The following article was prepared by Peter Forsgren descendant (through his daughter Sarah),
Jean Tyson for her DUP camp meeting in May 2014. She gives a wonderful synopsis of the work, play and family life of children during the settlement period of Utah. She has given me permission to include her essay in our blog. Hopefully it will be fun for the children of YOUR family to see how "easy" they have it! [Photos & links added by Adele Austin. None of the photos is of a Forsgren child]
Peter Forsgren and Anna Knudsen came across the plains at the same time – Peter from Sweden and Anna from Denmark. They had become friends during the journey across the Atlantic, and at the suggestion of one of their leaders decided to marry, so they could travel across the plains together. They were married in Keokuk, Iowa by Peter’s brother, John Erik Forsgren, while the wagon train was making preparations for their journey to Utah. Six months after leaving their homelands, they arrived in Utah. It had been a very difficult trip, and hard times would continue for some time.
Oscar #5 tells that their first home was in a dugout, which they made. It was a hole in the ground about ten feet square and four feet deep. A ridgepole was in the middle to support the roof, which was made by putting poles across. Then willows, rushes, straw, and six to eight inches of dirt placed on top of that. A fireplace and chimney were made of rocks and this was used for cooking and warmth in the winter. When their log house was completed, the dugout was used to store vegetables, etc. The children later used it as a place to gin cotton. Oscar #5 says that a few years later, the young family would build another dugout as a place to live when they fled Johnston’s Army by going to Salt Lake and then to Payson, where they stayed for two years. These two dwellings, the dugout and the log cabin, were built in the Old Fort (Davis Fort). Later a small building was added for a combination church and school room as part of the Old Fort. They stayed in or near the fort until the Indian troubles were over, then set about building log houses in other parts of the city; these were naturally very crude; Oscar mentions that one family used an umbrella in the house to keep the rain off the babies.
Sample of an early pioneer dugout. Many were much more closed-in than this one, burrowing farther down into the ground so that you went down steps or a ladder to enter it. This one would have been too open for the harsh Utah winters. Families often shared their "home" with snakes & insects, but the shelter would have been better than living in a covered wagon box.
When they could afford it, they built an adobe house (late 1850's or early 1860's). It was a room about 14 x 16 feet square. Later a lean-to was built for the loom. Next they built a kitchen, then added a granary. North of the first room, separated by the hall, was the bedroom. There was an upstairs used as a bedroom and as a place where they kept silkworms. The boys would go for clay on the hill near by. This was mixed with water and used on the walls, both in the adobe house and previously in the log house.(See photo of adobe house and other houses built by the Forsgrens; more about silkworms later.)
To Peter and Anna were born 8 children, 6 of whom lived to maturity, 2 of whom died in childhood (Mary, #6, cause unknown, when she was 16 ½ and Lenora, #8, of diphtheria, when she was in her 7th year.) The name of Elias Peter Forsgren, who was the only child born to Peter and Elize, his plural wife, is included in this report as he was accepted and loved by the family – just one more brother.
There were many difficult times. Two of those times occurred in Sarah’s early years.
First, in 1858 when Sarah was 4 years old, Olivia, 2 years old, and Adolph, 10 days old, the family moved south because Johnston’s army was expected, ant their intent was to put down a “Mormon rebellion.” Brigham Young sent word for the Saints to gather to defend their homes and resist being driven out once more. Anna took her three children, and began to walk to Salt Lake City. Peter stayed behind to secure their property. He also took up the board floor of their home to make a wagon box so they could make trip, after which he rejoined his family. They were instructed to go to Payson to defend
Zion. There they made a dugout, where they stayed until the conflict was settled. When they returned to Brigham City, they found all their grain and foodstuff had been taken by Indians. They had many troubles with the Indians in both Brigham and Payson.
Second, fear of Indians coming was a torture to Sarah. Often at night their whoops or cries could be heard. Her father was frequently informed that Indians were approaching and he would leave his young family to help fight them off. Sometimes, when the boys were out on the salt flats herding cows, the Indians would ride up on their horses and intimidate them. The boys would make mud balls on the ends of willows and throw them at the Indians, who would then ride off. The children heard the story of Sister Peters who was home alone one night, when she heard someone trying to open the door. As she approached, an Indian shoved his arm through the doorway. Pushing a table against the door, she grabbed a butcher knife and ran the back edge of it along the arm. The intruder withdrew his arm and then left the premises as the woman screamed for her husband, even though she knew he was nowhere near home. Brigham Young encouraged the families to try to be at peace with the Indians, avoiding conflict as much as possible, and giving them food when asked. In the Forsgren home, Anna frequently shared the little they had when Indians came to their home asking for food and sometimes clothing. The problems with Indians began as the Saints were crossing the plains and continued through their early settlement. As time went by, troubles between the Saints and the Indians gradually subsided.
