by Martin Calderwood
It was almost 4 o’clock when the companionway went down. A handful of single men rushed off the boat carrying heavy sea bags full of their belongings. In seconds they were lost from view as they melted into the swirl of life on the docks. On the other hand, families carefully gathered belongings and made arrangements for their luggage to be offloaded Plans were compared and though few knew exactly what to expect, most would go to the Lines main office and seek help there. The Mormons explained their plans to remain together and a few decided to join them in hopes of at least some help moving into this strange land. Planning gave way to reminiscing and gratitude was expressed all around. The meeting almost had a religious feel, so one of the passengers suggested they sing a couple of hymns. When these were over they talked for a few more minutes, until someone mentioned how much they still had to do before they left the ship. For those who wanted to stay, a final word of prayer was offered, expressing gratitude for their safe arrival and asking divine intervention to guide them from here on. With that, the passengers gathered the last of their goods and left the ship, saying whatever goodbyes to the crew that they could as they walked off. Once they were down on the dock most of them stayed together in small clusters and waited until fellows were off the boat. For the Mormons, word had been sent earlier. If all went well one of those assigned to watch the docks would be there to escort them to the next phase of their journey. Kristoffer had assured his family that once they were in America, the church had things well organized and planned.
“The journey,” he said, “will be completed in such a way that you all should be safe, unless something unexpected happens.”
Still, his family was very anxious to see him. They realized that since the unexpected had already happened, causing their ship to be over a week late in its arrival, he would not be waiting as had been planned. He would be very worried because there was no way of his knowing what had happened to cause the delay.
It took another two hours for the passengers’ property to be brought to them. They milled around, sitting where they could, and tried to keep from being overwhelmed by the intimidating world that just exploded around them on the docks New York. Getting their land legs back also proved to be a challenge and there were wobbles and stumbles, especially among the children, who were the most active. Even Julius and Bernt had some initial trouble walking. It would be a couple days before the effects of the moving ship were totally overcome.
Twice, during their wait, they were approached by well dressed men who offered to take them to a place to stay. Another offered them jobs on the railroad while a fourth offered food and protection for an exorbitant price. Each was handled in the same polite way. One of the men asked if the speaker was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ. Most of these strangers replied that they were, but one shook his head and turned away.
“How’s Brother Joseph?” was the next question.
One replied that he was doing fine, not knowing they were referring to the church founder, and was looking forward to seeing them. He was politely refused. The others had no idea who or what Joseph Smith was, so they too were dismissed.
By five the crowds began to grow. Word spread among the Mormons and those with them of a Grand Harbor celebration of American Independence. Fireworks from the fort were promised and food was planned. Fires were built around them and the smells of roasting meat and food soon began to filter over the oily, briny smells of the harbor. The children complained of hunger and were given some of the ship’s food to tide them over. Everyone was beginning to be affected by the smells around them. They were about to go try to buy something when word came down that, to speed things up, the men should come help bring out their trunks and luggage. They left immediately even though everyone was feeling both anxious and excited about being on the front row of this event1.
When Nils, his fellow crewmen, and the Norwegian men had brought the trunks and boxes up from the hold he said was off duty in an hour, and he would join them with a couple of his friends including, to Karen’s delight, Sven. He also revealed that the sailors had been told that there would be plenty of free food and beer for all and that no one would be turned away if they were willing to wait in line. Reminded that Mormons did not drink beer, Nils promised to find an alternative if he could. One of the sailors suggested they look for lemonade and within minutes they found a nearby stand. The Norwegians got their first taste of America, one they would never forget.
At 6:30, as promised, Nils, Sven, and two burly sailors came down from the ship and joined the small cluster of thirty or so lemonade-sipping people who remained from their ship. Under their guidance, everyone was soon eating and celebrating a holiday they did not yet fully appreciate. Using their luggage as a makeshift dining and observation area, the group prepared to watch the show and wait for someone to come and lead them on toward Zion.
Except for when he was eating or crowding close to his father as they moved around, Johan alternately sat or stood on one of the three trunks the family had brought with them. He watched, wide-eyed, as sights he had never imagined paraded past him in a kaleidoscope of colors and shapes that both terrified and amused him. All the while he clutched his troll close to his chest as if it were a shield against all unknown. From time to time he would say something to the toy and then he would be silent as if he were listening to some kind of reply. Occasionally a lilt of soft laughter escaped his lips as the minutes ticked by. He ate with great gusto and smacked his lips at corn on the cob, frankfurters (or hotdog)2 and lemonade.
Sigrid, on the other hand, clung to her mother like a tight coat, only occasionally looking out before burying her head again in her mother’s skirt. She tasted the lemonade and had a bite or two of the strange tube of meat. To her mother’s surprise, her youngest did not cry or even whine, but remained silent and clingy. She would occasionally go to Karen, who spent most of her time talking softly with Sven or watching the sights herself.
