Person:Lars Mortensen (3)

Lars Mortensen
Facts and Events
Name Lars Mortensen
Gender Male
Birth? 25 Jul 1842 Fanefjord, Præstø, Denmark
Other? 1852 from Denmark Immigration to the US
Census[1] 1 Jun 1860 Parowan, Iron, Utah, United States
Marriage 29 Dec 1863 to Cornelia Lee
Census[2] 1 Jun 1870 Parowan, Iron, Utah, United States
Marriage 11 Jan 1876 to Sarah Vilate Decker
Census[3] 1 Jun 1900 Sanford, Conejos, Colorado, United States
Death? 27 Jun 1910 Sanford, Conejos, Colorado, United States
Burial? Sanford Cemetery, Sanford, Conejos, Colorado, United States

In his later years, Lars wrote his autobiography in a small notebook. It was among the papers of his son, Arlington Peter Mortensen and is now in the possession of Kathryn Mortensen Harmer.

"The Son of Peter and Lene Mortensen Wase born July 25th 1842 in the town of Haarbole, Presto Amt, Danmark with a feeling that perhaps a few of the most interesting incidents of my life might be of interest in after time to my posterity if it should plase the Lord to preserve them upon the Earth together with this little sketch. I was born of goodly parents whose delight was ever to teach there children acording to there best knowledge the ways of truth and virtue. My Father and Mother being members of the Church of Luther I acordingly when of suitable age recieved the so called ordinance of Babptism of sprinkling. When about the age of three years I recieved a severe injury which caused great anxiety on the part of my parents but as time roled on I slowly recovered and at the age of about ten I wase considered to be out of danger at the age of seven I began going to schoole and sone acquired a knowledge of reading. The testament being used as a reader in the schoole it gave me an early knowledge of the Doctrinse of our Savior though not proberly understood until the gospel was preached unto me by the latter day Saint Elders whose first visited my Fathers house in the Spring of 1855 leaving some of these tracts for the perusal of our famely. After a thorough investigation myu Father and Mother offered them selves as candidates for babptisme. Shortly after there babptism I attended a conference of the latter day sains held on the island of Falster journeying thither on foot a distance of Miles. During the conference much instruction and good counsel was given by the elders in connection with the first principles of the gospel which was set forth in great simplicity during the conference my two oldest brothers Morten and Anders was babptised and confirmed into the church of the latter day Saints this being the first time I had the privelege of witnessing the performance of these ordinances the feelings I experianced in witnessing these ordinances perhapes I shall never forget after conference was adjoured I returned home again and as Soon as the news spread through our little villige that our famely had Joined the Church of the latter-day Saints it began to create a feeling of hatred towards our famely and percecution began to reign to quite an exstente and our lives and property was indangerd at veries times my my Father being subject to rheumatism it was deemed adviseble that we should sell our property and come to Utah and finding redy Sale we began to prepaire for our Jurney and in the Spring of 1856 we bid farewill to the home of our birth With a hope of making a new home in the valeys of the mountains Stoping a short time at Cobenhagen waiting for the emigration to gather While staying there it was deemed advisible that my oldest Brother should remain and preach the gospel after staying for about a Month we took leave of our native land. As it was our calculation to cross the plains with the Handcarts and the Journey all together was along and tiresom one and our family was not in avery good condetion for such a Journey the Lord inspired his servant then presiding over the Scandinavian mission to utter a Prophecie in relation to our family that inasmuch as we would keep the commandments of God that we should all rech the vallies of the mountains in safty. Ever having faith in the prommises of the Lord through his servants and a strong determination to serv the Lord it was ever a stimulent to press on through trials and dificulties to the end of our Journey. On our Journey from Copenhagen to Kiel we had the privilige onesmore to view the island of our nativity."

As members of the ill-fated Willie Handcart Company, Lars Mortensen with his parents, two older brothers, one older sister and three little sisters all survived the ordeal and without permanent physical harm. It was said of Lars Mortensen, that a kinder man never lived. Peder Mortensen, the father lived 10 years after they arrived in Utah. The rest of the family lived many more years, settling first in Parowan, Iron, Utah. The faith of the Peder Mortensen family was truly rewarded by their safe arrival in the Utah mountain valleys of their Zion.


