Life History of Oluf Christian Larsen

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Oluf Christian Larsen


The First White Settlement of Piute County

At the time that Mormon church officials were planning to send settlers to the Piute County area, the land up and down the Sevier River was occupied by small groups of Paiute Indians, for whom the county would be named. Although they relied mainly on seeds, roots, and small animals for their sustenance, even before settlement they had built crude irrigation ditches from small streams to water wheat, corn, melons, amaranth, and indigo. They wore simple clothing: the men a breechcloth and the women a skirt often made of grasses and reeds. Children wore no clothes. The women also wore basketry hats which protected their hair from pitch when they gathered pine nuts. They wove burden baskets, seed beaters, winnowing and parching trays, flat trays, water jugs (ollas), and bowls. The latter two were sealed by placing pine pitch inside and then shaking hot rocks in them to melt and distribute the pitch. The men used bows and arrows, flint knives, and rodent hooks to dig small animals from their holes. They were a docile, peaceful people.

By 1863 it had become obvious to the Mormons that the sparse water supply could not sustain more families and farms in the Sanpete area. Orson Hyde, the LDS church leader assigned to oversee those settlements, began encouraging and even calling, or assigning, people to move on up the Sevier River. According to one settler, Oluf Christian Larsen,

This idea caused a great deal of preaching, Sundays, and discussion other days, some being in favor and others against the idea. A number of men were called from each town to sell their homes to those fortunate enough to be privileged to stay. This call was looked upon by some as for spite and by others as a necessity. Those who were not on the best terms with the Bishop felt they were called for spite. The Call however, was obeyed with very few exceptions.

Oluf Larsen had immigrated to Utah from Denmark, arriving in Utah on 29 September 1862. He and his young wife, Emelia Christine Olsen, first settled in Springtown (now Spring City) among Danish friends, then moved to Ephriam a year later. Having no team or wagon with which to farm, he offered his services as a carpenter. On 10 October 1863, Emelia gave birth to a twelve?pound boy; she died two days later. On 20 October the baby also died in Oluf's arms.

Soon afterwards Orson Hyde called on the grief stricken Larsen. He told Larsen that he had both duty and privilege to take another wife, the sooner the better. "You may go on this way feeling sorry, but as soon as you take upon yourself other obligations your mind grill be more at ease and be for your blessing. This is the will of the Lord for you and you must obey." Larsen admitted in his journal that the "lecture did not agree with my feelings very well .... My thoughts were more to die than to live."

The reluctant widower was not drawn to the "frolic and gaiety" of most of the young women; however, one did catch his eye, Anna Maria Pedersen. "She looked rather puny, if not sickly . . . but the humble appearance and quiet demeanor of the young lady suited me better at that time," he confided in his journal. Without ever speakrng to Anna Maria, Larsen went to her home and asked her parents if they objected to his asking their daughter to marry him. They were willing, and Larsen then went directly to Anna Maria and proposed. She accepted, and they married on 23 December 1863.

"I became more determined to get a farm," Larsen wrote in his journal, "but could see no chance of getting on in these localities, so concluded that if others could out and build new homes, I could also go?but as a volunteer:' He had "breadstuff enough for a year and some wheat to plant" and would rely on his skills as a carpenter to trade for milk, bacon, and other necessities. He began to gather the tools he would need to help build a new home and community south of Sanpete.

The Settlement of Circleville
That same month, William James Alfred, James Tilman Sanford Alfred, James Willard Munson, and four other men from Ephriam explored the upper reaches of the Sevier River for possible settlement sites. When they finally reached Circle Valley, they deemed it too inaccessible, too isolated, and too small to support much of a community. Ironically, William Alfred headed the company that later would settle Circleville, as would most of the men in the exploration party with him.