Bernt was the adventurous one. He quickly noted all the landmarks needed to find his family and set out to explore. He returned as the crowds thickened, more out of respect for his family than desire. He told his father that he had found the White Star Office where Nils had told them they could leave a message, either in person or by telegraph, any time while he was gone. He also saw two other ships, and shops and places so grand that he could barely describe them all. He suggested they stay in New York and forget this trip to Utah and the outer reaches of nowhere, as he called it. Julius only promised to talk about it at a later time.
Finally, around seven thirty, a short, rather rotund man came hustling up followed by two young women and another, rather perturbed looking woman, who turned out to be his wife. He was flustered and only slightly apologetic for his delay, insisting that no one expected the ship to make harbor on the fourth. He had been enjoying a picnic with his family when word had reached him of the new Mormon arrivals. He had arrived expecting to find a clutch of people huddled in a corner terrified to move or even breath. The man was very surprised at the way he found this group, stating that he had walked by a few minutes earlier and actually dismissed them as more experienced travelers before something whispered to him that they were the ones he was searching for. Had he known, he added, that they had sailors and God looking out for them, he might have taken a bit more time to finish his ice cream before leaving.
He introduced himself as Brother Emil Goplen, and he told them that he had been in America for almost three years now, after arriving from Norway in August of 1862. By September, Goplen and his family had been asked to stay in New York, for a year to help his fellow immigrants get to Utah as easily and quickly as possible. He had received the call in a letter from Brigham Young himself.
Goplen explained that, besides the search of the dock, it had taken him three or four times longer to just get to the harbor because of the gathering crowds. Moving the three large wagons, which they kept ready all the time for arrivals, was the biggest problem. Even now they were parked over a half mile away. He apologized that it would still be several hours before they could leave.
“Sooo,” he concluded, “we might as well sit back and enjoy the show.”
When asked about the non-Mormons in the group and the timetable for the near future, Goplen simply smiled and asserted that they would discuss it all later.
During the show, Julius learned that the Goplens knew Kris and Inga. They promised that word would be sent to them first thing in the morning. They also casually discussed plans and were told that, if all went as scheduled - or hoped, they would arrive in Utah before the first big storms hit in mid- to late September. They discussed the political climate with the recent death of President Lincoln and the aftermath of the War Between the States. Emil tried to explain, but there was too much ground work to lay in too short of a time. In the end, when the fireworks started just after dark, they all back and enjoyed the show. But Bernt and another young man seemed distracted, paying more attention to the Goplen daughters than to anything else. That is, until the first explosion and expansion of sparks brought them all back to the here and now in a single, bright flash of a light. Sigrid dove into her mother’s lap and children and babies wailed in surprise. Soon, however, all but the baby were engrossed in the spectacle of celebration, not only of the birth of a nation but of the end of a bloody and violent war that almost tore it apart.
It was well past midnight when the fully loaded wagons eased out of the dock area and onto the surprisingly occupied streets of New York. By two, they pulled into the courtyard of a large boarding house Goplen used to house newcomers. Funds for one night were paid for by the church, then gathered from the new arrivals the next day. Emil assured the exhausted immigrants that their goods would be fine. He would come for them after they woke and had a time to clean up a bit. He advised them also that they should eat lightly because it was customary for his wife and some of the other ladies in the church to prepare one big meal, usually a breakfast with all the trimmings, for new arrivals. After that, the business of getting to Utah would begin in earnest.
“Hold on to your coins and be patient,” they were told. The non-Mormons were welcome to stay the one night at church expense. He promised them he would arrange to get them to places where they could contact their family or talk with an honest agent as soon as he could. He also reminded them that they did have to pay for their room and board, just like everyone else, from the next night and beyond. He half jokingly added that if they wanted to join the church, they could talk later. One of the families, who came from Denmark, said they would seriously consider it, but they needed to know more.
Goplen finally bid them goodnight around four in the morning. He told them that he would send someone over around noon to escort them to a meeting hall where they would eat and start the trek to their new home.
“By tomorrow night, you will officially be Utah-bound.”
The meeting hall turned out to be the upstairs dance hall of one of the local pubs. The newly arrived Mormons were appalled, but they soon learned that the infant church was still viewed with suspicion - even in America. It was hard to find any place to meet. Bar owners, who frequently found their places empty on Sunday mornings, were often eager to get a few dollars in rent each month to help their bottom line. Bro Goplen quipped that they would rent to the devil if he paid cash, so he supposed the Mormons were the next best choice.
Earlier a handful of members had arrived to clean the upstairs and most of the pub itself as payment for the hall that day. They made arrangements to use the cooking facilities, which were better than most of those found in establishments of similar ilk. The Sisters had arrived around eleven, including a still-tired Sister Goplen and her daughters, and had prepared a meal of bacon, eggs, potatoes and fruit. It was enough, observed one owner, to feed a small army. They also fed the few patrons at the bar and the staff that had come early enough, as part of the deal. When Emil arrived with his guests the “upper room,” as he called it was well prepared.
