For my children:
This history of Jens Nielson, my great-great-grandfather, was written by Jay P. Nielson, a grandson of Jens Nielson and full cousin of my Grandma Lydia Nielson Redd. It was written for a reunion of the descendants of Jens Nielson held in 1976, and therefore has more patriotic flare than might be expected in a Mormon pioneer history. But I personally find this to be totally appropriate.
I have added a few notes in this text (always in italics) that either came from other histories I have read, or reflect my own observations.
I hope that some day each of you has a chance to visit Bluff, Utah, and some of the country the San Juan Mission expedition had to go over. It is amazing to me that they actually made it, with no loss of life! And then they survived in Bluff, so isolated from other settlements.
This is the stuff that gives me the courage to go to Africa to help the pioneer saints there!
Love, Papa Ben
PROCLAIM LIBERTY THROUGHOUT THE LAND
In this Bicentennial year of our LIBERTY and FREEDOM in this great land, this choice land, afforded us by our God-given Constitution, we the descendants of Bishop Jens Nielson are herewith combining our resources to portray one of the pioneer families who he1ped make America great. We give honor to Bishop Nielson and his families, and renew our remembrance of their unwavering love for America, the Constitution and Liberty. We also wish to express our appreciation for their sacrifices to make possible our lives, our country, our liberty, our homes, our families and our freedom to worship God. With this expression of appreciation, we herewith dedicate our lives to the proposition of retaining these God-given privileges. To work without fear or intimidation, and to worship God as our conscience dictates. We are reminded that God takes personal credit for having established these cherished blessings, as the Prophet Joseph Smith recorded the Lord as having said, “I established the Constitution of this land by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood.”
The poet, Sam Foss, wrote “BRING ME M EN T0 MATCH MY MOUNTAINS”. And so the men came. They came with their families. They came with their sinews of steel, their indomitable courage and their unconquerable spirits. Among them were Jens and Elsie Nielson, Kirsten Jensen and Katherine Jorgensen. They came unashamedly pulling their handcarts. They came with their heads erect, their vision to the future and their eyes lifted up to the towering mountains they must conquer. They came to America the beautiful with her waving fields of grain, her majestic mountains with stately pines and crystal sparkling streams, ducks and geese on grass-framed mirrored lagoons. They came with their books, arts, fine linens, music, dance, drama and a hunger for knowledge. They brought refinement and culture to the wild harsh desert. They came with their hopes and spirits soaring as an eagle soars in the clear blue sky among the mountain craigs. They came with the courage of David and the faith and steadfastness of Job.
Some came with their heads bowed in grief for the loved-ones they had buried on the trail. But they all came as an escape from tyranny and to find a home with freedom and liberty, and a place to worship their God in peace. Over 2700 years ago the great Prophet Isaiah saw the men who would match the mountains when he wrote “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings that publisheth peace.”
(A History of Bishop Jens Nielson)
By Jay P. Nielson
(Notes in italics by Ben S. Markham)
Our mind’s eye takes us back to the crest of San Juan Hill, to Jens Nielson and the family that was with him at the time. Of a worn out, beaten, patched-up wagon, denude of provisions or items which might make a home comfortable. Lying dead in the yoke is Jens Nielson’s ox who had given its last breath of devoted service pulling the wagon up the steep and rocky dugway of San Juan Hill. It had died of starvation and exhaustion.
The scene being described implies a painting exists, but I can find no evidence of a real painting. Only in the minds and memories of the descendants is the picture drawn.
Lurking in the background are bands of hostile Indians. Twelve miles farther to the east lies a rocky, washed-out desert to be traversed before reaching level land and water, where the party must stop from complete exhaustion.
Viewing the tragedy and their desperate plight is Jens Nielson and his family. His lovely wife, Kirsten, stands tall and queenly with her arm around her husband's waist. Included in the family is Joseph age 21, Jens Peter age 19, Margaret age 17, France age 12, Lucinda age 9, and Caroline age 7. Their bronzed muscular bodies are showing through the holes in their worn-out clothing.
