- Such deep and reverent pride is in my heart,
- Such thanks this wide land; there is no part
- Of my impassioned soul but raptly cleaves
- To every native thing - these tawny leaves,
- These dusty hills, this hazy stretch of plain;
- October sun and chill November rain.
- Why should I not feel kin to this dark earth?
- My race it was to which this soil gave birth.
- The sturdy folk I sprang from toiled and fought
- Here to build homes, and slowly, slowly wrought
- Familiar miracles with seed and plow —
- The once dry wastes are fertile valleys now.
- Heroes were they, this eager questing line
- Of men who perished in a cause divine;
- Of women, fragile instruments of fate
- Who ushered in a new race, strong and straight,
- A tribe of gallant leaders, still unbowed —
- Of these am I - why should I not be proud?
These stirring words, written by Rosannah Cannon in a poem entitled, simply, “Song,” are a fitting prologue to the story about to begin. It will be a story of laughter and love; of injustice and heartbreak. It will contain many intimate glimpses of a warm and delightful family; and there will be felt a great deal of sadness that because the leading characters did not write down their experiences, much of their turbulent and interesting life shall always be a matter of wonderment to us who are their descendants.
Yet, because of our efforts, we shall hope to have given ourselves and our children a brief insight into that part of all of us which is, and shall ever remain, Danish.
The Bertelsen Committee
At a family reunion held in Mt. Pleasant in 1908, a life sketch of Niels and Maren Bertelsen was read by Johannah Bolette Bertelsen Dalley. The descendants of these two good Danish folk can be deeply thankful that the family was so closely knitted together that such a meeting could be arranged and enjoyed, and that Lette prepared and read an account of the lives of her father and mother, without which this new story would be scanty indeed.
But Lette's story, excellent as it was, left many little holes in the tapestry of her parents' lives, and obtaining yarn to knit a closer weave to the fabric meant searching Danish history and maps, L.D.S. Church and Sanpete County histories, and calling for help from all descendants. By interlacing these gratefully received threads of material with Lette's foundation story, many holes have been mended with interesting results. While we do not contend that the information about Niels and Maren contained in the following pages is all that is extant, (indeed, we hope that subsequent stories of the children will lend further light on the lives and character of their father and mother,) Still we believe that reading this story will whet the desire of all descendants to know more about Niels and Maren and their children.
It is the plan of the Bertelsen Committee to use every means possible to obtain a history of each of the ten children listed below, and to make copies available to you, their descendants. It is our great hope that all of you will dig into your scrapbooks, attic trunks, old letters, books of remembrance; that you will meet with others of your family, especially the older members whose memories hold precious descriptions of many or all of these dearly loved people; that you will record all you learn about them and send it to us so that we can include it in the volume of Bertelsen history. Such concerted effort will result in a work of which we can all be justly proud.
To NIELS BERTELSEN, born May 15, 1808 and MAREN LARSEN DAM, born Aug. 19, 1807 were born the following children:
NAME DATE OF BIRTH MARRIED DATE OF DEATH
Johannah Maria Nielsen Apr. 20, 1832 Niels Madsen June 26, 1902
Lars B. Nielsen Sept. 15, 1833 Dorotha Marie & Ann
Christine Mortensen May 25, 1916
Johannah Bolette July 7, 1835 James Dalley Jan. 26, 1923
Kjersten Jan. 21, 1839 Jens Jorgensen Dec. 27, 1916
Petrena Aug. 31, 1840 James Dalley & John
Beecroft Jan. 31, 1914
Fredrikka Christina Aug. 8, 1842 Soren Larsen Dec. 11, 1924
Nicolena Marie Jan. 26, 1845 William G. Baker July 17, 1905
Ottomina Katrine June 15, 1847 Lars Frandsen July 8, 1925
Johannah Helena Dec. 29, 1848 Niels Byergo Aug 17, 1939
Christiana Dorthea Jan. 9, 1853 Alonzo L. Farnsworth Oct. 25, 1922
Lela N. Fackrell, President
The great urge to emigrate that arose in the hearts of thousands of people following the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1830, is one of the phenomenons of modern history. In many ways it parallels that earlier perilous journey of a handful of men, women and children who left their homes in the Old World to sail in a freighter called the “Mayflower” to an unknown destination in America. They, too, sought religious freedom in a land unpeopled by their persecutors; they, too, were forced to great limits of physical endurance because of the path they had chosen. Yet they were the beginning of a country that was to become superb in the eyes of mankind.
With equal courage the converts to Mormonism left their homes, accepting with incredible equanimity whatever was to be their destiny in a vast, unsettled part of that country. From many areas of the world they came, bringing with them the culture and artifacts of their homeland, and also, which was even more important, bringing the strength and craftsmanship so badly needed in the settlement of the hard land to which their leaders, after the insults of Illinois and Missouri, had called them.
