CHRISTENA MARIA (STENA) SMITH
by EUGENE H. HALVERSON
James Nielson (born Jens Hansen) was born 18 October 1860 in the Parish of Galten, District of Framlev, Skanderborg County now called Aarhus County, Denmark, a town near the Kattegat Sea in Central Jutland, Denmark. He was fifth child of Kisten Maria Jensen Pelsen and Hans Nielsen Herning. His brothers and sisters were Maren Katrine, Anna Johanna, Niels, Jens, Jens (James), and Christian.
The daughter’s of James, May and Ella both tell this story of life in Denmark; The family was poor and times were hard. The wealthy feudal landlords made life very hard for the peasants. Having no land of their own they had to live in a rented house and work where they could. All of Han's children were hired out to these landlords except the two youngest. May said, "My father (James) worked as a farm hand. He had to herd cows, clean corals and feed stock. The corals were kept spotless and were bedded each day with clean straw. They milked the cows three times a day. Father received very little compensation for his labor, mostly board.
May said, "In the winter the children went to school at nine o'clock in the morning and it lasted all day. In the summer they went from six to nine in the morning, then worked on the farm the rest of the day. In Denmark they went to school until they were fourteen years old, then one year to the Priest for examination. None of Grandfather's children went to the Priest as he would not let them.
There was not much time for amusement, as the children had to work all the time. They had little freedom, they attended dances once in a while in the winter. Then there was skating and snowballing. The children of the poor class were allowed to gather the dead wood from the forest. You could see many children with large bundles of wood on their backs. Sometimes going long distances in to the forest for wood and also to gather hazelnuts to store for winter and to roast as they sat around the fire at night. They had a lot of pleasure going into the woods".
The parents and the children were all converts to the Mormon Church and all wished to come to Utah but they didn't have the money for the passage. There was only enough money for the oldest daughter to go at first. It took several years before the rest of the family could earn enough for to follow.
Maren Catrina was the first to leave Denmark, in about 1869 or 1870. She immigrated alone to Salt Lake and then sent down to Richfield, Utah. There she met and married Hans Peter Nielsen, together they had built a farm here. Hans was a miller and a carpenter. She would provide a home for the rest of the family when the rest of family came several years later. In the spring of 1877 the three boys immigrated , they were Niels 22 years old, James 17 and Christian 12. Niels died while crossing the Ocean, we have no explanation for his death, only "Lost at Sea". In the fall of 1877 the father, mother and sister, Anna Johanna (Hannah) left Denmark and made their way to Richfield.
May said, "Father, worked here in Richfield on a neighbor's farm and in the wheat fields. This is where he would meet and marry "Stena" (Christena Marie Smith). They were married 13 December 1879. she was sixteen years of age at the time of her marriage and very pretty. She was born in Fountain Green, 22 March 1863, a daughter of Jorgen and Christina Maria Smith. She like most other pioneer children received only a limited amount of schooling. It was a hard life, but if you read Rye's Story you will find that the children turned work into play. She was required to work in neighbor's homes to earn money for herself and her family. Wherever she went, she made life long friends. Stena was just a small child when her sister, Mary was killed by the Indians and driven from her home. When Christena's father, Jorgen Smith left Richfield to settle Koosharem and later Notom, he took his other wife, Mette. Stena would remain and care for her mother, Christina Maria Smith until she died in Richfield 15 years later on the 22nd of December 1900". The family also cared for James's mother, Kisten Marie Pelsen who died in Richfield 5 September 1895.
James’ name in the Richfield according to the 1880 census was listed as Jens Neilsen and as a "Miller" as an occupation, but we only know him as a stone mason and a coalminer. Christena was his 17 year old wife and Stena's 16 year old sister, Mina was living with them at the time of their marriage. His father, Hans who lived near him taught him to be a stone mason. James taught most of his sons the trade also. Two of the boys used these skills in later life, one was Joe was employed by Utah Fuel and the other was Niels who built his home in Cedar View. They cut stones for the Richfield State Tabernacle and many business houses and homes. Stena or her children would take lunches to the quarry. Sometimes they would stay and watch him split the rock.
James and Stena settled in a log house in Richfield where they lived for about twenty years. This is where twelve of their fifteen children were born. Ida Marie (31 October, 1880--16 February, 1889), Niels Nielson (28 June, 1882--5 May, 1936) James was helping to build the Manti Temple when he received word that his wife Stena was about to give birth to Niels, James walked all the way from Manti to Richfield. May (Mary) (20 October, 1883--19 May, , James Nielson (22 February, 1885--9 March, 1889), Christian Edward (14 December, 1886--18 December, 1957), My wife's grandfather, Joseph was their sixth child, Joseph Henry (14 July, 1888--3 April, 1950), Jennie Melvina (26 December, 1889--1 October, 1945), Carolina (4 March,1891), James (Jimmie) (22 April, 1892), Martha (16 November, 1895), Ethel Ordena 2 June, 1894--20 March, 1901), Deceneous (7 June, 1898--15 February, 1899),
May, their third child said, “I could never remember mother when she wasn't nursing a baby or having a baby. She was the most loving and caring person there was". She spent her whole life feeding, clothing and teaching her growing family. She must have been happy because she is always remembered with a smile. The family was respected and loved by their neighbors.
