Today I am pleased to present a guest post written by my fourth cousin, Della Smith for the continuing Idaho Territory Sesquicentennial series. Her story is about her 2nd great-grandfather Christian Madsen and his journey to Idaho.
Life Story of Christian Madsen, born November 14, 1844 in Jutland, Denmark and died March 9, 1921, Safford, Graham County, Arizona
According to my mother, Christian Madsen came to the US from Denmark in 1853 with friends of his parents who were given a sum of $500 to care for the 9 year old boy in the new world. Supposedly, they abandoned him on the streets of New York City once they arrived in the US, and took his money with them. The Mormons picked him up and cared for him, and eventually took him to Utah where they settled and he became an elder in the Mormon Church. Later he relocated to Arizona and was still affiliated with the LDS church. I don't know how much of this story is true, but it's what I remember my mother telling me about him.
However, a diary kept by Christian Madsen’s daughter (my great grandmother, Dortha Roxana Madsen Rollins McKinney) said that the family who brought Christian Madsen to America were actually friends of his parents, and they stayed in the East for a while before they could go to Utah. Christian stayed with them at that time, although they were not very kind to him, according to what Dortha wrote in her diary, as shown below:
"My father came to America from Denmark at the age of 9 years. His parents having been converted to the Mormon religion, prepared to immigrate to this country. There happened to be, at that time, another family who, for the same reason, was sailing for the U.S. My father’s parents were not quite ready to leave, as they were trying to dispose of their worldly goods. Having a large family, for some reason or other, they sent father on with these people and gave them five hundred dollars to care for him until they could join him there. (NOTE: Christian Madsen's parents, Jacob and Dorthea, were not able to come to the United States until around 1856 or later. Christian's youngest brother was born in Utah in 1860.)
I have forgotten the length of time that elapsed before they left Denmark. They sacrificed a great deal of money and property, not being able to take much out of their country. It took several weeks to cross the ocean in those days. My father was very ill most of the way. The people to whom he had been entrusted were unkind to him and also neglectful of his comfort and needs. He was lonely and home sick, a little boy on the wide ocean, friendless and frightened, in route to a strange land where he could not even talk or understand the language.
The family he was with remained in the East for some time, several months, or until they could arrange to start their weary trek with other Pioneers across the plains to Utah, which was the place they and my father’s family had started for, a home in the rocky mountains of America, where they would be free to worship God according to the dictates of their own conscience, free from the hands of royal rule, to a land with new possibilities and freedom.
However, these God loving and God fearing people continued with their indifference toward the lonely little boy. They themselves suffered terrible hardship, but they had no sympathy for anything but their own. For many weeks they struggled with desert sands and mountain trails with bleeding feet and half filled stomachs. They would camp at night with hearts filled with fear from the attacks of hostile Indians and fear of the loss of an animal out of their teams for which there was no chance for replacement.
Many hard and extreme were the sufferings of this one family among many others of whom my father was a member at this time. Many were the incidents, thrilling and heart breaking, which our father related to us children as bed time stories in years following, and which have almost faded from our memory. These were experiences that molded into his life a stronger faith in both God and in the brotherhood of man, unselfish, untiring against all obstacles. Truthful to the extent of risking his life to keep his word to a friend or debtor, honest to every one but himself, always running over the measure, prayerful and hopeful in the face of the worst discouragements, such was the character which grew up through great tribulation and which these few weak words can make only a dim picture.
When winter came, father worked in the mountains with teams of oxen, getting logs for the lumber mills. The snow would be awful deep and the big pine trees carried tremendous weight, too heavy work for horses, except for hauling lumber or equipment and supplies. The oxen would be shod the same as horses, but did not use harness, they were yoked together with heavy neck yokes and were guided about their work by telling them to Gee for one direction and Haw for another. It took great patience, strong lungs and strong physique to handle these powerful creatures.
Many is the time I have ridden behind the oxen on the “running gears” of the wagon. The boys used to ride on their backs as they would a horse, except with no saddle or bridle, of course. The ways of getting the logs to the mill was very interesting, but I won’t go over that part of it. Suffice it to say this work kept father away from home a great deal in the winter. It was a hard life and there was much danger of having feet and often ears frozen. There were blinding snow storms, and dangerous snow slides when the snow began to melt.
Every year men and teams lost their lives in that way, but at home we all did our bit to take care of everything which was no easy job, and was a great tax on our mother’s strength with all else she had to do. However, there were always kindly neighbors or relatives to lend a hand.
When the sledding got too tough there was no possible chance for a man coming home at night or over the weekend in those days of slow transportation. But young as we children were, with our mother we suffered great anxiety for his safety. We never failed in our daily prayers to plead for his return to us. And what a welcome sound was the creaking of the snow under his feet, which told us he was home. Many, many times, long icicles were hanging to his whiskers. Men had to wear a beard on their face in that extreme cold, or they would be frozen.
I remember how father would put three of us behind him on a horse and take us to school and back during a snowstorm. Snow would fall in large flakes so thick you could only see a short distance through them. Very beautiful and quietly the snow would cover the ground, several feet deep, then the wind would come, boosting and piling it into large drifts against buildings and fences. We would walk over the tops of fences under the frozen snow all winter, seldom seeing even the top of a fence post. Once the snow was drifted and frozen, it stayed that way until the spring thaw.