Extracted from Zion Bound: The Ancestry & Descendants of Arlington Peter & Fannie Burnham Mortensen by Kathryn Mortensen Harmer, 1998

Lars the Musician! Perhaps that best describes the Danish boy who became the father of Arlington Peter Mortensen (APM). Born on the beautiful island of Møn, he emigrated to Utah as a teenager. After pulling a handcart across the great plains of America, Lars arrived with his family in Salt Lake City on 9 Nov 1856. He was fourteen years old. The Mortensen family were exhausted from the trip across the plains. The Willie Company of which they were a part reportedly lost 70 persons of the 500 who left Iowa City on 26 Jun. Death and injury, due to exposure, fatigue, and malnutrition, had miraculously escaped the Mortensen family.

In a very brief little history in Lars' own hand, he described the trip as "along and tiresom one (sic)." He mentioned the prophecy to the Peder Mortensen family given in Copenhagen, "that inasmuch as we would keep the commandments of God that we should all rech the vallies of the mountains in was a stimulent to press on through trials and dificulties to the end of the journey (sic)."

The crippled father, Peder, the mother, Lene, and the seven children aged 6 to 25 were taken into Salt Lake homes where they received food and warmth. One kind hearted woman offered Anders Jorgen a freshly baked squash pie. He would gladly have eaten it, but having never seen squash pie, he had no idea how to go about it. He could only stare at the pie and laugh in confusion and embarrassment.

Surviving histories do not tell which family welcomed Lars, but we do knw that the stay was brief. By Christmas the Mortensen family were residents of Parowan, a new Southern Utah settlement. Brigham Young was President of the Mormon Church and as such "called" or assigned the settlers of each new community in the Territory called Deseret. Each town had to be relatively self-sufficient, and so men with various skills were "called" by their leaders to insure success. The Mortensens were shoemakers, coopers (barrel-makers), and musicians as well as farmers. Their talents were needed in Parowan. Mette Kirstine, one of the younger daughters, later expressed reluctance at traveling so soon again and in the winter. But her father, Peder, was an obedient Saint as the Mormons called themselves. The Mortensen family histories do not tell how the family travelled to Parowan, but at least one of the handcarts went along, as it was used each Sunday to take the crippled father to church.

Lars was eager to take advantage of the opporunities afforded in his new home in America as depicted in the following story told by Cornelia Lee (Decker), who later became his wife:

An afternoon party or dance was being held for the children. Lars, who could scarcely speak a word in English, dressed in a factory shirt and a pair of trousers made out of his mother's cast-off undershirt, entered the door. As he stepped into the hall, someone was heard to say, 'Oh, there is that little Danish boy' and naturally a titter followed. Luckily for him he did not understand that it was meant for him. Under his arm he carried his violin. Walking to the front of the hall, he began to play. Never again was he referred to as 'the little Danish boy,' but as 'Lars, the musician.'

Pearl Mortensen Driggs, daughter of Lars and Cornelia, recorded another version of the above story. Cornelia met Lars first when he was dressed in a home-woven straw hat at a dance. He was playing the violin brought from Denmark. She said his hair hung almost to his shoulder. She mentally pictured how he would look if he were dressed like the other boys, so she got a piece of pink calico, for which she paid fifty cents a yard. She made him a shirt and talked him into getting his hair cut. It may have been love at first sight. He was 14 and she was 11.

By mingling and associating with the people, Lars readily learned the English language. His father had seen to it that besides his musical learning, he was trained in the use of building tools, carpentry, and cabinet making, but he really mastered in the trade of coopering (barrel making). Shortly after the Mortensen family moved to Parawan, they explored the hills for timber for barrel staves. This was a very lucrative industry in the early days, as all barrels, tubs, water pails, and containers of many products were made of wood and by hand. With this skill, they had steady employment during their early years in America.

Getting settled in this new country, the Mortensen family worked hard building a home. Within four years, Morten Peder, Ane Kirstine, Anders Jorgen, and Hans Jorgen married and began lives of their own. They too stayed primarily in Southern Utah.

In 1863, Lars, now 21, proposed marriage to Cornelia Decker (or Lee). Cornelia Decker, daughter of early settlers of Parowan and southern Utah, John D. Lee and Nancy Bean, had been reared by her step-father, Zachariah B. Decker as the eldest child of the Z.B. Decker/Nancy Bean marriage. One will recall that Nancy Bean had divorced John D. Lee before coming west. It was coincidence that both of Cornelia's parents lived in Southern Utah.

