PETER MONSEN (PEDER MOGENSEN)
Peter Monsen was born 8 April 1830 in Svendstrup, Langeland, Denmark. It was a little village about two miles from Kerser, a harbor town on the west coast of Denmark. His home was a long, one-story adobe house with a thatched straw roof. His family appears in the 1840 census records for the Taarnborg District of Svendstrup: Lars Mogensen age 35 and his wife Christine Jensdatter (Jensen) were living in Svendstrup City in February 1840 with the following children: Ane Christine Mogensen age 13, Peder Mogensen age 10, Rasmus Mogensen age seven, Caroline Mogensen age four. Lars’ mother is a widow at this time and living with him: Karen Johansdatter (Johansen) age 66. His parents were farmers who did not own their own farms, but rented them. Peter spent his young manhood, as was the custom, on the adjoining farms as a hireling.
Peter and his people belonged to the Lutheran Church and were devoutly religious. On 9 March 1853, Peter was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He, in turn, baptized his father Lars, his mother Christine, his sister Hansine, and Dorthea Marie Christensen (Nielsen), whom Peter was to marry. His family was among the first to embrace the Mormon faith in Denmark. At the end of that year, Peter’s family left their home in Denmark to move to Zion. Listed on page 588 Afgangsliste (Departure List) in 1853, town of Taarnborg, island of Langeland, 1841-58: Lars Mogensen, his wife Kristine Jensen, and their four children: Caroline 19, Jens 10, Hansine 13, and Hanne Catherine left for Copenhagen 24 December 1853. Mogens Enke (Lars’ mother), age 74, went also. After they arrived in St. Louis, Missouri, Lars died of cholera on 6 April 1854. Peter’s mother, Christine, a sister Caroline, and a brother Jens (James Willard Munson), arrived safely in Utah. However, Peter’s grandmother, Karen Johansen (Nielsen), and two sisters, Hansine and Hanna Catherine all died of cholera on the way across the plains.
Peter remained in Denmark to be married. The Taarnborg Church records (page 330), show Ungkarl (young bachelor) Peder Mogensen 23 years old and Pegen (unmarried girl) Dorthe Marie Christensen 18 years old, were married in the Taarnborg Church on 8 January 1854.
Those present were Christian Nielsen (Dorthe’s father) og (and) Lars Mogensen (Peder’s father). “Begge er Mormoner.” (Both are Mormons) Dorthea’s family is listed in the 1840 census records for the Taarnborg District of Svendstrup City as family #108: Christen Nielsen age 43 and wife Ane Andersdatter (Andersen) age 41, their daughter Dorthe Marie Christensen age five. At this time they had four servants or friends living with them. Dorthea’s parents were wealthy and they offered her all of the riches they possessed if she would not join the church. She was their only daughter, and they didn’t want her to leave them to come to Zion. But no material offer could dissuade Dorthea and Peter from doing what God intended them to do. They left Svendstrup for Copenhagen, bound for Utah, and with them was their one-year-old son, Christian Nielsen Mogensen. They left Svendstrup on 24 November 1855 as recorded in Landsarkivet, Jagtveg 10-1-20-39 (Archives in Copenhagen).
On 29 November 1855 they left Copenhagen and set sail for Liverpool on 6 December 1855 in a wooden sailing ship named “The John J. Boyd,” bound for America. There were 508 people on the boat and 437 of them were Scandinavian saints. The vessel was not equipped for so many people, and crowded conditions prevailed. Tiers of bunks were all around the vessel, and they ate upon the same boxes that were used to sit upon. The captain of the ship was very domineering, and when severe storms arose he forbade the saints to sing or pray or hold services. President Canute Petersen was appointed to take charge of this group of saints and he instructed them to carry on secretly, which they did. Never did they lose their faith. In addition to the terrible storms, fire broke out in the captain’s cabin. No great excitement prevailed as the saints had faith that God would preserve their lives. As they proceeded on their journey, they ran across a disabled ship and picked up 50 sailors. They proved to be a great help to the ship, as the regular sailors were near exhaustion because the journey proved to be much longer than had been contemplated. The water supply ran very low and was vile. Sickness broke out and around 50 adults and children died, among them Peter’s 16-month-old son, Christian. They were heartbroken to see the sailors lower their darling baby into the great ocean. These trials helped to prepare them for the rigors of pioneer life that they would meet in the future. After a voyage of 11 weeks and three days, the saints landed in America on 1 March 1856. They arrived in St. Louis, where they remained for several months finding work to do.
