Jens Nielson's experience in the Willie handcart company

Excerpts from
(A History of Bishop Jens Nielson)
By Jay P. Nielson
(Notes in italics by Ben S. Markham)

Upon arriving at the end of the railroad in Iowa, Jens Nielson obtained a victory which to most of us is the most difficult of all, that of parting with money and security. He had the money from the sale of his farm, and unboastfully stated in a letter to his son that he, Jens, had let all of his money go to the Church except enough to buy a handcart, and to stock it with 15 pounds of belongings per person. Thus, he could have obtained wagons, horses, stacks of food and other supplies and traveled west in style and comfort, and early enough to beat the winter. He gained the great victory over selfishness by parting with his life's savings and demonstrated his unyielding faith in God by obeying His every command. This in order that those Saints who had nothing might at least have a handcart. Jens quoted: “Obedience is better than sacrifice.”

Jens, Elsie, their 12 year old son, and a young Mortensen girl, for whom they assumed responsibility to bring to Utah, were left with a handcart, poorly constructed of green lumber, and unfit for the journey. Jens was placed in a camp with four other men with their families who spoke a strange language, English, which Jens could not understand. Jens was made captain of his camp in the Willie handcart company. The company was late starting, and delayed by repeated breakdowns of the poorly constructed handcarts. When finally reaching Wyoming's wind-swept plains, they were caught in a very early and severe winter, with two feet of snow, temperatures to eleven degrees below zero and howling blizzard winds. After consuming their last pound of flour days before, it was here that Jens and Elsie gained a victory over almost certain death through their great physical strength, indomitable courage and unconquerable spirits. Their strength had carried them beyond the endurance of the other four men in their camp who had succumbed to the snow, cold, starvation and exhaustion, and had been buried in shallow graves under the snow. Also buried was Jens' and Elsie's twelve-year old son, Jens, and the Mortensen girl.

The end appeared to be near and certain for Jens. His feet became so frozen he could not walk another step, which caused his right foot to be at right angles the rest of his life. At this point Jens said to E1sie, “Leave me by the trail in the snow to die, and you go ahead and try to keep up with the company and save your life.”

If you believe men have a monopoly on strength and courage, then pay heed to Elsie's immortal words when she said, “Get in the cart and ride, I can't leave you, I can pull the cart.” Jens had to suffer the humiliation of riding while Elsie pulled like an ox.

(It is not known how far Elsie pulled the cart that day, but in other sources it says the total distance traveled between camps was sixteen miles with some steep slopes! She made it to the next campsite, which turned out to be where the help from Salt Lake reached the Willie company. For the record, Jens was about 6’ 2” and 230 pounds, though likely a little lighter at the time. Elsie was 4’ 11’ and under a hundred pounds!!! This is a good example of the need to marry a woman so good she can drag your sorry butt to the Celestial Kingdom!!)

Click here to return to the previous page