An Exemplary Life, Held in Highest Esteem

By Spencer D. Madsen President Mesa Chapter
Peter Madsen (1824-1911)

Peter Madsen, my great grandfather, was born April 6, 1824 in Studsdale, Vejle County, , the fourth child of Mads Pedersen and Mette Marie Hansen. 6 His father was 36 and his mother 26. The parents had moved to the above farm from Odense earlier in their youth.

Little is known of his early youth, except that his father died when he was seven years old and his mother raised the children on the small farm.

From the Danish Military records we learn that Peter enlisted in the Danish Army April 6, 1846 on his 22nd birthday. The record states that his occupation was a small land- owner, wooden shoemaker and fisherman, He was 64 1/2 inches tall, medium build, grey eyes, dark hair and weighed 150 lbs. He served faithfully until discharge in May 1847.

At age 23, he married Mary Ann Madsen (Madsdatter) November 12, 1847. She was 32, or nine years older than grandfather.

Shortly after their marriage, he was recalled into the Army and fought in the  battle of Nybol May 28, 1848, at Ejstrup in the Spring of 1849 and at Vejle, his own country, in May 1849. He was released from Army service in 1850. While he was serving his country, a son was born to his wife. The son was two years old when grandfather returned to his home from Military Service.

The Military record states that Peter Madsen sailed to America the latter part of 1853. His request for transfer in the Army to a unit in Copenhagen was disapproved because he had left Denmark for America. For his military service, Peter Madsen received a memorial medal and a life honorary gift of 100 Croner a year. (He estimated the amount to be about $25.)

The story goes that one day while Peter was engaged in moving from one location to another with his Military unit during the war, he suddenly felt a thud to his back. He turned to accuse the soldier behind him of hitting him in his pack with the butt of his rifle.

The fellow soldier denied that he had hit Peter, pointing out that he was too far distant to have done so. Peter still insisted that someone had hit him in his pack with their rifle.

Later that evening as he took his pack from his back, Peter noted a tear in his pack. Upon opening his pack he was surprised to find a slug or round of ammunition embedded in his Bible. That had been the thrust of what hit him in his back.

Peter quietly got to his knees in prayer thanking his Heavenly Father for protecting him that day and promised Him that if He would further protect him during the remainder of his military service he would do anything that would be asked of him.

About three years later, Peter was out fishing and as evening time came he moved his boats towards shore and was in the process of drawing in his fishing nets. He heard a voice say to him “You have not done as you promised.” Startled, he looked about and saw no one. He returned to the task of drawing in his nets. Again he heard the voice. He stopped what he was doing, looked around, saw no one and again he returned to his nets. The third time the voice repeated the same message. Peter then knew what the voice meant.

At his home, two missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had been teaching the Gospel Truths to his wife, Mary Ann. Peter had been too busy to listen, making many excuses. Quickly he gathered his nets together, got on his horse and rode home only to find that the Missionaries had left early that afternoon for another location.

Peter got a coat, again got on his horse and with a prayer in his heart that he might find the two missionaries, set out into the night to find them. The next morning he did find them and invited them to return to his home. They taught him and his wife the truths of the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ Peter and Mary Ann were baptized and began to make plans for their journey to America. He was 29 and they had been married for six years. They had had three children. Two died in 1854.

Upon arriving in Salt Lake City, Peter and his family were asked to go to Sanpete County to live. They did as they were asked, but Pete was not happy because there was no large bodies of water where he could fish. With permission from the Church Authorities, Peter and Mary Ann made plans to move their family from Ephraim, Sanpete County to Lake View, Utah County in 1855.

A son, John had been born while they lived in Ephraim. The move was made and Peter and Mary Ann built a log home near the present Provo Harbor area. It was not a big home. Peter Madsen Jr., my grandfather was born June 2, 1858 in this log home. He was the first white child born north of the Provo River, north of the Fort Utah settlement.

My great grandfather listened to the teachings of the prophet concerning plurality of wives. He discussed this principal with his wife, Mary Ann and after many hours of prayer and with the consent of Mary Ann, he married Johanne Kristine Anderson December 15, 1856. He was 31, she 29. To this marriage was born one child. They lived together for 40 years until her death in 1906. Three and a half years later with permission of his first wife Mary Ann, Peter married Caroline Jensen April 25, 1860. He was 36, she 22. To this marriage was born nine children. They lived together for 41 years. She died at age 81 in 1919.

Four years later, Peter married his fourth wife, Wilhelmia Jorgensen May 14, 1864. He was 40, she was 17, To this marriage was born eleven children. They were married 37 years and she died in 1919 at age 72. A year later, Peter married his fifth wife, Lena Johnson Sept. 12, 1865. He was 41, she was 19. To this marriage was born nine children, Lena died in 1915 at age 69 and they had been married 36 years. From these five marriages, Peter Madsen had 36 children.