Mormon pioneers hoped for an early spring in 1864. Just how many were in the group that left on 4 February to make the move south to an unknown destination is not clear, but they included Alma Allred; William James Allred, their assigned leader; two brothers from Sweden?Jens and Niels Anderson; John Beal, Jr.; William Beal; Peter Christensen; Oluf Christian Larsen; James Munson; Harvey Ovitt; Iver Peterson; Soren Peterson Down; and Edward Tolton. Most of the men decided they would go first to find an appropriate site, survey a town and farms, put in crops, and build adequate shelters before going back for their families. But some did take their wives and families with them in February. Eliza Maria Munson and Anna Munson are listed as being part of this first group. Eliza Maria Alfred had married Danish convert, Jens Willard Mongensen (who anglicized his name to James Willard Monson) in November 1863. If she did accompany James to Circleville, she returned to Ephriam to be with family for the birth of her first child, James Willard Munson, Jr., on 16 August 1864. What relationship Anna Munson had to James and Eliza Munson is not clear. A Mrs. Erideson (or Erickson) was supposedly in the group as well. It also is likely that at least one -- and perhaps two -- of Niels Anderson's three wives accompanied him. His first wife apparently had not emigrated with him from Sweden. In Ephriam, Sanpete County, on 15 November 1857, Niels Anderson took a second wife, Ingeberg Paulsen, a Norwegian emigrant who was twelve years his senior. By the time they were called to settle the upper Sevier River the couple already had three small sons, Niels William (age six), Andrew Charles (age four), and James Peter (age two). However, it is more likely that Anderson took his new bride of six months, Anne Christine Jensen from Denmark, rather than Inge and the children. Oluf Larsen's wife, Anna Maria, would not arrive until late that first summer.

With little more than a rough trail to follow, the group deemed it unwise to overload their wagons, so they carried only necessities. "Plows, harrows, spades, shovels, picks and axes were the most necessary tools. Next came seed, wheat, oats, potatoes, together with . . . provisions and bedding," according to Larsen's account.

Several other families had left Sanpete in December, staking claims on Salina Creek and farther south near springs on the west side of the Sevier River. The latter community would become Richfield. Traveling on the east side of the river, William Allred and his company considered one likely spot but determined that they would not be able to divert water from the river in time to put crops in that year. Farther on they passed a place named South Bend (later Alma, and subsequently Monroe) where four or five other families had stopped. The Allred group deemed the creek too small to supply an adequate settlement. They double-hitched their wagons at the south end of the Sevier Valley to pull them over the steep mountain. Oluf Larsen recorded the entry into what would become Piute County:

When on the divide we had a rough, steep canyon to pass down before reaching the bottom of the valley. Here we found a lovely little valley with beautiful green meadows where the Indians were sporting and tumbling in all their glory. They were friendly at that time, which was lucky for us, for we were not prepared to fight the Indians . . . . We had but a few arms in the company. This place was called Marys Vale.

Several in the company spoke the Paiute language. After the Indians told them that farther south they would find a more suitable place to settle, the company pushed on up the river. They made several difficult crossings of the Sevier, cutting a trail through heavy brush and willows and shoveling fill-dirt in gullies so they could get their wagons through. Larsen wrote of the journey:

After a hard drive and a hard struggle we finally reached a large valley in a circular shape surrounded by high mountains, with the river flowing down through the center. This valley we called Circle Valley. Here we camped by the river and went on an exploration trip in different directions. We found the hills abounded in cedar wood and fence posts easily reached with a good supply of timber growing in the mountains for building and fencing. We also found a place where we could very easily tap the Sevier River with a reasonable amount of work.

The company members congratulated themselves on finding a btter place than the others they had passed along the route, they then immediately went to work to build a dam across the river before the spring runoff would swell its flow. In just four days Edwin Fox arrived and began immediately to survey the town and farmland in ten-acre plots. The men drew lots for the land. They divided their time: three days each week to community projects, and three days to clearing, plowing, and planting their own land and building their houses. It appears that people settled on both sides of the river, but most of the fields were on the east side until the following year.

Having made friends with the Paiute band that camped and hunted in the area, the Mormons lent the Indian men guns, and furnished them with ammunition for hunting. The Paiutes later returned from the nearby mountains with quantities of venison, which they divided equally with the settlers, keeping them in fresh meat and "mutually benefitting both parties."