Among those who joined the celebration were Kris and Inga, who had hastily requested a day off from their jobs, Kris as a longshoreman and Inga as a maid. The reunion was filled with tearful joy. Others in the party were also reunited with friends or loved ones as word spread throughout the day that the Hope had arrived safely. One couple arrived looking for their parents and left, disappointed that they had not been on this ship. As the gathering and meal progressed, conversations, introductions, and tales of travel passed among the diners as they prepared, ate, and offered prayers of gratitude that all was well. Inga and Kris regaled the Saints with tales of their time in America. Even Bro Goplen added a few amusing anecdotes to the festivities.
Nils, too, was able to join them, albeit a bit later in the day. He gave his father the last of his savings, consisting of just over nine American dollars.
After almost two hours, the feast wound down and conversations grew more casual and intimate. When the last of the food was cleared or taken down to the steadily growing population in the bar below, everyone, including the newcomers, pitched in to clean up. Emil, who switched easily from Norwegian3 to English, and even some German, directed traffic upstairs before going downstairs to confirm the arrangements for the Sunday church service. He even conversed easily with the Danish and Finnish Saints that were in the group as well.
Finally, after five, Goplen gathered the heads of each family or group, along with anyone else who wanted to come, and took them into one of the side rooms. There, he outlined the next steps of the journey and gave them an overview of what to expect. First they would be asked to pool all their remaining money, which would be used to buy railway tickets to the city of Saint Joseph, Missouri.4 The remaining funds would be used to pay for a ninety-four mile river boat trip to the town of Wyoming, Nebraska. From there they would meet up with teamsters and wagons sent from Utah and would be organized into companies to cross the remaining distance across what was known as the Nebraska City Cutoff Trail.
Emil explained that they had recently changed the location of the gathering point for the saints because it was better for staging the final leg of the journey. He also added, with a wry smile, that the previous site offered too many worldly enticements that some of the less disciplined saints were unable to resist.
Julius and some of the others were immediately concerned about the money situation. They discussed the severe lack of funds they all had, knowing that even if they combined their remaining monies they would not get far. When, finally, one of the brethren raised the issue Bro Goplen looked apologetic.
“I forget,” he said softly “I am afraid I have fallen into a routine – you are my fourth group. I forget that you do not know about one of the great blessings the Lord has provided. Again I apologize. If you will bear with me I will put your minds at rest.”
He paused a moment and smiled.
“This entire way we do things is a testimony to me that we have a prophet guiding us. President Young is like Moses leading the Children of Israel to the Promised Land. He is doing things a bit differently; however, I don’t think Moses had trains and river boats to deal with.”
Some of the men chuckled softly.
Emil continued. “Right from the start we have been engaged in gathering the chosen saints from out of the world. After the death of the Prophet Joseph and his brother, Hyrum, in Carthage, Illinois in June of 44, it became apparent we could not find a home East of the Rocky Mountains. We went west at great sacrifice and cost. Many died in the early years, and life is still not easy. The work of gathering the saints goes on. You are part of that grand effort. Most of you gave up much with very little to show from it except for a promise of something greater. Yet here you are, each for your own reasons, but the common line is, that you all know, or at least hope that it is the right thing to do.
“I remind you that God is very much aware of you and your reasons and your situations, and he has provided a way for you not only to get to Utah but to do so with a helping hand and not a handout.”
Julius nodded. He had joined the Mormons because they talked about not only the things of God in the next life but the things of God now. Emil’s explanation touched him on that level again as his listened.
“Under the guidance of Brother Brigham, a way was set up to provide funds, as I said, to help people travel to Utah. A company, known as The Perpetual Emigration Fund Company5, to be precise, was set up to gather these funds from a variety of sources. Eventually the church itself stepped in and helped provide money as well. You will be asked to sign a note of promise saying that you will pay back the money lent you by the company. This money will, in turn, be given to others for the same purpose, and so forth.”
A murmur of agreement and approval passed through the men. Julius and Kris exchanged glances. Earlier Kris had told his father that he and Inga had managed to save over thirty-five dollars in the months they had been working. Kris made no secret of the fact he still had some hesitation regarding the church, but he had attended several of the services with Inga when they could both get the time off together. Kris believed New York City had everything the family could need. He had the feeling that New York was about to become the hub of something spectacular, now that the War Between the States was over.
“There will be jobs galore and your skill, Papa will be in high demand. We can build our fortune, then move to Utah!”
Julius had listened patiently to his son, who finally realized that his father was not going to budge when he did not say anything. He knew that Inga was ready to go and he did not want to be alone. Finally he gave up his dream and promised he would travel with the family. He pledged the money they had saved for that cause.
Father Berntsen smiled and winked at his son. “You also don’t want to disappoint your mama.”
Kris grinned back and nodded mouthing, “Not in my lifetime.”
