On Thursday, Jan. 5, Robert Hansen told a fascinating and little-known piece of LDS immigration history that has been largely lost, even by those who are descendants of those immigrants involved.
After The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was established in Utah, the Perpetual Immigration Fund was established to help converts, especially Europeans, to join the body of the saints in Utah. Through this fund, money was loaned to those who couldn’t pay their own way to travel to the headquarters of the church. As those converts became established here in Zion, they then were expected to pay back those loans so that others could take advantage of this program. The well-known handcart program was a part of this effort and except for the fateful year of 1856 was very successful.
Starting in 1860, the church experimented with a new way of helping people travel. In these years, Utah found itself dollar poor but oxen rich. Brigham Young’s answer to this problem was to send ox teams from Utah to where the Transcontinental Railroad ended at the Missouri River. Converted European saints would then make the final 1,000-mile trek to Utah with these oxen teams that carried their belongings, as well as the necessary foodstuffs to complete their journey.
Some of Robert Hansen’s ancestors were part of these “down-and-back wagon trains.” Unluckily, these very ancestors ended up on what unpopularly became known as the “Abner Lowery Cholera Train.” Of the 201 Danes who left by ship in 1866 to travel to Utah, 101 died of cholera along the way. It is suspected that this water-borne intestinal bacteria that, untreated, eventually meant death, was contracted from contaminated water supplies on the ocean voyage from Denmark to New York. From New York, various routes by rail and steamship brought them to a new steamship landing on the Missouri River about 40 miles from Florence, Neb.
The bacteria that had taken hold while sailing over the Atlantic Ocean incubated and finally manifested itself at various locations along the route from Denmark to Salt Lake City, usually ending in burial in whatever caskets could be cobbled together from sheets and old lumber. In order to keep wolves from getting at these remains, a smudge of burned buffalo chips were scattered over the burial plots.
Because of the alcohol and sexual immorality at the already established jump-off landings at the end of the railroad, as well as a shortage of supplies caused by the Civil War still raging, Brigham Young sent church agents to establish their own jump-off point and procure their own supplies. This jumping off point was named Wyoming, Nebraska. The coordination from church headquarters of oxen teams, wagons, food and other supplies sent from Utah and purchased in Nebraska and other places that needed to be on hand when these converts arrived at Wyoming, Neb., is breathtaking in scope, especially considering that the the only communication at that time was by telegraph.
In one line of Hansen’s ancestry, a family consisting of a husband, wife and five children became a husband and one son by the time they arrived in Utah. In other situations, entire families were claimed by the dreaded cholera which is easily taken care of by antibiotics today. In quite an irony, the one surviving son of this particular Hansen family, was called back to Scandinavia as a missionary, leaving his wife and children behind. After serving his mission, he returned to Utah 16 years after being that only child in his family to survive the original trek. On the return from his mission, in a party of 541 travelers, he arrived back home without a single death in the group. What a difference 16 years can make.
If histories such as these are of interest to you, come join us the first Thursday of every month at the LDS Church on the corner of Pinehurst and Utah avenues. A pot luck dinner starts promptly at 6:30 p.m., followed by such presentations as this one given by Robert Hansen. John and Carol Cluff will be our guest presenters on Thursday, Feb. 2. Come join us to explore the beginnings and history of our local Rush Valley.