Early in 1864 President Brigham Young asked for more families to go to Circle Valley. Apostle Orson Hyde selected fifty families, who left in March. They camped at the City Creek campsite for two days, the site of today's Junction, with the thought of perhaps building there. Some of the company became discouraged and turned back, however, determined to find a home in a less remote location, while the others decided to continue on to Circle Valley, arriving there on 28 March.

James Munson cut and hauled logs from the mountain up cottonwood Creek and, with the help of T.S. Allred, completed the first log structure in the town -- a meetinghouse. Presiding Elder William Allred, with his counselors Isaac N. Behunin and Christen Jensen, conducted the first church meetings there.

Despite these successes, there were problems. "No matter where we go in the world;' wrote Oluf Larsen, "all is not smiles and sunshine and so it was in Circleville." The wind blew almost constantly across the open prairie, making life uncomfortable "especially at night sitting around the campfire making our bread, frying our meat and cooking our coffee or tea, dust and sand in everything," Larsen lamented.

When they turned water into their new canal and ditches the settlers faced another problem: "The ground was very light and porus with gopher and prairie dog holes. The little animals seemed to contest their priority right to the country." Much of the water disappeared underground in one field, only to surface through holes in another, subsequently carving deep gullies and washing seedlings away. The spring showers that provided moisture to the grain soon stopped and many young plants withered from sun, wind, and late frost. Those few men who had not willingly come to Circle Valley turned into grumblers.

Orson Hyde traveled south in May to visit the new communities along the Sevier River and select leaders for the towns. In most places he stopped long enough to hold a meeting, impart a sermon, and appoint a president. With some levity, Hyde wrote to fellow Mormon apostle George A. Smith and reported his entry into Piute County:

Meeting [at Alma] continued till near 11 o'clock, then supper, next hitched up the horses and started for Mary's Vale by moon light . . . . We traveled over a very good road `till we began to approach a mountain, then it was rocks, cedars, pitch pines and up, up, up! and near the top was the lightest place of all -- probably like traveling to heaven; then down over the rocks among the cedars. Our road led us straight as a ram's horn, yet at day break we arrived at Mary's Vale where I felt like kissing her beautiful face by taking an hours sleep.

This small valley, ten miles long and from two to three miles across, had not been settled when Orson Hyde and his small group of men stopped in the vale along Pine Creek to camp on 21 May. With no more trading caravans traversing the Old Spanish Trail with large herds of horses, the grass grew tall and thick. As Hyde contemplated the abundant feed that carpeted the valley floor, he envisioned it as "a herd ground to accommodate the dry stock of other settlements where grass is not so plentiful, until the other settlements, capable of being enlarged are filled up; then if wisdom and the powers that be shall think best, it may be settled." The Circleville settlers would take advantage of the lush grass later that summer, cutting and hauling it to their town to use as winter feed for their livestock. Less than six months after Hyde's visit, however, smoke would curl from the chimneys of the first two cabins in this merry little vale.

The next morning, on Sunday, 22 May, Hyde's group hit the road at first light. His letter to George A. Smith describes his journey to Gale Valley:

Started up Mary's Vale towards the forks of the sevier. Arrived at the forks at noon -- distance twenty miles, so called. Quite a large tract of grass land there, but I saw none adapted to agriculture. Still there may be on the opposite [west) side which I saw only at a distance. Mostly a hay and herding region. After a two hours sleep, giving the animals time to refresh themselves, hitched up and drove to circle valley, distance eight miles mostly up hill over cobble rocks mixed with small flat ones.

Hyde arrived in Circleville around 4:00 P.m. He toured the area so determine the condition of things temporal and spiritual. That evening he "held a long and interesting meeting.... We gave them the best instructions that circumstances would prompt and the spirit of the Lord inspire. Confirmed WM Allred their President and bles'd them all as long and strong as we could."

