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By Larry D. Christiansen
Peter Christensen was born in Denmark in 1844 and joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and emigrated from his native land in 1861 and resided in Utah and Idaho. His time with the Mormons in their new Zion would prove troublesome whereby he became an outcast conceived and as an enemy. His opposition to his Church soon led him to become an important element in the anti-Mormon combination that focused heavily upon doing away with polygamy in Utah. Eventually his own plural wives and unlawful cohabitation caused his supporters to distance themselves from him. The story has to be pieced together from bits and pieces in church, school, and government records, newspaper references and remembrances of others with one close family source giving an inside view. The family source was Esther S. Cronholm, the youngest child of Peter with his first wife Sophia, responding to a series of written questions concerning her older brother Parley, her father and his family. She prefaced her response to these queries by writing, "If I wrote the Ďsagaí of this Christensen family it would fill a good sized book and very exciting one too." Her rendering was a condensed account rather than a detailed exciting tale, but it provides much of the known information of the early years of the chronicle and gives the only view from within the family. What follows, to a great extent, will be tied together or hinged upon many of the particulars revealed from this family source and, where possible, confirmed and amplified by other facts.
To develop the story, some of this Christensen family joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and were part of the Vendsyssel Conference in northern Jutland. In 1861 seven in the extended Christensen family decided to join an LDS emigration company and journeyed to Mormon Utah. The family was headed by sixty-year-old matriarch Margretha with three of her children (Karen Johanne, age 36, Jens Christian, age 28 and Peter, age 17) and probably three grandchildren ranging in age from two to eight years of age. They joined a large Scandinavian contingent numbering around 565 emigrants leaving their homeland, and taking ships to England and then by train to Liverpool, their place of departure. Here the Scandinavian members joined the full company which came to number about 955, the largest company of Mormons to board one ship to that time. Their ocean-going ship was the Monarch of the Sea, the largest sailing ship used by the Latter-day Saints; it was relatively new built in 1854 at 223 feet in length with three decks and three masts. The ship departed Liverpool on May 16, 1861, and arrived at New York on June 16, 1861. In the United States the company traveled by railroad and steamboat to Florence, Nebraska. Here they were met by the first teams and wagons sent from Utah to assist the immigrants finish their overland journey west. The large company split into small groups and arrived in Salt Lake City between September 12 and 22, 1861.
Daughter Esther revealed little about her father before his meeting her mother in Weston, Idaho, and starting a family. Instead she focused on her mother Sophia whose maiden name was also the very common Danish name of Christensen. Sophia Christensen was born in Sjaelland, Denmark on March 10, 1845, with a slight question on the year which census records show as 1844. Sophiaís parents, Christian and Anna Christensen joined the Mormons in Denmark and with their family of four children (Sophia, Lousia, Anna and Lars) emigrated from their homeland bound for Utah in 1862. In a large LDS company they sailed the Atlantic Ocean and journeyed across the plains by oxen and covered wagons with the people walking most of the way. Their passage came during the American Civil War with no other details. They eventually established a home in Cache Valley at Weston, thought at the time to be in Utah, but later discovered to be in southern Idaho. The daughter had no details on her father Peterís emigration from Denmark to Utah, but thought it was close to the time frame of her motherís. According to the daughter, her mother met her father at Weston, and she thought they were married when her mother was eighteen years of age but had no date. Actually Sophia was at that stated age when she was migrating from her Danish homeland to Utah in 1862 and Weston was not founded until 1865. There exists the possibility that Peter and Sophia were married earlier than at Weston due to the number of children her daughter lists for her mother, but if indeed at Weston, the marriage would have occurred between 1865 and 1867. Sophiaís younger sister Louisa married Mads A. Petersen in 1863 and they would eventually move to Newton, Utah. The youngest daughter's account contains details such as her mother was five months older than her father, but also had some errors or distortions such as "My parents were married in the Temple in Salt Lake City." There were no Mormon temples at the time, so if the highest LDS marriage ordinance was involved, it had to be in the Endowment House at Salt Lake City or elsewhere.
The earliest reference to Peter at Weston comes in 1867 when he was mentioned as being among the new settlers. In June of 1868 the Mormon Church called on its established settlements to furnish teams to go to the present terminus of the transcontinental railroad at Laramie, Wyoming, to bring the LDS immigrants into Utah. Weston furnished a wagon with four yoke of oxen with Peter Christensen called as teamster with others assigned to make the trip. While these men were away, men remaining in Weston were charged to take care of farming the lands of those making the trip or furnishing the oxen. Peter and Sophia were married by this time.
In 1870 when the federal census was taken at Weston among those enrolled were Sophia's parent as Christian and Anna S. Christensen at ages 57 and 56 respectively with none of their children still at home. Christian possessed a little property but he was listed as a farm laborer instead of working for himself. In the same town his oldest daughter Sophiaís family was enumerated on August 1, 1870 as follows:
Christensen, Peter - age 26 - Head of household and a Farmer - born in Denmark.
" , Sophia - age 27 Ė Wife and Keeping house - born in Denmark.
" , John A. - age 3 - Son at home - born in Utah [actually Idaho].
" , Parley - age 1 - Son at home - born in Utah [actually Idaho].
In addition the census listed Peter with Real Estate valued at $300 and with Personal Property valued at $300. Furthermore, the census recorded the place as "Weston, in the County of Cache, Territory of Utah" which was in error as explained above. It appears they were now primarily engaged in farming and probably active in the Mormon Church. But times were tough in the new community with advances and set backs. Early in 1872 the men built the Bear River bridge near Weston before the spring farm work began, an improvement sorely needed. Then in short order hordes of grasshoppers and crickets descended and destroyed all the field crops in the settlement except for three five acres farms which had been planted late and the grain had not sprouted and broken through the soil. These three menís, Matthew P. Fifield, Jens C. Nielsen and Peter Christensen, tardiness had proven beneficial to them, but they encountered difficulties when the man with the nearest threshing outfit would not move his outfit to Weston for such a small amount of grain. This forced them to cut their grain and thresh out by hand enough to produce what flour they wanted, and then they stacked the remaining grain in the heads and waited for the next threshing the following year.
The hard times forced about half of the people in Weston to move away by the fall of 1872, with some returning in 1873. The situation brought to the forefront the matter of property rights regarding squattersí rights on the public domain in the Mormon area of Utah and southern Idaho. For several reasons, including conflict between the Mormon Church and the federal government, there was no legally established way to obtain private property in land. From the beginning in 1847 the Church gave out the land to the settlers and it controlled the land policy. A settler at Weston had a recent experience and tussle over property rights, he had settled in nearby Richmond and was given some land which he worked until he decided to try farming near Bear Lake. He moved but soon returned to Richmond and found his former farm had been given to another which probably brought about his relocation to the new settlement of Weston. Land ownership was primarily based on a version of squattersí rights as interpreted by Church authorities and customs. With no land titles, land was gained by permission of the local bishop, and any selling or trading of this church-given land was governed by the bishop, acting as trustee-in-trust for the Church following the plan set up by Brigham Young. While at Weston a story was told by way of the Matthew Fifield family of an incident between their three daughters and Peter Christensen. It seems that the girls did not like Peter because he was always telling tales on them getting them in trouble with their parents, and to the girls it appeared that Peter enjoyed having them punished by their father. To get even the girls decided on a foray into his watermelon patch with the loss of some melons. Peter responded with another accusation against the girls for stealing melons. At first the girls denied taking the melons, but under close examination one broke down and confessed. Peter now pressed that these scamps were tormenting him, and demanded his fellow townsman promptly whip them instead of spoiling them. The father of the girls thought something was needed but believed punishment in anger was not always the best, so he didnít respond immediately. Frequently Peter asked what the girlsí father was going to do about the situation only to be told it was coming. Around two weeks after the melons had been feasted upon, the father made his move. He had his daughters get three old diapers which were tied to willow sticks like flags, and then he had the girls get an old metal pan along with another short stick. Then the girls were instructed to carry the diapers on the sticks above their heads like a truce flag and one of the girls to beat on the tin pan as they walked around Peterís house three times while repeating over and over, "We wonít do it any more!" The person relating the tale concluded the account claiming it was better than a whipping for it satisfied all except the tearful girls as everyone laughed except them.