We had to keep a shovel in the house all winter during snowstorms to shovel the drift away from the door and a trail to the barn and woodpile. We had no indoor water supply, such as pipes or faucets, no sink in the kitchen or the luxury of a bathtub. The water buckets would be filled from the well at night and in the morning would have to be set on the hot stove to melt the ice. We never kept fires burning at night, only in times of someone being sick. All day the house was warm and cozy with the best of pinewood to burn, and no matter how the storms raged outside, there was no time to loaf or be idle.
When father was home he took such days to work making a new set of harnesses or mending an old one. He could make beautiful leather harnesses. For heavy team work there was the extremely heavy harness. Brass rivets were used where the greatest strength was needed. Other parts were sewed with what we called buckskin string, and it really was that very thing.
He would take the hide of a fresh killed deer and, strange as it seems, he preferred buckskin to the female of the species. He would scrape off all the hair and treat the skin until it was soft and pliable, almost as silk. It was a big job and took experience and skill. When ready for use some of us would have to take a tight hold on one side of it with both hands and keep the skin straight and smooth while father held onto a part of it and with a keen, sharp knife, cut into strands that could be threaded into a large harness needle. And he sewed parts of the harness with that.
He used an awl to punch the holes for the stitches, having no machinery, but all made by hand. He had a big workbench which he sat astride as he sewed and riveted. And oh how our fingers and shoulders would ache holding that skin while father would cut and when ever he would slack his grip or get to the end, we would reel backwards and often times sit flat on the floor. We would laugh and make a joke about it, not every time, of course, as it really was hard work but just as important as the sewing and fitting.
We kids that were large enough would take turns and mother even would have to change off with us. Sometimes while the skin was large it could be fastened to the wall by the top edge and it was fascinating to watch the long evenly cut strings drop away from the edge of the sharp edged knife. It was not harness only that father made from buckskin. He braided the most wonderful whips which it would be utterly impossible to describe the fine workmanship and durability.
The threads were woven evenly and smoothly, all by hand. The whip was not flat, but round. When it was finished there was a stick of smooth hard wood called the whip handle to which it was attached. Some were made long for the use of four horse teams, while others were short, used only on one span team.
Like the harness, there was the heavy or work kind and the fancy. How priceless even one of them would be now, as a relic of days when the finest work in art and for durability were made by just human hands.
Father would sing and whistle all the while he worked. After 60 years or more, the same songs are being sung again, "Darling Nellie Gray", "Buffalo Gals", "Jeff Davis", "I Long to be Single Again", and many, many others. We children would romp and play around him and he worked. He would not be annoyed with one noise and seldom scolded us. But at night when he was reading, he wanted quiet. We kids used to laugh so hard the way he would keep going shush over and over, not looking up from his papers.
In 1879 or 1880 or near that time, Grandpa Madsen died and soon after a great change came into our lives. Some citizens of our town drifted to Arizona and began writing unbelievable things about climate and advantages of the sunny south. It spread a fever of unrest among many of the families who were some of the afflicted with rheumatism. Grandmother Welker (mother’s mother) suffered with asthma. The long cold winter season was not a pleasant time to prepare for hurrying through the short but beautiful summer to be battling the long cold spell of snow, the springtime of mud when the snow melted, so many were the excited conversations that took place on the sunny side of the one and only store of the town.
And while the blizzard was drifting the constant falling snow in the months of February and March, the letters would arrive from the south land telling of green fields, fruit trees in bloom, five crops of hay per year, etc., etc., and the winter weary citizens began to plan to hitch the teams to the covered wagons, sell or mostly gave away their homes, farms and prosperity, and strike out again to what they hoped to find, a utopia in a promised land. The green fields, the sunshine, the blossoms, the long season to work were the upper most things in their minds.
The cheerful correspondent had not warned them of the disadvantages to encounter nor did they realize the long months of intense heat they would be so unprepared for, housing problems, a different way of doing everything they had ever done nor did they know that from a quiet peaceful God fearing little town of people where a man was a man and every neighbor was just one big family, that just the opposite conditions would face them.
I do not know if having known this would have prevented the exodus, be that as it may, on the day of September 13, 1883. The children and other few necessities were loaded in the wagons along with grain for the teams, bedding, clothing, and quite a supply of food stuff, but leaving a heart rending amount behind, we set out. My brother John, age 12 years, drove the wagon with one team of powerful horses in which mother and the children rode. Father drove a team of four horses. Grandma Welker drove a team and light spring wagon all the way from Bear Lake County Idaho to Safford, Graham County, Arizona, a distance over mountain trails as such they were. In some places the men had to cut trees and break a way through.
After several days of travel, the company would camp to let the teams rest for a day or two. Then the washing and baking was done and the load repacked. All the money that was received for possessions sold was carried in the wagons. Three thousand dollars in gold was put some where among the things. We were never molested although we met some very suspicious characters and traveled through Indian territory and at times Indians on horse back rode along for some distance, filled with curiosity, and had they desired, could have made a tremendous haul in everything.
On that long trip from September 23 to November 5th, there were no serious illnesses or accidents or loss that I remember. God’s protecting care sheltered us and as was the habit at home, our parents knelt in prayer morning and night and gave thanks for this protection and asked for guidance in the great task they had undertaken again as pioneers in a new and strange land."