Is the title of this scene, "GLORIOUS VICTORY" bewildering? How does one get victory from a scene such as this? If so, wherein does the VICTORY lie? Agreed there is no visible evidence of physical victory in this scene. Destitution is more appropriate. No painter's brush, no sculptor's chisel or poet's pen can picture and define the victory. It can only be found in an understanding heart. The victory is of the heart, the soul, the spirit, the mind and above all the faith. Reconsider this scene with its physical plight and poverty. Beyond the evident travail lies the ecstasy of conquering the impossible. They are devoid of fear because they have overcome every fear that man could experience. They have broken wagons but unbroken spirits. God being their constant companion guarded them as their wagons and teams hurtled uncontrolled down steep, narrow, rocky dugways. There is inward calm, an unexplainable but delightful feeling of well-being that comes only to those who have fought the good fight and won; who have accepted the challenge of the impossible and succeeded; who have found peace with their God through obedience to His every command. These people have charity born of poverty, adversity, and experience of being forced to help each other up the seemingly unending hills. They acquired a close relationship and empathy which could be gained in no other way. These victors have learned at first hand the great wisdom and eternal truth the Lord spoke to his Prophet when he said, “My people must be tried in all things, that they may be prepared to receive the glory that I have for them." Here then lies the secret why a loving and merciful God will permit - yes, even require each of us to be tested and tried in one manner or another. One must now begin to understand the nature of their victory and emulate it.
Bishop Jens Nielson standing at his full stature displays no trace of self-pity, fear, discouragement or bitterness. One sees him calmly surveying the plight, analyzing the situation, and seeking a solution to the problem. He has determined which following wagon might have an animal which has sufficient strength to replace his ox. But this is not his greatest victory over adversity. His victory was born of many victories. His first and probably his most important was back in Denmark, at the age of 32 when he resolved to seek out two young Americans who were teaching of a strange new Prophet and religion. Having found them, he secured a Book of Mormon and was soon heard to exclaim, "It is the truth!” His next victory was that of resisting the temptation to succumb to taunting, physical abuse and persecutions heaped upon him for joining the Church. The next victory was that of resolving to sell his farm, and go to a strange land which spoke a strange language. Here he could better serve his God and his Church.
From another history of Jens Nielson written by San Juan County author and historian, Albert R. Lyman, we learn a bit more about Jens in Denmark. Note that most of this comes from a letter Jens wrote to his son in 1901. Jens would have been 81 when he wrote this, which likely explains why he missed his own birth year by one. The details might be fuzzy, but the spirit of the man comes through.
From the Albert R. Lyman history:
Jens Nielson was born in 1820 on the Island of Laaland, one of the group of Islands which composes the little kingdom of Denmark. The island is about forty miles long and eighteen to twenty miles wide. Its shores are washed by the Baltic Sea and forty miles south is the shore of Prussia and the province of Mechlinburg.
We have no account of his childhood, and much of the little we know of his early manhood is gleaned from a letter he wrote to his son, Uriah (Uria), in 1901. In that letter, he says, "I was born April 26, 1821, on the Island of Laaland, Denmark, son of Niels Jensen and Dorothe M. Tomson."
After saying this much he skips a period of thirty years. We know that he was denied the care of his real father, that he had a step-father and half-brothers and sisters. One of his half-brothers, Francis, sailed away to the west and is supposed to have been lost at sea, for they never heard of him again.
How long Jens stayed in Laaland is uncertain, but at sometime he made his way to Aarhus, a coast city on the mainland a hundred miles to the northwest. He belonged to the better middle class. He was thrifty and industrious and fairly successful, and he had many friends, many of them people of some importance. Being a natural farmer, he liked to possess land and livestock.
In this letter, he goes on to say, "I was married to Elsie Rasmussen when I was thirty years old. Soon after that I bought five acres of land that cost six hundred dollars, and I built a house that cost about four hundred dollars. I had very little money to start with, but the Lord blessed me on my right hand and on my left and I was very successful and prospects in temporal concern were very bright. I was looked upon as a respectable neighbor and many times invited to the higher class of society."
"In the fall of 1852, two Mormon elders came to our neighborhood. I knew nothing of the Mormons except very bad reports. They had the privilege of holding a meeting close to my home. I thought I would go there for curiosity sake. As soon as I saw those men's faces, I knew they were not the men as represented to be, and I told my friends so before I heard them speak. Before the meeting was out, I knew the testimony they bore was of God. We bought some few of their tracts and studied them for a few weeks and were perfectly satisfied the work was of God."