The story about to be told is a personal one, concerning one man and woman who, with their children, left their homeland to join that exodus. As the story unfolds, it will be found that because of financial and other circumstances, they did not come as a family unit, the parents sending the children by ones or twos until such time as they themselves could cut the remaining threads of their past to “debouch upon a newer mightier world, varied world ...”1 Although sentiment bids us hurry to the story of their lives, thoroughness almost insists that a brief background be laid so that we cannot only better know and understand this couple and their children, but can feel ourselves a bit imbued with what their thoughts and feelings must have been as they departed from the land of their birth.
According to the encyclopedia, Denmark is composed of a peninsula, Jutland (Jylland), and 596 islands, 109 of which are inhabited. In the north it is separated from Norway be the Skagerrak; in the northeast and east from Sweden by the Kattegat (Cattegat) and Øresund (The Sound), southeast and south, Denmark is bounded by the Balitc, south by Germany, and west by the North Sea. The main cities are the capital, Copenhagen (København), on the island of Zealand; Aarhus in Jutland; Odense on Funen Island; and Aalborg in Jutland. Denmark is as flat as Long Island, New York, the highest point in the country being 172 meters above sea level.
In history the Danes make their appearance as a rather savage people. From Denmark came, in the second century, B.C., the Cimbrians, possibly also the Teutons, who ravaged most of Europe and made even the mighty Romans tremble until the legions of Marius finally annihilated the Northern invaders on the Raudian plains between Turin and Milan. Also from Denmark came the Vikings, raiders of England and Ireland, of Germany and France, Spain and Italy. Brimming over with the joy of battle and the lust for plunder they were courageous and cruel, feared to such an extent that a special prayer was inserted in the litanies of Western Europe: A furore Normannorum libera nos!
Today, Denmark is better known as the country of Hans Christian Andersen, the gentle poet, whose fairy tales are loved by all the world. No sea warriors sally forth from the Danish fjords any more, only merchant ships loaded with butter and bacon, eggs and cheese. An ironic thought that the countries, once plundered by the Vikings, are now being fed by their descendants! And foreign observers today praise Denmark, ancient home of the lawless and ferocious pirates, for her model government and humane legislation. There was little mercy in the old Vikings, but no people in this modern world take better care of those who are ill or old, poor or unemployed than do the Danes. Now, there is plenty of evidence that the sea raiders, when shown other ways of obtaining a living, quickly turned into traders and skippers, or settled down for good where land was to be had. It is said that when over-population eventually became a problem, Denmark solved it by obtaining by purchase colonies in other countries, the settlers never causing the Mother Country any trouble.
The early descendants of the Vikings were not without culture and they made their own contributions to the civilization of Western Europe. Love of freedom and personal independence never died out in those of Danish descent who had settled in England and it was may of these Pilgrim fathers who, dissatisfied with conditions in England, went to American and did their part in establishing the first really democratic republic in the world.
We are proud of our Danish blood, and proud that this country has assumed a place of honor and respect in today’s world. But space will not permit us to pursue further Denmark’s present status. We must, instead, go back to the period when Niels and Maren Bertelsen were born and lived in this ancient land.
In the summer of 1807, the British, who had conquered the Danes, offered them an alliance. Denmark refused and chaos resulted. This was the tumultuous situation when Niels and Maren were born. In 1814, the indignant Danes threw in their lot with Napoleon and declared war on England. It turned out to be an imprudent decision which resulted in the loss of Danish-held Norway to Sweden. The Danish State was now bankrupt and the people plunged into despair. But in the depression, war’s aftermath, as wealth and political power declined, literature and art began to flourish as never before. In those fields the period following the sad year of 1814 up to 1855 is known in Danish annals as “The Golden Age,” the age which produced such greats as Bertel Thorvaldsen, noted sculptor; Adam Oehlenschlager, poet and dramatist; Steen Steensen Blicher, who wrote his vital, realistic stories of Danish peasant life; the author, Sigrid Undset, and the religious philosopher, Søren Kierkegaardand; and Hans Christian Andersen. And in 1814 came the radical educational reform. By its stipulations, every boy and girl in Denmark, from the ages of 6 to 14, were to be given free elementary instruction. This new compulsory education-for-all law, in advance of any in the world at the time, was to prepare the peasant for his struggle in political as well as economic life.
The peninsula of Jutland is bigger than all of Denmark's islands put together. Unlike the softer, sweeter and more friendly atmosphere of the islands, where are found the beautiful cities of Copenhagen and Elsinore, as well as mile after mile of blooming gardens and groves of trees, Jutland is a country of magnificent views and lonely stretches, with a touch of sadness. Its large areas of heather-covered land seem monotonous beyond expression, giving one the feeling that here must have been, in times past, a fitting background for deep dark tragedies. But Steen Blicher, a Jutlander by birth, wrote:
The flowerless fields are beautiful to me.
My brown heath is a Garden of Eden.
There, too, my bones shall rest sometime,
Amongst the heather-grown graves of my ancestors.
Yet, there should never have been a Jutland Heath. In olden times the peninsula was covered with forest, but the king wanted timber for his ships and his subjects wanted it for their huts and for fuel, so by the fifteenth century there was hardly a wood left in the west and center of Jutland. Fortunately an engineer named Enrico Dalgas, who instituted a drive to reclaim the heath, succeeded in ploughing, draining and planting much of it until at his death the 140 square miles of useless land had been reduced to 80.