There were many hungry times in childhood days. It was very difficult to get food enough to eat. At one time a man from Salt Lake City drove some cows to Brigham City to get food for them. One old cow was so starved that she kept nibbling at the bull rushes that covered the dugout. Peter asked permission of Brother Nichols to shoot it. He said that he might get into trouble if he did, but if he saw that it could not possibly live, then he might shoot it. This he did when the cow dropped from exhaustion and starvation. That, together with a little bran, furnished them food for some time. Another time when a cow dropped dead it was determined that it had been poisoned. As hungry as the people were, they hesitated to eat it. One Sister said to feed some to her cat; if it didn't die, they would know the cow was edible. The cat lived; the cow was divided and eaten. No one suffered ill effects.
Olivia #2: In her words, “I was a frail child due to starvation both before and after birth.” The summer before her birth, another cricket scourge caused severe famine, leaving mostly roots for food, such as sego roots and wild tomatoes. She was baptized “for her health” by chopping a hole in the ice when she was 7 years old. Later she tells that they had a cow, but butter was a luxury, as most of it was sold. She said that she scarcely knew what it tasted like until she was 16 years old.
Eli #5 tells that food was so scarce, especially meat, that when an animal died, the one who discovered it first would take the choice cuts of the meat. Sometimes they had to boil the cowhides to make soup.
Sarah #1, herded cows on the mountains east of town, and being fond of segos used this opportunity to satisfy her desires. She ate them raw. However, they were also eaten cooked. During the summer months after her work in the home was finished, she would carry her father’s lunch to him in the fields and often assisted with his work. Oscar #4 tells that before they had metal knives, forks and spoons, Father carved spoons from white birch found in the mountains. Neighbors traded food from their gardens and orchards with each other. The Forsgrens raised sugar beets and made brown sugar from them. They ground wheat or sunflower seeds with a round rock on a flat rock and used it for mush cakes.
Lorinda, daughter of Sarah #1 was known for her efficiency in preparing food well. One of her “delicacies” was head cheese, which is made from pigs’ heads. Lorinda’s grand daughter said, “Grandma knew how to utilize a whole pig. I think she used everything but the squeal.”
For photos & description of how to make it, click here: Head Cheese Recipe
Elias #9 tells of picking peaches, cutting them and drying them in the sun. “Instead of candy bars, we would have dried fruit to eat during the winter.”
Some “specialties” mentioned were fruit soup, suet pudding, and head cheese. Gradually, gardens sprouted, fruit trees began to bear, a variety of berries grew, and fields produced.
(I remember asking my Great Grandmother Christensen how she got so old. I was probably 5 or 6 years old, and she looked old as the hills to me. She thought a moment, and then replied, “I ate a bowl of oatmeal every day.” I then made up my mind that I would not grow old – I thought oatmeal was the worse of all breakfast foods. Now I believe her, and I eat oatmeal almost every day.)
“ … AND WE WORKED – AND WORKED – AND WORKED!”
Sarah #1, as the oldest of a family of eight children, many of the home duties fell on her young shoulders. She helped with the children and also helped her parents weave cloth and carpets. She attended school when her duties allowed (at that time, school was held about three months a year during the winter months), herded the cows, cooked, and took care of her younger brothers and sisters. When crickets began to destroy their crops, the children helped to get rid of them: two children, one at each end of a long rope, dragged it over a field of grain to get the crickets to rise and move off the grain where they could be destroyed more easily. She helped her father in the garden and fields. She didn't write much about her childhood, probably because she was too busy.
Oscar #4, tells that the children made tallow candles which their father used in his work as a janitor at the Court House, theater, and for meetings. He cared for younger children and the cow, worked in the garden, ginned cotton in the dugout, and gathered mulberry leaves for the silkworms. It was interesting to learn that they raised sugar beets and made brown sugar from it. They also ground wheat or sunflower seeds with a round rock on a flat rock and used it for mush cakes. Actually the children helped with all the work, and all they had was produced at home. One of Oscar’s sons later said, “I don’t know how much schooling Father received, but he kept learning all his life.” The people were very united in everything and helped each other. It was while working on a farm in Ogden that Will #7 met the girl he later married after visiting back and forth and some long-distance courting. The people learned how to store their crops. Everyone had a knife and a piece of flint, which they used to strike, sparks to make fires with. When necessary, they borrowed coals. They hauled winter wood from the canyons.