Cornelia was proud and vowed she would not marry until she had a home of her own. With a promise that he would build her a home, Lars and Cornelia set a December date for their wedding. As the date approached, a flood destroyed the adobe bricks Lars had made for construction. Keeping her desire in mind, Lars and his brothers pitched in, made new adobe bricks and got the house sufficiently done so that they could move in shortly after the wedding. Their home was furnished with furniture which Lars made. During the first three years of their marriage, until 1866, Cornelia walked to church alone. Lars had the duty of pulling his father to meetings in the old handcart.

Eventually, manufactured containers became available in Utah, and coopers were not as much in demand. Lars then took up farming and stock raising as a means of livelihood. With a team and wagon, he would haul his produce to the flourishing mining camps in other parts of Southern Utah and Nevada. There he exchanged produce for cash and things needed in the home. On one of these trips, he chanced to buy a cast iron cook stove - the first to come into Parowan. Imagine the joy Cornelia felt when she was presented with a stove after having done her cooking in an open fireplace during her childhood and early marriage.

In April 1866, Lars was called as a church teamster to the Missouri River to help immigrating Saints coming to Utah. He was a member of the Captain Daniel Thompson ox train. This was a lonely and uneventful six month mission, in stark contrast to crossing the plains in the harrowing handcart trip of 1856 still vivid in Lars' memory. It was a sad journey as well. Lars left a very ill father. Peder Mortensen had suffered for years from a rheumatism that affected his heart. This painful condition took his life just fourd ays after the departure of his youngest son. Lars' own obedient heart had indeed exacted its price.

The United Order was established in Parowan in 1874. Lars Mortensen was chosen as foreman of the north field and also as a director of the United Order Manufacturing Institution. The United Order was an economic or communal system in which all participants held property in common. Each family would contribute according to their ability and receive according to their need. The United Order was a challenging concept that did not last long in most early Utah towns. In Parowan, little was done outside the meetings of the United Order directors. Parowan settlers were apprehensive about instituting this communal system.

Besides the job of earning a living for his family, Lars belonged to the militia, organized as protection against potential Indian uprisings. A.P. Mortensen remembered an amusing Militia incident that involved his father:

A number of Piute Indians had come into the valley (The Little Salt Lake Valley) and driven away quite a number of horses. After an all day chase, the Mormon militia overtook the Indians, who seeing they were outnumbered, readily gave up their loot and went their way. That night Lars stood guard, lest the Indians returned to reclaim their stolen loot. In the wee hours of the morning, Lars could hear footsteps approaching. As they drew nearer, he sounded the alarm. All the men sprang to their arms ready to defend themselves. Lars had forgotten that some miles back, one of their animals had tired out and had been left behind. It was now following up! In speaking of the occurrence in later years, Lars would say, 'Well, I was not the only one who had forgotten that the old gray mare was still able to cross the road.'

Life in Parowan was good for Lars Mortensen and his family for over 30 years. With good management and hard work, Lars and Cornelia acquired a comfortable home with furniture that included an organ. They had children, sheep, cattle, land, and stock in community enterprises. Lars was Superintendent of the Parowan Ward Sunday School, a member of the Parowan Stake High Council, a Bishop's counselor in the Parowan Ward, and a member of the Parowan City Council. One of his good qualities was punctuality and he tried to make his word as good as his bond. Prominent Mormon men who were active in the practice of their religion were sometimes invited by their church leaders to participate in the "Principle". This meant taking a plural wife. In 1877, fourteen years after his marriage to Cornelia, Lars married Sarah Vilate Decker, a half sister of Cornelia.

Civil authorities had a hard time enforcing American anti-bigamy laws, but in 1882 a misdemeanor called "bigamous co-habitation" was easy to prove. In the spring of 1886, a friend, Bill Arton, informed Lars that he had only a few hours to settle his affairs in Parowan before the warrant for his arrest for polygamy would have to be served. Heart-sick and physically ill from worry, Lars told the sad news to his family, mounted his favorite horse and with a shovel over his shoulder, pretended to irrigate his farm. Under the cover of darkness, he went to a designated spot where his children waited. Evelyn, Laurette, and Hamner were seated in the front of a covered wagon with a team of horses. According to his daughter Pearl, Lars left all that he owned and loved behind for a cause (polygamy) which he had been asked by church leaders to obey. Once more he became a pioneer. It was on this sad trip from his Parowan home, lying in the bottom of the wagon that he wrote the tender ballad "Exile from Home." This song was to become a favorite in the life of the new community where he was to make his home. It was reportedly later sung in the Salt Lake Tabernacle at the request of President Wilford Woodruff:

  Exile From Home 
Exile from home tonight I wander, lonely,

Far from my friends and those I love at home; Seeking a place where earth may lend a shelter Who gives her rest where ere the wanderer roams.