An old settler of Weston in writing its history stated that in 1875 Peter Christensen went into the freighting business by making "an eight mixed, mule and horse teams" to pull two wagons used in carrying freight from Corinne, Utah to Montana. Confirmation of this came in an interview of Peterís son Parley as a third party candidate for the U.S. presidency in 1920, by a periodical magazine. In the account Parley told of his father being a freighter driving wagons of freight from the railway terminus in Utah up cross-country into Idaho and Montana and even the Dakokas. While Peter Christensen went into the freighting business, the considerable extension into the Dakotas may have been due to experiencing difficulties in selling the freighted goods. Whatever, with his subsequent other known activities indicate he very likely made only a few trips.
More germane, Peterís daughter stated that her father took a plural wife named Mary who was only fourteen years old, and children were born to the plural wife while at Weston. Confirmation of Esther's statements (both on age when married and time period) can be seen on the Newton 1880 census data for Mary O. Christensen (Peter's plural wife). The age of her first child placed her marriage shortly after the 1870 census at Weston. Specific details come from family genealogy record of Peterís marriage in July of 1871. However, there remains a question as to her maiden name with some concern as to whether the initial "O" was a hint in regard to her surname or she had two given names. She was referred to a few times in the sources checked but only the 1880 census gave her name as "Mary O. Christensen. Otherwise, only a few tidbits were known about her such as she was a recent immigrant from Norway, she married while very young and she died while still young. We donít know anything of Maryís personal life, such as how and when she met Peter Christensen. Probably even more important, we donít know the actual living arrangement of Mary as a plural wife, whether living with the first wife and family or in separate quarters at Weston or initially at the next known home town of Newton.
Peter and plural wife Maryís first child was born at Weston in October of 1872, and the second child in 1875, probably still at Weston. Peter Christensenís name first appears in the Newton School District records on April 15, 1876, when he paid for two of his sonsí school tuition fees for the third quarter in the spring of the year. In the first few entries in the school records the surname was spelled Christiansen but was correctly spelled thereafter. For Peterís first two years in Newton the school district had an assessor evaluate every head of family net worth to assess a school tax. Peter Christensenís assessment for 1876 went as follows:
Dollar value of land claims - $100
No. of cattle -17 - valued at $155
No. of horses & mules - 8 - valued at $350
No. of vehicles - 2 - valued at $150
Value of machinery - $75
Value of other property - $20
Giving a total value of property of $950 Ė the highest in Newton with John Jenkins next with $924, which made Peterís school tax at one and a half per cent - $14.25. He had no sheep, swine, clocks or watches.
For the following year of 1877 his assessed evaluation was as follows:
Land claims & improvements - $100
No. of cattle - 12 - valued at $125
No. of horses & mules - - horses 4 valued at $160; mules 8 valued at $250
No. of vehicles - 3 - valued at $190
Value of machinery - $75
Value of other property - $10
For total assessment of $910 - with his school tax at one per cent at $9.10. He was the fifth highest in Newton behind John Jenkins at $1300; Peter Benson at $1270; John Griffin at $945 and Hyrum Curtis at $915. For the year 1878 the Newton school district stopped making their assessments but used the county and territorial assessments and charged one per cent of the property value. Peter Christensenís school tax was $5.20 being the fourth highest behind Peter Benson at $6.50; Bishop Wm. F. Rigby at $6.50; and John Jenkins at $6.05.
For a newcomer he was doing pretty well compared with individuals who went back to Newtonís founding in 1869, even considering the multiple problems associated with establishing and maintaining a storage reservoir for irrigating the land. There exist two sketch maps of Newton residences, one for 1877 and one for 1885. The 1877 map places the first residency of the Christensens in Newton in the northeast corner of town. While the 1885 has their location at the extreme southwestern edge of town, west of Andrew Petersenís place and just before the slough depression. All known evidence has the Christensens in the southwestern location by at least 1878, where they secured several lots in and next to the last block being occupied in town. The lots were obtained by assignment from the bishop as well as some irrigated farming land nearby. By this time the family by Sophia consisted of three sons and one daughter, while in the second family by Mary there were two daughters, one son and another child on the way. However once again we donít know the precise location of the second family, very likely some of the period in Newton all could have resided in a single home. This was the situation with most of the polygamous families in Newton. The family source thought possibly her older siblings may have been baptized into the Mormon faith but knew she and the brother and sister closest to her in age were not baptized.
Newton had been surveyed prior to settlement by the Cache County surveyor in April of 1869 and in the townsite each ten acre block was subdivided into eight lots except for a central public square block reserved for public facilities. The land adjacent to the community that could be irrigated by water from the Clarkston Creek was surveyed and assigned to the settlers with the area north of town laid out in five-acre lots while the area south of town was composed of ten-acre fields with a small area adjacent to the Bear River where the creek entered a number of five-acre meadow land plots. The areas directly east and west of the town were not surveyed and deemed to be of little value except for grazing of animals since they couldnít be irrigated. All of this was done by the Mormons in lieu of or because the federal governmentís failure to extinguish Indian claims, have the land surveyed and establish a land office to take charge of land development. Belatedly on March 9, 1869, a Land Office opened in Salt Lake City and a way opened to secure official land titles where federal surveys were done. There had been a partial federal land survey in 1856 that took in a small portion of Cache County, and the remainder was not surveyed until 1875 (and it was approved and registered in 1877). Congress also realized that due to settlement in Mormon Utah had long preceded the availability of obtaining legal land titles that provisions must be made for the people already possessing some of the land (basically land squatters on the public domain), giving them priority to get title to lands they were farming. This came via the pre-emption laws, and together with the Homestead Act were the ways by which official land titles could be obtained with a town site act to get title to town lots. The Homestead Act provided for land free of charge with a five year commitment to live on the land and build a house on the land. The pre-emption acts allowed people to buy the land at $1.25 per acre. Both required a trip to Salt Lake to the Land office, and in areas such as Cache Valley with few non-Mormons and the old church system working well, perhaps most saw no need to change things since time and expenses were involved. Eventually the president of the Cache Valley Stake urged the people of Newton to get legal titles to all their land.
In 1875 and 1876 several Newton land holders entered into agreements whereby one man acted as agent or pre-emptor to secure a certain quantity of land for the group and then subdivide it in accordance with the older boundary lines with the cost of the land prorated and paying the pre-emptor for his time and expenses. These agreements were recorded in the Newton Ward church records and one example would be the W. F. Rigby Pre-emptor of NE 1/4 Sec. 18 T13NR1W Ė containing 160 acres; claimed to be subdivided as follows: [name and acres] W. F. Rigby, 65; John Griffin, 20; Amos Clark, 10; James Christensen, 10; H. Curtis, 5; Mortin Larsen, 5; Jens Hansen, 5; J. N. Beck, 5; J. N. Hansen, 5; J. H. Barker, 2; Peter Benson, 3; H. Sorensen, 3. Cost- $1.25 x 160 acres= $200.00 to land office; pre-emption expense and WFR time and expense $20.00 and another $20.00 miscellaneous expenses connected with proving up patent and recording deed, etc. Using this procedure, three quarters sections (160 acres) and two for 80 acres were filed on, starting the legal actions for land titles. Some land owners were involved in more than one of these arrangement (Amos Clarke was associated with four of the five pre-emption with five acres each on two and ten acres each the other two; the largest acres in any was sixty-five by Bishop Rigby). However, many Newton landowners could not afford the expense involved to obtain legal title to land they had been tilling for years. So the community formed a "Land Committee" that secured a loan from a lady in Logan and the process continued. There were some minor land disputes but no cases of one man trying to claim land that another man had been farming.