This group of saints began their journey across the plains on 26 June 1856. There were 60 wagons in this company with two yolk of oxen to each wagon and from six to eight persons in each wagon. President Petersen was again called to be their captain with sub-captains under him for each 10 wagons. The oxen were very unruly and would get overheated, so that many of them died. They stampeded one day and killed a man. No one traveled on Sunday, and they held services in the day and evening. Other evenings they would sing the songs of Zion, and occasionally they would dance. They arrived in Salt Lake City on 16 September 1856. On the entire trip they saw very few people outside their own company; no houses were along the way except one government station at Fort Laramie. After arriving here, Peter planned on locating in Weber or Cache County. At this time word came of Johnson’s Army who were said to be on their way to wipe out the Mormons. Peter Monsen was enrolled with the saints who enlisted as soldiers. They went up Echo Canyon, where they prepared to defend the saints against the army. Among other things, large boulders were quarried on pivots in preparation to roll down the canyon as the army came through. The army came, but not in war. In many ways they proved beneficial to the saints. After the army came to the valley, Peter worked at Camp Floyd. There he made adobes with which to build houses for the soldiers camped there.
In 1858 he was called to Sanpete County, and they moved to Ephriam and then to Mt. Pleasant the following year. They lived in the fort there, as did all the other people. This was the year the first school settlement was built. It was a one-room house (about 16' x 25'), which served as a school house, a social center, and a building for religious services. It was called the second ward school house. The desks were a double arrangement (about 2' wide on either side) sloping to the center, with split log benches on both sides. The students faced each other. Four such desks constituted the furniture. A blackboard made from planned lumber hung on the wall. Roaring wood fires provided the heat, from the large fireplaces at each end of the room. There were few textbooks. The meager educational opportunities came from dedicated men and women within the community who had been fortunate to have had some education in the countries where they had previously lived. Peter was one of the first to serve on the school board of trustees. He helped in the building of the school house which was built with donated public labor and materials. He knew well the struggles for education with little or no money to pay the costs. It took about 20 years for new church buildings to be built, and a new and commodious school with modern benches and desks, and with comfortable heading systems as well as with books and supplies.
About 1863, Peter Monsen entered into polygamy and married his second wife, Annie Christena Christensen. She had been born in Copenhagen 8 October 1848. Soon after her family had been converted to Mormonism, they made arrangements to come to America. They set sail on Christmas eve, 24 December 1853, on a ship called the “Benjamin-Adams.” The ship carried mainly Scandinavians. Curiously, this was the same date that the Lars Mogensen family sailed-possibly on the same ship. On their journey to Salt Lake, there was much sickness in the camps of the saints. Annie Christena’s father became ill and passed away on 5 April 1854. Exactly six months later, the surviving family entered the Salt Lake Valley. Within a few months, her mother had remarried. Annie Christena was only seven at the time. In March 1859, they moved to Mt. Pleasant. When Annie Christena was 16, she left her home and went to work for Peter and Dorthea. This was to escape the attentions of her stepfather. She later became Peter’s plural wife, even though she was 18 years younger than he. She became the mother of 13 children.
Annie was strong and well, while Dorthea was ill much of her life. Thus, Annie Christena went into the fields to help with the crops, while Dorthea remained at home to watch the children and to do the work in the home. Those who knew the two families say that a great love existed between the two women. It was said that Peter was a fair and just man, who ruled with gentleness and love, with harmony always prevailing.
In March 1864 Peter was called to go to Circleville with Annie, along with Mads Madsen and his second wife, and colonize the area. They left home with each a yoke of oxen and a wagon, arriving in Circleville about April 1. They proceeded at once to build log homes in which to live. They built houses from timber which was not far away, but since no shingles or lumber was available, they were necessarily satisfied with a dirt roof as well as a dirt floor. The soil there was very fertile, and they proceeded to break up the land and to plant enough grain to raise 1,000 bushels of wheat. There were no threshing machines then, so the grain was threshed by trampling their oxen over it. When the grain from the first layer was thoroughly tramped out of the straw, chaff and fine material still remained which had to be separated from the grain. They cleared the ground, and when the wind was favorable they used a small hand scoop to cast the grain out against the wind, thereby separating it from the chaff. When this was done, they took what they could haul in their wagons, leaving the remainder for those who stayed behind. They returned home to Mt. Pleasant in November of the same year. The immigrant who later occupied their cabin was killed by the Indians.
