Pioneer: Bengt Nelson
(SUP Reader’s Theater, 03 January 2022)
I was born in Lomma, Sweden, September 28, 1834. I got my education in the common schools of Sweden. I would help father in the summer on the farm and go to school in winter. Father kept a pair of horses, a cow, and about eight head of sheep. He was a hardworking and honest man and very faithful in his labors. Like most of the workingmen of his day, he was away from home, and we children were more under the care of our mother. My mother would take me by her side and go to church and teach me to be honest and truthful, and she tried to serve the Lord to the best of her ability in accordance with the Lutheran Church. This made an impression upon my life, and I give my dear mother the credit for bringing me up to fear the Lord. Also, my dear father did all he could to educate and support our family.
In my teens, because I was handy with tools my father thought that blacksmithing would be a good trade for me. But the constant hammering and clang of the anvil very much annoyed me, and the coal smoke was also very disagreeable, so I gave up this line of work. Mother had a brother who was a good bricklayer, and she prevailed upon him to teach me that trade. I remained with him about three years and enjoyed the work and soon got so I could do fairly well along this line.
Sometime in 1853 I heard of a new religion that had come to the country. It created quit an excitement among the people. The Elders representing this new creed, or Mormonism as it proved to be, had been cast into prison for preaching and baptizing. I was persuaded by my sister and her husband, to go to Malmo where a meeting was to be held in a private house. What I heard there made such an impression upon my mind that I was baptized that same evening -April 15th, 1854. I felt that my father’s relatives and friends would at once accept it as I had done. But not so, instead of friends, they proved to be enemies, and it seemed as though the whole world had now turned against me. Being liable for arrest any day, my brother-in-law, two sisters and I decided to gather together what little means we could and emigrate to America. Father hitched up his team and took us to Malmo. We bid him, and our fatherland adieu, never expecting to see each other again.
My wife Ellen, who I was yet to meet, describes how we both felt at this stage of our lives journey: “I was now left alone in a strange country among strange people who spoke a language I did not understand. But the Lord proved to be my friend and guided me along the proper path.”
I had a dream on the plains that I should marry Ellen Johnson, the girl companion of my sister. I asked her if she thought it would come to pass. She said, “Yes, I have dreamed the same thing, and Frank Woolley is to marry us.”
On our journey to Utah, across the mountains we waded through snow three feet deep. It was with very thankful hearts that we beheld dry ground on our approaching Salt Lake City, where we arrived November 9th, 1856, having been on the plains three months to the day. Accordingly, we were married by Frank B. Woolley in his father’s house one week later.
The council at that time was for those who had no employment to move into the settlements. I found Bishop Klingensmith from Iron County. He was seeking people to go to Cedar City to help build up the iron works. So, in the company with the Bishop and others, we left for the south. On our way we suffered a good deal from the cold. Near Scipio, we were lost in a fearful snowstorm and could not find the road leading up to the canyon. We camped for the night, but in the morning, we found two and a half feet of snow. The whole day we walked ahead of the teams, breaking the road so they could go through it.
We finally reached Cedar City November 29th, 1856. Winter was approaching and the weather was cold. I was very anxious to find something to do to provide ourselves with the bare necessities of life; we were strangers without friends and feeling very lonely. Of course, it was not long before we found friends and good ones, too. The bishop sent me out to herd cattle at Iron Springs, west of Cedar. I was more than willing to accept any job to earn our living for the winter. This insured us something to eat, but we were getting nearly destitute for shoes and clothing. We were not very pleasantly surrounded. Our home was a dugout in the bank of the creek and a fireplace dug out in the bank served as our stove. Willows served as walls, a loose board for a door, and for the roof, some boards laid level with the ground at the top of the bank.
Upon one occasion a band of Indians numbering about a dozen, came to our dugout, and demanded everything we had. We knew it meant death to us if we parted with our food and bedding, but feared death if we refused them. We thought we might as well die first as last, and refused them with the exception of what food we had. They drew their knives across their throats to show us what would become of us if we did not accede to their desires. After giving them practically everything we had in the line of eatables they left us. We were eight or ten miles from Cedar and they could easily have killed us both, without anyone knowing the details of the affair. Of course, we felt to thank the Lord for softening their heart that they did not kill us. The time spent at Iron Springs, about three months, was passed looking after the stock while Ellen was left alone much of the day, thus making it anything but pleasant. On Sunday we walked to Cedar City for church. Our shoes were almost worn out, so we wrapped our feet in jack rabbit fur to walk the 8 miles into town with our shoe laces tied together and our shoes hanging around our necks. We would put our shoes on for church. After church we again wrapped our feet in the jack rabbit fur, and with our shoes around our necks, we walk back to Iron Springs. This was our first winter in Utah.
After that first winter, I was kept especially busy in laying up buildings in Cedar City. When the city was first located, no buildings had been erected, and I had the honor of putting up nearly every house that was built in the place. Adobes were used then almost exclusively, and later I also built about half of the present brick houses in the place. I have built and superintended all our public buildings, with the exception of the Ward Hall, and of this I did a good deal of the building but did not supervise it. I also did a good deal of work on the first Normal building.
To those who may hear this story, consider the circumstances that have surrounded us in obtaining the liberties and blessings of the Gospel, which we received in our native land. ‘Tis true we have suffered privations, but the Lord has ever been mindful of us and has blessed us with comforts of this life that we never could have received in far off Europe. Still, it was with a desire of an eternal reward that we embraced the Faith and like Paul of old it could be said: “If in this life only we have hope we would be of all men the most miserable.”