Then came an ominous turn when a few began talking of filing on the unclaimed land with the supposed intent of keeping the land for themselves. This upset many as they became suspicious of these menís intentions. In a heated discussion of the issue in a church meeting in May of 1877, one man wanted to know if these quarters sections were "going to be owned for the eternal inheritance by the men who pre-empted them or whether they were for the benefit of the Public?" In late 1877 or early 1878 it became known that Peter Christensen and others were interested in filing for quarter sections of land in the heretofore unclaimed area around Newton. Apparently Bishop William F. Rigby talked to Peter concerning these ideas, first discouraging him from filing for land immediately west of town because it had been considered reserved for new settlers, and second, if he filed for 160 acres to only keep a portion of the land for himself and allow the bishop to distribute the remaining acreage. This was to no avail and the priesthood Teachersí quorum was assigned to pay a call on brother Peter. They made the effort and a few days later on Tuesday February 4, 1878, they reported to their quorum on their attempted visit. The two adult brethren were James Christensen and A. P. Welchman, and they reported back that Peter refused to receive James Christensen as a teacher or into his home. Instead, Peter clearly stated his intentions which according to the report had him declaring "he did not intend to pay tithing or fast offering, in fact did not claim a membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." The Teachers quorum (with only adult members at this time) decided "that Peter Christensen had to all intents and purposes, cut himself from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Especially as his course, for years back confirms the position he now openly, of his own agency, takes." The second Sunday following this at church services on February 17th Bishop Rigby spoke to the congregation directly saying of Peter Christensen that is was "not becoming of him at a Latter-day Saint to trying to jump land that was reserved for new settlers."
These were, as viewed by the Church, troublesome stirrings with people aware that land could be acquired apart from Church stewardship along with reports that some farming on the dry lands had been successful. This had the makings of a land rush for the unclaimed areas. With this appearance and Peterís decision, Bishop Rigby made another speech on the prime subject in a church meeting with meeting minutes recording that Bishop Rigby:
"Warned those who have acted in unrighteous independence concerning
land matters, that though they may now make a dollar, it they persist they
will lose their salvation, for no sooner do they exhibit full title papers to their
claims, which have been unjustly (acquired), than their fellowship with the
Saints will be called in question."
An impasse or standoff had been reached which words or threats hadnít changed. Bishop Rigby tried another maneuver by dispatching one of his sons and another fellow to the land Peter was claiming (Peter had no papers confirming his oral claim) to plow some of this land. The fellows began plowing and Peter observed their work and went and talked to them stating they could go ahead and plow his land, but emphasized the land belonged to him and he would take all crops grown upon his land. Over a year later the case against Peter Christensen was put before the High Council in the Cache Valley Stake trying him for his membership. In these church courts the defendant was requested to present his case, but Peter did not and he was excommunicated from the Church "for apostacy [sic apostasy]." The high council decision was read in the Newton Ward on May 30, 1880, and as part of that trial President William B. Preston, a councilor in the stake presidency and one of the most noted church leaders in the area and the person who named Newton, expressed a wish that the people would follow the old survey lines instead of the new survey. Peterís daughter Esther expressed the Christensen family view: "My father was excommunicated from the Church because he got or took a section of land from the Government; (which was his right as an American citizen). You see Brigham Young allowed a man to own only 40 acres." More than one Newton old-timer interviewed for the centennial history of Newton, stated: Peter Christensen was "not excommunicated over land policy but because of adultery." In light of subsequent events an argumentative scenario could be made to show why the local belief, but it is beyond the scope of this article.
Whatever, the gate was now open and there was little to bar the opening and a land rush ensued and land ownership in Newton changed drastically. Peter Christensenís threat to file for and hold 160 acres for himself caused others to see the writing on the wall and three Newton men formally filed six months before Peter filed his claim with two of these receiving their patent before him as shown below. Just in the immediate area adjacent to the initial land dispute in T13NR1W (Township 13 North Range 1 West of Salt Lake Meridian) the following individual claims were filed.
Date of Filing - Name - Location [acreage] - Recíd
May 6, 1879 Wm. F. Rigby NE ľ Sec. 18 -160 acres Jan. 22, 1880
May 6, 1879 Wm. H. Griffin SW ľ Sec. 18 - 159 " Jan. 5, 1884
May 6, 1879 John Jenkins SE ľ Sec. 19 - 160 " Jan. 23, 1880
Nov. 25, 1879 Peter Christensen NW ľ Sec. 19 - 160.18 acres Sept. 23, 1881
Nov. 5, 1881 Wm. H. Griffin NW ľ Sec 18 - 160 acres Jan. 5, 1884
There were several others filing in other areas including Judge M. D. Hammond (SW ľ Sec. 17) for 160 acres ; Peter Benson (Ĺ of NE Sec. 19) for 80 acres; Jonas N. Beck (Ĺ of SW ľ Sec. 19) for 80 acres; Hans Sorensen (N Ĺ Sec. 17) for 320 acres. Hans Sorensen filed on the same day for two grants of 160 acres with probably a plural wife filing for one. This quickly became a common practice in Newton in which the plural wife was acting as proxy for her husband, and before long the government stopped the practice when it saw the abuse. But much more noteworthy was the date for Peter Christensenís filing, and unless there was some hitch or question on his initial filing that caused an amended filing later on November 25, 1879, then for a year and a half he had maintained his position by a gigantic bluff based upon what he had intentions of doing and physical presence as detailed by the dated entries in the Cache County Plat records. A few years later on July 5, 1884, Peter Christensen filed on another quarter section directly west of the first land claimed and he received his patent late in 1886. The last 160 acres had the road to the Newton rock quarry and the southwestern corner of the land extended to Bear River.
According to daughter Esther there was an aftermath to her fatherís excommunication as she wrote: "My fatherís family was the only one in Newton who had a father that was excommunicated from the church. That was taken as a shame, a sin, and a disgraceóand the news was spread thru all of the town and we were out-casts. The children would hear us discussed in their homes and they took a sordid delight in calling us names and picking fights on the school grounds. We were not welcome in but very few homes in Newton." On a personal note she added, "So my brother Lawrence and I suffered the shame and misery as apostate children. . . . By the time we reached the sixth grade things began to simmer down." The sixth grade date would have been in 1897 or 1898, but the daughter recalled some of the teachers in Newton that were good and treated her brother and her very well. She concluded on this topic with "My dear mother was liked and respected by every one there or where ever she lived."
In 1880 Peter Christensen was anointed to enumerate the census in Newton, Utah, and recorded the following information on June 28 and 29, 1880, at the very end of his Newton census enrollment.
[Census key: the two numerals at the far left, first , "Dwelling houses numbered in order of visitation.," and second, "Families numbered in order of visitation." In place of birth - F (Father) M (Mother)].
47 47 Christensen, Peter - age 36 [Head of household] - Farmer Ė born Denmark
" , Sophia M. - age 36 Wife - Keeping house Ė born Denmark
" , John A. - age 13 Son - Works on farm - born Utah
" , Parley Peter - age 11 Son - Herding - born Utah
" , Arthur E. - age 5 Son - - - born Utah
" , Eleanore B. - age 3 Daug. - - - born Utah
" , Peter Albert - age 7mo. Son - - - born Utah
Anderson, J. H. - age 20 Servant - farm Laborer - born Denmark
48 48 Christensen, Mary O. - age 25 [blank] - Keeping house - born in Norway - [last entry on page]
" , Anna Chathrine - age 8 Dau. - born in Utah - F. Denmark, M. Norway [next page]
" , Alford A. - age 7 Son - born in Utah - F. Denmark, M. Norway
" , Mary Ann - age 4 Dau. - born in Utah - F. Denmark, M. Norway
" , Eugenia C. - age 2 Dau. - born in Utah - F. Denmark, M. Norway
"I certify that I have this day completed the enumeration of the district assigned to me, and that the returns have been duly and truthfully made in accordance with law and my oath of office.
