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Covered Wagon Days … in Denmark

By: Ardis E. Parshall - July 24, 2008

“The century between 1814 and 1914 saw the largest migration in the history of mankind, with more than 50 million Europeans setting out for America and other overseas destinations” (Kristian Hvidt. Flight to America: The Social Background of 300,000 Emigrants. New York: Academic Press, 1975). The tiny kingdom of Denmark furnished a significant current in that tide of emigration.

Organized Mormon emigration from Denmark began in December 1852 when almost 300 Danes, shepherded by Elder John E. Forsgren, set out for Zion; traveling from Copenhagen to Liverpool to New Orleans, to Keokuk, Iowa, this company reached Salt Lake nearly ten months later, on September 30, 1853. It is the first known mass emigration from Denmark by any organization, Mormon or otherwise. Thousands more were to follow, making the Danes second only to the British as an immigrant group in Utah from 1860 through at least 1930.

A wave of non-Mormon emigration from Denmark to the U.S. began in the late 1860s, gathered momentum in the 1870s, and peaked in the mid-1880s, and far outpaced Danish Mormon emigration to Utah. By the turn of the century, first- and second-generation Danish-Americans were reversing course – many moved back to Denmark, and many more renewed their ties to Denmark by joining trans-Atlantic unity projects.

Perhaps the most successful of these trans-Atlantic organizations and projects was the construction of “Rebild Park” near Aalborg, a monument to the friendship between Denmark and the U.S., and the ties Danish-Americans have to Denmark. American Independence Day has been celebrated there since 1909 – it still is – and American icons, such as a log cabin tribute to Lincoln (with logs collected from each of the 48 states in the Union in 1934, when the cabin was built), have been placed there.

In 1935, the Rebild Park Association based in Chicago contacted Utah Governor Henry H. Blood about the possibility of obtaining a Mormon covered wagon to place in the Danish park, as a tribute to the Danish Mormon emigrants. The governor referred the project to the Daughters of Utah Pioneers. The DUP, with the assistance of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce and the Sons of Utah Pioneers, built a pioneer-style wagon using pieces of surviving original wagons, supplemented with new materials.

The wagon was ready to be shipped to Rebild Park in 1936, and the organizers of the project began looking around for a Danish-American to escort the wagon to Denmark and present it to the Danes. They settled on 84-year-old Andrew Jenson.

Jenson had emigrated from Denmark in 1866 when he was 15 – after scrambling to raise his own passage money when his emigrating parents told him they could not afford to take him, that he must remain behind until they could send him the money. While working as a farm hand, the teenager worked nights to translate the History of Joseph Smith into Danish, paid for its printing, and peddled its monthly installments for 10c a copy. As he traveled to sell his pamphlets, he collected stories regarding the early immigrants, and published them both in the Bikuben,, the Scandinavian newspaper he eventually edited and in the Morgenstjernen a monthly Danish magazine he published in the 1880s.

Jenson served two missions to Denmark, then returned as mission president from 1909-1912. He traveled to every corner of the world where Mormons could be found, interviewing, gathering data, and compiling the histories of each community. He published journal articles, and a handful of books, including a history of the Scandinavian Mission.

And so in 1936, Andrew Jenson, accompanied by his wife and daughter and a few others, escorted the pioneer wagon on its eastward journey. In Chicago, the Rebild Association treated them to a banquet. In Copenhagen, the mayor greeted them. Oxen drew the wagon to the Park and Jenson formally presented it to the people of Denmark in honor of the Mormon emigrants from Denmark who had not forgotten their homeland. Before returning to Salt Lake, Jenson had a private audience with newly crowned King Christian, whose sister Ruth entertained the Jenson family in her home and at a formal party in the Embassy.

It was Jenson’s last visit to his homeland, one that in so many ways reversed the trail he had traveled in 1866.



17 Comments »

  1. Happy Pioneer Day!

    I’ve been to the community breakfast under the trees on the lawn of our chapel — they serve thousands every year — and am now enjoying the bands and floats from the comfort of my desk. No sunburn for me this year.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 24, 2008 @ 10:53 am

  2. Ardis, part of my ancestors came from Bornholm, Denmark, in 1856, settling in Plain City after pulling handcarts across the plains (not part of the Martin-Willey companies).

    We have hopes of traveling to Denmark in a couple of years and visiting Copenhagen, and then on to Bornholm, a beautiful island in the Baltic, nearer to Sweden than the rest of Denmark.

    Some other pioneer ancestors traveled in wagons south to Arizona on a colonizing mission, only to have to turn back after no water, or feed for the animals could be found where they were assigned to go.

    Happy Pioneer day to you, Ardis! No holiday for us here in Washington, so I am working, and then off to two stake meetings tonight, where I get to instruct bishops about the perils of the semiannual audit. Maybe I should wear a cowboy hat and boots for the occasion, but in reality, I haven’t owned any since I moved from Utah 15 years ago.

    Comment by kevinf — July 24, 2008 @ 12:00 pm

  3. kevinf, it always a pleasure to hear that someone knows something of his ancestor’s stories — I hope you do get to Denmark, and in the meantime I’ll enjoy the holiday here enough for you, too. :)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 24, 2008 @ 12:07 pm

  4. Some other pioneer ancestors traveled in wagons south to Arizona on a colonizing mission, only to have to turn back after no water, or feed for the animals could be found where they were assigned to go.

    I won’t repeat what the pioneers who actually stayed in Arizona said about that… ;-)

    Andrew Jenson was one of my favorite Early Utah Saints even before a couple of years ago when I read in his teenage diary the death date and place of one of my ancestors…

    Friday 10. Owing to a rainstorm we broke up our encampment late, and after traveling about 15 miles through a hilly and sparcely settled country, we encamped about sun-down. Jens Christensen (a brickmaker) called “Teglbrander” from Vendasyssel, Denmark, died today and was buried on the plain without coffin.