Orson Hyde observed that there was "no lack of range," with "plenty of the finest kind of bunchgrass"; but he noted that all the land from Mary's Vale to Circle Valley and farther south was "owned and occupied by the Piede [Paiute] Indians. They are more docile and harmless than the Utahs." On Monday morning, "the chief and some of his principle men" visited the budding community to ask what they were going to give them for their land. Hyde told the Paiute leader:

I do not know that we want your land at all, for I had heard that the frost and wind had killed the wheat, and I came up to see about it. If we can not grow wheat, corn, oats, and potatoes then we should not remain on the land, and consequently should not want to buy it. We will, therefore, wait til the leaves fall, then we can tell whether your land is good to produce or not. If we then want it, we will talk . . . about some considerations. In the mean time it is much better for you and your people to have the Mormons here tho you get nothing for your land, than to have them away; for your people now got many a biscuit that they would not have if the Mormons were not here.

According to Hyde, the chief agreed to all that he told them, and said, "Your talk is good, and right:' Orson Hyde started back soon after his visit with the Paiutes, arriving at Alma (Monroe) around 4:00 P.m. that same afternoon. In the report of his trip, he told George A. Smith, "Your own experience will suggest to you how much private talk we must have had beside our public preaching. Suffice it to say, -- when I came home my tongue was tired, my mind was tired, my body was tired; but after 24 hours of intermittent sleep, I was all right again."

Two weeks after Orson Hyde's visit to Circle Valley, Anne Christine Jensen Anderson gave birth to her first child on 8 June 1864, and she and her husband, Niels, named their son John Albert Anderson. On 24 October 1864 Niels Anderson and the second of his three wives, Ingeberg Paulsen Anderson, welcomed newborn twins George Edward and Sidney Erastus. George lived only five months, however, and was probably the first death to be mourned by the Mormons in Circle Valley. About 3:00 a.m on 16 February 1865 Maria Larsen gave birth to a son, named Oluf for his father.

By fall 1864 most of the other men who had come to the valley had also gathered their families and livestock from Sanpete, and some forty families made up the settlement. "Women and children brought new life into our camp and all helped with the harvest," wrote one man." The majority of the first dwellings were dugouts, but a log meetinghouse as well as several log houses had been completed, with others under construction. Three hundred acres of land were under cultivation. The few malcontents (which sources kindly did not name) prepared to return to their old homes, where they spread their tales of hardship and encouraged others not to move. Oluf Larsen recalled the situation:

As we needed more help, others were called from Sanpete County to join us, and the edict was made that whoever left and went back would be cut off from the church. This gave room for a great deal of fault-finding with authorities by the grumblers. The other class who calculated to stay and build homes were satisfied under all circumstances, worked like beavers and the place soon had the appearance of civilization.

Despite earlier fears, the settlers had good crops. Together, William Alfred and James Munson harvested 300 bushels of wheat, at about fifteen bushels per acre -- which seems to be indicative of the average yield.

The Creation of Piute County
An act of the territorial legislature formed Piute County in January 1865, with Circleville as the county seat. This sliver of a county extended only twenty-three miles north to south, but stretched nearly two hundred miles from east to west. Sevier County lay to the north and Iron County (which extended across the width of the territory, from present-day Colorado to Nevada) to the south. The north and south boundaries were similar to those of today (the small shifts of those lines will be discussed later). To the west, Beaver County shared a boundary with Piute, following the ridge of the Tnshar Range. The eastern part of Piute County spread some 150 miles beyond Grass Valley across the Green and Colorado Rivers to the Colorado border.

In February 1865 Edward Tolton reported the progress of the town of Circleville to the Deseret News in Salt Lake City. In only a year, the settlers had built four miles of canals and ten miles of roads into nearby canyons. One road provided access to good timber and fence poles; the other opened an extremely rough wagon route to Beaver and Parowan. "The spirit of industry and perseverance in the people is manifest," wrote Tolton. "Their actions are kind and benevolent towards one another, and their determinations . . . demonstrate that they will attend to their own business, honor their mission and make this place a desirable location for the Saints."

On 12 June 1865, Tolton wrote again to the Deseret News, reporting that some one hundred families lived in Circleville and that "to date, greatly to their credit, there had not occurred a single case of litigation" -- afact in which he could justly take pride, as he had been elected the local judge. All the families were from Sanpete County and most of them were of Danish origin. They had some 1,500 acres of land under cultivation.