Dated Newton June 29th 1880 Peter Christensen
More likely shrewdly rather than "truthfully" the enumerator placed his two families at the end of his census roll with a key omission. When he finished listing his family by wife Sophia with the servant farm laborer, there was one line remaining on his enrollment sheet. On this line he placed the name of Mary O. Christensen but left blank the relationship to head of family column and had her "keeping house" with her four children listed on the following page of the census roll. Much later several census summaries on Newtonís 1880 census have interpreted the census data that Mary O. was a single mother with four children, and it was probably how Peter wanted it interpreted at the time. If he had placed Mary as a "wife" as he did with every other plural wife in Newton on his census report, possibly his quickly gained reputation and special status with the Liberal (Anti-Mormon) party would not have developed and he would not have been appointed to positions to strike at or check the polygamous Mormons in Newton. He continued living with two wives and bearing more children, three more with Sophia and two by Mary O., while ironically being the crusading Liberalsí point man on the spot in Newton in the 1880s.
Mrs. Cronholm drew a sketch map of her father's lots in Newton. Peter possessed some lots west of Andrew Petersenís place, and on the western side of the same block there was an area planted in alfalfa with a barn to the south, both bordering next to the undeveloped street right-away ("road on slope") which was seldom used except by the property owner due to the terrain adjacent to the slough depression. Her description continued: "The barn was very large two story usually filled with sweet smelling alfalfa (we called it lucerne). The south side of the barn was a horse & cow stableósix stalls for horses & three for cows plus a calf pen & a hog pen and a chicken coop. There was plenty room for all of that." West of this sloping road was the house of the first family facing the sloping road that ran north and south. The house had a porch on the south end, and it was denoted the slough ran behind or west of the house. Directly south of the house was a well built granary. In the early 1890s with the establishment of Cache Junction, a county road was established to the railroad center along the west side of this block with the house. No mentioned was made for the house for the second wife and her family which the 1880 census placed in separate dwellings close to one another. His daughterís account relates that the home on the land west of town did not come until after Peter was divorced by first wife Sophia, but she was probably wrong on this. Peterís physical improvement and economic status appear to be in good standing, but his relationship with his wives and children was never good. His daughterís written description of him had him as "a hard cruel man . . . [which] I have no affection or respect for" him. "He was a brutal man, and very harsh with his sons and his wife!!! It was not unusual for all of them to be beaten by him when ever he felt like it & that was much too often! His second wife fought back and his oldest son by his second wife, he fought back. He made cowards of his other sons."
Still, life went on with first wife Sophia bearing three more childrenóFlorence Matilda born January 12, 1881, Lawrence Adolphus born July 12, 1884 and Esther Sophia born November 16, 1886. His plural wife Mary O. bore two more children after the 1880 census listingósons George and Chester. Thus Peterís wives gave birth to nineteen childrenóSophia thirteen and Mary six. The oldest Christensen children can be tracked in the Newton School district from 1875 through 1886. John finished his schooling at Newton in 1885 and Parley the following year. According to their youngest sister, "Shortly before I was born brothers John and Parley left Newton with patches on their trousers and holes in their shoes, they went to Salt Lake City to attend the University." Parley, a large man at six foot four inches, took the normal course while John chose a business course, but more important they didnít want anything more to do with their father, his farm or his money. According to this source, plural wife Mary gave birth to six children (three sons and three daughters) and she died "quite young" leaving six children. Family genealogy list the children and ages at the time of their motherís death as follows: Anna Catherine (14), Alford (Alfred) (12), Mary Ann (9), Eugenia (7), George (5) and Chester (3). The last child Chester Christensen had been born December 12, 1883, and was the sixth child in twelve years of marriage for mother Mary. Two years and two month later Mary would die in February of 1886 in her thirtieth year with half of her life spent as a plural wife bearing and taking care of her children. Since she had been living in Newton for a decade, the Newton Cemetery records were searched with no results, causing some speculative wondering if possibly Peter buried her on his farm west of Newton because the local cemetery functioned under the Newton Ward and Peter may not have wanted this church involved in any way with a funeral or burial grounds. Fortunately, this wondering concerning Maryís burial site was resolved by additional research for Maryís mother, and perhaps at this point a few missing pieces of the puzzle should be briefly explained in regard to Maryís family and their coming to Utah from Norway.
Let us start the story in Norway when a Norwegian convert Anthon L. Skanchy (with various spellings) joined the Mormon Church and turned into a missionary in his home land and labored several years. By the spring of 1868, he borrowed enough means to join an LDS immigration company bound for Utah. But before leaving, according to his own written words, he "married at this time, Anna Christina Krogero . . . who was a widow with four children." The six outbound migrants (missionary, widow and her four children) were listed on the company records under the surname of "Schanche" [Skanchy], the wife and mother first as Christine (age 34) being six years the senior of her new husband Anton (age 28) a "ropemaker" from the Christina conference along with a daughter named for her mother at age fourteen, another daughter cited as "Marlin O." but more correctly should have been Maren O. (age 10) and the last two children at ages seven and six. The correction in the given name of the second daughter was due to transcription of handwritten records most likely in Norwegian with Maren being the Norwegian equivalent to the English Mary, and her age of ten fitting the puzzle. They traveled to England and departed from Liverpool on the ship John Bright bound for New York arriving July 14, 1868. Their large company of several hundred went by railroad to end-of-track terminus at Laramie, Wyoming. Here they were met by teams and wagons from Utah to assist them in the final six hundred miles to Salt Lake City. They lived in a tent for about eleven days before an opportunity came to travel to Cache Valley where Mr. Skanchy had some Norwegian friends and by October they were in Logan. For some unknown reason the new Skanchy family was missed on the 1870 census, but some made it on the 1880 census at Logan. Although Anthon Skanchy was actually back in Norway on a mission, he was recorded as in Logan with three wives and many children under one roof. His first wife Christine was enumerated along with an eighteen-year-old son from a previous marriage (still enrolled under the same surname as his mother) and an eleven-year-old son by Skanchy. Within the next dozen years the daughter Maren on the 1868 emigration company listing and her mother Christine would be buried in the Logan cemetery in the Skanchy family plots. It was discovered that her last marriage produced four children with three dying at or near birth and the last at age eleven not long after the 1880 census. A search of the Logan City Cemetery records found these childrenís burial sites, and one more for "Maren Christensen" born in Norway in 1856 and died at Logan on February 24, 1886. Six years later her mother would also be buried in this family plot with her maiden name of Jacobsen. To bring in a level of complexity to the puzzle some family researchers maintain that Christineís first married name should be Otterbeck instead of what her 1868 missionary husband stated it as Krogero.
This "Maren" or Mary was Peterís plural wife buried, using her Norwegian given name, and her death record cited she died on February 24, 1886 with burial the next day. If there was a period of sickness preceding her death, it is likely she was taken to Logan for medical or family care. It could be speculated what part the physical abuse Mary experienced contributed to her early untimely death especially as it probably increased as she fought back in resisting her husbandís abuse. Whether it did or not, it certainly didnít do her any good. At the death of second wife Mary, her children went to live with first wife Sophia, and, according to daughter Esther, "my mother had to take care of them along with her large brood." Daughter Esther after telling of her mother (the first wife) caring for Maryís children after her death and then the first wife finally divorcing Peter, she closed her remarks on the plural family by writing: "After the divorce he had a little house built on his place. For a while his three daughters (by his second wife) lived with him, but they found it unbearable and left him to seek their fortunes elsewhere (and that would fill a book)." A small but significant part of that suggested book was the sad case of Maryís oldest daughter Kate which will be covered afterwards.
