Sketch of Rasmus Nielsen

The following is a sketch of the life of Rasmus Nelson. This article was edited by a direct descendant and a great-great grandson of Rasmus Nielsen.

Rasmus Nielsen (Nelson) was born on 8 April 1831 in Farre, Aarhus, Denmark.1 His parents were Niels Hansen and Anne Rasmussen. Rasmus joined the LDS church on 10 July 1855 when he was baptized by Niels Sorensen at the Horsens Branch in Farre, Skanderborg, Denmark.2 About this time Rasmus had a steady girlfriend, who he had intended to marry by the name of Hansine Nielsen. They put off the wedding until they would both be in America. Going ahead in 1857 Hansine went to America with her mother, father, the parents of Rasmus and a young nephew, Niels Jensen. Rasmus came to Florence, Nebraska on May 25, 1859. Rasmus and Hansine were married in Florence, Nebraska on June 12, 1859. They were later sealed in the Endowment House in Salt Lake City on December 10, 1861. Christian Olsen, and his wife, Annie were witnesses at the sealing.3 After the marriage, Hansine and Hansine’s mother pooled their money together with another family and bought a set of oxen, and a wagon. The wagon hauled the few worldly possessions that they had. They walked most of the way across the plains. Rasmus suffered terribly from rheumatism all the way and was sick when he reached Salt Lake City4 on September 15, 1859. Rasmus and Hansine may have travelled in separate companies.

At first Rasmus settled in Bountiful, Utah and his first child, Rasmus was born there on March 13, 1862. They would have stayed in Bountiful, but the call came that they along with other Saints should relocate in other towns further north. Rasmus and his family were asked to settle in Richmond. Their stay was brief and they were asked to move with six other families to Weston in April of 1865.

Early in April of 1865 a little band of Pioneers (of seven families) left their homes in Richmond and crossed the Bear River where the Weston Creek empties into the river. They settled on the Creek three and half miles west of the present town site. The first seven families were: Christopher Funk (who acted as Bishop), Wilson Robbins sr., Rasmus Neilsen sr. [sic], Warner Hoopes, John Maughan sr., Hans F. Funk, and Samuel Rodgers.5

The setting was a primitive one as the narrative continues:

They all dug a hole in the ground and put a roof on (called a dugout); this was the kind of houses they lived in, with an open fire place and chimney for heating and cooking. They had no stoves in those days. The settlement was called Weston, because it was on the west side of the valley. They planted some crops mostly wheat this year. Each man had a little strip of land on the creek bottom separated with a ditch... But a little town was too much exposed however. The Indians began to make unfriendly demonstrations, as a result of which the new town had to be abandoned for a little while, and the settlers moved back to Richmond. In 1867 the settlers moved the town to the present site of Weston.6

During those early years at Weston it became a collection point for many Scandinavians, and Danes in particular.

For some reason Weston seemed to attract Scandinavians, so much so that it was often dubbed “Little Denmark.” Danish was used freely in church because there were more who could understand that than there were who spoke English.7

About 1867 Rasmus and his family moved to Trenton, which was about eight miles south of Weston. They lived there a year or two and went back to Weston where Rasmus bought the quarter section west of Weston.8 About this time Rasmus was married to his second wife, Maren Christena Jensen on March 8, 1869. Maren was the daughter of Carl Jensen, and Lovisa (Louisa) Fredricka Dröger. (Note: In some other records Lovisa is referred to as having the surname of Drega or Dreyer.) Carl Jensen and his family had arrived in Weston with some other settlers in 1868.

Between his two wives Rasmus Nielsen had nine children.9 They are listed here in the order of their birth along with the name of the mother.

Name: Rasmus
Born: 13 Mar 1862
Place: Bountiful, Davis, Utah
Mother: Hansine

Name: Anne Marie
Born: 20 May 1864
Place: Richmond, Cache, Utah
Mother: Hansine

Name: Ane Kierstien
Born: 20 Apr 1868
Place: Weston, Oneida, Idaho
Mother: Hansine

Name: Hans Christian
Born: 19 Jun 1870
Place: Weston, Oneida, Idaho
Mother: Hansine

Name: Louisa
Born: 3 Oct 1870
Place: Weston, Oneida, Idaho
Mother: Maren

Name: Carl Jensen
Born: 23 Aug 1873
Place: Weston, Oneida, Idaho
Mother: Maren

Name: Nels Rasmus
Born: 22 Sep 1876
Place: Weston, Oneida, Idaho
Mother: Maren

Name: Jens “James”
Born: 28 Feb 1879
Place: Weston, Oneida, Idaho
Mother: Maren

Name: Annie Maren Christine
Born: 30 Dec 1881
Place: Weston, Oneida, Idaho
Mother: Maren

Rasmus took his religion seriously and according to Weston ward records Rasmus and his old friend, Christian Olsen performed many priesthood ordinances during the early years in Weston. In an effort to increase their faith Rasmus Nielsen, Christian Olsen and others visited Martin Harris at his son’s home in Utah. Martin Harris was one of the three witnesses, who along with Oliver Cowerdy, and David Whitmer saw the plates of gold, which were the basis for the Book of Mormon. The following is an account of that encounter by Martha Lundquist, daughter of Christian Olsen.