"On the 29th of March, 1854, I and my wife went into the waters of baptism. From that time on all my former friends turned against me and spoke all kinds of evil against me, and that falsely. All my possessions had no power over me then, my only desire was to sell out and come to Zion. That same year I partly made a bargain with a man for my home but before the bargain was closed, the president of the conference paid me a visit and told me I had not done my duty. He told me I had been warned and it was my duty to warn others."
“That counsel came right in contact with my natural feelings, but the Spirit whispered me I must obey, for 'obedience is better than sacrifice.' Then I was ordained a priest and sent out to preach with another young man holding the same priesthood. We baptized some twelve or fifteen persons but we did not have the power to confer the Holy Ghost. Soon after that I was ordained an Elder and called to preside over the branch where I lived. I was very successful in my mission, after which I received an honorable release to go to Zion. I sold my place, got my money, and paid all my obligations.”
As stated in his account, he made positive preparation to come to Utah soon after being baptized, but he accepted the advice to stay and for a year and a half, or more, he was an active missionary to his native land. A full account of this eventful time would be a wonderful story, inspiring us with faith and impelling us to appreciate him even more than we do now.
He referred to some of the impressive events of that time, but so far as we know, he never undertook to write anything like an account. We would like to know whether his missionary work took him back to Laaland and to Copenhagen, the capitol, or whether he preached only in the neighborhood of Acrhus. It is probable that his work took him back to his native island, for among those who came into the church through his preaching was Kirsten Jensen of Laaland, whom he baptized. It was in the great program of events that she was to follow him to Utah and become the honorable mother of most of his children.
He did relate in a testimony meeting in Bluff, that after he joined the church, he was attacked by an angry mob of his countrymen, that they tore his clothes to rags and left him injured and outraged. When he appealed to the magistrate of the law, presenting his clothes as evidence of what he had suffered, he was told there was ‘no law in Denmark to protect the Mormons.’
At another time during his eventful mission in his home country, a mob threw two of the elders into a pond of filthy water declaring they would baptize them. Whenever the elders struggled to the bank and tried to get out, they were struck by some of the jeering crowd on the bank and pushed rudely back into the water. This torment continued till the elders were almost worn out with chill and exhaustion.
Jay P. Nielson History:
Upon arriving at the end of the railroad in Iowa, Jens Nielson obtained a victory which to most of us is the most difficult of all, that of parting with money and security. He had the money from the sale of his farm, and unboastfully stated in a letter to his son that he, Jens, had let all of his money go to the Church except enough to buy a handcart, and to stock it with 15 pounds of belongings per person. Thus, he could have obtained wagons, horses, stacks of food and other supplies and traveled west in style and comfort, and early enough to beat the winter. He gained the great victory over selfishness by parting with his life's savings and demonstrated his unyielding faith in God by obeying His every command. This in order that those Saints who had nothing might at least have a handcart. Jens quoted: “Obedience is better than sacrifice.”
Jens, Elsie, their 12 year old son, and a young Mortensen girl, for whom they assumed responsibility to bring to Utah, were left with a handcart, poorly constructed of green lumber, and unfit for the journey. Jens was placed in a camp with four other men with their families who spoke a strange language, English, which Jens could not understand. Jens was made captain of his camp in the Willie handcart company. The company was late starting, and delayed by repeated breakdowns of the poorly constructed handcarts. When finally reaching Wyoming's wind-swept plains, they were caught in a very early and severe winter, with two feet of snow, temperatures to eleven degrees below zero and howling blizzard winds. After consuming their last pound of flour days before, it was here that Jens and Elsie gained a victory over almost certain death through their great physical strength, indomitable courage and unconquerable spirits. Their strength had carried them beyond the endurance of the other four men in their camp who had succumbed to the snow, cold, starvation and exhaustion, and had been buried in shallow graves under the snow. Also buried was Jens' and Elsie's twelve-year old son, Jens, and the Mortensen girl.
The end appeared to be near and certain for Jens. His feet became so frozen he could not walk another step, which caused his right foot to be at right angles the rest of his life. At this point Jens said to E1sie, “Leave me by the trail in the snow to die, and you go ahead and try to keep up with the company and save your life.”