Peter Christensen seemed busier with other matters than with family relationships. John Jenkins credited him with being "one of the earliest successful dry farmers on a large scale in Newton." He was better known in Newton to be active in the anti-Mormon movement and suspected of supplying information on the Newton polygamists to the marshals. When the much hated Utah Commission (a product of anti-polygamy laws), devised to strip the Mormons of political power and voting rights by the Congress, made its appointment for deputy register in 1886 and 1887 and for judges of elections the same years, Peter Christensen had the positions for Newton. Newton qualified for a post office in 1871 and Bishop Rigby received the official appointment as postmaster, but he was only nominally involved in doing the work. Basically the post office was handled at the co-op store with the bishop appointing the person in charge in the standard method of doing things in small Mormon communities. But in the mid-1880s with the government attitude and crusade against the Mormons, this would not continue. Peter Christensen offered to house the post office and serve as postmaster which move was very unpopular in Newton. Far to the north in Idaho where former Bishop Rigby was primarily residing, he received a letter from Bishop Hans Funk of Newton with some bad news. In a journal entry Rigby wrote of Funkís letter saying: "All was quiet now, but prospects were that Pete Christensen was likely to be postmaster and then he feared trouble would come." The "quiet" had reference to the lawís efforts against the Mormon polygamists. Peter Christensen was appointed postmaster at Newton on July 13, 1886. To most of Newtonís residents it was not good having an apostate handling their mail, envisioning much mischief and troubles due to it. Furthermore, he built a small enclosure on his porch where he kept the post office and it was in the extreme southwestern part of town near the slough. The people grumbled about the post office from its keeper, structure and location, and some tried to offset this somewhat by giving their outgoing letters directly to the mail carrier as he was coming into or going out of town. Someone complained of this and this practice was halted. Daughter Esther recalled: "Yes, my father did have a Post Office. I have a faint memory of it. It was located on the south end of the lean-to on the back of the house. There was a porch on the south end of the house that led to the Post Office. I think the P.O. was moved to the business part of town when my parents were divorced. I think I was about six years old." Estherís recall was correct as the post office was moved back to the center of town when James Jensen became postmaster on April 24, 1893.
Whether by luck or devious planning by the anti-Mormon powers that gained control of Utahís legal system, Peter Christensen seemed to have some extra connection to juries and trials. An example of this came in December of 1887 in business before Judge Henderson in the First District Court with a host of unlawful cohabitation charges against Mormons as summarized by a newspaper account:
"In the First District Court, at Ogden, yesterday, the trial of James Christensen, of
Newton, Cache County, was proceeded with. He was accused of unlawful cohabitation.
"Peter Christensen testified that the general repute among the neighbors and friends
of the defendant was that the latter had lived with his two wives during the time named
in the indictment.
"Deputy Marshal Whetstone stated that he has arrested the defendant at Newton some
time ago, and that the defendant had spoken as follows on that occasion: "I know who gave
me away, and if you had not come just when you did I would have got out of your way,í
and other language to that effect.
"Assistant District Attorney Hiles made a short speech for the prosecution, and the
case was then submitted after the charge of the Court. The jury retired and shortly after
returned with a verdict of guilty."
What the newspaper didnít state was that Peter Christensen was getting even with a perceived enemy, the Teacher quorum member who tried to visit with Peter back in 1878. James Christensen and others in Newton believed that the person who informed on his fellow Newtonite was none other than Peter Christensen, who went those fifty extra miles traveling to Ogden to get in his last whacks as a witness against the defendant. Moreover, Peter was living a double life appearing as a Mormon apostate who was rewarded with positions such as postmaster, deputy registrar and election judges in Newton plus frequently a juror in trials involving Mormons and plural wives and darling of the anti-Mormon Liberal Party and the Utah Commission while, at least during part of the time, maintaining two plural wives and families. Normally his situation should have eliminated him from most, if not all, of these positions and disenfranchised him. The hypocrisy didnít stop his actions in regard to informing on polygamists or testifying against them. Almost everyone in Newton and many throughout Cache Valley knew of Peterís situation, including possibly some of those making the appointments to key positions to lessen the Mormonís political influence.
In late June of 1889 the Utah Commission again appointed Peter Christensen as one of the three election judges in Newton with Peter designated as presiding, and in February of 1890 the same commission appointed him a deputy registrar. At the same time during 1888 into 1890 he was involved in one way or another in some legal cases against polygamist Mormons with the most noteworthy being the Brainard case in which Peter was on the jury hearing the case tried in late December of 1889 with the decision finalized January 1, 1890. The case was quite celebrated for some unusual activities by the bailiff and others and ended in hung jury. By April of 1890 Peter was again on a jury in a district court case held in Ogden trying Mormons when his luck turned sour and the legal mechanism against Mormon plural marriages cases had a serious set-back with a charge that trial juror Peter Christensen had a morals problem. He was arrested on a warrant issued by Commissioner A. G. Norrell of Salt Lake on the charge of adultery, and for some unexplained reason the situation was quickly transferred to Salt Lake the night of his arrest. At Salt Lake an examination of Christensenís case was held before Commissioner Norrell with the defendant represented by a lawyer from Ogden. The complaining witness identified as a "Miss Peterson" could well have had a connection with Newton as Peterís first wifeís closest neighbor was a Petersen family and her sister had married another Petersen man from Newton. This witness testified that Peter Christensen at Newton had lived with a woman "named Anderson" "in a state of fornication from April, 1887 until October, 1887" and the Anderson woman had subsequently born a child by him. During the six months in 1887 when he lived with the "young woman who was not his wife. . . . at the same time he had a wife living," he also had given the woman money and a picture of himself. It was duly noted that Peter had "sat on juries which convicted Mormons of unlawful cohabitation" with the last one being in April when he was arrested. Christensenís defense introduced no evidence or counter testimony; still, the Commissioner of the Utah Commission thought the corroborating evidence was "very slight." Peter was placed under $500 bond while the grand jury decided his fate, and he found sureties with no problem and was released. A newspaper reporter present during his examination wrote: "When the evidence of his criminality was being taken, he appeared to regard it as a good joke, and to consider that he was in no danger of the penitentiary." Peter soon found out what it was like to be on the other end of stories told about him and while his case bounced around the legal system long enough that even he probably no longer thought it was a joke. On May 18, 1890, Peter and four other men charged with adultery were ordered to appear at the district court at Ogden, but then his case was inactive for some time. Then on December 24, 1890, a deputy marshal arrested "Peter Christiansen of Newton" on a charge of adultery. Once again his case went into a holding pattern.
If the Utah Commission really wanted more evidence there was much at Newton, but the Commission representatives didnít want to go to Newton or have Newton testimony to decide the case. This was all a distraction from their heart and soul mission of prosecuting Mormon marriage arrangements. So while not really wanting to quickly resolve the charges, they let the case dangle, hoping it would die on the vine of time. However, with his cover somewhat blown, Peter would never again be rewarded with appointments from the Utah Commission, the Postmaster General or census bureau. In the stated period in 1887 Peter was living with the Anderson woman his plural or second wife Mary O. had died. Problematic is the location where Peterís second wife Mary and family lived in Newton; the 1880 census had them living separate from the first family and seemly nearby according to enrollment placement. In daughter Estherís account she has the house on the farm west of Newton as coming after her parentís divorce. Since she was only six years old at the divorce, she could have been mistaken. Whatever, for over a decade before the divorce, the second family lived in a house, whether built on the farm land one mile from the first familyís home or in another house in Newton, whether rented or own by Peter Christensen. The six month love nest with the Anderson woman would have taken place here by the Newtonís postmaster and the Utah Commissionís appointee, who was to be especially watchful to disenfranchise Mormons engaged in plural marriage, cohabitation or moral activity deemed inappropriate.