Eli #5 attended school about three years. He learned to sign his name, read a little, and was very good at figures. They made many of the implements they used for farming, some of which were plows made out of old iron. These were used to rake and scrape the ground. They made their rakes of blocks, which they split and fit teeth of metal into. They raised many pigs to sell. These were hauled to Salt Lake City by ox teams, and flour and a little furniture were brought back.
Elias #9, tells two great stories:
1) “Peaches in those days were called ‘seedling peaches’, not much over one inch in diameter. The trees were large and the method we used in harvesting them was to take a long pole and knock them off the trees, which was my lot. Then we picked them up and haul them to a shady place where we would cut them and dry them in the sun. My parents had long scaffolds on the
South side of the house filled with trays of peaches. It was a common sight to go through the streets
and see all kinds of sheds, even on the slopes of houses, covered with peaches drying. We would dry several hundred pounds, which we would use for winter consumption. The surplus fruit was exchanged for cloth to make dresses and shirts and for other household necessities.
2) The silk worms had to be fed twice a day. This is where I come into the picture. It was my job to get my wagon, climb the mulberry trees, of which there were hundreds in Brigham in those days, and pick several burlap sacks full of leaves to feed the worms. When the silkworm season was about to begin, we would clean out one of our three rooms of all furniture to make room for the worms, which were placed on trays, reaching from floor to ceiling.
[This link will take you to a fascinating YouTube video of silk worm raising]
One of Sarah’s grandchildren tells more about childhood work: We made bars and bars of soap. We went to the wheat fields and gleaned every head of wheat we could find; then we would help Father thresh it with clubs. Next we would fan the chaff out by holding it in a pan or large vessel above our heads, and the wind would blow away the chaff as we poured it down to the ground. I was a proud little girl when I had gleaned enough wheat to sell and buy calico to make me a dress.”
Another child about Sarah’s age tells of her duties: “Very young children were given important responsibilities. As soon as my younger sister and I were large enough to hold an ax, we chopped all the wood, milked sixteen cows morning and night, and cleaned stables. When I was nine, I was sent out on the hillside to herd the family’s sheep. I taught myself to crochet lace, braid straw, and to make hats for my family and friends. I never had any childhood. It was work, work, work.” (This didn't seem like whining as much as just stating a fact.)
Lorinda, daughter of Sarah #1, tells that part of a child’s education was that children were to be seen and not heard. Children were taught at school when possible and by parents and older siblings. Strict religious instruction was given by parents in the home. Children also learned from the world around them. Sarah herself tells what treasures books and papers were to this, since her father had to bring them from Salt Lake City by ox cart.
Olivia #2 tells about helping Father gather hay in the field. She also scrubbed the bare unpainted floorboards and steps every Saturday with water, soft soap, clean sand, and a homemade scrub broom (like a whisk broom. Chairs also were cleaned this way.
A BIT MORE ABOUT THE SILK INDUSTRY
Peter Forsgren was a skilled weaver and brought this talent with him when he emigrated from Sweden. Both of his wives – Anna and Elize – were talented weavers as well. When Brigham Young encouraged the Saints to become self-sufficient, he encouraged occupations such as the production of silk. Soon Peter, his wives, and his children as they grew old enough were involved in this home industry. It is stated in the Forsgren Family Association Archives: “It must have been a picturesque scene to see our Grandfather weaving carpets, with a clothes basket suspended by ropes from either side of the loom in which was a little baby, which he would rock with his hand while weaving.”
Oscar #4 reports: When they could afford it they built an adobe house. Later additions included a lean-to for the loom and an upstairs used as a bedroom and as a place where they kept silkworms. When Oscar was about 11 years old, he made the silk reel used by Aunt Elize when she demonstrated spinning and weaving at the Colombian Exposition in Chicago, 1895. Father got his warp from the East. It was one of the first items to be imported. He wove cloth for people in other communities, even from Idaho. And Olivia #2 adds that Father sold some of the cloth he wove to pay for the children’s schooling.