The ancient city of Viborg, situated in Central Jutland and once the most important city in the peninsula, was settled long before Denmark was Christianized. It was approximately 27 miles northwest from here, in Lundo, Viborg Amter (County), that Niels Bertelsen, son of Johanna Iversen and Peter Peterson Bertelsen, and Maren Larsen Dam, daughter of Ida Johanne Johansen and Lars Christian Dam, were born. In considering the character of any man, one wonders what part the physical surroundings, the political climate of his country and its economic condition might have played in shaping him. Apparently the harsh, starkly depressing atmosphere of the heath had no great bearing on the disposition of this man, for he possessed a remarkable sense of humor. Next to the eldest in a family of five boys and six girls, Niels was compelled at the age of eight to leave the small farm his father owned, to herd sheep many miles away. While the boy possessed a keen sense of humor, he had also a deep love for his home and family, and this parting, with the prospect of seeing his family only at six-month intervals, was very trying. His early life was spent in this manner until he was old enough to row a boat and engage in the fishing business with his father. While we know he could read and write, we can only wonder if he was able to avail himself further of the education his country so magnanimously offered at that time.
He worked with his father in the fishing business, as far as is known, until his marriage in the spring of 1831 to Miss Maren Larsen Dam. While Niels seems to have enjoyed a rather happy disposition, Maren's, on the other hand, was of a sterner nature. But perhaps more than the hard country and times were responsible for this, for she came from a family comparatively wealthy in the world's goods, but poor in understanding of the young, penniless boy who sought her hand. The father spurned her choice of a husband and, when she married him anyway, disinherited her, after giving her twenty-five dollars in keeping with the law. One can well imagine that it would be less than easy for a young girl, used to worldly comforts and luxuries, to settle down with a young man whom she loved, but who, far from being wealthy, probably had no great desire to be.
On the 20th of April, 1832, their first child, Johannah Maria, was born, and shortly afterward the young couple left Lundo, crossing an arm of the Skive Fjord to a little settlement (called Staarup) where they rented a little cottage “... about one-half mile from the sea.”2 Here Niels could pursue the fishing trade on his own. Although the histories of some of the children list other cities as their birthplaces, according to Bollette (Lette) “This was the place that was called home by the Bertelsen family. Many happy days were spent in this little home. There were also many trials and much anxiety ... In this home nine children were born to them.” With such a large family to support, the parents worked very hard to provide the necessities of life. Fortunately, Niels was an excellent marksman with a gun and was able to supply the fast-growing children with meat as well as the ocean's fish. The area abounded with swans and when the graceful birds ventured from the sea into fresh waters of the land, wily Danes were there to capture them. Niels was very proud that he could shoot three swans with one shot, and Lette recalled his instructions to “Never try to shoot unless in reach of your prey.” In retrospect, one can visualize the industrious Danish women carefully plucking the soft “down” from the breasts of the fallen birds with which to make fluffy pillows and warm coverlets for their beds.
Inasmuch as their white cottage had been rented from a farmer whose large holdings spread from the rolling countryside almost down to the fjord, it is reasonable to assume that the Bertelsens could count among their many activities the cultivating of some land and the raising of dairy and meat animals. At least, we learn from Petrena’s (Threne) granddaughter, Thora Hulet Johnson: “In Denmark the womenfolk always milked the cows and took care of the milk for butter and cheese making, for they thought the men would not be careful and clean enough about this important task. Their cows and chickens were kept in a barn that joined onto the house the family lived in and the barn was scrubbed out every day with lye water. My mother learned the art of butter and cheese making, also bread making, from her mother, and I know you couldn’t find a brand of butter or cheese on the market today to equal hers. I do not say this boastfully but in all sincerity. Her butter and cheese, with a slice of her delicious homemade bread, was a most delightful treat.”
However, the leanness of the times forced many Danish parents to send their children away from home to work when very young. This custom, common though it was, always grieved the gentle Niels, who often shed tears when he bade goodbye to those of his children who were in this way forced to take upon themselves the hard yoke of adulthood while still but youngsters. Yet the children never seemed to resent it. Perhaps in later years they were very grateful for their strenuous early life that had so well prepared them for the rigorous pioneer life of Utah. Again quoting Thora: “We can appreciate our great-grandmother and grandmother for teaching their families the many things that helped to make the lives of their descendants happier and more useful than they would have been otherwise.”
