GIDEON ELIAS OLSEN (1844-1919)
written by Mary Jean Garrison
Gideon Elias Olsen (christened Gudi Elias) was born 8 May 1844 in Budolphi Parish,
Aalborg, Aalborg, Denmark, the 7th child and 5th son of Jens Olsen and Mane Dorthea
Berg. Two older brothers (Christopher and Waldemar) had died as infants so that
Gideon had two older sisters and two older living brothersóBarbara, Christopher, Julia,
and Waldemar. (It was the custom to give a child the same name as a previous child who
had died, thus the reason for the two Christophers and two Waldemars.) Six years after
Gideon was born, another brother, Johannes, was born. He lived for only a few months.
Aalborg was a large city located in the northern part of Denmark about 20 miles
inland from the Kattegat Sea on the Lim Fiord. Aalborg lies on the 57th parallel which is
just y south of Seward, Alaska. In spite of its extreme northern location, Aalborg (and
Denmark in general) has a mild, damp climate, being warmed by the winds from the
northern sea. Aalborg is part of the northern flat plains area of Denmark which was once
a part of the sea bottom. The region rose above the water when the weight of ancient
glaciers was removed by melting.
When Gideon was born in 1844, Denmark was still under the rule of King Christian
VIII. The king died in 1848 and was succeeded by King Frederik VII who renounced
absolute rule and formed a representative form of government in June 1849. Under the
new form of government, Lutheranism was no longer the ruling state church, and
Denmark was opened up to missionaries from other religions. Missionaries from the
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were sent into Denmark for the first time in
1850. Gideon was only six years old when his mother and sister Barbara were baptized in
November 1850 with the third group of convert baptisms in Aalborg. Christopher, Julia,
and Waldemar were baptized a short time later. Gideon was baptized on 6 July 1853. His
father, Jens, never joined the Church.
We can only speculate as to the nature of Gidcon's early childhood. His father was a
master tailor. His Norwegian grandparents had died before his father left Norway; his
Danish grandfather had died in 1829; and although his Danish grandmother did not die
until 1851 at the age of 79, she had been a patient in a hospital for the aged since 1840.
He did have an uncle, Ditlev Mathias Berg, his mother's brother. He must have had a
close relationship with his uncle. Years later he made a record of family names and dates
and designated his uncle Ditlev Mathias and aunt Anna Margrete as his grandparents.
They must have treated him in such a way as to endear them in his mind, seeming to him
to be what grandparents are to most of us. Perhaps there were the sweet treats and the
kindly jostlings that children fondly remember as part of their association with
"grandmother and grandfather."
Gideon's mother seems to have been a faithful member of the Church having seen to
it that all her children were baptized. The missionaries visited in their home and were
called in to administer to the children when they became ill. One missionary, Christian
John Larsen, was impressed with Barbara who later became his wife.
The year 1853 was an eventful one for Gideon who was just a lad, only 9 years old.
Christopher had emigrated to Zion early in the year. Gideon was a newly baptized
member of the Mormon Church having been baptized in July 1853. Sometime in late
summer Barbara went to Copenhagen where she married Christian Larsen. Then in
August Gideon's uncle Ditlev died and one month later, on 7 September 1853, his mother
died. The family was broken. There were only the father, Jens, and sister Julia now age
fifteen, and Gideon, age nine. Eleven year old Waldemar had gone to be with Barbara
and her new husband sometime after their mother died. (Waldemar died of cholera on
board the steamer "St. Louis" just outside of St. Louis, Missouri on 13 March 1854 while
emigrating to Zion with Barbara and her husband.)
With the dispersion of the family there were apparently no longer any ties for Jens in
Denmark. He gathered his belongings and two children and returned to Norway in late
1853 to be with what few relatives he had still living there.