If you believe men have a monopoly on strength and courage, then pay heed to Elsie's immortal words when she said, “Get in the cart and ride, I can't leave you, I can pull the cart.” Jens had to suffer the humiliation of riding while Elsie pulled like an ox.
It is not known how far Elsie pulled the cart that day, but in other sources it says the total distance traveled between camps was sixteen miles with some steep slopes! She made it to the next campsite, which turned out to be where the help from Salt Lake reached the Willie company. For the record, Jens was about 6’ 2” and 230 pounds, though likely a little lighter at the time. Elsie was 4’ 11’ and under a hundred pounds!!! This is a good example of the need to marry a woman so good she can drag your sorry butt to the Celestial Kingdom!!
He later said when describing this ordeal, “No person can describe it, nor could it be comprehended or understood by any human living in this life, but those who were called to pass through it.” He also said at a later time, “As extreme as this handcart ordeal was, the trek through the Hole-in-the-Rock was more severe.”
We and hosts of other people owe our lives to Brigham Young, a strong, forceful and inspired Prophet leader. He sent a rescue party into the snow-covered, wind-swept plains of Wyoming, in temperatures below zero. The party left their warm cabins to rescue this Willie handcart company, and the Martin handcart party behind them. In conference on the 5th day of October, 1856, Brigham Young arose and said, “Many of our brethren and sisters are on the p1ains with handcarts, and probably many are seven hundred miles from this place, and they must be brought here. We must send assistance to them--this is my religion: that is the dictation of the Holy Ghost that I possess. It is to save the people. This is the salvation I'm now seeking, to save the brethren that would be apt to perish, or suffer extremely if we do not send them assistance. I shall call upon the Bishops this day. I shall not wait until tomorrow, nor until the next day, for 60 good mule teams, oxen will not do, and 12 or 15 wagons - - a1so l2 tons of flour, and 40 good teamsters, besides those who drive the teams. I will tell you all that your faith, religion, and profession of religion, will never save one soul of you in the Celestial Kingdom of our God unless you carry out just such principles as I am now teaching you. GO AND BRING IN THOSE PEOPLE NOW ON THE PLAINS, and attend strictly to those things which we call temporal, or temporal duties. Otherwise, your faith will be in vain. The preaching you have heard will be in vain to you.”
So it was that Jens' and Elsie’ much needed lives were saved, and Jens said to Brigham Young, “No job you give me will be too hard, I will give my all.” It was at the moment of greatest despair that Jens' victory over all subsequent trials and hardships were made secure and assured, for it was then that he made a firm covenant with the Lord our God that if God would save his life that he, Jens, would do anything the Lord should ask of him for the rest of his life, under the direction of the Priesthood.
For the next 50 years the Lord asked much from Jens and received much, without a complaint or hesitation. Jens built five homes and helped colonize five towns in Southern Utah, the last, except Bluff, being Cedar City. Jens was now 59 years of age and ready, so he thought, to retire and enjoy the fruits of his labors. Enjoy the remaining years of his life eating the fruit from his orchards and soothing his aching muscles in front of a warm fireplace. But even yet, God had “not tried Jens in all things,” and still had need of him. Consequently, for the next 26 years Jens would be called upon to undergo the most vigorous, sacrificing, dynamic pioneering life of service and responsibility that can be imagined.
For the past years the Indians had invaded the towns in Southern Utah, and killed and driven off millions of dollars worth of livestock and other property. Consequently, the Church authorities concluded that a mission must be sent into San Juan County, near the Indian Reservation, to tame the Indians and try to put an end to their stealing and marauding. One of the Apostles, Erastus Snow, went to Cedar City and other towns, and called a Stake Conference. From the pulpit was read the names of those families who were called on this San Juan Mission. Included among the names was that of Jens Nielson. The Scriptures say that "Many are called but few are chosen.” Jens Nielson was called, and there was no doubt in anyone's mind that he was also chosen, when he said, “lt is the voice of the Lord to me to go, and I am going with the help of the Almighty.” It was a short distance on their journey from Cedar City, that due to his many years of experience and his unwavering courage, Jens Nielson was named leader of the party which had been assembled at Cedar City and other towns. Other parties joined them later.