The little white cottage was the main place of abode for the Bertelsen family for about 21 years. Niels, always an affectionate husband and father, was loved and respected in the community. Whenever duty prevented his attending a ball, wedding or other social gathering, his friends and neighbors regretted it sincerely for he was always jolly and full of fun. John Hulet remembers a story his Great-grandfather Niels enjoyed telling about some of his fishermen friends: One time a group had met at a store corner and started guessing on the weight of Niels and a very fat neighbor who boasted that he outweighed Niels. The hefty one weighed first, and while he was doing so the other men slipped some heavy iron weights into Niels’ pockets so that when he stepped on the scales he took the heavyweight championship easily. The pranksters roared with laughter, causing the enraged “loser” to burst out with, “You old big fish gut!” Then they did laugh, for Niels, although well built, wasn’t overly fat. To those hardy fisherfolk who had to put up with all the “inconveniences” of the trade, to brand someone “fish gut” was undoubtedly the greatest insult one could heap upon another. Although the Danes are traditionally easy going and slow to lose their temper, it is also universally realized that “Heaven help the person who finds himself confronted with a really angry Dane!”
Maren was much more religiously inclined, always eager to talk to people about the Bible and the duties expressed therein. It was probably of great concern to her that her fun-loving husband often teased her, saying, when she urged him to read the Bible, “Give me the almanac, that is good enough for me.” She was to remain an ardent Bible student throughout her lifetime. Often, she told of a book in the Danish Bible not included in those of America. In it was the story of an outstanding woman named “Hope Judette,” who was born on Christmas Eve. When a great-granddaughter was born on Christmas Eve, 1893, Maren wanted her called Hope Judette, but the father didn't like the name “Judette” so named the baby only “Hope.” Yet to Maren she was always “little Hope Judette.” In later years, Hope partially fulfilled her great-grandmother's desire by naming her: own daughter, “Mary Judette.”
An amusing incident, related by Thora, provides us with a smile, (especially your compiler, who has seen the same saucy impatience, and the same calm acceptance of it, crop out in her own family). On this occasion Maren was having difficulty untying her shoes, which laced above the ankles. She finally became so vexed she told Niels to bring her the scissors; then, very deftly and quickly, she cut the laces from top to bottom, while Niels stood by smiling and saying cooperatively in the Danish tongue, “That’s right, That's right.”
Thus the leading characters in our story made their appearance in a small country village in Jutland, Denmark. Their lives were not unusual; life, and the struggle for survival, went on for them much as it did for their neighbors and friends — indeed, as it did for much of Scandinavia and Europe in general. They worked very hard, but so did most of the families they knew. Yet they worked together as a group, a community. Quiet and God-fearing, their lives were intertwined with other quiet and God-fearing fisherfolk. By 1850, when Niels and Maren were in their early forties, there was nothing at all to indicate that soon an upheaval would occur in their quiet world that would send their thoughts fleeing to distant shores and a new “promised land” in the western wilderness; nothing to warn them that many of their good friends and neighbors would soon look upon them with hate and mistrust in their eyes.
THE L.D.S. MISSIONARIES ARRIVE
The change began taking shape in the lives of the Bertelsens in the year of 1852. Lette said of it: “I have never known Niels Bertelsen to have an enemy in the world up to that time.” Soon after Erastus Snow had been sent to Denmark to establish the Danish Mission, Elder George P. Dykes went to the city of Aalborg, a great trading center in northern Jutland. This “castle by the stream” is situated on the Limfjord, a great strip of water which extends from the Cattegat over to the North Sea, almost entirely severing the two most northerly “amters” of Jutland from the counties to the south. In ancient Aalborg, on October 27, 1850, Elder Dykes organized his first converts (all Baptists) into the second branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and began sending missionaries to proselyte throughout the peninsula. By 1852 some of them had reached Viborg County and the family about which we are most concerned.
The missionaries' message was one of hope and fulfillment. They spoke of “America as a land of promise and destiny, where the ancient dream of a more abundant life could be realized.”3 As a means of attaining this valued existence they eloquently advised “The Gathering” which had become the heart of the Mormon movement. According to Wm. Mulder, “The gathering was as new as the latest proselyte, as old as a prophecy. It was a still, small voice and a mounting whirlwind, at once the product of a thousand personal decisions and of a Divine Will unfolding itself in history.” A little girl would play a game in Sweden, calling it “Going to America.” A Danish shoemaker would toast his friends on New Year's Eve with “May next year find us together in Zion.”
The “spirit of gathering” enveloped one and all with a great overpowering urge to emigrate to Zion where life and living would be such “that they would never know themselves otherwise than saints. In some it leaped up like a flame and led them to leave kin and country in one fine careless rapture; in others it produced a steady glow, warming friends and family by its light, and accomplishing through patient labor the final long journey to the sanctuary.”4
In serious-minded Maren the missionaries found fertile ground in which to cultivate their new and unusual religion, and after hearing them only once she was convinced that their message was true. She was one of many. Sarah Josephine Jones, wife of a Danish ironmaster recorded how the Mormon converts of 1850 felt: “A stranger introduced himself as an elder from America ... In an hour we saw and understood more of our Bible than ever before... Our hearts rejoiced and a new life opened before us.”