Bro Goplen waited a moment for silence and attention to return. “I repeat, it is not a hand out, but a covenant and you will be expected to pay it back in money, labor, or a combination of both. I have the funds at my disposal and the tickets will be purchased here. The next train leaves this Monday, the tenth. I know it is fast, but we must do all that we can to get you, and those that are still coming, to Utah before the early snows hit the Rockies. That can happen, I have been told, as early as mid September.
Again he waited as the news sunk in.
“For now, rooms will have to be arranged. The boarding house where you are is a good spot. The rates are reasonable, thanks to our continued business. We will purchase tickets
Friday morning and move your belongings to the train station on Saturday. I know that this sounds difficult but we have done this before and, with the Lord’s help, we will do it many more times. We will meet here Friday. Now, stay here as long as you want, the hall is ours until seven.”
“My family will be staying with us,” Kris volunteered immediately. “We have a small flat nearby and though it will be crowded but we will be fine for a couple of days. We have paid through the end of the month and we are leaving early. If we don’t ask for anything back I am sure they can put up with us for a day or two.”
That night the family made their plans. Kris told the landlord that he was leaving and that he would not ask for any refund. As expected, this made the older man happy, and he granted the family’s request to stay through the weekend. Bernt and his brother brought up the trunks. Packing began, though it was suggested that Sigrid could use one of the trunks for a bed.
Though Trine objected at first, the family, with heavy urging from the two oldest, decided to take a tour of the areas around the apartment. Word was sent to Nils, but was unable to join them.
The family retired early and slept soundly until just after dawn. For breakfast they ate fresh fruit and milk and pumpernickel, a bread they found strange but tasty, but which neither Johan or Sigrid liked. They left the apartment just after ten.
New York City was bigger, louder, and brighter than anyplace the Berntsens had experienced. They were speechless. Julius noticed how much Kris enjoyed giving this walking tour of the area around the docks, but he was concerned that five of the precious dollars seemed to vanish in the wake of a whirlwind that gave them tastes, sights and memories to reinforce Kris’ contention over the wild and empty space called Utah. If he had not put his foot down Julius was certain they would have spent even more. Still, a quick, half smile to his wife told Trine that he, too was having the time of his life.
Trine and Karen were fascinated by the fashions, which ranged from poor peasant frocks and women in pants to elegant pastel or gray-shaded gowns that flowed and were swept along the paved main streets. Bernt and Kris watched the fashions too, not for the style but for the models. On a couple occasions Trine cuffed one or both boys for improper remarks. Inga watched the men and stopped and gazed longingly at the contents of the windows they passed. Julius watched his family and, in general, shook his head at the strange and sometimes obscure looking items in the shops and stalls that they passed or visited. Johan walked, open mouthed, down the streets. He clung tightly to his troll, which he insisted should be allowed to come along. Once, he left it behind on an outdoor table where they had eaten corn on the cob. Without warning he turned and darted down the sidewalk, vanishing into the city in a matter of seconds. Bernt had followed at a sprint and managed to keep the boy in his sight until Johan ducked back into the outdoor eating area.
“Zorf!” came the cry that alerted Bernt to his brother’s location. “He’s MINE!”
A loud crash of a falling metal chair followed. When Bernt got the boy in view, the troll was crushed to his chest and a chair lay on its side, a silent witness to what had just happened. A red faced waiter, a young man about Nils’ age, stood trying to decide whether to laugh or yell. He saw the frantic Bernt and, laughing, reached out roughed Johan’s hair, saying something in English that neither boy understood. Chuckling, he reset the chair and walked away, the rest of those in the area returning to their own pursuits. The waiter’s smile was real and Bernt smiled back. He took his brother by the scruff of his neck and lead him and Zorf out to the sidewalk, just as the rest of the family arrived.
Trine was breathing heavily. She was holding Sigrid in her arms and looked slightly pale from her exertion. The little girl hugged her mother tightly before allowing her father to take her into his arms. Trine expressed concern for her two youngest, and the outing would have ended there except everyone volunteered, at Inga’s urging, to carry and watch them closely. A few moments of whining ensued before Johan got them to include Zorf in the deal.
After hours of walking, one taxi ride, storefronts, street venders and so much more, their senses and stomachs were so full that by the time they returned to the small second floor apartment they could barely move. The three youngest were asleep before Trine could unroll a blanket on the floor. The beds were given to the parents, and everyone was asleep by nine. Dreams filled the night: a wide road called Broadway, the harbor full of boats, and buildings three, five and even six stories tall touching the very sky above. Smells of machinery, exotic foods, and oil floated in their memories while people who were black-, brown-, and yellow- skinned mixed with those who were tall and fair in a dance the newcomers could not understand but wanted to join.
Only Johan slept fitfully, dreaming of disappearing trolls and changes he did not want to understand. Kris’s words “The old ways are gone. We must embrace the ways of America,” were filtered into a dreamy conversation with Zorf, who told him that the ways of the past must remain with the ways of the future or much would be lost. He did not understand, and cried out so much he woke his mother. She comforted him with words that did not comfort: “We will be happy here.”