Silas Smith was designated leader of the entire expedition. Before they reached the Colorado River, Brother Smith became ill. He returned to Salt Lake and said he would secure powder and supplies for the party. As Chaplain and Presiding Elder and as Captain of the first ten, then of all wagons, much of the responsibility of leadership fell on the strong muscular shoulders of Jens Nielson. They journeyed with hardship to the brink of the vertical cliffs, a thousand feet high where the party could peer down. Straight down the vertical ledges there appeared to be a meandering stream, which was in reality the mighty surging Colorado River. The scouts had found the only possible entrance to the river which was hardly possible as it was a narrow slit in the vertical ledge scarcely as wide as a wagon. Its slope was 45 degrees, and at the lower end it dropped off vertically for some distance to a slightly less sloping contour. Scouts had made the trek by horseback and by foot across hundreds of miles of terrain, and reported it next to impossible for wagons to traverse. If they could go, they must stay high near the Elk Mountains where snow would get deep. The party halted and gathered near the top of the precipice. There were 99 families, well over 100 wagons and 257 people. Each person waited with his heart in his throat for the final decision. What would be their destiny? What would be their sacrifice? What would be their future place of abode?
Jens had, with others, discussed the terrain and grass availability and many other matters with the scouts and counseled with many brethren and now the fateful decision must be made. He knew the feed would be extremely scarce. He knew they had pregnant women who would give birth to babies in wagons and perhaps in a snow blizzard, which did happen. He knew they had young children who would be frightened, hungry, tired and cold. He knew the party would undoubtedly be caught in deep snow near Elk mountain, and Jens must have shuddered as his thoughts went back to the deep snow and handcarts on the Wyoming plains. He knew they had six weeks supply of provisions and that the journey would no doubt take three or four times that long. He knew the members of the mission were secretly thinking that no merciful and just God would ask His children to undertake such an impossible task as that which lay before them. He knew everyone, including himself, would prefer to return to his fruiting orchards and warm fireplaces and wait for a better time, a better season, and an easier and more appropriate route. Also he recalled the covenant he had made on the Wyoming p1ains that he wou1d do anything the Lord should ask him to do for the rest of his life. It was here that Jens resisted the almost overwhelming temptation to shrink and turn back to his warm home; to turn away from the formidable task; to crawl out from under the great responsibility resting on his shoulders; to yield to the common practice of rationalizing and convincing himself that a merciful God would not ask such an overwhelming sacrifice from children he loves. So indeed VICTORY it was, when Jens said with full commitment and resolution, “We must go on whether we can make it or not.” And with his broken Danish he said, “If the Saints had plenty of ‘stickie-ta-tudy' they could not fail.”
And so they went. They blasted, they scraped, they dug, they sweat, they strained, they struggled through two feet of snow. They pulled, they pushed, they heaved, they sloshed through ice cold axle deep mud. They walked in worn-out shoes full of sand and pebbles. They worried, they froze, they starved and they prayed through all that winter and through the spring into April when they found themselves confronted with San Juan Hill as the only way out of Comb Wash. Here they put as many as seven teams on one wagon in order that some of the horses could be on their feet while others would lose their footing and be on their belly and knees with hunks of flesh and skin torn from their legs and bodies. It was here that Lemuel Redd (My Grandfather, John Wiley Redd’s father) and other seasoned men were seen to cry as they watched their starving beloved horses in their mighty struggle up the steep, sharp rocks on torn and bleeding legs and feet to the summit of the 1ong dugway. It was here that Jens Nielson's starved, exhausted ox had given its last breath of life to the mighty struggle and lay dead in the yoke.
Jens' faithful wife, Kirsten, is not diminished in these hours of struggle. There are no tears, neither condemnation or despair. If the artist's brush could truly portray the expression in her eyes, one could behold a love stronger than the bonds of death--love born of adversity~ poverty, hard labor and anxiety. One would see her understanding that her husband is more than a strong, kind, courageous, self-disciplined, natural-born leader. She sees that he is actually a prophet of God holding the Priesthood which she holds jointly with him. If faithful to the end, she shall one day share all that God has with him and their families.