Niels did not take up with their teachings quite so readily, but he decided to read something more than the almanac. “While investigating to find out for themselves, before either of them was baptized, a mob gathered around their home to try to find the Mormon elders, saying they would beat them to death.”5 Not finding the elders, they nevertheless went to the landlord and demanded that he exact a promise from the Bertelsens, on threat of being turned out, that they would allow no Mormons to enter their home. “The landlord pled with them (the Bertelsens) a long time, but they would not promise, so he said they must go, but he could not tell them where.”6
Niels was so angered by this injustice he immediately wrote to the magistrate to find out if such action was legal. “The word came that the county authorities must give them shelter until same other place was found, and that they were not forbidden to let anyone enter their house if they did not preach or hold meetings. It was very hard for the family to (thus) leave the only home they had ever known, and for what? Not because of any crime, but because they wanted to read the Bible and find out for themselves if these men were telling the truth.”7
Although opposition to the Saints continued, with frequent persecution and mobbing, a sincere conviction had begun to be felt by many people that the elders were speaking the truth and, in spite of the fact that much of their activity had to be carried on in the strictest secrecy, many of them were quietly being baptized. “There was not a person but what would ridicule and find fault with us and our religion. All the family that were old enough were baptized between 1852 and 1854, and many trials and hardships were endured. All the children over 8 years were obliged to go to work for enemies, which was a great trial for the parents.”8
It was a degrading time for the Danish Saints. Confusion and disappointment stirred and grew to enormous proportions as they saw their former friends and neighbors; the children who with their own had romped and laughed in the heather, now join the frantic mobs in maligning them. Fear became a constant companion. And yet, a deep anger stirred in their hearts as well, for they knew that even should their new and startling religion prove to be entirely false, it could never be as false as the violence and prejudice that was prompting the action of the sullen, resentful crowds. Niels was livid with rage when Maren and the children came home with their heels crushed and bleeding from having been stomped on as they fled from their ugly pursuers. He declared that any religion that could provoke such violence must have something to it, and he eagerly looked forward to the time when he could remove his family to Zion.
Petrena's granddaughter, Edna H. Jones, tells this story: “One night, about midnight, a mob of masked men carrying clubs came to the Bertelsen home. Great-grandfather was absent, but the men took great-grandmother out of bed and into the woods to a little cabin. They lighted a candle and placed it on the table. Whatever their intentions were, they decided to blow out the candle, but could not make the light go out. It would go upside down and every way, but wouldn't go out. The men became frightened, feeling that an unseen power was present. They ran away, leaving great-grandmother to go home alone in the dark. She had been praying earnestly and silently, all the time, that she would be protected from the evil men.”
It is known that the family left Viborg County, moving closer to the Church branch in Aalborg. Although Lette did not relate what their living conditions were, or where they lived during this period, once convinced that the doctrines of Mormonism were true, “Through it all, Father and Mother were staunch Latter-day Saints.”9 Maren was baptized March 12, 1853, and Niels the following September 29th by Niels Knudsen, who also confirmed him. He was ordained a teacher July 7, 1856, by president C. D. Fjelsted, at the Aalborg conference. Ordained a priest at Aalborg on March 23, 1857, he was made an elder the following June 28th, and was made presiding elder of the branch called “Hals” on June 24, 1858. He held this position until moving to Frejlev, where on January 25, 1861, he again became presiding elder, which position he held until emigrating to Utah in 1863 with his wife and youngest child, Christiana Dorthea.
ALL TOGETHER AGAIN
Much had occurred since the missionaries first visited the Bertelsen family in 1852. For ten years Lette and Lars had been in Utah, their departure having taken place in 1853. Nicolena Marie was the third to go, being entrusted to the care of returning elders. What anxiety it must have created for the parents, what loneliness, this departure of their young children for a distant and perhaps hostile land. Yet perhaps they thought it vastly preferable to the treatment the Saints were receiving in Denmark. All of the children except two embarked for America and Mormon country before their parents were to make the journey. All eventually reached Utah except Johannah, the oldest daughter. Having married a man who was very bitter toward the Church, Johannah was not even allowed to go to the boat to bid her family goodbye, for fear she would go to Utah with them. Heartbroken at the parting, the parents and Johannah continued to hope that some day she would join them in the valleys of the mountains, but it was never to be. Time somewhat recompensed for this when in 1900, two years before her death, Johanna sent her grandson, Nelse, son of her only child, Marinus, to Utah. Although Niels and Maren were no longer alive to rejoice in the reunion, they and their 10 children were, in effect, “all together again,” — this time on Utah soil.
“Although sickness and disease overtook the Saints, and many laid their loved ones down in the sea or on the plains in coming, not one of Father's family was laid by the wayside.”10 The children who had gone on ahead were somewhat established by the time Niels and Maren and the youngest child arrived, and the reunion was a joyful one. “The parents arrived here in 1863, just 10 years lacking 2 months after bidding goodbye to the first two to leave...” The ship that carried them on their long-awaited voyage was the Consignment, which left Liverpool on May 8, 1863. The Saints were by this time feeling more and more secure in their promised land. They had learned how to subdue the desert by the use of irrigation and, although the year of 1863 was one of unusual drouth, still they knew that bounteous crops could be raised, and there was a feeling of assurance that all would be well. One of the main problems facing Brigham Young and the other leaders of the Church at the time was the locating of satisfactory areas where the myriads of incoming converts could settle and provide for themselves.