Johann could feel her heavy heart as she spoke, and he hugged her, feeling for a moment like he was the protector. It was a very strange sensation.
His father had added, “America is our home now, we will learn her ways and keep the past in our hearts.”
The next morning when he told his dream to Kris, his older brother had laughed and told him America was even greater than anyone could imagine and he was worried about the rigours of pioneer life.
“Perhaps then,” he concluded, “the old ways of milking cows and hard labor just to eat will have a place. I, for one, do not want to give up what potential we could have here. If Nils had not already abandoned us to go sailing I would stay, but I am the eldest, and so I am obligated to see to the family while the rest of you can seek your fortunes elsewhere if you want when you come of age.”
Even Johan and Sigrid could feel his disappointment and barely hidden bitterness in his words. His parents warned him to not confuse the young ones and Kris remained sullen and silent the rest of the day. Both parents understood why their son resented his brother’s decision because it meant he had lost his right to choose, and thus was forced to go against his dream. They were glad that Nils had been so busy with his ship duties that he was not there very much.
Inga, on the other hand, bubbled with excitement as she packed her few belongings. “You know that some Mormons can have more than one wife?” she teased Kris. “Maybe your possibilities lie there, fathering an army of strong young boys to help around your farm.”
“With his fortune they would all look like you,” joked Bernt barely ducking a the cloth his sister threw at him.
“That is enough,” ordered Julius almost too soft for anyone to hear. Instantly all the children were back on task. Soon Kris and his brother were carrying their trunks down the stairs to be transported to where the other Mormon’s luggage awaited their loading onto the train which was scheduled to depart Monday morning, July the tenth.
Saturday was spent making final purchases and preparations out of the Goplen’s home, which doubled as Church Headquarters in the area. Ten saints had arrived from England, bringing the total who were taking the train to Wyoming to sixty-three. From time to time other New York church members dropped in. The local congregation numbered just over sixty active members, and two or three dozen were “just too busy” to be active in the church meetings, but who knew Joseph was a prophet and that the Lord had written –translated- the book using Joseph as an instrument in His hands. Never had most of the converts been among so many members and they felt for the first time that, even amidst the babble of five different languages, they were part of a fellowship of saints that existed nowhere else on earth at that time.
During this time the promissory notes were signed. The average was around twenty-seven dollars for this group, but Julius’ was thirty-two, due to the large size of his family, even after Kris and Inga’s contribution. The train would leave at 11:32, Monday morning.
The spirit of peace carried over to the meeting above the bar on Sunday. At his Captain’s insistence Nils had joined them for the day. They partook of the Lord’s Supper and sang hymns and were taught, all according to the “dictates of the spirit,” in a variety of languages. Emil and the other leaders made certain there was something uplifting for everyone. At the end of the meeting five of the men were ordained as Captains of Five and Julius was ordained a Captain of Fifty.6
After the service they ate a common meal that had been planned the day before, each family contributing from their remaining stores so that nothing went to waste. The fare was diverse, and groups tended to keep together by common language. Every so often Emil was called upon to translate or interpret as friendships began, some of which would last a lifetime.
The only problem occurred when Bernt and a boy from England and the same age, got into a rooster fight over who could best impress the Goplen girls. Emil solved the problem by sending his daughters, with their mother, to help with the clean up below.
The Mormons were gathered in several large wagons the next morning. They had been told to be ready by six. The gathering and transport of the saints to the train yards would take several hours. Nils arrived at 5:30 to say his final farewells. He promised he would join them in two years. He gave each of his brothers a folding pocket knife for whittling and to his sisters he gave an ivory and silver sugar tong, because they were so sweet. He gave his father the last bit of pay he’d received, six dollars, and a sailor’s cap. He gave his mother a necklace with the ship’s name carved on it.
“Just a reminder that I am in good hands,” he said.
To Karen’s delight Sven, had quietly tagged along. He tried to remain in the background but ended up sharing several private minutes talking softly with her. Nils saw, but did not report, their first kiss while standing back in the shadows.
Parting was very difficult, and many tears were once again shed as the uncertainty of the future loomed more real than ever before. Each one knew that there was a chance that they would never all be together again in this life. It was with heavy hearts and some relief that the family climbed into the wagon at last, just past seven.
The ride to the railway was silent. Everyone was too tired or pensive to break the sullen, yet hopeful, mood. Even the horses’ hooves seemed to muffle themselves as they moved along the busier than expected traffic.
The train yard smelled strongly of grease, oil, manure, and smoke. Pointed-nose engines chugged slowly along miles of linked and confusing tracks. Men with loud voices and cone-shaped horns shouted and ran, throwing switches and guiding engineers, who skillfully created trains of cars for people, animals and products. Freight cars were loaded with crates and goods as varied as the sizes of the men who carried them. Others whistled and shouted as they drove cattle or other animals onto open-slatted cars that allowed the air in and the smells out. Wagons and cannons of all descriptions and sizes stood ready. More, empty and full, wove their way carefully though the organized chaos of the yard. Soldiers with rifles stood watching, or waiting in loose formation for orders to move or disperse as the final stages of the armed conflict took their toll on the patience of man and beast.