Earth has no charms when parted from our loved ones,

Though you may hear the music and the song; Though she may gleam in splendor all around you, Though you per chance may join the festive throng.

Yet, there is hope; a light is seen before me,

Opening to view a vision yet to come, When I shall meet again with all the dear ones, And share again the love of all at home.


Exile from home tonight I wander, lonely, Far from my friends and those I love so dear; Heaven alone my heart can only comfort Soothing the pain and stay the falling tear.

Lars joined Niels Decker and others who were going to settle Sanford, Colorado, in the San Luis Valley. Sanford was in a wind-swept desolate valley, but Lars was finally free from the worries that he had endured for years. With the health-giving fresh artesian water, he was soon back to his normal health and with a will and determination to start life anew.

In time, his wives and children followed Lars to the San Luis Valley. The older children came first by wagon team. Hamner drove a two-team wagon, Laurette and Gertrude both drove a team of horses every step of the way. The oldest sister, Della, with her husband Ras Mickelsen went along to counsel and help. This family group forded rivers including the dangerous Colorado River and crossed rugged stone passes where the wagons had to be lowered with ropes. They traveled on until they reached Sanford, Conejos County, Colorado. Cornelia with the younger children, Arlington Peter, Rulon, Junius, Golda, and the baby Wilford, then came by train. They reached Sanford on 10 Mar 1887 in the morning.

The wagons brought by the older children contained large cans of honey, butter, huge homemade cheeses, peach preserves and all kinds of dried fruit from Parowan. For the first years their problems with providing food for a large family were not so bad, but as their supply gradually diminshed and the farms were unproductive due to hail and frost, food became scarce.

But Lars was young, the Colorado country was new, times grew better and the family was happy. Lars organized a band, led the ward choir with his fine tenor voice, played the organ, violin, and cornet. He played for the local dances. He rented land and eventually became the owner of a lovely farm north of town. He also purchased land and moved Sara Vilate and their eight children to East Dale, a new town near Sanford. He built homes for his families, doing the carpenter work himself. In time, living in wagons and log cabins became only a memory.

It is hard to imagine a world without television, radio, or even a phonograph, but such it was in the early days and the good natured Lars, with his fine musical talent, was a real asset to the community and his church.

Pearl, the youngest daughter, wrote affectionately of "Papa". Because of her mother's public work, nursing and weaving, she was often left in her father's care. Lars taught her everything she knew. Patiently he taught her how to sing, to waltz, to wash and dry dishes, and how to cook. He even tried to curl Pearl's hair in her mother's absence. Her favorite pastime was to sit on Papa's lap and comb his beautiful brown, curly hair.

On 27 Jun 1910, Lars was quarantined from his home by the dreaded Scarlet Fever. To complete his mowing, he lingered longer than usual that summer day in the alfalfa field. When he did not return for dinner, Cornelia became concerned and a search was made. King Driggs found him prostrate lying in the sweet smelling field. His team of horses had dashed sideways when the hayrake tongue had loosened. Lars was thrown fromhis seat, and dragged under the rake. A tooth of the hay rake had passed through an eye into his brain. The harnessed and yoked team of horese were found nearby, grazing peacefully in spite of the bits in tehir mouths. Lars' death was instant. The accident must have occurred near sundown, as he had been seen at work up to that time.

It was a time of great grief for the entire community. An artistic lady in town wove a wreath of alfalfa blossoms and laid it on Lars' coffin. It bore the inscription, "This pure hear stopped beating among the alfalfa blossoms." Lars was survived by his wives, seventeen children, and forty grandchildren. His obituary named children: Evelyn Rasmussen of Monticello, Utah; Laurette Peterson of Sanford; Professor Lars Hamner Mortensen of Snowflake, Arizona; Gertrude Hyde of Monticello, Utah; A.P. Mortensen of the Salt Lake Hardware Company; Rulon Erastus Mortensen on a mission in Kansas, M. Junius Mortensen of Sanford; Golda Clayton of Blackfoot, Idaho; Pearl Driggs of Sanford; Harriet Jackson, Kate Jensen, Alvarez, Lawrence, Edwin, Hazel, and Myrtle Mortensen all of Manassa, Colorado; and Geneva Barlow of Denver.