It is possible that Niels and Maren had hoped to go straightaway to Mount Pleasant upon their arrival. Lars and possibly other of the children were living there, and besides, the settlement was largely Scandinavian, which would have made communication with their new friends and neighbors less difficult. But the Black Hawk War was gathering momentum in 1863-64 and Sanpete and newly-settled Sevier Counties were the hardest hit in this bitter struggle with the Indians. So they went instead to Iron County where Lette and Thrine had settled. Here they built their first home, a dugout, in the fertile soil of the small village of Summit. Two incidents have been remembered about their life in this typically pioneer abode. According to Edna: “One night Great-grandmother got out of bed and stepped on a little mouse with her bare feet. The unpleasant sensation caused her to scream. This brought Great-grandfather out of bed in a hurry and then it was he who yelled, as he stepped on several little mice that had fallen through the dirt roof. Imagine having to make a candle light or other crude light and having to clean up such a mess. The little mice could have fallen on them while they were in bed or on their table at mealtime.”
Edna continues: “Another experience in the cellar was when the rain had been falling all day and toward evening a tramp spied a flicker of light from the cellar. He had been out all day in the rain so was looking for shelter and food. He started down the muddy steps when suddenly his feet slipped and he went swiftly to the bottom and banged against the door, which flew open, the tramp landing in a puddle of water that had run in during the rainy day. Just who was most startled and surprised, the tramp or the family, one cannot say, but Great-grandfather's sense of humor became evident as he said, ‘Hey there! Are you going clear through today?’” One cannot help but feel that Niels' wonderful sense of humor saved many a day.
It is not known when Niels, Maren and Christiana went to Mount Pleasant. Lette said: “After trying to settle in many places and being driven away by the Indians and other troubles, the family settled in Mt. Pleasant, where they lived with the younger part of the family for several years.” Regardless, however, of the time of their arrival, we can be sure the little community was working hard to build itself, in spite of the Indian problem which was to continue in an uneasy fashion even after the treaty of 1867. To what extent Niels and Maren were involved in actual Indian warfare is also unknown, but they must have seen some of it, and on those occasions when the angry red men crept upon the village, then suddenly shattered the calm mountain air with wild, inhuman war cries; and the big drum in the square was wildly beaten, summoning the settlers into the fort for protection, one wonders if the thoughts of the three did not turn longingly back to Jutland and the softly blowing heather.
“During the long period of Indian wars, the people suffered from want of food, clothing and shelter. Infants could not always be given proper care, and the mortality was great. Every bushel of wheat and corn had to be carefully harbored from the Indian raids, and when a beef was killed, the people shared the meat. It was a time when all shared alike, and there was consequently developed a spirit of kindliness toward all people.”11 This feeling of comradeship they shared in their common catastrophe was a magnificent thing, and underneath it all lay the tranquil religious faith that had been deeply instilled in the steady, patient Dane long before, amidst the gently rolling hills and beautiful green islands of Denmark.
And there were other satisfying experiences in the new land. “Little Denmark,” in the high, fertile valleys of the mountains, provided bounteously the good things of the earth. Had Niels been allowed a little more time in Utah, it is possible he would have written a letter to Johannah similar to one another Dane wrote to a cousin:
Mt. Pleasant, Jan. 21, 1874
Dearly Beloved Cousin:
I feel like writing a few lines to you and your family inasmuch as it is too distant for me to visit you, and it is about nineteen year since I was in Denmark ... I am very well satisfied: I got me a piece of land measured up, built a home and developed a farm, from which I am now enjoying the fruits ... I have provided myself with various kinds of machinery: a machine for mowing, it is drawn by two mules or horses; a rake with which to rake hay...: a reaping machine..., also a part in a threshing machine.
Most of the land under cultivation is very fertile, but there is seldom enough rain here in the summer time to bring the grain to perfection; we have therefore so arranged it that we can bring about the streams that flow from the mountains to water it. I guess that will astonish you, but it is very practicable and the soil yields in general, from sixty bushels of wheat, oats, and barley...
My wife has three machines, one for weaving, one for sewing, and one for knitting. These are very handy for accomplishing work...
Here in Utah, the mountains are so high that snow may be found lying on them from one year to another although it is warmer here than it is in Denmark.
(signed) Andrew Madsen12
Mrs . Longsdorf has quoted Tina Ericksen Nelson in describing living conditions in Mount Pleasant at the time of our concern: “Some of (the earliest) were cellars, some of them covered wagon boxes, many were one-roomed log cabins ...