After returning to Mt. Pleasant and when it was considered safe, Peter was among the first to build a home outside the fort. It was a two-room structure 28' long with two large beams along the top, placed in a half-roof shape to carry the weight of the dirt which answered the purpose of shingles. There was also a dirt floor. Aside from building this house and the log cabin in Circleville, he later built each of his wives a house of adobe. Dorthea’s home, the larger, consisted of a living room, a kitchen, a dining room, and a bedroom. The upstairs remained unfinished, but was used for bedrooms. Annie Christena’s home had a large kitchen, which served as a living room and a dining room as well, and a large bedroom with a clothes closet in it. The upper floor had all bedrooms. The walls were at least 1½" thick, and served to insulate the homes. Peter drew his lot in the southwest of the city, and remained there.
Peter was always ready and willing to answer calls made upon him from the church or the state. He was called to be a minute man during the Black Hawk Indian War in 1865. He was a public-spirited man, devoting much of his time to civic duties as well as to his religious duties. This was all done without pay, but knowing it was for the betterment and uplifting of mankind. His heart and soul was always in the gospel, he was a counselor to Bishop Seely for many years. He was a ward teacher all of his life, and served as head teacher for many years. He was always a member of the ward choir, and the happiest time of his life was when he gathered his many children around him and the sang together the songs of Zion. He had an organ in his parlor, and upon it were two statuettes of Brigham Young and Joseph Smith. He loved singing, and taught his children the love of music. The Monsen daughters were singers and were often in demand at the pioneer socials. Annie and Olevia sang alto, Nora and Esther sang soprano in double duets. All of the girls participated with their father in the ward choir. Life in the Peter Monsen home was a happy one and a busy one. Peter also served in the city counsel for two terms, and was a member of the school and irrigation boards. As previously mentioned, he took part in the building of the fort to protect the early settlers of the valley. He also assisted in the laying out of the towns and farms.
The first steam sawmill brought to Mt. Pleasant was by Peter Y. Jensen and was placed in Cedar Creek Canyon. Before it could be placed, a road had to be constructed. Peter was the supervisor of the road construction. He also assisted in the leveling of the hill where the Manti Temple now stands. After this, a sawmill called the Temple Sawmill was placed in the Twin Creek Canyon, where lumber was sawed to be used in the construction of the temple. The work was carried on in winter and summer (men donated their work with few exceptions). Peter supervised the work in the wintertime. The depth of the snow was at times seven feet, and prevented the use of oxen or horses to drag the timber from the mountainside. The trees were felled and cut into certain lengths. With hand spikes and such appliances as were necessary, they slid the logs from the hillside to the bottom of the canyon. From there they were hauled to the mill upon bobsleds—all home made. The lumber from the mill was hauled to Manti by team, all done with donated work in which Peter participated. When the Snow Academy was built, he furnished teams (at no pay) to haul brick from Mt. Pleasant to Ephriam.
Peter’s occupation was always that of a good farmer. He had studied agriculture and had been a farmer in the old country, so he took great pride in his farm and in his methods of farming. He taught his children these skills. The girls learned from both father and mother that when the food was harvested, it must be carefully preserved and cared for. They entered into the tromping of hay, picking of potatoes, keeping of the garden, and the milking of cows. They also learned to cook and sew from their two mothers (both of whom entered into the training of the children). They learned to spin, to card wool, and to weave. Their hands were also busy with beautiful hand work and crocheted pieces. True pioneer life meant hard work, thrift, industry, and also sharing in the dangers of the pioneer life.