In the distance, corrals of horses and other animals could be seen waiting their turn. All these sites faded into unimportance as they arrived at the passenger boarding area where three brightly colored trains and one deep black engine sat waiting for their passengers. It was everything mothers could do to keep their young boys from running off to gaze at the strange vehicles that would bear them the hundreds of miles to a place where they would join a wagon train west. While the men and older boys loaded the last of their goods, many of the women satisfied their own curiosity under the guise of letting their children get closer to these great “iron horses.” Most were very relieved, however, when they were allowed to climb the two step wooden stair into the train car and take their seats. Other wagons and coaches pulled up with more passengers.
It was 11:06 AM when the last of the wagons pulled up. Julius and his sons, along with the other men quickly helped offload the wagons and get the luggage into the train’s baggage car, which by now was almost too full. With a little expert help from two black porters, they got everything in, just as the whistled signaled departure in five minutes.
The pioneers quickly clambered aboard the passenger cars and sat down on the bench seats that alternated facing forward and rear, like a stage coach arrangement. The “Mormon train,” as Kris dubbed it jokingly, had five passenger cars, situated toward the back, six box cars, a mail car and three cars loaded with soldiers. Two flatbeds carried cannons and at the very end, just before the caboose, were two cars full of horses and one of cows. Trine wondered how anything could pull such a large load. She was assured by one of the conductors, with Kris’s help, that the train could easily handle this size a load and that once they got going they would average just over forty miles an hour and might go as fast as eighty in some areas.
“If all goes well you will be in Nebraska by the Thursday, or Friday at the latest,” said the conductor.
“How far is it?” asked Inga trying to remember what she had been told the last time she’d asked.
“About twelve hundred miles as the crow files, I hear,” replied the conductor. “We will get you to Buffalo by nine tonight. Your connection is due to leave at ten tomorrow morning. Our engineer has an excellent record, so don’t you fret, things will be fine.”
“It will be an easy journey, mama,” whispered Julius, taking her hand when he noticed the worried look in her face. “The wagon trip will be worth it, too.”
“So long away.” she muttered. “I miss our home already. Do you?”
Julius nodded. “In some ways, yes. But we made the right decision and all will be well with us. You will see, Mama, you will see.”
Trine smiled and looked around at her family. Sigrid sat comfortably between her and her husband. Facing them was Johan and Bernt. Inga and Karen sat in the next row, backs to them. Trine could hear their voices talking excitedly as the whistle signaled the all aboard. Kris’s seat was opposite them but right now he was standing at the back of the car gazing out at the city he might never see again. The family all missed Nils, but Trine particularly missed her second son. The Hope would sail again in four days, repairs and refitting having gone better than planned. They would have had left in three days but no ‘proper sailor’ would willingly leave port on the thirteenth of the month.
“Let us hope no one gets sick,.” replied Trine finally.
Julius again patted her hand and smiled. “I am sure we will be fine,” he said softly. “God will watch over us.”
After several seconds of sitting, the two younger children grew restless. Trine could tell by his fidgeting that Johan had to relieve himself so she quietly nudged her husband who looked skyward.
“Off da!” muttered Julius. “Didn’t we just take care of that?”
Trine nodded and turned her attention to her son. “Try to hold it until the train is moving. Try to see if you can see any Indians.”
Johan smiled and turned almost eagerly to the window, pressing up close as he searched the yard. For a few minutes he forgot all about his problem. He held his troll up so he could help.
The train whistled a long almost mournful tone and the car lurched as the great engine’s wheels bit the track and pulled forward. The powerful locomotive struggled briefly with metal wheels against metal rail. The piston driven wheels bit and the train lurched and rolled roughly forward. Passengers rocked or went rigid to support themselves as each car was tugged into motion.
Johan fell sideways and almost lost the grip on his toy while both Kris and Bernt gripped rails or benches to remain upright. After several hundred yards the train’s rhythm fell into place and it moved out of the station and into the stock yards and industrial areas of the great city. The passengers relaxed and Julius took his son to the back of the train where, inside a small closet-like structure, a lidded seat that opened over the track waited for use. Johan returned a few minutes later stating, finally and with some disappointment, that he had not seen any Indians.
Fifty, then a hundred miles slid by as the train rolled through beautiful green lands, large farms, and towns, each distinct and wonderful with their own unique sets of smells and sites. The train stopped for water and wood and to take on and disembark passengers. Those who were remaining aboard were given time to stretch their legs, use personal facilities, and buy food or drink if they so desired. The Mormons had been told to conserve their money and each family or group had been provided with a meal basket and a canteen of water for each adult sized member7. They had been told that a representative of the church would meet them at Buffalo and see to their boarding needs for the night.