"The homes (after the fort) were very humble. Those who were fortunate enough in those days to have a cellar, an upstairs, a stove, candles, a wash stand and basin possessed about all the conveniences available. Not all of the rooms had board floors, but in every room was found a fireplace. There were no carpets or floor coverings of any kind, but the board floors were kept white and clean with scrubbing brushes made of twisted straw and hay, tied securely together. Sand was used for scouring them, as soap was a very scarce article. The dishes used were made of real heavy china and pottery. The spoons and cups were pewter, and the knives and forks were of steel with black handles. Practically every home had its wooden tub and washboard, its wooden churn with a dash and its wooden stool for a wash stand. If there were weavers in the home, there were looms upon which they wove their blankets, the material for their underwear, their dresses, and the jeans for men. Since the wool was to be used for the making of so many different articles, it must be clean and the method first used of cleaning it was quite different from the modern method. Before shearing, the sheep were taken to a large creek in which was placed a large flume. Each sheep was held in the water near the flume until it had been thoroughly cleansed, and its wool was white and shining. When thoroughly dry it was shorn.
“The diet consisted of milk, potatoes, bread, meat — pork, beef and mutton — cheese, soups of different kinds, and eggs. Tea, coffee, and homemade beer were the beverages. Everyone had gardens so that they were not without vegetables ... Orchards were planted in which grew peach, apple, plum and apricot trees.”
“While living at Mount Pleasant, Maren's grand-daughter, Mary Jorgensen, drove her cows to pasture every day along a shady land. Two ruffian boys grabbed Mary and beat her up. She told Maren about it. She had Mary return to the same spot the next day performing the same task, while Maren hid in the brush along the side of the road. Sure enough! The same cowards were ready to ruff Mary up again. But — just as the attack was about to materialize, out of the bushes jumped Maren. With feline speed and agility she grabbed those boys by the nape of the neck and shook them with the strength of a tiger until their teeth rattled, all the time giving them a Danish tongue lashing she warned them of the consequences if they ever bothered Mary again. She no doubt made her point clear, for they never did.”13
The Bertelsens did not live by bread alone. They were a very musical family and took an active part in community life. “Dancing was a required subject in the Danish curriculum. Niels and Maren danced the schottische and polka to the lilting music of the accordion and the violin, in such a graceful manner that her daughter Thrine asked Maren if her partner carried her around by the hands. Maren explained that all Danish girls and boys were required to learn dancing and were taught the art by strict instructors that didn't spare the hickory stick if one should get out of step to the music. Danish people seemed to love dancing.”14
Lars, whose surname was Nielsen in keeping with the Danish custom at the time of his birth, was very talented. Mrs. Longsdorf has said: “Lars Nielsen, known as ‘Lars Fiddler,' played by ear, became very popular and had many invitations from other settlements to locate there. He, with John Waldermar and James Hansen, played for all the important gatherings held in Mt. Pleasant during the first 16 years.” Christiana, too, was active in music and in dramatic presentations. She also served as a school teacher. Lars' granddaughter, Lela Fackrell, recalls that her mother often said: “The Danes in Little Denmark were clannish to the point of being ‘stuck up,' causing others to feel inferior by comparison.” She felt she had really captured a prize when she married a Danishman.
“Let it not be assumed that these girls from the old country didn't have style and class. Maren was an exceptionally versatile person. She was a wonderful dressmaker and taught her daughters the same art. She could spin wool and flax; weave fine linen, and knit. She could butcher a hog and not waste a particle. Sausage, headcheese, pickled pig's feet, bacon, ham, chops, roasts, heart, liver, even the ears were used for food. The cleaned entrails made casings for sausage. The residue from the entrails became fertilizer. Before joining the LDS Church, the blood was used for blood pudding. (If Edison's recording machine had been available, she would have preserved the pig's squeal.) She taught all of her daughters the art of making butter, cheese and herb beer, a brew composed of water, honey, hops malt of bran, yarro, horehound and yeast which was ripened in an earthen crock. Her live yeast was shared by families over the years because it made such excellent bread. Pickled fish, kippered fish and Luna Fisk were her Danish specialties. Luna Fisk was a combination of cubed raw fish, sliced onions and vinegar. She taught her children and grandchildren the art of picking live ducks and geese. Through the warm months of the year these water fowls' breast feathers can be picked every six weeks and used for pillows and feather beds, the down used for bed comforters and eiderdown quilts.”15
SUNSET AND TWILIGHT STAR
Quoting Mulder: “For European converts, Zion's intimate life was strongly reminiscent of the Old World village, even to the dominance of the church in daily affairs, with the notable difference that here they were themselves clothed with the priesthood and vested with the authority of marshal, school trustee, selectman, justice of the peace, watermaster, and fence-viewer. Besides, they rubbed shoulders with Americans who were veterans of other frontiers, the tried survivors of Nauvoo and Missouri persecutions. As the newcomers heard their experiences in Sunday meeting and worked side by side with them in church and community affairs, the immigrants obtained a vitalizing sense of a living tradition, a divinely unfolding history, and of their own important function in it.”
Lette said: “I will not try to enumerate all the hardships that this new country (presented) which were hard to endure, as Father was almost an invalid, having contracted infection in his leg many years before which he could not get healed. Despite his trouble in this way he did not give up work.” But life was rough in the new country, and “the gathering” was to be a matter of only a dozen years for gentle, fun-loving Niels. The hard work to which he had been necessarily subjected could not but have irritated the chronic infection from which he suffered and which finally succeeded in striking him down. Maren's role in those last painful days should invoke the gratitude of all of his descendants. “It was in this place (Mt. Pleasant) that he died on September 25, 1875, in the arms of his faithful wife.”16 His death came as a surprise to his family who had not realized that he was so ill. “He had been sitting by the fire dressing his own leg while his wife was making his bed, when he called to her and said, ‘Mother, put me to bed! I can't see you.' As she laid him on the pillow his breath left his body.” He was 67 years of age. He is buried in the Mt. Pleasant cemetery.