The greatest inconveniences for the community were frequent frost, the lack of any regular mail service, and no local gristmills. The latter required them to travel to Beaver, a distance of twenty-two miles, or to Manti or Ephriam - more than a hundred miles away - to grind their wheat. Edward Tolton wrote that settlers exhibited the "spirit of being up with the times there," demonstrated by an increase in subscriptions to the Deseret News. "The list," he said, "would unquestionably be still larger if they could get their papers oftener than semi-occasionally."

With everyone being occupied with building and improving their town that winter, there were fewer trips taken to the mills in Sanpete County and flour became scarce, even though the settlers had plenty of wheat. One family owned a small coffee mill, which the women passed among themselves from day to day, enabling them to grind enough wheat for a coarse meal and do a little baking. Otherwise they boiled the wheat. A remedy for this situation did not come until the next spring when P.C. Colby and Iver Peterson decided that the wind in the valley could certainly be used for something and proposed building a windmill for grinding the wheat. As everyone had a stake in its success, all the locals lent a hand in finding and preparing the millstones, cutting the timber, and erecting the frame. Oluf Larsen said he was "reasonably certain this was the first windmill-gristmill built in Utah." How long or how well it operated is not clear, but in later years the grain in Piute County would be ground more conventionally in water-powered mills.

Marysvale Settlement
Meanwhile, a second settlement had been taking root in Piute County. Many stories relate to the origin of the name of the town Marysvale, which would eventually occupy the pleasant vale that many travelers had used as a campsite. Some say Spanish explorers named it after the Virgin Mary, others believe that Catholic French or Spanish miners gave it such a name. However, miners -- French, Catholic, or otherwise -- would not come to seek their fortunes until at least 1868, nine years after the Parley P. Pratt expedition. Some people claim that Brigham Young named it Mary's Vale in honor of one of his wives when he and his entourage camped there on his 1851 journey through the area; but that also was nearly two years after the Pratt expedition. His wife, Mary Ann Angel, was with him at the time; but, since he never named anything else after any member of his family, it is unlikely that he named this place after a wife. Neither is it likely that she lost a veil there -- which is another story associated with the town's name.

It seems clear that the name originated with Parley P Pratt's exuberant spontaneity when he named it Merry Vale. How the name "Merry Vale," which appears in both Parley P Pratt's account and Robert Lang Campbell's handwritten journal of the expedition, became "Mary's Vale" when it appeared in print in the Deseret News is a mystery. But there is little doubt that that is how the town got its name. And most accounts thereafter called it Mary's Vale, Mary Vale, or Marysvale.

On Monday, 24 October 1864, forty-six-year-old James Stevens, Andrew Jackson Allred and his wife Elizabeth Warren with four children, and George Downard and his wife, Sarah Ann, with six children pulled into the merry vale -- not to camp and move on, but to stay and farm An early winter storm accompanied them into the valley, and building a snug shelter against the cold became the first order of business. By Saturday night they had completed the first house in Marysvale -- constructed with sturdy logs. The group soon built a second dwelling and settled in for the duration of the winter.

Four more families soon followed from Sanpete County, including Francis (Frank) Eaton and Marcia Frances Bessey (De Besse) King. Unlike other pioneers of this area, the Kings did not come to Utah as Mormons. Their unusual story bears noting, particularly since three generations of the King family would make their homes in Marysvale.

Francis Eaton King was born in South Paris, Oxford County, Maine, on 22 December 1833. Marcia Frances Bessey was born five years later in the nearby town of Bethel on 1 August 1838. They married on 27 September 1855 in Reading, Massachusetts, when he was twenty-two and she was seventeen. Two years and one baby later (a daughter, Louisa, was born 22 June 1856), the young family was on the trail to California, apparently traveling alone much of the way. Marcia had a twenty-two-year-old brother, George Anthony Bessey, who had left for California somewhat earlier. They hoped to meet him in the Salt Lake Valley and continue on to the coast together. Meanwhile, the brother had met a pretty young Mormon woman named Susan Matilda Lane, married her, and joined the LDS church.