When Peter and Mary Ann moved to Lake View there was a period of drought, grasshopper and cricket seige and general hard times. At this time, Peter became known from North to South for his great expertise in fishing on Utah Lake. From the recorded histories of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers in the account of “Utah Lake, the Western Sea of Galilee” we are told that members of the church came from Sanpete County on the South, from Salt Lake County and beyond on the North, from Uinta Valley from the East and from the many Indian tribes located throughout the state to get fish from Peter Madsen.

Also, published in the Improvement Era, Volume 13, 1910 concerning this period of hard times and the miracle of the fish during 1855/1856. Again quoting from the DUP article we find: “The Indians were not easy to deal with and while they received their fish free, they preferred the trout to the honey suckers and chubs. Peter Madsen was a shrewd Indian trader and by bribing the Indian Chiefs with a few trout for their own teepees, he won favor with them.

Other fishermen were not so clever in their dealings with the Redmen and not in their favor. A story originating at that time places emphasis on how not to deal with the Indians. Two or three fishermen had salted down and hid several barrels of highly favored trout for which a good market had developed.

One Indian Chief, while palvering with the fishermen for more and better fish, found out who owned each barrel of trout. When the fishermen awoke the next morning they discovered that the Indians had vanished and to their dismay so had their barrels of trout, all but the barrel of Peter Madsen.

During this period of 1855-1856, hundreds of people came to Utah Lake for the one source of food supply, fish. Peter Madsen had brought a short seine from Denmark and from his field of flax in Sanpete County he had made another and these seines proved to be the means of providing food for many families. No charge was made for the fish. Very few had anything to pay. Some brought grain and flour to exchange for fish. Many of the Church leaders were among those who came to Utah Lake for fish, including John Henry Smith and Joseph F. Smith.

Many members of Peter Madsen’s family continued in the fishing business on Utah Lake and other lakes in Utah for over 100 years, including my own grand- father, Peter Madsen Jr., who was a fishing guide at Strawberry Lake each summer for years. It was during these hard times that Peter introduced the principle of under the ice fishing with his seines. Years later, after his death, I watched several of his sons as they fished under the ice on Utah Lake.

During the late 1860’s while an Indian Chief was bargaining with Peter Madsen about fish, he walked over to the log house and with a burnt stick made a mark just under the window sill of the side of the home remarking that the next spring the water level of the lake would come up that high on his home. Peter Madsen did not heed this council. Early in 1861 as the melting snow and storms filled the various rivers that flow into the lake, the level of the lake began to rise, forcing the family to move from the log home to the sand hills to the East where they made dug-out caves, covering them for protection from the weather.

My grandfather was three years old and remembered a few of the experiences of that spring. As Peter was making one of his boat trips to the log home, much to his surprise the water level was where the Indian Chief had said it would be. Even with modern methods of water control, the Utah Lake has had a 30-year cycle of high water level which covers much of the present farmlands and some homesites. The lake level was high in 1922, and again in 1952 which I remember and if history repeats itself, the lake should be high again in 1982. Time will tell.

When Peter was 44 years of age, he was asked by the church to go to Denmark on a mission. This was 1870, 16 1/2 years since he had left Denmark. He did not hesitate. Leaving his fishing, his farm and his home, which he had built upstream from the log home, his five wives and 12 children, he left on his mission. He was taken to Salt Lake by his oldest son who was 22. My grandfather, Peter Madsen, Jr., was 12. From Salt Lake he went by rail to New York City and sailed on the Minnesota to Liverpool, England and then to Denmark.

From his mission record, we learn that he visited his 73-year-old mother several times during his mission. She lived in Tanlon. This was not far from Fredericia where he had fished earlier in his life. The record states there were seven Elders serving as missionaries with Jesse N. Smith as Conference Leader and W. W. Cluff as the conference leader. Later in Peter’s mission, his diary tells of traveling from Copenhagen, to Odense, to Fredericia, to Aarhus, to Randers, to Aalborg, to the Vejle where he taught with the spirit and many were baptized. He would preach for over an hour many times, bearing testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. The record also tells of his longing for his families in Lake View and of his joy upon receiving any message from his wives or other members from Lake View.

It was difficult for him to teach the youth because he would associate them to his own children. Two children died while he was on his mission and three new children would greet him when he returned. He was filled with sorrow because his oldest brother would not listen to his message of truth. Their son, however, did listen and showed some interest.