Apparently Gideon did not remember that he had been baptized in Denmark, or
perhaps he wished to rededicate himself to the Church, for he was rebaptized in Norway
in 1860. Gideon recorded that he was baptized in 1859; the Fredrickshald, Norway LDS
Branch Records indicate that he was baptized on 4 November 1860. (It was not unusual
for early members of the Church to be baptized several times.) He must have possessed a
certain strength of character at that young age of 16 to be baptized when his father had
shown no apparent interest in the Church. Perhaps some correspondence with Christ-
opher and Barbara in America helped to keep Gideon's interest alive. His sister Julia
seems to have lost any interest in the Church. She became disassociated from it some
In April 1863, at the age of eighteen, Gideon left Fredrickshald, Norway, leaving his
father and sister Julia and other relatives on the seashore. He traveled alone anticipating a
reunion with his brother Christopher and sister Barbara in Utah. Gideon sailed from
Liverpool, England on the ship Antarctic on 24 May 1863. They traveled in a strong wind
which made the journey rough. He described the accommodations as being very poor. It
took seven weeks to reach New York; they arrived there on 10 July 1863. One can
imagine the excitement that must have existed in that company of saints as they reached
the shores of America. But their journey was just beginning. Many new and interesting
experiences still awaited Gideon as he made his way to Utah.
Gideon describes seeing many carloads of beef being brought in to New York to be
slaughtered for the Civil War soldiers. He made his journey from New York to Florence,
Nebraska on the same rail cars that the cattle had been hauled in. From Florence,
Nebraska he drove eight head of oxen and one wagon loaded with merchandise for the
saints in Utah. He left in early August, and two months later, in early October 1863, he
finally arrived in Salt Lake City.
Christopher met Gideon in Salt Lake City. Imagine the joy and excitement that must
have surrounded their reunion. They had not seen each other for ten years. Gideon had
been only eight years old when Christopher left home. Gideon, now eighteen, had been
traveling for six months under very poor accommodations - rough sailing, a train ride in
cattle cars, two months in a covered wagon over hot, dusty, wet, and muddy trails. He
must have-been very tired and weary. What a comfortable and secure feeling it must have
been to know that Christopher was there waiting for him to take him to his home.
Gideon spent the winter with Christopher in Hyrum, Utah. Cache Valley was still a
primitive area at that time. Wellsville had been settled in July 1856, but it was not until
1859 that it had become a permanent settlement. Hyrum was settled as a result of the
"Cache Valley fever" boom of 1860 which brought hundreds of new families into the
valley looking for new homes and better locations. Early settlers were attracted to Cache
Valley because there was plenty of water that could be brought out of the canyons for
Although the Indians were not particularly hostile, they were still a bit troublesome,
so that the pioneers generally lived fort style. Hyrum had been settled in this manner with
small homes lining both sides of what is now main street. The two rows of homes faced
each other with stockyards, corrals, and gardens in the rear of the houses. The homes
were closed together and connected by a high tight fence with a gate at either end of the
street. Christopher's house was in the northeast corner, third from the east end of the
row. By 1864 the pioneers moved their homes out onto larger plots and farms.
In the spring of 1864 Gideon, who was now a priest in the Aaronic Priesthood, was
called by Bishop Liljenquist to go to the Missouri River with eight head of oxen and a
wagon to assist in bringing the "poor saints" to Utah. There were eleven people who
came back with him, and he felt that he had been greatly blessed in his travels there and
back. He was able to return to Hyrum with all of his oxen. It was while he was on this
trip that he first met Johanna Carlson Danielson who was traveling from Sweden with her
sister Anna. Gideon stayed with Christopher for another winter. He was endowed in the
Endowment House on 20 January 1865 at the call of Bishop Lilenquist.
Sometime during the late fall or early winter of 1864 Johanna moved to Logan where
Gideon met her again. They were married on 4 March 1865. In the summer of 1865
Gideon went to work for Bishop David James in Paradise. He and Johanna did not as yet
have a home so they spent their first summer living in a covered wagon. At this time
Paradise was located in the extreme south end of the valley at the mouth of East Canyon
on the East Fork of the Little Bear River. It had first been settled in 1860 and had been
named Paradise at the suggestion of Elder Ezra T. Benson who was impressed with the
natural beauty of the area. The settlers there had also built their homes in fort style as a
protection against the Indians who lived in the mountains above their settlement
Gideon and Johanna worked hard that summer so that by fall they were able to buy a
small home in the fort from a Mr. Van Leuvan who was moving away. It was a one-
roomed house with a dirt roof, but they had worked hard to acquire it and they were very
happy with it. It was better than some of the houses for it had real glass windows. It was
so difficult to buy glass that many of the people used greased paper to let in the light.
One year later their first child. Franklin Christopher, was born on 14 September
The settlers soon found that they had chosen a poor location for their settlement.