Martin Harris was quite old and feeble then. They introduced themselves and father [Christian Olsen] asked if he still believed he saw an angel. Martin Harris rose straight up, raised his hands high above his head and spoke in a loud, clear voice. He said, “No brethren, I do not believe I saw an angel, I known I saw an angel and heard him speak and saw the plates and I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God.” They talked to him for some time and asked questions. He seemed pleased to talk to them and bore such a powerful testimony that no one could doubt the truthfulness of what he said.10

The Mormon life-style in addition to religion included an agrarian economy. Rasmus role was that of farmer and rancher in Weston.

By the 1880s polygamy was the norm during this time and Rasmus now had two wives, however it was not easy on his first wife, Hansine. It was a trial to her, but she was very sincere in her faith, and lived it because she believed it. The two families of Rasmus lived apart, but he spent most of his time with his first family. The times were tough on polygamists since new laws were enacted that made polygamy illegal and punishable by imprisonment. Spies were often hired to try to find the husband with the other wife. After a time Rasmus was caught and sentenced to prison.11 According to the church chronology several men were sent to Detroit, Michigan along with Rasmus.

In the District Court at Blackfoot, Idaho, the following brethren were sentenced to imprisonment at Detroit, Mich., for u.c. [unlawful cohabitation]; Andrew Jacobsen, of Bloomington, Bear Lake Co.; John J. Williams of Malad, Oneida Co.; Christopher Gardner, of Cherry Creek, Oneida Co.; Niels J. Joergensen, of Gentile Valley, Bingham Co.; Rasmus Nielsen, of Weston, Oneida Co.; Thos. H. Wilde, Hans Rasmussen and Niels Graham of Mink Creek, Oneida Co., John Jelly, of Franklin, Oneida Co. They all left Blackfoot as prisoners on the 26th and arrived at Detroit the following Saturday (May 28th) [1886]12

The conditions in the prison were less than ideal and the worst one was the requirement to remain silent, which was akin to the code of silence required of American hostages held in Beruit, Lebanon during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.

The conditions of the prison were infamous in their description by church leaders and inmates alike, however the conditions just prior to Rasmus’ arrival to the prison shows the prison in a different light for some Arizona Mormons imprisoned for polygamy.

In its day, the House of Corrections, in which they were confined, was considered a model prison where clean and pleasant physical facilities were combined with strict discipline based on a Rule of Silence. It was also common for federal prisoners from the West to be incarcerated there. Nevertheless, the Mormons thought it cruel and unusual punishment to send their people to Detroit, and they have called the prison an “American Siberia”. John Taylor himself may have coined the term when he remarked in a public address: “We have here in America today an ‘American Siberia’ in Detroit, to which place, upwards of two thousand miles from their homes—men are banished for a term of years”

It was natural that the Mormons, who saw themselves under attack from a hostile nation, would emphasize and even idealize the difficulties their brethren experienced in Detroit. The Salt Lake City Deseret News, which was closely affiliated with the church, printed letters written home by the prisoners. Some of these tended to create a negative impression of prison conditions, and one of the inmates in particular, Christopher Kempe, emphasized his role as a martyr by describing the loneliness, the degradation of being associated with criminals, and the prolonged nature of his ordeal.

While the regimen at the House of Corrections was psychologically debilitating for some Mormons, Bishop Udall’s report on prison life clearly showed that the Arizona inmates were comparatively well treated. He found the discipline “very rigid and humiliated,” but he also noted that Mormons were granted numerous favors. One of these was that four of them were allowed to occupy two adjacent cells, which was apparently contrary to prison rules. They also could meet and converse once a month. During his confinement Udall himself gained weight and seemed healthy.

Visitors came quite frequently. One person, known only as “a Michigander,” sent the Deseret News a full report, claiming that Udall and his friends were better off than polygamists serving time in the Utah penitentiary. Comparing the Utah prison with the Detroit facility, Brigham Young, Jr., wrote Ammon Tenney: “Our pen here is a filthy hole and our innocient [sic] brethren have been thrust in with theives [sic] and murderers. Your condition is not so lamentable; you have cleanliness and order and are not abused.”13

During his stay at the prison Rasmus did write to his family and mentions his sorrow concerning the death of his daughter Anne, who died on August 27, 1886. The other family members mentioned in the letter were Ramus Nelson, Jr. (his firstborn), Sine (Hansine), his first wife, Fredrick (son-in-law and husband to Anne), Stene (a nickname for his second wife, Maren; possibly a variation on her middle name, Christena). A reference to Bollete and Bro. Janson are a mystery as how they related to Rasmus.