    …and his daughter…

    Tues 28….We passed a number of wagons from which, during the night previous, the Indians had stolen all the animals, and the company traveling with the wagons were consequently unable to move till help could be sent. The Indians in this locality were said to be very hostile, and those of us who walked were instructed to keep near the wagons. A number of the emigrants were sick from eating wild berries in Ash Hollow, and a young lady from Vendsyssel conference died.

    Jens Christensen’s wife and other daughter and adopted son made it to Utah. His surviving daughter was my grandpa’s great-grandma and his adopted son was my grandma’s grandpa.

    I associate my grandparents very closely with the celebration of Pioneer Day, and since they both passed away very recently, I found myself getting teary-eyed when singing some Pioneer songs last night with my kids.

    Happy Pioneer Day! (Sniff.)

    Comment by Researcher — July 24, 2008 @ 1:34 pm

  5. I join Kevin in wishing you a happy Pioneer Day, Ardis. New York hasn’t progressed to the point that it celebrates the day, so I too am working–sort of, between commenting on blogs.

    And thanks, Ardis, for expanding my knowledge of Danish immigration to the U.S. My grandfather’s maternal grandparents were both born in Denmark. I guess that makes me 1/8 Danish. His grandfather was born in Uglerup Huse, Horby, Holbaek (an extremely long name for what must have been a small village) and his grandmother in Jetsmark, Hjorring. Thanks to google maps I can find both of those places.

    They married in Salt Lake City–the nearly 430 km distance between the two towns would have made their meeting in Denmark unlikely. The fact that she was his third wife makes their marrying in Denmark unlikely too.

    One question: all my Danish ancestors have names that end “sen”. Did Andrew Jenson’s family change the spelling somewhere along the way, or were they just exceptional?

    Comment by Mark B. — July 24, 2008 @ 1:42 pm

  6. He was exceptional, along with my Danish ancestors, the Oversons.

    Comment by Researcher — July 24, 2008 @ 1:50 pm

  7. Make me feel so, um, conventional. I mean, the grandfather was Peder Nielsen, and the grandmother Nielsine Nielsen (before the marriage). How much more “Nielsen” can you get?

    Comment by Mark B. — July 24, 2008 @ 2:02 pm

  8. I didn’t know so many Keepanarians (Keepapitchininnies? :) ) had Danish origins, but I shouldn’t be surprised, given how many Danish converts came to Zion. Good on them, and their descendants!

    Some early Andrew Jenson records use the -sen spelling; whether that is how he and his family spelled it then, or whether it was merely assumed by clerks, I do not know. A long-time employee in the archives told me once that AJ changed the spelling because he was tired of being mistaken for what she called “a dumb Dane.” Totally apart from the “dumb” characterization, which was apparently a conventional source of ethnic “humor” in 19th century Utah, I don’t believe for a moment that AJ, proud of his Danish origins as he was and involved as he was in ministering to the Danish segment of the church, would ever have done anything to conceal those origins or distance himself from his countrymen.

    So while I categorically reject that explanation, I don’t have anything more plausible to offer.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 24, 2008 @ 3:15 pm

  9. I’m not sure why the Overson family used the -son spelling either. The purely Danish form of the name would have been “Ovesen” with neither “r” nor that second “o.”

    Based on a single statement in a diary from that time period, they were proud of being Danish although sometimes the Americans made fun of them and called them “Wooden Shoes.”

    Comment by Researcher — July 24, 2008 @ 6:47 pm

  10. Researcher, I’m not sure you had joined the ‘nacle when Paul Reeve wrote a wonderful post for T&S, My People Shall Wear Wooden Shoes — there was some good discussion about the wooden shoes.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 24, 2008 @ 7:16 pm

  11. (proud to be a keepapitchininny)

    Comment by Tatiana — July 24, 2008 @ 7:20 pm

  12. With Tatiana’s support, the name is official.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 24, 2008 @ 8:32 pm

  13. [...] Covered Wagon Days… In Denmark [...]

    Pingback by Blog Segullah : Funny Pioneer Stories — July 24, 2008 @ 10:13 pm

  14. Ardis, I’m not sure when you wrote this if you remembered that on 6 Jul 2000, a sculpture named “Mormon Emigrant Family” was unveiled at Rebild Park. This was sculpted by Dennis Smith of Highland, Utah as part of the annual Fourth of July celebration. That year, the Mormon History Association was held in Denmark. We were treated to a “pre-unveiling” by Dennis Smith on 29 June, followed by his remarks telling how he came to do the sculpture.

    Comment by Maurine — July 25, 2008 @ 12:19 am

  15. The current church Historian and Recorder, Elder Marlin K. Jensen, loves to tell people of his ancestor’s emigration from the family’s Danish farm to Utah.

    Comment by Bill MacKinnon — July 25, 2008 @ 7:44 pm

  16. I would like to see photographs of Morman pioneer wagons that made the journey down Hole in the Rock road in Garfield county. I am planning to make a scale model of such a wagon for exhibit in Escalante in a museum dedicated to the Mormon pioneers. thank you

    Comment by dennis bertucci — August 20, 2009 @ 6:26 pm

  17. Dennis, there wasn’t a photographer in the expedition; unless there happened to be a photographer in the central Utah settlements who captured an image — and I’m unaware of any — I don’t think you’ll find any such photograph. But the wagons would have been the same wagons, of various patterns, that were in use on the farms and roads throughout Utah at the time, some of which have been preserved in DUP and other museums around the state.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 20, 2009 @ 6:36 pm

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