Peterís earlier arrest on December 24, 1890, on the adultery charge possibly was due to his failure to appear during a scheduled hearing. His case was on the slow track as there was no incentive to resolve the un-welcomed legal action. As it occasionally moved there were tidbits such as in mid-May of 1891 when Peter was ordered to plead to indictment within ten days. Apparently he did and almost four weeks later the case of the "United States vs. Peter Christensen came up in the First District Court at Ogden and was briefly argued pleading submitted and then "taken under advisement." From this point it would appear that Peterís smug attitude at the initial hearing was well founded but his troubles were far from being over. While there would be no investigators seeking evidence for or against the charges made against Peter in connection with the Anderson woman, another deputy marshal went to Newton on an "official visit" seeking polygamists in early February of 1892. Deputy Marshal Corey hit the jackpot at the Christian Anderson home, finding the owner with two wives in the same house along with Andersonís unmarried daughter with two children, the last born within three weeks. Christian Anderson was charged with unlawful cohabitation and gave $500 bond to appear on February 20th. Daughter Emma was charged with fornication due to her unmarried status and recent birth of a child, and she also posted a $500 bond. Those charged appeared in Commissioner C. C. Goodwinís court at Logan, and with father Anderson it followed the normal routine with the defendant bound over on the $500 bond to await the action of the grand jury on the charge of unlawful cohabitation; in addition, his plural wife was put under $100 bond to appear as a witness.
However, the unexpected and unwanted came from Commissioner Goodwinís examination of Emma Anderson, who happened to be the woman named in the Peter Christensen adultery case held in Ogden and Salt Lake in April of 1890. When this court inquired into how she came to have two children, a five-year-old and babe just weeks old, they got more than they wanted and it quickly turned an expected short session of the court into several days before it was over. Emma charged Peter Christensen with being the father of both of her children. It is not known if and how she explained the five-year-old child and the six month love nest in 1887, but she gave sordid details on the birth of the second child. According to her testimony, "about nine months ago" on the streets of Newton one evening as she was going home Peter had sexually assaulted her, and he "drugged her with chloroform and outraged her." The simple fornication charge now became involved. At the beginning of his examination of Emma it is not known if Goodwin was acquainted with the early charges against Peter, but he was very familiar with Peter for the Commissioner was the person who appointed Peter to the deputy registrar and election judge positions in Newton, and before the buzzing of the hornetís net was over, he would know about it all. Soon after Emmaís charges against Peter, he was arrested and examined about the accusations. The commissioner then released Christensen on his own recognizance to appear when wanted. Finally Emma was bound over on $500 bond to await the action of the grand jury on the charge of fornication. In the first week of May 1892 at Ogden in Judge Minerís court of the First District much business was at hand and eleven named cases were placed on the courtís schedule. After which it was noted: "The grand jury presented the following cases ignored:" followed by several named cases including, "United States vs. Emma Anderson, fornication." "United States vs. Christian Anderson, adultery." "On motion of E. M. Allison, Jr., the above mentioned cases were dismissed and the defendants ordered released." Mr. Allison was the assistant U.S. attorney for the Ogden district. Less than three weeks later in the First District Court at Ogden, "The case of the United States vs. Peter Christensen, adultery, was continued until September, 1892." The case or cases against Peter continued on the slow track until late September when in the First District Court, "On motion of E. M. Allison, Jr., and by consent of others the case of the United States vs. Peter Christensen was dismissed for the term." The anti-Mormon party now controlling Utah legal machinery let off Christian Anderson and Emma Anderson and Peter because they wanted no more troubles and headaches from this situation that distressed their efforts for almost two years. Thereafter, Peter Christensen was like the proverbial snake oil to the anti-Mormon movement.
In the meantime another tragedy struck the family of Peter and Sophia Christensen in June of 1890. Their young son Peter Albert Christensen with his first cousin Ezra Peter Petersen and some other boys from Newton were playing and exploring in Bear River Canyon by the canal in the narrows. The railroad was rerouting its tracks through the canyon and apparently construction was also being done on the canal. In their exploration the boys found some blasting powder, and the boys filled their pockets with it. They then built a fire and entertained themselves by throwing handfuls of powder into the flames to see it shoot up. Perhaps to increase the excitement one of the boys threw a can full of the blasting powder into the fire with a resultant "terrific explosion" which very likely discharged some of the powder in the closest boysí pockets. Two of the youngsters around the age of twelve, Peter Christensen and his cousin Ezra Petersen were severely injured about the head and face, and most of the boys had "their clothes burned and torn off them." In some way the injured boys walked and/or were helped to traverse a mile to the house of the nearest neighbor, and were conveyed to their homes. A doctor was called and he came and treated the boys with the hope that they would survive, but such was not the case as both died. In a somewhat unusually arrangement the two youths were buried in such a fashion that the cemetery records had to include a note that one of the boys was buried just to the north of the other one, instead of in two separate burial plots. The unusual burial arrangement possibly was caused by their deaths from the same accident, their mothers were sisters, and cost. They were buried in the Petersen family burial lots, and father Peter with his double life now exposed and starting to unravel, perhaps showed little concern or refused to purchase any family burial lots leaving no other choice.
The newspapers and grapevine had been full of stories on Peter Christensen now for over two years, focusing on the dichotomy between what he avowed publicly and his private life. To most in Newton he was among the greatest hypocrites anyone knew. In the small Mormon community of Newton, most of the adults were aware of what was going on with Peter, and first wife Sophia must have known of the six month love nest affair in 1887 with the first charges in 1890 very likely were initiated by or for her. The last accusation in February of 1892 only confirmed what a poorly kept secret it had been. Finally, in early August of 1892 Metta Sophia Christensen filed for a divorce from her husband Peter Christensen. She asked for a decree of divorce to the District Court at Ogden on the "grounds of cruel and inhuman treatment in forcing her to care for six children, the family of a deceased plural wife, notwithstanding the fact that the plaintiff was worn down by overwork and child-bearing and the labor incident to caring for her own family of seven children." In her complaint she stated "that when she protested against the extra duties imposed upon her the defendant became extremely enraged and in addition to calling her vile and defamatory names struck and beat her with his fists about the head and face, thereby causing her great bodily harm, humiliation and distress." In addition she asked for custody of her children and a liberal alimony. According to daughter Esther (born in 1886), her motherís marriage had been filled with a lifetime of abuse including frequent beatings and her husband "didnít improve with age." If more had been deemed necessary, surely adultery could have been added. In approximately twenty-five years of marriage Sophia had give birth to thirteen children. With the death of Peterís plural wife the situation went from bad to worse. Sophia was expected to take care of the six additional children in the small house in southwestern Newton without complaint or reap the whirlwind. All of the children in the first family grew to despise their father, and the attitude of the second family was about the same.
The District Court at Ogden referred the "case of Mette Sophia Christensen vs. Peter Christensen" to Charles H. Hart at Logan to take "testimony and report in writing to the court." According to a newspaper report, a week and a half later the district court had the information it requested and "Mette Sophia Christensen was granted a decree of divorce from her husband Peter Christensen on the report of the referee." A search of the Utah State Archives for the courtís divorce and settlement uncovered that in the early case files from the Fourth District Court there was a gap in the records from 1891 to 1896, but an entry was found in the Fourth District Court Minutes for September 20, 1892, in which the court ordered a decree of divorce to Mette Sophia Christensen from Peter Christensen. Without the actual case files the terms of the case canít be ascertained except that subsequence activities show that the divorced wife now possessed land other than just the town lots adjacent to her home and other buildings which she must have received in the settlement.
In Newton the accusations, charges, and his wife divorcing him didnít help Peterís image and reputation but confirmed the communityís well set belief that he was a nasty apostate and hypocrite to be avoided. It appears that even the Utah Commission had no more use for him, and with statehood in 1896 even the hated commission became history. In January of 1891 Peter sold three horses to the fire chief of the Salt Lake Fire Department. More than two years later, in August of 1893, Salt Lake City initiated an investigation into some of the activities of their fire chief and among the financial questions were three horses bought from Peter Christensen of Newton. The paper work had the Salt Lake chief claiming he paid $500 for the three horses and the city had paid that amount. Due to several ill-regularities in the fire department, the city looked deeper into the account books and contacted Peter. He went before the Justice of the Peace at Newton and swore in an affidavit that he had only received $350 for the three horses he sold. Peterís role was minor but it helped put the fire hose on the fire chief.