They were too close to the mountains and had settled on a well-used Indian trail. The
Indians used the canyons, trailing east into Wyoming and south into Ogden and Salt
Lake. The Indians camped near the streams, and people were in constant fear of being
attacked. The fort had to be guarded night and day, and the men could not go into the
field or to the canyons for wood except in groups. They always carried their guns with
Some of the Indians were very friendly while others tried to steal the livestock. The
diverse attitudes of the Indians kept down the threat of an Indian war. At one time some
horses were stolen in Hyrum. The settlers blamed the Indians and held Chief Sagwich as
hostage until the horses were returned. He was put in the Paradise Meeting House and a
heavy guard was kept around him night and day. The Chief sent some of his best men to
catch those who had taken the horses. The horses were soon returned and Chief Sagwich
Because of the Black Hawk War in Southern Utah, the Indians in Northern Utah
became more hostile. In 1868, under the advise of Apostle Benson, the fifty families
living in Paradise moved their homes three miles to the north and away from the
mountains to the present location of Paradise. (Old Paradise was resettled in 1880 and
was named Avon by Mrs. Orson Smith in honor of the Avon of Shakespeare.) Gideon and
Johanna located one block north and one block west of the public square where they
lived the rest of their lives.
The moving of the settlement made it necessary to extend the canal so they could
have irrigation water. They dug wells for culinary water. It was a busy time and Gideon,
who was a hard worker, and who liked to help others, must have done his full share of
the community work.
Indians continued to visit the settlers and beg for food, but there was no serious
trouble. One day while Gideon was in the fields digging potatoes an Indian squaw came
with her sack and began to fill it with potatoes. She wouldn't stop until he gave her a little
push, which made her angry so that she hurried away muttering to herself. The Indians
were generally friendly by this time, and at times stored their belongings with the settlers
during the winter until they returned to claim them in the spring.
Matches were very scarce, so each family tried to bank their fires at night with the
hope of having enough coals to start their fires again the next morning. If the fires had
gone out they would go to some more fortunate neighbor and beg a few hot coals. At one
such time. Will Thomas, who was just a lad, went to get a start of fire. As he neared his
home again he stopped to rest, setting the hot pan on some straw which soon began to
burn. Some Indians saw him and put out the blaze which easily could have spread
because of lack of water and could have destroyed everything.
Gideon and Johanna were scaled in the Endowment House on 15 February 1869,
and on 19 December 1869 their second son, Gideon Elias, was born.
Farming was particularly difficult in those early years. There was the problem of
getting enough water to the crops which was solved with the use of the canals they had
dug which moved irrigation water to where it was needed. A more serious problem was
the constant threat of the grasshopper plagues. Year after year crop yields were low as the
grasshoppers moved from one farm to another eating as they went. The years 1869-71
were particularly bad years. The grasshoppers laid large amounts of eggs in the fall, and
when the warm spring weather came millions of grasshoppers hatched out. As soon as
they could move around they began eating the young green shoots of grain as fast as it
came out of the ground. As a result, less than fifty percent of the crop was saved. The
grasshoppers would have eaten the whole crop, but as they matured and were able to fly
they moved on to other parts.
The methods for fighting the grasshoppers were not very effective. "The settlers used
sticks and sacks to drive them into ditches to drown or be buried; straw was placed on
concentrations of them and burned; gunny sack traps were laid; pits were dug and
covered over; farmers and housewives even attempted to knock them out with boards and
brooms. Whole fields were burned to protect others from the hungry horde, but to no
avail." (The History of a Valley, p. 152.) As a result of the grasshopper plagues, food was
very scarce. However, the settlers divided their goods with each other so that all were
able to survive. They learned, finally, that their one line of defense against the
grasshoppers was to plant fall wheat which could be harvested early in the spring before
the grasshoppers could destroy their crops. The last recorded plague occurred in 1877.
There seemed to have been minimal difficulty after that time.
Two more children were born to Gideon and Johanna - Julia Maria on 12 February
1872 and Charles James on 11 October 1874. Johanna wrote that six children were born.
One, a boy (unnamed and no birth date given), died two hours after he was born There is
no record of the sixth child which she mentioned.
Gideon's brother Christopher died in 1873 leaving two wives with small children. On
12 June 1876 Gideon married one of his brother's widows, Caroline S. Jensen Olsen, as a
plural wife. They were married in the Endowment House in Salt Lake City. She had one
little girl named Elizabeth, who was called Libbie. Caroline owned a home in Hyrum and
some livestock. They sold the home and she moved to Paradise to live. Gideon was very
kind to both of his wives and was a good stepfather to Libbie. He saw to it that all their
needs were taken care of; each had their own home, orchard, cows, chickens and garden
Gideon, Johanna, and Caroline lived at a time people now know very little about.