The ride was bumpy and the train clacked along at a steady rhythm which eventually lulled some of the passengers to sleep. Others stared out the window, eager to see sights that were new and exciting, but even this proved insufficient for some. Some sat in conversation, others practiced their English. The youngest children flocked around the conductor for a while because the elderly man spoke with the universal language of childhood pleasure, a seemingly endless supply of hard candy on which to suck.
The trip went as routinely as one could imagine. Meals and water were consumed and the baskets and canteens were gathered and packed to be given to the representative in Buffalo, who would send them back for another group. At 9:49 PM the train rumbled to a stop and the conductor called out instructions, moving up and down the aisle and helping as he could. Fellow workers helped ladies off the train and offered to help those with bags and other luggage as needed.
The Mormon representative who met them in Buffalo was a tall blond boy who lived there with his family. He introduced himself as Gary Richards, and explained that he was the only member in his family. Though he spoke only English he was able to get the people to their boarding house and make certain luggage and supplies were all transferred by eleven. He said he would be back to pick them up at seven, and that they would have to find food for themselves. He gave Julius ten dollars, saying that this should be enough if they did not go overboard, a term nobody understood until someone figured out it meant ‘be careful’.
Julius and the other men joked among themselves that there were very few people as frugal as the Norseman and that they would be able to hand back some of the money if they only spent ten or fifteen cents each.
The rooms were comfortable and almost as nice as those in New York. Most of the people bathed and got out clean clothes for the next leg of the journey, which would take them to Chicago - a twelve to fourteen hour journey from Buffalo. During this leg they would track along the edge of Lake Erie. They would pass through parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and finally into Chicago, Illinois on the tip of Lake Michigan.
Buffalo, like New York, was a melting pot of people of all skin tones, shapes and sizes. It was in Buffalo, however, that the family saw their first Indians, two men in wide brimmed hats, plaid shirts and leather pants8. Their shoes were also white-man made. They each wore a knife on their belt and their hair was dark black and longer than most of the people around. Their reddish-brown skin was almost leathery in appearance and laughed as they walked. Johan wanted to follow them and say hello but the imminent departure of the train, due to leave at 10:45 AM, prevented it. The family only had time to check their baggage and make certain their tickets were in order before boarding the train. Gary was there with his father and a man he introduced as Elder Jacobs. There were a few words of counsel and advice for the trip and a few warnings about the city of Chicago. There would be someone to meet them. As soon as the train pulled out, Gary would wire the church members in Chicago and make sure all was prepared. Julius was proud to be able to turn back three dollars to the Elder, who seemed impressed with their frugality.
Spirits were high as they took their seats, five cars back from the wood car. Between them, to give the smoke from the engine a chance to clear, were two freight cars and the mail car. Behind them were three other passenger cars, two flat beds full of iron rods and train rails, and three cars full of cattle bound for the slaughterhouses of Chicago. Bringing up the rear was a nice car that held conductors and other staff on their way back to Chicago. Most were working and would help passengers and keep the train running as needed.
This time the seats were not quite as grouped, or clustered, as they had been on the previous train. The Bernstens shard the car with a group of Veterans, all of whom had suffered serious injury during the war. Two men were each missing a leg, another had his left sleeve pinned back to his shoulder, another had a patch on his right eye and walked with a heavy limp, and the final one appeared to have been badly burned, with heavy scarring over much of his face and head. He wore gloves and a hat and it appeared that he did not have any hair. The appearance of these men proved so unusual that during the first hour the dozen or so children in the car had to be constantly reminded not to stare or point.
Finally, to his parents chagrin, Johan went over and stood next to the men who, for the most part, had been conversing quietly among themselves and ignoring, in general, those around them.
“Does it hurt?” he asked softly in hesitant English.
One of the men, the one with a missing arm, was tall, blond and good looking. He smiled and looked at the boy as the others fell silent.
“You are from Norway?” he asked in perfect Norwegian.
Johan was taken totally by surprise. “Ja,” was all he managed to stammer as he stepped back a few feet.
“Nice, Vike,” the man with the burned face snickered, “now you’ve gone an’ scared the wee lad.”
The man called ‘Vike’ ignored him. “Is that your ma and pa?” he asked looking over at Trine and Julius.
Wide eyed, Johan nodded silently.
“My name is Anders Torgelson9. My friends call me ‘Vike’, short for Viking. I come from Trondheim. What is your name?”
“Hello Ummmm. How are you today?” said Anders giving the boy a humorous wink.
Trine smiled as she watched her son shift his weight consciously.
Julius chuckled. “Tell him your name, son.”
After a moment the boy smiled.
“JOHAN!” he almost shouted.
“Well, Johan, it is nice to meet you. Yes, it sometimes hurts. I can even feel my fingers hurting once in a while, even though they are gone. Where are you from?”
“Beautiful area. Where are you going?”
“And what is the name of your troll?”
Johan relaxed visibly. “He told me his name is Zorf.”
“Hello Zorf. Welcome to America.”