On the hundredth anniversary of Niels' birth (1908), his descendants met in Mt. Pleasant to honor his memory. All of his children were present with the exception of Johannah, whose death had occurred in 1902, and Nicolena Marie, who “...sank quietly into death at the age of sixty years.”17 As a part of the program, the group, led by a band composed of Bertelsen kin, marched to the cemetery to place a monument at the site of his grave. The little sacred area is the final resting place for many good Danish people who, like Niels and Maren, came to the new world to find a better life. They are a small portion of the 30,000 Scandinavians who came to Utah between 1850 and 1905. The faith that prompted their move was mighty. As Mulder has said: “The Danes, proverbially reluctant to sail out farther than they could row back, and traditionally considered poor pioneers, nevertheless, as Mormons, left their homeland in years of actual prosperity to become hardy grass-roots settlers....”
Niels and his family participated in the great exodus. To what extent their hopes and dreams were realized we cannot know, but we can hope that were they to view their many descendants today they would feel, with a warm glow of satisfaction, that their move had been a good one.
Maren left Mt. Pleasant in 1889 to spend her remaining years in Summit with Lette and Thrine. She had never learned the English language, so felt most at home around her family, with whom she could converse in her native tongue. She would have enjoyed attending the church meetings had she been able to understand what was being said. However, she maintained that when her grandson, Sylvanus C. Hulet, spoke in sacrament meeting and bore his testimony, she could understand every word he said. She asked the bishop to tell her when Sylvanus was to talk so she could attend and hear him. She enjoyed her children and grandchildren, always keeping a sugar cube or peppermint handy to give to the little ones. To the last she held tightly to her religious beliefs, and continued to read the Bible daily until blindness settled upon her. (To quote Thora, however, “Through the use of olive oil, faith and prayer her sight was restored.”) Afton M. Clark, Johannah’s great-granddaughter, relates that “Maren was a sweet little lady who always wore a light shawl around her shoulders and always sat in front of the stove.”
“I remember her as quite a tall lady, not very fleshy. She always wore a cap and almost always wooden shoes. She never did learn to speak the English language. She said she did not care to. We children could never get very well acquainted with her because we could not understand her and she could not understand us. She lived in a room by herself at Aunt Lette’s — her food was taken in to her, as she would scarcely ever eat at the table with the large family. She loved to knit, and made stockings for us all. She was a great Bible reader. It was always pleasant to be allowed to take her dinner to her. Although we didn’t speak the same language she always gave a smile and a ‘tank you.’ She did not often go to Church and the Sacrament would be brought to her in her room. I remember when the folks all went to Salt Lake to the dedication of the temple and Grandmother was left in our care. We took her her food and that was all we could do. She kept trying to tell us something, but we could not understand her. We went and got Ida, who could understand her a little and found that she was trying to tell us where her burial clothes were. She said she prayed every day to die. It must have been awful for her to sit day after day with nothing to do but think of dieing. She could think of nothing she had ever done wrong except for giving a man skimmed milk for his pig when she should have given him whole milk.”18
Often lonely for her beloved Niels, her wish that she, too, could pass on was granted April 3, 1894, at the age of 87 years. She is buried in the Summit cemetery in a nicely marked grave situated atop a small Indian mound. There is pathos in the scene, for here lie the remnants of two separate peoples. One was old to the land, staunch and serene in his fertile valleys and mountains; the other was new and vital and seeking. That each had a part in shaping the destiny of us who have followed is the meaning and the obligation of our heritage.
* * * * * * * * *
Dear Bertelsen Relatives:
If you ever find yourselves in the pretty little mountain communities of Mt. Pleasant or Summit, stop and ask someone to show you where the graves of Niels and Maren Bertelsen are to be found. View their final resting places with a feeling of pride that here were two, unlike in many ways, yet possessing a deep and abiding love for each other; that they lived in an exciting and-demanding period of the world's history and that to the best of their ability they lived it honestly and well.
Sincerely and with love,
Nicolena Marie's granddaughter
Louise Baker Pearce
All my thanks to:
Lette, above all others, for having written down something on the lives of her father and mother.
All my good Bertelsen cousins for their contributions.
The Encyclopedia Americana for information on the physical features of Denmark.
Denmark, by Nielsen.
Denmark Is A Lovely Land, by Strade.
Mount Pleasant, by Longsdorf.
William Mulder, Director of the Institute of American Studies, University of Utah, who is a recognized authority on Scandinavian Mormon emigration.
Bishop Orson B. West, Salt Lake City, for help on the Mormons in Aalborg.
The Genealogical Library for information on the ship in which they came.