From the days of the Prophet Joseph Smith, L.D.S. people were taught that it was the will
of the .Lord for them to live in polygamy. Men, especially presiding officers, were
encouraged to have more than one wife and the women were asked to accept it. Gideon
had faith that it was right and his wife Johanna must have felt that same desire to do right
for she gave her consent. Emily, the daughter of Gideon and Caroline, heard her mother
say that she knew the principle was given by the Lord, but the weaknesses of the people
made it hard to live as it should be lived. Gideon stayed one week with one wife and
family and the next week with the other one. The children complicated things, and it was
not all sunshine, yet these three people and their families had many happy times together.
Gideon and Caroline had four children - Walter Julius born on 22 February 1878,
Orson Mariner born .30 August 1880, Jesse born 13 April 1883, and Emily born 6
December 1885. Walter Julius died 19 January 1882 just one month before his fourth
birthday. On 9 June 1884, Samuel Oldham was sustained as bishop of the Paradise Ward
with Gideon and Alma 0. Jackson as his counselors. Gideon served in this capacity for
When the Logan temple was constructed the saints were asked to contribute money
and work to build it, and were promised that if they did so they would have great
blessings and their children would never cry for bread. Gideon helped with the building
of the temple and told his children to always remember that promise. The temple was
completed and dedicated in 1884. Gideon attended the temple often and performed
temple ordinances for many of his dead ancestors.
Gideon tried to observe the Sabbath Day and would not travel on that day unless it
was a necessity. One Sunday he needed to take his wife Caroline to Hyrum to care for her
sick mother. They started out, and when about one-third of the way there the wagon
wheel broke. Gideon looked at it and said, " I knew something would go wrong if we
went on Sunday."
Gideon, Johanna, and Caroline, and their families lived relatively peacefully as
polygamist families for nearly ten years. Their peaceful existence was disrupted when the
Edmunds Act of March 22, 1882 more exactly defined polygamy and set fines and
punishments for those who were practicing it. (Congress upheld the law and invoked
sterner measures with the passage of the Edmunds Tucker Act of March 1887.)
Polygamists of both sexes were declared ineligible to hold public office. They were
excluded from jury duty and prohibited from voting. When some Mormons successfully
demanded the right to vote, their ballots were thrown out.
The situation became very serious. Anti-polygamy prosecutions began in 1882 and
increased in intensity in 1885 when the Edmunds Law was upheld as constitutional. The
Church set up a policy of resistance and advised polygamist men to avoid arrest and
conviction by going "underground." U.S. Marshalls and Deputy Marshalls were sent
throughout all the Mormon settlements to hunt out the men who lived with their plural
wives. Marshalls Whetstone and Corey filled that assignment m southern Cache Valley
during those years. There were usually some apostate and non-members who were,
willing to show these officers where the men lived. Many of the men were arrested and
sent to jail.
In order to keep free, Gideon spent much of his time in the canyons cutting timber to
sell. There was a natural basin, or small valley, in the tops of the mountains of East
Canyon called Sagwich's Basin. The Indian Chief Sagwich had used this basin as a hiding
place for the livestock that were stolen from the early settlers. There was a natural spring
flowing through the mountains near the mouth of the basin which made it an ideal
camping spot. It was there that Gideon, and possibly other men who were trying to avoid
the marshalls, made his camp, staying for weeks at a time, Soren Hansen, his daughter
Julia's husband, worked in the canyon cutting timber, so he kept Gideon supplied with
food and clean clothes. After living this way for some time Gideon went to Oregon for a
short period of time to work in a sawmill for Spencer Harwood who said that he (Gideon)
was the best foreman he had ever had.
President Wilford Woodruff issued the Manifesto in September 1890 relieving
Church members from any further obligation to sustain the principle of plural marriage
and declaring his intention to abide by the law of the land. He advised all Latter-day
Saints to do likewise. The Manifesto was approved as the position of the Church by the
general conference of October 1890. From that time on there was to be no more plural
marriage in the Church.
Gideon was able to return home where he continued to care for the spiritual and
economic needs of his two families. The families homesteaded a tract of land near East
Canyon. When all the boys were grown Gideon sold his farm and bought ten acres of
land in the North Field. That supplied feed for their cows which gave enough milk for
them to sell.
