Oluf Christian Larsen

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From the Old Country to the New Century

Did Oluf Speak English?

Over the years of gathering family history information on Oluf Christian Larsen a couple of issues have been on my mind.  First and foremost, I have wondered what could have caused several of Oluf Christian Larsen's first generation children to fall into inactivity from the LDS church, especially considering that they knew how much Oluf and his various wives had given to be members of the LDS church and to immigrate to Utah.

Speaking English:  Recently I was speaking with my second cousin Jim Larsen about family history.  Jim is the grandson of Oluf and Johannah (Hannah) Christensen Larsen.  Prior to Oluf's death in November of 1929, Jim's father Alma had moved his family in with Oluf and Hannah Larsen.  After Oluf's death, Alma Larsen would purchase Hannah's home from her and build a room on the rear of the house where Grandma Larsen would live the remainder of her life.  Jim told me that Grandma Larsen spoke very little English.  Her native language was Danish, and she only learned enough English to communicate the essentials of life.  One can only suspect that Oluf's three other wives also spoke limited English.

Jim also said he clearly remembers his dad, Alma, saying that his father, Oluf, only spoke broken English.  Oluf's native language was Norwegian.  Alma would say that communicating with his father was difficult because of the language barrier.  He would often speak with Oluf in his own broken Norwegian.  This inability for parents and children to clearly communicate with each other would set the stage for changing attitudes by Oluf's children.

Entrenched From the Old Country:  Oluf's journals clearly indicate that he was very proud of his Scandinavian heritage.  His total and unyielding acceptance of Mormonism is likewise well established in these writings.  Oluf would bring to Utah his traditions of hard physical labor as well as a total sacrifice to gospel principles.  For example, in mid life, Oluf willingly leaves his family and returns to Norway to serve a second LDS mission.  This would come at great sacrifice for Oluf's family.  He also willingly served a prison sentence for his practice of plural marriage, something not easy for his family, but he considered it a badge of honor.

After the death of his second wife, Anna Marie Pedersen Larsen in September of 1916, Oluf would sell their home which was located on Princeton Avenue in Salt Lake City and disburse the funds to each of his children born to Anna Marie.  Oluf then moved to his fourth wife, Johannah (Hannah) Christensen Larsen's home located on Wilson Avenue in Salt Lake City.  Living in the Wilson Avenue home were many of Oluf's young children born to him and Hannah Christensen Larsen.  These children were not used to daily life with their father.  Oluf insisted on a strict lifestyle for these children.  For example, when the family prayed, the prayer could last tens of minutes, to the displeasure of the children.  Eventually there were signs of rebellious children due to the strict rules set by Oluf.

Only one of Oluf's children received advanced education.  This was reserved for Oluf's oldest living son, Oluf Larsen (who will be referred to as Oluf Jr. to avoid confusion) which seems to be a tradition carried over from the old country.  Oluf Jr. was sent to the Brigham Young Academy in Provo to receive a higher education.  This education would serve Oluf Jr. well throughout his lifetime.  Oluf Jr. was a successful rancher in Randolph, Utah.  He apparently was able to amass a good deal of money-something rare for that time in Utah.  Oluf Jr.'s wealth, according to some accounts, was the basis for some jealousy among Oluf's other children. 

One might wonder why Oluf did not provide advanced education for his other children.  Certainly money had to be a factor as Oluf had a large family with many children to support.  Another factor was probably the concept of gathering to "Zion."  Oluf willingly left Norway to gather in Zion (Utah) where he (and his families) would await the second coming of the Savior.  After all, these were the last days and only the few, select, chosen individuals would answer the Savior's call.  The second coming was expected to come shortly so one could reason that there would be no need for higher education.  The faithful would be called to the Lord's work and thus needed a spiritual education, not man's work which would require a secular education.  Thus, almost all of Oluf's children enter into agrarian jobs to make a living-something common for the day and certainly respectable but finances would generally be tight for them.  Many of Oluf's younger children would work in labor intensive jobs or they would attempt to create small businesses.  In general, economic wealth evaded Oluf's first generation children.

The New Century with Changing Views:  Oluf's first child, Orson was born on October 10, 1863, in Ephraim, Utah.  Orson died in Oluf's arms at 10 days old.  Oluf's last child, Margaret Eleanor Larsen Spinney was born 38 years later on September 28, 1901 in Salt Lake City. Many of Oluf's older children lived their entire lives in central Utah.  Oluf's younger children mainly grew up in Salt Lake City.

With the arrival of the transcontinental Railroad in Utah in 1869, things would change quickly for the Utah Mormons.  No longer would Mormon converts walk the American plains to Zion.  With new supplies arriving in Zion via the railroad, also came new ideas and viewpoints. 

On October 3, 1901, the Wright Brothers would fly their glider at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.  In 1914, Henry Ford introduced mass produced automobiles in America.  Transportation was no longer limited to walking or horseback.

World War I began in 1914.  Oluf's grandson Lawrence Erick Larsen, serving in the Army, would be killed in France in 1918.  Oluf's son Alma would also serve in the U.S. Army during World War I.  In general, the interaction of rural Utah Mormon boys with other soldiers exposed the Mormon boys to the "ways of the world."

By the 1920s, motion pictures have become readily available, introducing new social norms of clothing fashion and use of props like cigarettes and alcoholic beverages-all challenging the social norms of Mormonism.  Several of Oluf's own children would find themselves following these new social norms of American life, particularly those who moved to California and those who married spouses outside of the LDS faith.  It should be noted that many LDS members used tobacco products during this era.  Tobacco use was never condoned by the church and users were often ostracized in the community, but it was a fact, tobacco use was prevalent. 

Conclusion:  Times had changed and some of Oluf's younger children would reject the teachings and beliefs of their father.  Like many LDS families of this era, this would not be an outward rebellion; it would simply be rejecting the long established Mormon traditions and acceptance of the new world's more progressive standards. 

It should be remembered that Oluf, during his lifetime, crossed the Atlantic Ocean three times and he crossed the continental United States three times.  He lived on the western wild frontier of Utah among the Indians and the likes.  Oluf hardly lived a sheltered life, it was just a life entrenched in the old world.

This story is ever evolving but it is clear today that the vast majority of Oluf's posterity has one way or another found themselves in the LDS faith.  (There are clearly some who have lost their LDS connection for one reason or another.)  This does not mean that Oluf's posterity has had easy lives or have not had challenges living the LDS doctrine, it simply a recognition that there is a strong and seemingly unbreakable tie of Mormonism from Oluf to the vast majority of his grandchildren of today's generation. 

By Lewis F. Larsen, 10 August 2008

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