In late August and early September of 1894 a sad story was covered by the Ogden and Logan newspapers about one of the Christensen girls from Newton, who was Peterís daughter. The first and most detailed came from Ogden in an article entitled: "A Young Wifeís Sorrow. Deserted Soon After Marriage, Dies Heart Broken." The front page article in the Ogden newspaper stated:
"A plain funeral notice appeared in yesterday's STANDARD, telling of the death
of Kate Akerly. Probably the casual reader did not give it so much as a passing glance,
but the death notice has a story. Two years ago Kate Christensen, a fair-haired girl of
18, left her home way up in Cache valley and came to Ogden to earn her own living.
Here she met Samuel Akerly, a handsome Union Pacific switchman, and was soon
ensnared by his wiles. She blindly believing his professions of love, and confidingly
entrusted to his keeping all that life had of her of health, happiness, friends and home.
"She yielded to him importunities that they marry, and the couple were made
husband and wife in this city a year ago from last March, by the Rev. Samuel Unsworth,
and went to reside at some point in the north. In a month Ackerly tired of her, and she
awoke from her dream of joy to the realization that she was one of those most pitiable
of creatures--a deserted wife. The poisonous serpent entered her tender heart and left
its deadly sting.
"She came to Ogden to live and presently her child was born, but she had refused to
let her relatives know of her whereabouts, and still remained silent when her babe was
taken from her by death. Then, with all she had to live for taken away, she still battled
bravely with the storms of life, but the serpent's bite had pierced her heart to the core and
she succumbed to its deadly viris [sic virus].
"People who knew her here knew her heart was breaking, but she never complained
of the one who had wrecked her young life. Her health was gradually impaired by her
overwhelming sorrow, and at last she sank under the weight and gave up the struggle.
The physicians who attended her pronounced her aliment neuralgia of the stomach, but
it might better be said she died of a broken heart.
"What of the wretch who blasted her hopes and turned her happiness into gall?
Only as he is punished by remorse will he suffer, for the law can not reach him.
"The whereabouts of Akerly is unknown, but he is said to have a father who is a
prominent Congregational minister of California, and a brother who is an attorney
in the east.
"Peter Christensen, the father of the dead girl, arrived in Ogden this morning to
attend the funeral, which was held at 2 o'clock this afternoon."
The Logan newspaper picked up the Ogden press coverage a few days later and ignored the portion concerning the woman while staying in Ogden refusing to "let her relatives know of her whereabouts." Instead this newspaper added a few details and misguided assumptions to confuse the account in an article entitled "Death of a Newton Girl," which reported:
"The Ogden Press tells a story of the desertion and death of Mrs. Kate Akerly,
formerly of Newton, Cache County, who some time since married a young man
from Oakland, California. They settled in Montana where the husband . . . deserted
his young wife. . . .
"Akerlyís cruel and heartless desertion of his young and confiding wife was
a terrible shock to her. He left her penniless and unprovided for, and she returned
to her father, Peter Christensen of Newton, Cache Co., who did everything that a
loving father could do to assuage his daughter's grief. Later Mrs. Akerly came to
Ogden and found a home with Mrs. Charles L. Lowe who proved a devoted friend
to her until her young life went and her spirit took its flight. . . ."
While the Ogden paper observed that the death girlís death notice "has a story," it had indeed and much beyond what the newspapers related. But first, some additional information identifying the Newton girl; she was the child of Peter Christensen and his plural or second wife Mary O. Christensen born before the family moved to Newton. In the 1880 census, her father as the census taker enrolled her as "Anna Chatherine" which would have been more correctly Anna Katherine, who went by the nickname of Kate. There exists a serious discrepancy in the two newspaper accounts in relation to the girlís contact with her family at Newton. Most likely the Ogden account was the more accurate and only as the last moment of Kateís life was her father contacted, and any meeting of father and daughter, if any before death, took place in Ogden. Therefore the Logan newspapers phrase "did everything that a loving father could do to assuage his daughter's grief," was more imagined speculation and filler words than facts. As reported earlier in this article, after wife and mother Mary died, three of her daughters decided they could not remain in the same house with their father Peter and left home. The tragic story of Kate helps put an approximate date to her leaving her Newton home around 1890 to 1892 when eighteen years old. Apparently once again someone else provided for the burial site.
In the meantime, another offspring of Peterís, son Parley from the first wife, graduated from the University of Deseret (now the University of Utah) in 1890 and began teaching school at Grantsville and a couple of years later became the superintendent of schools in Tooele County. However, by 1895 he was not satisfied with his current profession and wanted to become a lawyer. Parley returned to Newton to obtain some needed educational funds. He went not to his father but to his divorced mother and put a mortgage on her Newton properties. He used the money to go to Ithaca, New York, to attend Cornell University Law School. According to his younger sister, Parley around this time changed his middle name from Peter to Parker, because of his great dislike for the name of Peter. Parleyís older brother John, who left Newton to get away from his father and to get an education, after graduating from the university enlisted in the Spanish-America War and went to the Philippines. He remained in Manila for around thirty years engaged in teaching, writing school books and established a business college. He returned to the United States in the 1920s. Neither Parley nor John ever married, and their youngest sister thought this was due to seeing and experiencing the terrible family life of their mother and father. Sophiaís youngest boy Lawrence A. had to help his mother with the farm after her divorce. On a Friday afternoon in mid-June of 1896 twelve-year-old Lawrence was plowing on "their farm west of town" when the neck-yoke of the teamís harness became detached from the tongue of the sulky plow. This startled the team and they began to run with the doubletree breaking, freeing the animals from the plow and leaving the young driver safe. The runaway team ran along a wire fence with the largest and most valuable horse "got terribly lacerated, and the runaways were finally stopped in the eastern part of Newton."
After Peter was divorced by first wife Sophia, he began building up the property by his farm home. He had a cattle barn built. He contracted with a stone mason to build a granary out of the sandstone rock quarried from a hill near the farm. It took some time to construct this very substantial granary and during this time the mason and his "young pretty wife" lived at the Christensenís farm home with the masonís wife keeping house and doing the cooking. When the granary was finished the mason and his wife moved on, but a year or so later Peter learned of the masonís death. Then, according to daughter Esther, "my father sallied forth to court the young widow." On June 22, 1898, Peter and Laura M. Anderson applied for a marriage license at Logan and shortly they were married. Peterís third marriage came when he was at the age of fifty-four to the young widow from Hyde Park, who was still very young at age twenty and a recent immigrant from Denmark. Two years later the 1900 census was taken for Newton and the above family was enumerated with others who lived on farms outside the town limits of Newton. Peter Christensen was listed as born in August of 1843 at the age of 56 and married for two years. He had been born in Denmark as were both of his parents. He had immigrated to the United States in 1861 and had lived in the county for thirty-nine years. He was a naturalized citizen with the occupation as a farmer. He owned his home free of mortgage and it was a farm. Peterís wife was Laura Christensen born in April of 1878 at age twenty-two. She had been married two years and had one child who had died (fathered during first marriage or by Peter). She was born in Denmark as were her parents, and she had immigrated in 1893 having lived in America for seven years. Living at the home at the time of the census was Peterís son George Christensen, born in May of 1881 at age nineteen, born in Utah with his father born in Denmark and his mother in Norway. He was listed as a student and had attended school the previous year for nine months. Son George was from Peterís second wife Maryís family and possibly just at home during summer staying with his father when the census was taken.
On the 1900 census for Newton, Utah, another family was enrolled a week before the one given above.
Here resided Mette Christensen as head of household, born in March 1843 and at age fifty-seven. She was classified as a "Wd" or widowed for some reason whether her choosing or the enumerators, while it was well known that she was divorced from her former husband who lived one mile away on his farm. She had given birth to thirteen children with only seven still living. She had been born in Denmark as were her parents. She had immigrated to the United States in 1862 thus having lived in the county for thirty-eight years. Her occupation was listed as a farmer and she owned her own home with a mortgage and property was classified as a "farm." Her full name was Sophia Mette Christensen, before, during marriage and after divorce with her first two names sometimes reversed. Enrolled with their mother were the following children: Arthur Christensen born in December 1874 at age twenty-five, single, born in Utah with both of his parents born in Denmark and he was listed as a student. Lawrence Christensen born in July 1884 at age fifteen, single and born in Utah with parents born in Denmark and his occupation was that of "farm laborer." Lastly, "Ester" [Esther] Christensen, born in November of 1886 at age thirteen, single, born in Utah with her parents from Denmark.