The conversation continued, and soon other children began to inch forward to see the strange men. Tommy, Hans, Olie, and several others began to chatter and soon the men were busy talking, telling their stories and generally having a relaxed time. Only one, the man with the patch, sat sullenly in the corner next to the window, not bothering to be drawn into the conversation by the children or his companions. Whenever it was necessary (and it was frequently), Anders would translate for the children or the soldiers. Soon some of the older children drifted over to the cluster and for over a hundred miles the train car echoed with noise that was pleasant. At first, anxious, parents relaxed and listened. Finally Anders excused himself sat next to Karen as Bernt stood and gave up his seat.
It had not occurred to Trine or Johan that they would miss their homeland until they began to tell Anders about what had happened over the past nine years. That the soldier had come with his family at age eleven and settled in a place called Minnesota, where he claimed the weather and surroundings reminded him of home. He told them that he had enlisted at age nineteen, along with his cousin and older brother. His cousin had been killed at Antietam Creek. His brother had been captured and was at home with his family where every loud noise made him jump or duck for cover, no matter where he was.
“Did you ever kill anyone?” asked Karen finally, receiving a sharp look from both parents.
“It is okay, I don’t mind, in fact it helps to talk about it a little. I was part of a cannon crew. We were firing at the Rebs for the top of a hill at a place called Gettysburg when they hit us. I was the only one who survived but I lost most of my arm and the hearing in my left ear. So yes I killed many men. But that is war.” He paused and looked at Bernt. “If anyone ever tells you that war is glorious, run away. When we killed a man there was often not enough left to put in a bucket. One minute they’re screaming flesh and blood people with families who love them and, the next they are scattered like wood chips on the ground. It is god-awful.”
Trine glanced at her son who seemed to shrink slightly into himself as she heard Anders apologize for his poor choice of words.
“Thank you,” she mouthed.
“Zorf has seen war,” said Johan softly. “He says it is not good for anyone, troll or human.”
“Did Zorf kill or hurt anyone?” asked Sigrid innocently, to the surprise of everyone.
Johan pulled the troll’s mouth to his ear and listened while everyone exchanged amused or embarrassed glances.
“Yes,” said Johan finally. “That is why he is here.”
For a moment everyone was silent then Bernt chuckled. “Probably gave them a sliver.”
Everyone laughed except Johan and Sigrid, who did not understand the humor. The topic changed and the troll was forgotten in memories of the war, the upcoming wagon train, and what Chicago held. From time to time one or more of the Mormon passengers would wander back to the next car to talk to friends or they would come up to talk or share information.
Footnotes (hit "back" to get back to the text)
1 It is quite possible, since this was the first celebration of its kind since the assassination of Pres. Lincoln, that there was much more to the event than recorded here. The Northern celebration was much greater than that which was celebrated in the South in many instances.
It is said that a frankfurter does not become a hotdog until it is put in a bun. In the 1860s German immigrants sold hotdogs with milk rolls and sauerkraut from handcarts in New York. It is conceivable that some would very gladly help with a celebration like the 4th of July.
3The Norwegian language was at this time Bokmal. This was derived from Danish. To this day Danes and Norwegians can talk in their native tongues and understand each other fairly well.
4This may have seem a bit ironic to some of the early Saints as they were driven out of Missouri by mobs acting under an ‘extermination order’ signed by the Governor of the state. It was also reported that some of those in the mob who murdered Joseph and Hyrum Smith (two of the original leaders of the LDS Church) were from the state which has the name “St Joseph” as one of its cities names.
5 The Perpetual Emigrating Fund Company was founded in 1849. It was commonly referred to as the Perpetual Emigration Fund or PEF. It used private and church funds to accomplish its goals of helping people come to Utah. It ended in 1887as a result of the Edmunds-Tucker Act.
The Mormon pioneers were very organized and usually arranged their companies into small groups of 10 (one people), then 50 (one man over 5 groups of 10) then 100 (a man over two groups of 50) with a captain over each group. Other captains were added as needed. Odd numbered and larger sized groups could easily be accommodated by this paramilitary type of organization bringing stability to the trek and accountability to the leaders. Other groups used similar methods w.ith varied success but the Mormon Pioneers used the pattern well and thus had fewer overall problems than many other groups of the era..
7 It was expected that smaller children would share in their parent’s portions.
8 It is possible that they were Seneca, part of the Seven Iroquois Nations that lived in the New York State area. At the time Indian tribes and their interaction with the white man was varied. Some tribes were at war and some tribes tried to blend in and work with them. Though some of the stereotypes were valid many were exaggerations or basically unfounded, used to justify much of the actions the U.S. Government was taking at the time.
9 Along with Anders, I gave the other soldiers the following names: Patch with limp; Lt. Robert Baker, Left leg missing; Private Leonard Heart, Right leg missing, Private Alexander Calderwood, Burn victim; Cpl. Amos Jones. These men are fictional and are designed to represent the veterans who lived but gave so much to the war.
Be sure to come back for the fourth installment in Martin Calderwoods story about his ancestors journey to the USA
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