Sometime in 1898 the family in search of a more stable income and better conditions moved from Richfield, Utah to Spring Glen, Utah. James's brother, Christian Nelson owned farm here in Spring Glen and needed someone to take care of it. Christian was the “Railmaster” of the D&RG Railroad. He helped them settle and helped James get employment. We believe James did buy a farm here. The family was quite large. There were ten children, the parents and Stena's aging mother, Christina. These were hard years the time when four of their children would die, Deceneous who was born in Richfield 7 June, 1898 died in Spring Glenn 15 February, 1899, Manilla Viola was born in Spring Glenn, 10 February, 1899and died soon after. Another child, Minnie was born in Richfield 10 January, 1901 and died at birth.
"Ed said, " After the death of a favored child (Ethel in March, 1901), his father began drinking and gambling. James owned a good share of land in Richfield and much of Spring Glen. He lost most of his belongings to gambling, leaving the family near poverty." "One evening after the sun had gone down in Winter Quarters, Stena and a neighbor stopped to rest while walking. As they sat on the rail road tracks overlooking the town, Stena pointed her finger at the saloons below and said "That's the reason we are always poor."
Poverty caused by James' gambling forced the family to move back to Richfield. They moved back in 1899. After a period of fair health Grandma Smith (Christina Maria) died and was buried, 28 December, 1900 in the Richfield Cemetery. In the next two or three years the Nielson's would move again to Winter Quarters, their last and permanent home. This is where Ella was born 20 December, 1904. The move from the farm to the mining camps caused many problems, drinking and gambling was never a problem in Richfield but it was in Winter Quarters. Stena didn’t like to raise her children in a mining camp. Some of her children began to drift away from the Church.
Hard times also came when James was injured in the mine. His hand was crushed but nothing has been written about it. He was given some work outside the mine. Town Marshall was one these jobs.
A few years later Stena , only 43 years old would die in Winter Quarters on 18 July, 1906. Some say she died of pneumonia. Ella said she died giving birth to her 16 child. She was taken to Richfield and buried near her four children and mother in the Richfield Cemetery. Her name on the stone is listed as Christena Marie. James was left with baby, Ella and three small boys to raise.
Ella Nielson was only 18 months old at her death said, "I never knew my Mother but my cousin James Brown told me this; "They called her Aunt Stena, a noble soul had lived, a good wife, loving mother of a large family, spending her married life, feeding and clothing, teaching and training them for life's mission. I had been in the home many times as a boy, associated with Niels and some of the others. I was always well treated and looked after. I still remember her good looks and the smile on her face. Respected by her neighbors, she lived a good life. I never heard anything bad said about your father and mother. I know you will love and appreciate your mother in all she went through. A small home, not the conveniences we have now to make the work easier. I never heard her complain, but she did the things that were necessary to fill the commandment to multiply and replenish the earth. Honor your father and mother by living in the right way.
Ella Nielson Boothe said; My Mother had a dear friend, a Mrs. Robertson, her maiden name was Gilbert, She told me of the dear times they had together, how she loved her family and tried so hard to make a good home. She made rugs, quilts, and was always busy, Mrs. Robertson said, "She loved my mother as a sister. So if only I could hear more of her early life, it would have been wonderful to know her, and to have heard her dear voice.
James lived in Winter Quarters until all his children were raised. It was very hard to live alone after Ella got married and left home. At times he would leave home for five or six weeks at a time to live with his children. He was always welcome. They tell of a wonderful father and a good grandpa. He cared very much for his family and always tried to be there for them. His grandchildren Norma and Meryl said he was the best grandpa in the whole world. He would always remember them and bring a gift for each one of the children. it wasn't an expensive gift; they just knew that he cared and remembered them. he would tease and play with them. Helen Nielson Houghton tells how he would hide candy or toys in the grain bin for the children to find.
Meryl said "Grandpa would take a teaspoon of sugar, dip it into his coffee and then eat the coffee flavored sugar." To clean his huge handle-bar mustache from his coffee, he would tuck it in his mouth. This would also get the attention of his granddaughters who would stare at him, wide-eyed.
James had been visiting a daughter in Idaho when he got sick, she took him by train to the old Saint Marks Hospital on Beck Street. The Doctor said, "There's not much we can do for him , he's dying". James said, "I don't want to die here, I want to go to May's. He was then taken down to the train depot and sent to Eureka. May met him at the station and took him home in a hearse, the only transportation available. May was a nurse, an angel of mercy, she was always caring for the people in Eureka. She went to the homes of the poor in Eureka to deliver their children and care for the sick. She did this without charge. She was the one the family came to when they were sick or injured.
He died in May Jones’ house, arriving one day and dying the next evening. He died with gallstones. May were told was doing her best to help her Father when five-year-old Meryl said "Mamma, can I help you?" May gave her some lotions to rub on his feet. A short time later Meryl said "Mama, grandpas feet are sure cold." May looked at her father, took Meryl by the hand and without a word led her from the room. Poor Meryl thought that she had done something wrong. James died peacefully in his daughter’s home in Eureka, Utah on the 11 Oct., 1925. After the mortician had done his work, the casket was returned to the home for May the wash and dress him for the funeral serves that were held there. James was later sent to Richfield and buried by his wife and children in Richfield.
Norma said that in his early years, James drank quite heavily, but did change this habit considerably in later years. She said, "At times we would see him sneaking away with his bottle, very quietly then pretty soon you could hear him singing all of these old Danish songs. We would come out to listen. We just loved our Grandpa." Thora said Grandpa would wear his overcoat during in the summer. He always said what kept out the cold should keep out the heat. LeRoy remembers his grandfather’s visits to their farm in the Uinta Basin.