Perhaps not even the parties involved knew it at the time of the 1900 census, but these Christensens were about through with living in Newton after a quarter of a century. Daughter Esther, youngest of the first family recalled from the past her brother Lawrence and herself tramping over the western hills, picking choke cherries, hunting rabbits and fishing in Bear River and taking home "a nice string of chubs." She remembered helping on the farm by leveling the grain being put into the granary ("That was fun!"). Among other particulars she recollected her brother on the mowing machine cutting the alfalfa and then raking it into win rows readied to be loaded on a hayrack where she tramped the good smelling hay that was taken to the barn where it was "lifted by hay-forks & pulley into that fine barn." There was much singing of songs, both religious and Danish, and forming of some opinions, whether at the time or later as summarized by Esther late in life such as she wrote in 1968: "They were also very bitter against the church leaders in Logan & Newton who kept them from holding some local political officesóto wit co. assessor and some other political job. I canít recall the names. Mother had told me a little about it, but I wasnít interested enough to remember it all. I know they thought that the Church leaders were bigoted and narrow minded." The "they" probably included Esther, mother Sophia and some of the family, but the judgment that the two teenaged sons with eight years of schooling and no experience were deprived of political office in Cache County due to their father was far fetched reasoning. Yet in a later letter she repeated the charge. More important, daughter Estherís reminisces contain what little we know of the three Christensen families of Peter Christensen at Newton.
In 1901-1902 period mother Sophia Christensen sold her place and moved with her last two children, Lawrence and Esther, to Logan where the children attended the Agricultural College. Then Sophia and her children moved to Salt Lake City and lived with Parley and others of the family. Sophia became blind about 1920 while living in Salt Lake, and in the mid to late 1920s she went to Los Angeles to live with her son Lawrence with a relocation to Lompoc, California, over 150 miles south and west of Fresno. Youngest daughter Esther while in Salt Lake got married and moved to Wyoming in 1908. They relocated to Fruitland, Idaho and finally in 1928 she, husband and daughters moved to Lompoc where she took care of her mother for the last ten years of Sophia's life. During this last ten years together for Sophia and her daughter Esther, the mother told her of her Mormon marriage ceremony and receiving a special new name and despite much coaxing the daughter summed up the result writing: "Mother would never reveal the name she was given, by the Bishop (or who ever performed the marriage in the Temple) to be called up on the ĎDay of Ressurection.í So some of the teachings still remained in her mind, and perhaps in her heart." Sophia passed away two weeks after her 95th birthday in 1938, dying from blood poisoning caused by an injury to her toe and she was buried in Lompoc, California. Esther Christensen Cronholm in 1968 gave a complete listing of her mother Sophiaís children by Peter Christensen with a little supplemental information as follows with additional data in brackets:
Family of 13 children Ė 8 sons and 5 daughters - In 1900 only seven still living.
Anna Tora Amilia
John Andrew Ė [b.1867 - joined the army and spent lengthy time in the Philippines.]
Parley Peter Ė [b. 1869, changed his second name to Parker Ė presidential candidate 1920].
Arthur Eugene Ė Two daughters Salt Lake City [b. 1874].
Elnora Bergetta Ė Two sons - Bethsida, Maryland [b. 1877].
Peter Albert Ė Died of burns from an explosion when the railroad came to Cache Jct. [b. 1879].
Florence Matilda Ė Jan. 12, 1881 - a fine artist in oil paintings with time in France.
Lawrence Adolphus Ė July 12, 1884 - a construction engineer. [Died about 1937].
Esther Sophia Ė Nov. 16, 1886. [Cared for her mother last ten years until her death.].
In conclusion to the main character in the saga of Peter Christensen, who had recently married for the third time and started his third family. Sometime in 1900 or 1901 Peterís teenaged daughter from the first family learned that the last wife had recently given birth to a baby. This daughter and source of the information walked the mile out to her fatherís house on his farm "to visit his cute little wife and see their first baby, (Wesley)." She recalled her fatherís farm house as being composed of three rooms with a lean-to constructed of sandstone and lumber and there was a cattle barn and granary on the place. In some way this daughter Esther later learned that her father Peter and his third wife had "three sons and a beautiful daughter." Possibly while Esther was living in Logan she learned of another child born to her father in 1903 which aided her in attaching the adjective "beautiful" to the daughter whose name was Blanche. Much later (after 1928) while living in California first family daughter Esther met Wesley again. Wesley either worked for or owned a drug store at the time with no further information known on this meeting, but as will be shown shortly Peterís third family was not finished. Sometime after Peterís former first wife and two children left Newton, he decided to sell his large farm and move away from Newton. In 1903 the land was sold to John Hertig. With the success of dry farming method and the position of his farm with a small stream behind the house and substantial farm buildings, it was a choice farm that could be profitable but required much labor. Normally family farms produced much of their own labor as the children helped on the farm and some eventually took over the farm. But this scenario did not work in Peterís case. All of the first familyís surviving children did not want to work or own the farm and wanted nothing to do with their father. Presumably the same situation existed with most of the second family where all but the last child had left home except youngest son George (age 19 at 1900 census). He was attending school and home only during June taking of the census. Therefore Peter had to either do all the work by himself or hire men to help him. It had reached the point where it would be much easier to sell and leave. Furthermore, he was an outcast in the community and region and wherever he went would be better than the present place. Peter Christensen sold his land in Newton and relocated with his last family to near Fresno, California. There was no further connection with the members of the first family and the last daughter stated: "I have no record of the date of his death nor his burial place." Very likely the animosity was shown in each time his divorced wife was recorded on the census in regard to her marital status when in 1900 and continuing through the next three censuses she was listed as a widow or widowed, not divorced. But perhaps more telling was his daughter Estherís comments that they did not care at all about what happened to their father as they had "no affection or respect" for him.
As a side note, Peter and Laura Christensen and family went to California and settled in a farming district near Fresno where in 1910 Peter was listed as a dairy farmer where he owned his home and place free of mortgage and his wife listed as having given birth to four children with three living as a son had been born while in California. At the 1920 census the family was completed with father Peter at age 76, mother Laura at age 41 and their children as follows with name and year of birth: Wesley F. (1901), Blanche A. (1903), Floyd Donald (1909), Kenneth W. (1912) and Herbert L. (1914). The last three children had been born in California, and over a fifty year span Peter had sired twenty-five children by three wives plus accused of fathering two more children outside of marriage. For some unexplained reason the 1920 census under occupation had Peter and wife as having "none" with son Wesley as a salesman for a drug store. Ten years later for the 1930 census Peterís listed age only increased six year to a cited age of 82 when it should have been 86. During all three censuses in California Peter was in the same district, township and community, and he was again listed as a farmer of a general farm. Some significant changes had taken place with his wife Laura having died, leaving Peter as a widower, and none of the known children were listed even though the last two were still teenagers at 18 and 16. Listed living with him was a "daughter" named Carrie at age 32, single, and born in California. None of the data fits his only known daughter Blanche born in Utah even with wide latitude on the name. His son Wesley had married and started a family while he worked as a prescription clerk in a drug store in Bakersfield a hundred miles away. He and wife Ethelyn named their first daughter after Wesleyís mother but their son was Richard with no connection to Peterís line. Therefore, it could be that Peter had taken up with another woman as a common law wife using the "daughter" designation to mask the real situation. Perhaps with the third family there was a repeating of the same pattern as with the first two, and the old refrain coined by the last daughter by the first wife still was in vogue with Peter--"He didnít improve with age." Perhaps the pariah remains a pariah to the very end.
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