Nothing was easy in those days. The children remember Dorthea’s homemade sausages. They learned the art of cleaning the animal’s intestines and soaking them in brine, scraping them on the breadboard, and then again soaking them in brine. The cleaned intestines were then placed over a cow horn, and the sausage was carefully worked down until the sack was packed tightly. Sometimes, they ground the pork sausage and placed the skin around the spout of the grinder. The skin would fill up as the meat ground through. If any air bubbles appeared, a darning needle was used to poke them out and force the meat in tightly. The sausages were then smoked or put into a weak brine to cure, as were the hams, shoulders, etc. of pork. There was a lot of work involved when a pig was killed. All of the fat was cut off and sliced into small pieces, or ground up and fried just long enough to process it. The whitest part was then stored in jars and placed in the pantry for use in pies and cakes. Other grease was saved for frying food. It was a hard day’s work to “render” lard, and all of the children learned the process. You couldn’t just go to the store to purchase a can of shortening then. The meat from the head of the pig was ground and seasoned and put into a pan. It was pressed flat by putting heavy flat irons (which were used to iron clothes) on top, weighing the meat down and pressing it hard. It was considered a real delicacy, sliced and eaten cold. The pastries and cinnamon buns were also a thing to remember, for on baking day every youngster in the neighborhood went home with a big, hot bun filled with sugar, cinnamon, and raisins. The big drippers filled with homemade bread, each holding 6 to 8 loaves, were familiar sights in their homes. The Danish recipe for dumplings and chicken soup, has now been passed down to the great granddaughters.The children went barefoot as long as the ground was free of snow. But when shoes were needed, Peter furnished his children with wooden shoes that he made. He had learned the craft in his native land, and brought with him some of the tools needed for making them. He would go to Cedar Hills after loads of wood. After loading it he would find a pitch pine tree, just to suit his fancy, for the stick best suited for wooden shoes. After he finished the wooden shoes, his wife shined them nicely with soot she gathered from the fireplace. The children of Peter were the only ones with wooden shoes, and they were nice shoes. The only objection the children had to them was that they couldn’t run as fast with them on as they could when they were barefoot.
During the United Order, Peter was captain of the men who worked in what was called the Old and South Field. He was, however, one of the first to withdraw from the Order. His family was deeply concerned about it, and some of the neighbors went so far as to say that he was on the way to apostasy. Peter felt that he had given it a fair trial. One day on his rounds in the fields where men were engaged in irrigating, he arrived at a piece of his own land where a man was supposed to be irrigating it. Peter found the water all going down a dead furrow of summer fallowed land, with no man in sight. After searching around, he found the man sound asleep in the shade of the willows. When he asked the man how the water was going, he answered, “I suppose it’s running to the west,” which was the slope of the land. That, in addition to many other similar conditions, drew disgust from Peter to the extent that he left the Order.
When the polygamy crusade was on, the U.S. Marshalls had a warrant of arrest for all polygamists. It was just at harvest time, and Peter came to the lumber camp with a proposition to his son to go down to do the harvesting so that he could do the work there at the camp. The harvesting was done under very difficult conditions. Occasionally, Peter would come like a thief in the night to see how they were getting along. The grain was too ripe, dry and brittle, and some had to be soaked in water to use for bands to bind the grain. They had to handle it carefully to avoid waste. They did what was necessary to be done during the balance of the summer and the fall. Peter was in hiding most of this time. The marshalls would come to the house under cover of the night and search through the house for him.
On 9 April 1888, just two weeks after the birth of her 13th child, Esther, the young and beautiful mother, Annie Christena, was struck with puerperal sepsis (childhood fever). The dreaded infection took her life at the age of 40. The burden of a big family must have weighed heavily upon the young shoulders of the children, as they had to share the responsibilities even more so now. Dutifully and lovingly, Dorthea, the other mother, gathered these little motherless children around her, comforting them, teaching them, and being a true mother to them. She was affectionately known to them as “Tante”. Esther has said of her “If ever there was an angel mother, it was Mother Dorthea.” The family then adjusted to a new way of life.
Life in Mt. Pleasant was beginning to take on the airs of a thriving community. Beside the new school and churches, the Wasatch Academy became part of the community buildings. A brick kiln was producing lovely pink brick, and some of the up-and-coming members of the community were building elegant two-story homes. Little groups, who especially enjoyed associating together because of likeness in their nationality, would meet in each other’s homes for parties and dinners. Celebrations were always great days for the people of Mt. Pleasant. Not only was the 4th of July an event, but the 24th of July was also celebrated as the day the pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley. Usually, there was a parade led by a brass band. The parade was usually followed by a program recalling the early pioneer struggles. In the afternoon, there was a dance for the children. In the evening, there was a dance for the adults.
During those days, the only source of supplies was through the wagon trains that came from Salt Lake City bringing their necessities. The men of the community would exchange grain for a supply of flour for their winter’s use. The supply wagons always brought back yard goods for the pioneer mother to make up into clothing for her children. Esther well remembers her father bringing her a piece of blue material, while he always brought some pink material for Olevia when they were small girls.