The eldest son Joseph (my Grandmother, Lydia Nielson Redd’s father, Hans Joseph Nielson) was named after Joseph who was sold into Egypt, for Jens and Elsie loved this Joseph of old for he too had been cast off a stranger into a strange land, who spoke a strange language. Joseph was properly named for he had the same loving kind disposition as his namesake, as well as his energy, leadership and potential for great financial accomplishments. Joseph of old said to his starving brothers who had tried to kill him, “I will nourish you and your little ones, and he comforted them and spake kindly unto them.”
Thus you see Joseph with his strong arms around his two little sisters looking down into their uplifted faces. The girls cried with fears, despair and anxiety when the first animal died, but they learned that their family could find a way out for all situations. They can be confident this time, especially with Joseph standing tall above them, his loving arms around them and his self-assuring smile above them. Unaware to them, Joseph has a plan. For months Joseph's heart has been heavy with the memory of his two little sisters awakening Christmas morning, unable to hold back tears of sadness and disappointment when seeing nothing, absolutely nothing for Christmas. In fact the rations were limited to the extent that the pangs of hunger were not appeased. Now Joseph could see the end of the journey in twelve more miles; in fact he could see beyond to the Blue Mountains one hundred miles farther east where Durango nested. With the journey coming to an end, he could now execute his plan and go on to Durango and get a job. With his first pay check, and with all their needs ignored, his first purchase would be for two pretty dolls which he would bring home for two 1ittle sisters that they might have a delayed Christmas in July.
Though a little dramatic with his ‘word picture’, the author’s reference here is a fact. Joseph went to Durango, Colorado, shortly after the family arrived at the future site of Bluff, Utah. He worked through the summer and returned with a wagon load of much needed supplies for the family, including dolls for his little sisters.
Next to come into our awareness is a young man, Jens Peter, who could hardly be missed, for he has now reached his full stature of six feet six inches and is well developed, mature and experienced for his tender years of nineteen. He is neither smiling nor frowning nor displaying any undue anxiety over the crisis. When one looks deep into his eyes, one catches the magnitude and worth of this young man. There is vision and determination. Also complete fearlessness. However, this determination, fearlessness and courage are rooted in charity and deep feeling for others in their sorrow, poverty and lack of self-confidence. Indeed it can be said that throughout his life, and due to his size, strength and courage, no man has dared to challenge him. There was one exception, an Indian pulled a gun on him in his store. Jens promptly picked up a wagon spoke and sent the Indian scurrying to the hills, loaded gun and all.
Margaret, tall and mature for her blooming seventeen years, nestles under the strong protective arm of her father, an arm indicating she would be protected in all circumstances, and that as a family they could make it no matter what the difficulty, as proven time and time again. In Margaret's pretty youthful face one sees more relief and hope than pain, for she also senses an end to the impossible journey. With youth, hope springs eternal and Margaret had her full measure.
France, at age 12, is just emerging from boyhood into manhood and with his experiences of the past year the process has progressed with great rapidity. However, he is still enough of a boy that at a time like this he is appreciating his big brother's strong hand resting on his shoulder giving him the assurance that all is well. And looking up into his father's face he sees a calm courage and love which guarantees that all is well. Also he understands the love his father has for his family. He sees a great God-given love for all humanity, and especially for the Indians which they had been sent to tame and befriend. Perhaps France sensed at this time that the day would shortly come when his father would accomplish his seemingly impossible task almost single-handedly. Perhaps he sensed that his father knew that God would open the way wherein they could accomplish the mission for which they were sent. He, no doubt, was deeply impressed and convinced that it was God's work when he heard his father say, “God sent us and we will go!”
