the company in the care of their uncles, Christian and James Poulsen. Rise Sophia died a few days later. She was buried near the spot where she breathed her last. If Christian's two little boys had previously passed away, which is probable, Rise Sophia was the last of the family fatalities on the journey. Altogether there were nine who died.

October 1, 1862, the Joseph Horne company entered the Salt Lake Valley even as the Brigham Young company had done fifteen years earlier in 1847. The big sprawling frontier town of Salt Lake City lay before them with the drab desert and the shimmering blue of the Great Salt Lake beyond. At last they were in Zion!

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.