In late July 1857 near South Pass, Wyoming, the Kings caught up with a wagon train from Arkansas headed by Alexander Fancher. Believing they would be safer from Indians with a larger group, they decided to travel with them. The Kings traveled with the Arkansas company to Salt Lake City, covering a distance of about 250 miles in two weeks. They found the company congenial and "not boisterous or in anyway uncivil. You would hardly hear an oath from anyone," Frank King later remembered.

When they entered Emigration Canyon, Marcia had mountain fever. The Fancher party had decided to camp at the top of the canyon, so King took his family into the Salt Lake Valley, where Marcia could get rest and care at her brother's home. As soon as her health permitted them to travel again, they planned to catch up with the Fancher party in southern Utah before they started across the desert.

By the time that Marcia was well enough to travel, however, members of the Fancher train had met their demise at the hands of Mormons and Indians in the massacre at Mountain Meadows. Frank joined the Mormon church on 5 November 1857, believing his baptism would remove any taint of their association with the ill-fated Fancher party and secure them all safe passage on to southern California.

The Kings remained in the valley three months, starting south on 4 December. When they arrived in Beaver, the new bishop, Philo T. Farnsworth, advised Frank to stay there for the winter "as the Indians, after the massacre, were more than usually hostile." Apparently Farnsworth understood that the Indians were not the only ones hostile, for, "notwithstanding the friendliness of the Bishop" or Frank's newly acquired church membership, he "was twice ordered to move on" by some of the more fanatical Mormons in the community who apparently knew of the family's earlier association with the Fancher wagon train.

The Kings started for California again on 15 May 1858, reaching Cedar City on 17 May. "I had not unhitched my team;" Frank remembered, "when John M. Higbee, and Elias Morris, second counselor to Isaac C. Haight, ordered me to leave before the sun rose the next morning." Frank "regarded the order as ominous, and returned to Central Utah." He had additional concerns, for Marcia was expecting their second child. The previous January, Marcia's brother, Wayne Bessey, and his wife, Susan, had settled in Manti in Sanpete County. The Kings decided to join them there, rather than risk going on to California alone. Marcia was baptized into the Mormon church that summer; their two-year-old daughter Louisa died in September. On 9 November 1858 Marcia gave birth to a son whom they named Frank Anthony.

The 1860 census indicates that Frank and Marcia King had moved seven miles north to Ephriam. Frank King was listed as a shoemaker with one child, but Marcia was pregnant again. The shoemaker's children came often: by 1886 Marcia had given birth thirteen times; four of their children died in childhood. When the family arrived in Marysvale in 1864, the couple had two children: Frank (age five) and Aurilla (age two). Another son, William C., was born that November. Other families moved to Marysvale in the spring of 1865, among them were those of William Lamb and Samuel Allen.

Soon the townsite was laid out and twenty-four lots had been surveyed on the north side of Pine Creek about one-half mile from its junction with the Sevier River. A reported seven families had settled in Marysvale by mid-September, although the women and children had been taken temporarily to Circleville for protection against Indians while the men harvested their crops and built a fort. Some of the crops had been damaged by an early frost.

At the close of 1865 sixteen families lived in the Marysvale area. Newcomers included Andrus Bertelsen (with at least one son, John D.), Andrew Hendrickson, a Mr. Peterson, and several others. They planted fields and began building permanent homes -- twelve of them on new lots in town. Frank C. Murray began work on a sturdy rock house for his family. Miles Durkee and Luther Washburn took up land north of the cemetery hill but down closer to the river. The Durkees would later keep a camp house on their lot for travelers. Jerad Taylor and his wife Elsie May Birdsall lived in town, as did Robert Jackson. Reuben Dewitt homesteaded land in the upper valley and spent the winter with the Paiutes in Pine Canyon.

Even as the labor of building Marysvale and Circleville progressed, the Ute warrior Black Hawk was launching a campaign to rid the land of white settlers. The upheaval of the Black Hawk War would bring tragedy and sorrow to Piute County.

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