  1. Iron, Utah, United States. 1860 U.S. Census Population Schedule. (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration Publication M693), 183.

    Parowan, Iron, Utah HH 1648, Age 18

  2. Iron, Utah, United States. 1870 U.S. Census Population Schedule. (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration Publication M593), 286.

    District 7, Parowan Post Office, Family 49, Age 28, Farmer

  3. Conejos, Colorado, United States. 1900 U.S. Census Population Schedule. (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration Publication T623), 5B.

    ED 9, Sanford, Family 97, Age 57, Farmer

  4.   Viva Cluff Whetten and Lillian Jones Richins, Compliers and Editors Whetten and Richins. The Morten P. Mortensen Family. (Provo, Utah: Brighan Young University Print Services, 1995), Page 34.
  5.   Jenson, Andrew. Latter-day Saint biographical encyclopedia: a compilation of biographical sketches of prominent men and women in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Salt Lake City, Utah: Andrew Jenson History, 1901-1936), Volume 3.

    Mortensen, Lars, an active and prominent Elder in the Church, was born July 25, 1842, at Haarbolle, on the island of Moen, Præstö amt, Denmark, the son of Peter Mortonsen and Helene Sandersen. Becoming a convert to "Mormonism," he was baptized Oct. 31, 1855. Early in 1856 he left his native island to emigrate to America. He crossed the Atlantic in the ship "Thornton" and the plains in James G. Willie's handcart company, which arrived in Salt Lake City Nov. 9, 1856. Soon after his arrival in Utah, he proceeded with his parents and brothers and sisters to Parowan, Iron county, becoming a permanent resident of that place. In February, 1859, he was ordained an Elder by Wm. H. Dame and in 1865 (Feb. 22nd) he was ordained a Seventy by Wm. C. McGregor and became a member of the 69th quorum of Seventy. In 1863 (Dec. 29th) he married Cornelia Decker (a daughter of Zachariah B. Decker and Nancy Bean), who was born Jan. 15, 1846. This marriage was blessed with twelve children, namely, Cornelia A., Nancy E., Helena L., Lars H., Alice Gertrude, Minnie M., Arlington P., Rulon E., Martin J., Golda G., Wilford W. and Pearl C. In March, 1876, he married Sarah V. Decker, a sister of his first wife, who bore her husband eight children, namely, Harriet Ella, Sarah, Kate, Alvarez D., Laurence, Hazel, Edwin and Myrtle. In 1866 Bro. Mortensen, responding to call, went to the Missouri river as a Church teamster in Captain Daniel Thompson's ox train. Going on this mission he left his father on his death-bed, whom he never saw again alive. When the United Order was introduced in Parowan in 1874, Bro. Mortensen was chosen as foreman of the north field and also as a director of the United Order Manufacturing Institution. In 1875 he was ordained a High Priest by Wilford Woodruff and set apart as a member of the High Council of the Parowan Stake. From 1877 to 1886 he acted as Sunday school superintendent at Parowan. He also acted for several terms as a member of the Parowan city council and in 1885 he was chosen as second counselor to Bishop Charles Adams of Parowan. During the anti-polygamy persecution in 1886 he found it advisable to leave his Parowan home and removed to Sanford, Conejos county, Colorado, with a part of his family. There he soon afterwards organized the Sanford choir and was chosen as Stake chorister of the San Luis Stake. In 1887 (March 6th) he was set apart as Sunday school superintendent at Sanford and about the same time chosen as a High Councilor in the San Luis Stake, which position he held until his death. Ever since he joined the Church in his native land, Bro. Mortensen was a most ardent and faithful Church worker and was universally known for his honesty and integrity and his love for the young and rising generation. He was always a leading spirit in social and musical matters, composing much band and dance music. He arranged and copied many of the hymns which were used in the earlier days in the towns where he lived, before printed music could be secured. His death was caused by an accident which occurred in a hayfield near Sanford, June 27, 1910. He left two wives, seventeen children and forty grandchildren to mourn the loss of a devoted husband and an affectionate father.