This opportunity occurred shortly after the village of Bluff had become established. All the men except Jens and two others were away digging ditch, freighting, etc., when someone saw in the distance a band of more than one hundred mounted Indians with their faces covered with war paint. With guns across their saddles, they rapidly approached with war-whoops undoubtedly intent on massacring the helpless inhabitants. The observer excitedly notified the people in the village, including Jens, who was now the Bishop and had full responsibility for the villagers and their safety. A Patriarchial blessing previously given to Bishop Nielson stated that, “He should never be harmed by his enemies.” He believed this implicitly. He knew immediately there was only one thing to do. He began hobbling towards the Indian band unarmed and completely unafraid, his white hair and beard glistened in the sun. When the Indians charged up to him, they could not shoot for they immediately recognized that they were confronted by a spiritual giant. As Jens stood there in his calm, undaunted majesty with courage unbounded, they saw he had a genuine love for them with an honest desire to help, befriend and feed them. It was but a short time until Bishop Nielson had the Indians dismounted, with their guns stacked against a tree and eating with the villagers who had butchered a beef and cooked their meager provision to share with the Indians. At this point the Indians looked ashamed at their war paint. From this time forth the stealing, marauding and depredations almost ceased, and by and large the Mormons and Indians were the best of friends. In fact, in the Indians' evaluation there was a distinct and vast difference between the Mormon and the Bilicona (Gentile).
Remember the primary purpose of the San Juan Mission was to establish a settlement in the four corners area and somehow develop a lasting peace with the Indians there. This incident was the watershed event in completing the mission. Note that it happened when almost all the men who could fight were out of town. The Lord doesn’t need numbers, He uses obedience and faithfulness.
Albert R. Lyman records this critical incident as follows:
After the trouble in which Amasa Barton was killed, a hundred Navajos rode into Bluff with faces painted black, carrying guns across their saddles in front of them and demanded to have somebody talk with them -- quarrel with them – preliminary to the big row for which their hands were itching. The town had but three men in its borders, the rest being away on the range, on the road or somewhere else, and a helpless community of women and children took terrified account of the fierce looking army, peering out through curtained windows or through holes in the wall.
Someone went in great haste for the bishop and he came limping readily forward to meet the painted danger. There was no hesitation in his step, no fear in his heart. The nearest help, far away, could be of no possible comfort to the helpless town; they were completely at the mercy of the Indians if the Indians chose to attack them.
The Bishop had only his "broken" English and no knowledge of the Navajo language, yet he was perfectly calm; he had known more terrible things than an army of angry Navajos. He hurried to meet the situation, fully assured that the Lord who had ever been with him would make him equal to this ugly emergency.
Brother Kumen Jones was there ready to act as interpreter, and through him the bishop began calmly to tell the Indians that it was not our business to fight, but to make and preserve peace. He stood unmoved there before them, his age, his white hair, his crippled feet indicating nothing of fear. It disturbed them, it contradicted their brave notion that they looked terrible, and that people should flee from their presence. Here was courage, dignity -- it disarmed them.
Through his faithful interpreter, he told them if they wanted to talk things over to get down from their horses, stand their guns against the wall of the store, and come sit in a friendly circle on the ground. The older man caught the force of legitimate command in his words and sat unarmed on the sand to talk and listen. He won them. They all dismounted. They all became friendly.
Then to complete this movement for peace which he had been inspired to begin, he invited the Navajos to stay over night. He had some of the people bring and butcher a fat steer, and they got bacon, coffee, flour, and other things from the store that these strangers might be well fed and return to be friends instead of enemies. They ate and remembered “Kagoochee” (crooked feet), and from that time on, they were friends to him and his people.
Jay P. Nielson History:
Theirs was a physical trial beyond the mind to comprehend. What is yours? Perhaps it is loneliness, or failure, or defeat, or death of a loved one, or sickness, or handicap, or disappointment, or poverty, or having submitted to temptation in a weak moment. Whatever it is, are you going to carve a victory out of defeat as did these gallant souls? Are you going to endure to the end even if your lot may turn out to be as hard as theirs? Are you going to be worthy to stand at their side in this great family? Are you going to see their arms outstretched anxiously and proudly to receive you when you cross the veil? Of course you are. But you must come to know such a great privilege is not free.
Elsie Nielson’s lot was no easier than that of those who were on the trail. She and her family, Mary age 11 and Julia age 7, were required to remain behind. It was far from an easy matter for her to find food, fuel and other necessities for her family and get the field plowed, etc. The hardest part was the waiting and not knowing the fate of Jens and his other family, whom she loved as her own. For long periods of time when the snow was deep no messenger could get through. The way Aunt Elsie found the “Sweet Mystery of Life” is best expressed in the words of the song by that title, “’Tis the longing, seeking, striving, waiting, yearning.”