The following is the full text of that letter.14

Sep. 19-86
House of Corrections Detroit, Mich.
Rasmus Nelson Jr.
Weston, Oneida, Co., Idaho

Dear Family,

I have received your letters and was glad to hear from you. I hope you will try to feel as well as possible under the circumstances. Let us thank the Lord for releasing Annie from her suffering, although we will miss our girls very bad, still we must acknowledge the Lord’s hand in all things. Sine you must feel as contented as you can and the children also. I say the same to Fredrick. We would not call her back to this world of sorrow and trouble if we could. Sine we have lived together over 26 years. I have been home with you most of the time, and now when sorrow comes I am so far away. You must try to be comforted and visit your sisters when you feel lonely. The Lord is with us all and will assist us if we keep his commandments. I have received one Detroit [news]paper 3 weeks ago, received none since.

I received Stene’s letter last night. I thank here for the pretty card. I wish you would let Bollette read my letters so she can write to Bro. Janson. I have received three letters from him. I hope you will continue to write to me. All letters are read both going and coming. Everybody are expected to work here. My health is good, and feel firstrate in spirit. Remember me kindly to all my friends. I hope my sister will stay with you awhile. You must give my best respect to Auntie and the children. Stene you must try to cheer up. This I say to you all. I ask my Heavenly Father to bless and comfort you all. My best wishes to you all. No more at present from your loving father and husband. Rasmus Nielson

The conditions notwithstanding Rasmus suffered terribly from rheumatism and it had gotten worse after his arrival. After nearly eleven months in prison Rasmus was released as the record shows:

Sat. 19 [March 1887] Andrew Jacobson, John J. Williams, Christopher Gardner, Niels J. Jorgensen, Rasmus Nielsen, Thos. H. Wilde, Hans Rasmussen, Niels Graham, John Jolley and Wm. Handy were released from their imprisonment at Detroit, Mich., and started for home. They were liberated, five days before their sentence expired, through the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court.15

Rasmus was now 56 and upon his return to Weston he never was quite the same. Some have thought that the conditions in the prison contributed to a premature death.16 Rasmus Nielsen died on May 17, 1896 in Weston, Idaho at the age of 65.

Notes and Bibliography.

1. Weston Ward Record of Members [1875]-1942. LDS Microfilom 7633, items 2-6.

2. LDS Branch Records for Horsens Branch, GS Call 8551 Pt. 11. There is one remark on the bottom of the record which states, “Moved to Laasbye 8 July 1856”.

3. Mabel Pratt, “History of Hansine Nielsen Nielsen”, p. 1 photocopy in possession of the Editor. See also LDS Microfilm 1149514 for a record of the sealing.

4. History of Hansine Nielsen Nielsen.

5. Lars Fredrickson. “History of Part of Franklin County (Weston Idaho)” p. 1. A copy was obtained from the International Society Daughters of Utah Pioneers in Salt Lake City.

6. Lars Fredrickson. Edited by A.J. Simmonds. History of Weston Idaho . Published by Utah State University Press, Western Text Society Number 5. pp. 10-12.

7. B. Nelson editor, Weston Memories, Biography of Matthew P. Fifield, p. 55.

8. History of Hansine Nielsen Nielsen.

9. Weston Ward Record of Members [1875]-1942. LDS Microfilom 7633, items 2-6.

10. B. Nelson, editor, Weston Memories. Biography of Christian Olsen and Annie Ellingsen by Martha Olsen Lundquist and Joyce Nelson Binghtam.

Possible confirmation of the event was received in a letter the editor received from Derl Pratt, dated 27 September, 1990 who wrote about this incident.

[In Christian Olsen’s] history it mentioned his visit along with my great grandfather Rasmus to Martin Harris. My grandfather Rasmus, Jr. always carried with him a copy of Martin Harris’ testimony recorded in 1875. I’m sure he did that because he been previously impressed listening to his father and his father’s good friend Christian Olsen discuss Martin’s testimony.

11. History of Hansine Nielsen Nielsen.

12. Andrew Jenson, Church Chronology, p. 133 from the entry May 24, 1886. Bold typeface added.

13. JoAnn W. Bair and Richard L. Jensen, “Prosecution of the Mormons in Arizonia Territory in the 1880’s” Arizona and the West, Volume 19, Number One, pp. 38-39. For more information on John Taylor’s comments see B.H. Roberts, History of the Church, Vol. VI, p. 260.

14. A copy of the letter from Rasmus Nelson to his family is in the possession of the editor.

15.Andrew Jenson, Church Chronology, p. 145 from the entry Saturday, March 19, 1887. Bold typeface added.

16. Mabel Pratt, “History of Rasmus Nielsen Jr.”, p. 2 photo copy in the possession of the editor.

Martha Olsen Lunquist and Joyce Nelson Bingham, “Biography of Christian Olsen and Annie Ellingsen”, which appears in Weston Memories.

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Last updated: 12/29/96 11:04:17 PM