When Gideon was a young man he was very straight, tall, and stately; but he became
very bent at old age from a lifetime of hard work. He worked hard even in his declining
years, but always enjoyed filling his responsibilities which he performed to the best of his
ability. He was a patient, considerate man, being extremely kind to old and young folks,
as well as to animals. He never forgot to raise his hat to ladies and he tried to teach his
grandsons to do the same thing. He talked quite broken English and so used his native
language whenever he had an opportunity to do so.
Gideon had a fine team of horses. After he stopped doing farm work and logging in
the canyons he began freighting. Logan was the nearest railroad station so he hauled
freight for the store in Paradise. Sometimes he went into other stores to get merchandise
for them, which gave him a chance to make many friends. One day a friend was walking
with him on the street in Logan and he was greeted so many times with "Hello, Gideon"
that his friend commented, "Is there anyone in Logan who doesn't know you?"
Gideon would drive his team and wagon to Bear Lake, sometimes taking fruit from
his own orchard to sell along the way. He would bring fish from the lake back with him
and peddle it around the towns. The fish was salted so that it couldn't spoil.
Gideon was released from the bishopric in 1902 and his son Gideon was sustained in
his place. At a testimonial held in his honor he was given a beautiful leather rocker for a
keepsake. He had been a ward teacher for many years before being in the Bishopric, and
was sustained again to fill that assignment, which he did until his death.
In June 1910, the wife of his son Gideon died, leaving five small children. Gideon and
Johanna moved in with their son and his small children to care for them. Although they
were well past sixty, they made a very good home for Gideon, Jr.'s little family. They
continued to care for their grandchildren until their son remarried in October 1911.
Gideon's daughter Emily writes:
"I have talked to many people who knew [my father]. They all had something good to
say and that combined well with my memory and love for him. Many have said he was a
hard worker. He was given credit for doing more work in a day than anyone else. He had
a great love for animals and was kind to them. He never whipped his horses. He was
honest to the extreme. What he said could be depended upon and he would not
knowingly cheat anyone out of a penny. He was tolerant and forgiving, and big-hearted,
and would sacrifice to help others. He had great appreciation for even small things that
were done for him. One lady said he had the patience of Job. His sister-in-law. Harriet
Danielson, said he was a wonderful man to have for a friend. He was a prayerful man and
tried to live by the inspiration of the Lord. He had great faith to heal the sick and many
were healed through his administration.
"William M. Bickmore said that while he was in the Bishopric he was o6ed by the
people of the Ward. He also told of meeting a man while he was on a mission who had
been a U.S. Marshal and had been to Paradise many times to hunt for polygamists. He
gave the idea that they liked Gideon Olsen and tried not to find him."
A great granddaughter, Christine Hale, wrote the following:
"How special it would be to sit with Grandfather Olsen and hear of his early pioneer
experiences and feel of the great faith and strength he would have to offer. It is at times
like these, when we contemplate the characters of our forebearers, that our 'hearts turn to
our fathers' and we long to know them and be one with them. Although we arc separated
by the veil of death, the ties can still be strongóthat is, if we do our part. Inasmuch as
families are eternal, what better way to prepare for eternal life than to bind these family
ties with generations gone before."
Gideon died on 1 November 1919 and was buried in the Paradise Cemetery on 5
November 1919. (Three adult children, Julia Maria, Franklin Christopher, and Gideon
Elias had preceded him in death.) The following obituary was published in the Deseret
The funeral of Gideon E. Olsen Sr. was held in the Paradise Meeting House
November 5th. A large number of relatives and friends-were present to show their last
respects of one of the most sturdy and faithful pioneers of this section. The Ward Choir
furnished appropriate music and Mrs. George W. Lemon sang a solo. The opening prayer
was by Elias Larsen of Logan and the closing prayer by Jacob N. Larsen of Preston. The
following spoke of the faithfulness and loyalty of the desceased: William Humphreys,
John P. James, Samuel Oldham, Orson Smith, Jacob Larsen, John Larsen and Bishop
Mr. Olsen was 75 years of age. He was born in Denmark and embraced the Gospel in
his youth. He served faithfully in the Bishopric for 18 years. .
Four children have preceded him and two wives and four children remain to mourn
his departure. One of his sons came from Canada to attend the funeral.