The girls in the family helped with the production of silk. Their mother was the first to produce silk in Box Elder. Family history tells that Peter and his wives wove yards and yards of silk carpeting and draperies in the Logan Temple. Samples of his weaving were found under layers of cloth covering a table when their adobe brick home was recently renovated. Photos of Peter’s work can be found in the Forsgren Family Archives. Very interesting!
Eli #5 helped with the raising of silk worms. He helped to gather the cocoons for others to weave into cloth. Definitely, every member of the family was involved in this home industry.
AND NOW – AT LAST – ABOUT THE FUN TIMES!
A history of Olivia #2 says the children had simple amusements: homemade swings, playing games with brothers and sisters, listening to stories told by parents. Young people enjoyed dances, in the courthouse on holidays and certain week day evenings; brought food; dances started about 8 or 9 p.m., with refreshments served at midnight; then dancing continued until 3 or 4 a.m. Admission was paid for with farm produce.
Marbles have always been popular. In pioneer times they were often river stones,
or made of clay or wood.
Oscar #4 taught himself to play the clarinet and the violin. Eli #5 told that in the winter it was fun ice skating on the old pond when the ice was good; children also enjoyed sleigh riding. Elias #9 comments, “We youngsters didn't have much time for recreation. Our main amusements consisted mostly of playing baseball, spinning tops, and playing marbles.” [Bands & choirs were formed. Brigham Young believed the pioneers needed recreation and was careful to send people of all talents to the various settlements.]
Another of the writer’s ancestors from this same time period says, “My brothers made a very large swing between two very large cottonwood trees, with a pole placed between them with a large rope fastened on it. Two of the young men would swing us with long ropes on each side. We spent many happy hours in my girlhood days.”
From The History of Brigham City: Peter and Alexander Baird organized a dramatic association. Peter A. Forsgren was stage manager. They performed during the winter seasons for about 20 years and sometimes traveled to other communities to perform. They had rehearsals 4 evenings per week most of the time. Surely Peter’s family got to see and maybe even participate in some of the performances. And the tallow candles they made helped to light up the stage.
1. Oscar #4: Silk wasn't the only fabric produced. Sheep, flax, and cotton were grown, so wool, linen and cotton cloth could be made. Cloth for the boys’ overalls was made from the coarse and darker outside part of the flax; sheets, etc., were woven from the better and whiter part. When clothing was worn out, the material was used for making rag rugs.
2. Eli also recalls: In the summer time we never wore shoes, and it wasn't long until our feet would get so tough that we could run over the rocks and not even realize we didn't have shoes on. One time the crickets were so thick that when we walked along the sidewalk, the crickets would squeeze up through and between our toes.
3. Sarah’s daughter, Lorinda often helped others with their health problems. Mentioned in her history are some of the medical remedies used including mustard plasters, hot mustard footbaths, hot lemonade, paregoric, and lots of tender loving care. Olivia #2 tells that later in childhood she had an inflamed eye condition. A passing peddler told her mother to make a pack with coffee grounds and bandage her eyes with it; the condition was cured in a short time.
My reflections: I have put so much time into gathering information for this ancestral history for our DUP meeting May 2014. But it won’t be complete until it is actually given. I will miss peeping through the windows of the beautiful home Oscar built, holding Mary’s silent hand, looking for nourishment for Olivia (including lots of butter), munching sego roots with Sarah as we sit watching the cows on the hill, helping Mother carry baby Adolph as they walk toward Salt Lake City, knowing it was the right choice to name my grandfather for his Uncle Eli, taking a closer look at Lenora’s doll, holding a sack for Elias as he climbs the tree to pick mulberry leaves, riding with Will as he goes a’courting his girlfriend, standing in reverence as I watch Peter rock a sleeping baby with one hand as he sits weaving at his loom with the other hand – then if I still have strength at the end of the day, dancing the night away at the Court House with all the young folk and by the light of tallow candles. I have indeed walked with Sarah and her siblings!
Prepared by Jean Tyson.
Ø Peter Adolph Forsgren Family Association, Adele Austin, Archivist
Ø The History of Brigham City, published by the Utah State Government
Ø Brigham City History Project: Box Elder Fort
Ø Box Elder News Journal: About Brigham City
Ø Jean Tyson’s personal collection histories and other information as received from other descendants of Peter Adolph Forsgren page 6NOTE: see also http://historytogo.utah.gov/ for many more articles on pioneer times and Utah history.