The same things applied to Aunt Katherine and her family as stated about Aunt Elsie. Katherine was left with Annetta, 10 years old, a two year old boy, Uria, and a two-month old baby, Freeman. Her lot also was that of “Longing, seeking, striving, waiting, yearning.” Their victory was found in waiting and surviving until Jens Peter returned alone and forced his team and wagon back over the dugways that took many men working in unison to traverse. He struggled up the forty-five degree slope through the "Hole-in-the-Rock” to bring Elsie and her family to Bluff. Katherine was too ill to travel and died in Cedar City four years later.
After being married for several years, it looked like Elsie could have no more children. Having left their only son in a shallow grave on the handcart trek, this was of great pain to Jens and Elsie. In Utah, he promised her by revelation, that if she would allow him to take a second wife, she would have more children of her own. She agreed and did have three more children. The second wife, a convert Jens had taught in Denmark, is my great-great-grandmother. I have read transcripts of letters between the three wives and also from children of each. These women loved each other as sisters, and really supported one another. The children all felt they belonged to one big family, though the wives always had separate homes.
There are many accounts of Jens as the Bishop in Bluff giving ‘revelation’ and all sorts of things. These covered temporal and spiritual matters. My favorite is how he dealt with no trained medical person in the town, or within days of the town. After much prayer and counsel with his counselors, he called Sister Josephine C. Wood to be the “town doctor”. She objected saying she had her own children to care for and knew nothing of medicine. He promised her through the Priesthood that she would be blessed with the knowledge she needed. She gave service and cared for the people for many years, treating bullet wounds, broken limbs, sick children and expectant mothers with great success.
Irving Stone wrote a stirring history entitled "Men to Match My Mountains.” Here in San Juan we find men who more than matched their mountains for they conquered the mountains and rose above them. What is equally important, the women matched the men. William H. Danforth said, “Strong women bring forth strong men.” May the oncoming generations of young men who read these words let the concepts and meaning of the true victory achieved by their great forbearers sink deep into their hearts at an early age. If you do, you too will find solutions to your problems, courage when courage is needed, faith when all else fails, and peace and joy that comes to those who find victory in defeat.
We also must at all times remember Aunt Elsie, to whom we owe our life, and be prepared to do likewise if occasion calls for it, when she said, "Ride, I cannot leave you, I can pull the cart." It has been stated by a great author “What thou lovest well is thy true heritage."
The great Philosopher, Charles S. Malik, said, “What the world needs is the unterrorized man, indeed the unterrorizable man. “Bishop Nielson could no doubt qualify to this specification. Are we his descendants made of the same timber? Can we qualify?
There is an additional bonus which accompanies all the other blessings attending the descendants of Bishop Nielson of which you may not be aware. Just as Abraham’s descendants were made promises that extended through the generations, so were also Bishop Nielson's descendants given a blessing and promise by the Lord according to Brother Albert R. Lyman. This promise and blessing is that “They, the descendants, would never have to rely on others for their food, clothing, shelter and substance." Brother Lyman stated in 1973, just before he died, that he had closely observed and to his knowledge this promise had literally been fulfilled and that while Bishop Nielson's posterity had helped many other people, yet none of them had been obliged to rely on people other than their own families for their food, shelter and support. From Bishop Jens Nielson’s Patriarchial blessing we quote the Lord's promise as follows: “Thy children shall not lack for bread." What a great promise and blessing this is and will be, especially if a famine lies in wait for us all.
It may be said of Bishop Nielson as was said of the great prophet and patriot, Moroni, “If all men had been and were and ever would be like unto Moroni, behold the very powers of Hell would have been shaken forever.”
The Prophet Mormon, it seems, was speaking as much of Bishop Nielson as he was of King Benjamin when he said, "By laboring with all the might of his body and the faculty of his whole soul...he did establish peace in the land."
Perhaps now you can comprehend this scene of physical exhaustion, despair, and desolation and understand how it can rightly be entitled "GLORIOUS VICTORY".
Bishop Jens Nielson
Elsie Rasmussen Nielson
Kirsten Jensen Nielson (My great-great-grandmother)
Katherine Jorgensen Nielson
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