In the winter of 1897, on the 8th of January, Peter was called to go on a mission to Denmark, his native land. He was the oldest missionary in the field—67 years of age. He enjoyed excellent health, and was able to keep in shape and do all that was required of a missionary. He was gladly received by the people, and made many friends. The people were surprised that a man of his age could sing so beautifully. He visited the birthplace of his first wife while he was in Denmark, and was received very kindly by her people. They called all of the neighbors in to see this stranger who had returned to the old homestead after 42 years of absence in America. He served 1½ years in the mission field.
After Peter’s return from his mission, he proceeded to care for his small farm. As in the past he had a few livestock to care for. He continued to do so until he was physically unable. His wife Dorthea died on 10 November 1912. The children all helped care for him. In March 1915, Olevia or “Levie” (one of his favorite children, it had been said) moved in with him and brought her three children. Her husband, Joseph Johansen, had been called on a mission. She worked hard caring for her family and for her father’s needs. It was a good arrangement for all of them. During this time, Olevia’s oldest child, Etta, passed her important 8th birthday. They all drove to Manti in Peter’s shiny, black, horse-drawn buggy with bright red wheels. Etta was baptized in the Manti Temple. After Joseph’s two year mission was over, they all continued to live with Peter for yet another year while they were building a new home. They continued their close association, as did the complete family, until his death.
Birthdays has always been treated as something special for the Peter Monsen family. There was a spot on the pantry shelf where the members of the family put their savings in anticipation of the next birthday. The child having a birthday party could always expect one fine gift from the family. As the girls grew up, sometimes the gift was sheets, linen, dishes or some coveted item. There was always a special birthday dinner, and Father Peter was the central figure at these gatherings. The whole town was invited to his 90th birthday party. He had such a large family, and so many friends, it had to be held in a rented hall. His daughter, Nora, made one of her famous sponge cakes. The cake had to be beaten in a certain way, for a certain length of time, and it turned out as a work of art with the 90 candles ablazing on the top. The tables were set the full length of the hall to accommodate the number of well-wishers who came. His last birthday party was his 94th. He stood in the doorway at Annie’s home and said, “I may not be here too many other birthdays, but I’m going to sing you a song.” He counseled, “I hope and pray that you will continue with your birthday parties when I am gone, for it will keep you close together.”
Peter Monsen died just two months before his 95th birthday, on 9 February 1924. On his death bed he sang “I Know That My Redeemer Lives.” He was buried 12 February 1924, in the Mt. Pleasant City Cemetery by his two good wives. He was among the noblest of all creation. He was careful in the use of language, as well as saying ought against his neighbors. He never spoke profanity, nor spoke untruthfully. He and his wives were outstanding citizens, and devout Latter-day Saints. We can justly and proudly refer to them and their accomplishments with pride and admiration, and be thankful that we are of the lineage of such people. They unselfishly moved about in duty’s call, complying with one of God’s first commandments: multiply and replenish the earth. Under humble circumstances, they reared a large family which would seem impossible today. Peter at no time owned more than 40 acres of land, upon which 16 children were reared to maturity with five others dying in childhood. Despite the privations as would we considered today, or perhaps because of the manner in which they lived, the children grew to man and womanhood with clean, strong bodies, and pure minds instilled with honesty, truth and honor. Peace, harmony, and love were characteristic in the family. That same feeling prevails among their posterity.
Children of Peter Monsen & Dorthea Nielsen:
Stena & J.C. Madsen 7 children
Sena & Peter Peterson 2 children
Joseph & Anneta Neilsen 3 children
Dorthea & George Christensen 3 children
James & Mary Ann Poulsen 10 children
Lena & Andrew Jensen 11 children
Died in childhood: Christian, Peter
Children of Peter Monsen & Annie Christensen:
Amelia & Thomas Kirby 10 children
Sophia & Hans Poulsen 4 children
Annie & Erick Ericksen 8 children
Josie & Peter Anderson 6 children
John & Annie Blake 5 children
Christie & Marinus Beck 11 children
Nora & Gilbert Beckstrom 7 children
Peter & Kate Gillman 11 children
Olevia & Joseph Johansen 7 children
Esther & Albin Merlin Anderson 6 children
Died in childhood: Peter, Tina, Mary
Peter Monsen’s children and grandchildren totaled 110. His descendants on the 100th anniversary of his leaving Denmark totaled 679.
PETER MONSEN’S WIVES
DORTHE MARIE CHRISTENSEN ANNA CHRISTINE CHRISTENSEN
Biography sent in by Guy Pearce, a descendant