The record further tell us that he was very ill with typhoid, so ill that he wondered if he would ever return home to his loved ones. His doctor recommended that he be sent home to America. After his replacement arrived, he did return home in 1871. Years later when I went to the Danish Mission, the Mission President looked up the record of my great grandfather and noted that he was the 109th missionary to Denmark.

Six years after he returned to Lake View from his mission, the Lake View Ward was organized with Peter Madsen as the first
Bishop. This was in 1877. The saints met in the Madsen home for their meetings. Each family desired that a new chapel be built close to their property. Bishop Madsen, being a wise man, asked representatives of each family to join him in his buggy drawn by two white horses. They started at the South end of Lake View near the Provo River and drove to the North end. A large white cloth was tied to one spoke of the rear wheel and each revolution was counted.

Upon reaching the north end of the community, they turned around and drove one half the revolutions back where they stopped and Bishop Madsen said: “Here we will build our chapel!” The first chapel was a 24′ x 40′ room, which became the church, school and community center.

Sadness came to Peter Madsen when Mary Ann, his first wife, died in April 1881. They had been married for 34 years and during all these years she had been known as Mother or Mother Mary Ann by her own children, those who were born to the other four wives and by the four wives. She was loved by all, and in her death there was a void in the life of her husband, her children , the other wives and their children and to the members and friends of the Lake View Ward and community. She was 66 years of age at death.

My grandfather, Peter Madsen Jr., married Bertha Knudsen June 2, 1881, six weeks following his mother’s death. From the stories related to me by my grandparents, grandmother married grandfather on condition that there be but one wife. They were married for over 60 years. Of general interest, Lena Johnson, the fifth wife of Peter Madsen, was a half sister of my grandmother, Bertha Knudsen. I do not know if this earlier marriage to her sister influenced my grandmother in her strong decision to have but one wife in her marriage.

During the period when Peter Madsen was bishop of Lake View Ward, there was persecution of those who had entered into polygamy. Peter Madsen was no exception. He was not released as bishop, but was called on a mission to Hawaii in 1886. It appears that his wife, Wilhelmia, went with him. They had a daughter born in Hawaii, He was 53. No children were born to the other wives after Peter Madsen went to Hawaii. When he returned in 1889 his wife, Wilhelmia, had one more daughter in 1893. He was now 59 years of age.

He was released as bishop of Lake View Ward in 1892 and John Johnson, a brother of his fifth wife, Lena, and a half-brother of my grandmother, Bertha Knudsen, became the second Bishop. He served 24 years.

In 1902, the ward built a new chapel a few hundred yards north of the original chapel. For me, this is of interest because it was in this chapel that I went to church as a youth. This chapel burned to the ground in 1937 while I was in the Danish Mission.

A new school was built in 1910 where the original chapel was built. I, likewise, went to school through the sixth grade in this building. It was torn down in 1936.

Wm. W. Taylor followed John Johnson as bishop. He chose my father, Spencer Madsen, to be his second counselor. My father was 22. They served together for 12 years. Dad became the fourth bishop of Lake View Ward in 1928 at the age of 32. He served for over seven years during the depression.

The Peter Madsen family held a reunion every 10 years. At the 1910 reunion, Peter Madsen had his picture taken with 14 of his sons. There was also a family group picture taken. I attended the reunion in 1930. Over 3,000 descendants were present. The family realized that the reunions were getting too large, and in 1940, when only a few families came, it was decided to hold no more Peter Madsen reunions.

From the Provo News dated August 24, 1911, we read of the funeral for Peter Madsen held in the Provo Tabernacle. President Joseph F. Smith, John Henry Smith, President George H. Brimhall and W. W. Cluff, a former Danish Missionary companion, were present and spoke at his funeral.

President George H. Brimhall referred to the testimony of Dr. David Starr Jordon who had visited Elder Madsen on one of his trips to Utah Lake. Dr. Jordon had said: “Mr. Peter Madsen is one of nature’s noblemen, a man who would have been heard from by the world if he had had opportunities to acquire learning.”

President Joseph F. Smith told of his acquaintance with Peter Madsen commencing in 1858. He considered him to be a superior man whose equal it was hard to find and who was excelled by few. The day would come when Elder Madsen, the patriarch of today, would be held in high esteem. President Smith made an earnest appeal to all of Elder Madsen’s descendants to reverence his memory, follow his example and to do nothing of which he would disapprove.

Music was provided by the Tabernacle Choir, by Professor A. C. Lund and Boshard Quartet. Benediction was by J. Will Knight.

Peter Madsen lived a full exemplary life. We who are descendants need to follow his example of righteous living. It is an honor to be one of his many great grandsons.

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