She didn't know at that time that being a pioneer meant hardship. She was only five years old and her mother's youngest child. She and Cindy could always ride in the wagon because they were not heavy and did not take up much room, but Mother and Margaret and the boys walked most of the time.
At night, when they stopped to make camp, the little girls played around the fire and watched the older ones cook supper and roll out the beds on the ground. And then, when darkness came on, Caroline could snuggle down in her mother's arms and go to sleep. Oh, how she loved that dear mother, and how sorry she was when Mother sighed and seemed so very weary.
Most of all she was sorry just now because she and Cindy had eaten all the bread that afternoon while they were playing in the wagon. Mother had intended it for supper, and Caroline could see now how very tired Mother was as she bent over the bonfire cooking some more. That night, as she patted Mother's arm and drifted into sleep, she promised herself that she would be a good girl. And Caroline was a good girl, especially to her mother.
That mother was Kirsten Jensen Nielson. She joined the Latter-day Saint Church in Denmark, coming to Utah in 1857 when she was about twenty-two years old. She pulled a handcart with her invalid sister in it a thousand miles across the plains from St. Louis to Salt Lake City. Hers was a steady trek with no stops to recuperate. They knew that cold weather would be upon them if they did not hurry, so they trudged relentlessly on.
A young brother had died previously of cholera in the epidemic in Missouri. Kirsten Jensen had been baptized by Jens Nielson in Denmark and soon after she arrived in Salt Lake City was married to him. He took her to Cedar City where his first wife lived. The family was called by Brigham Young to settle in various places in Southern Utah, and she helped make five new homes and moved that many times before finally starting the six months journey to Bluff. This was the mother who still faithfully plodded on.
Caroline's father, Jens Nielson, was considerably older (fifteen years) than her mother. He had joined the Church in Denmark and had done some missionary work there before coming to America in 1856. He crossed the plains with Captain Willie's handcart company. He was fairly well-to-do when he joined the Church, but, for his religion, he forsook his family and position, selling what goods he had to raise money to bring himself, his wife, Elsie, and a child, Jens, to Zion. That only child died in the hardships of crossing the plains and was buried with thirteen others in a shallow grave in Wyoming.
From the cold and exposure of that trip, Jens Nielson's feet were frozen and crippled for life. He himself had begged to be left when he could walk no longer, but his courageous wife, Elsie, prevailed up him to let her pull him in the handcart for many miles until help came to the belated company. He promised the Lord then, that if he were only permitted to reach Zion, he would willingly spend his life in the service of the Church. That promise was never broken, nor were the Church authorities ever doubted in the demands they made of him.
These were the parents of Caroline who was born in Cedar City, Utah, 21 July 1874. She was the eighth child of a family of nine, but her youngest brother died when a baby. To her this traveling all day in a covered wagon, napping on the bedding when she was tired, and getting out and running about to rest her growing limbs was just a lark. But she was old enough to read trouble in the faces of her father and mother when their caravan came to a long stop on the brink of the canyon of the Colorado, miles and miles east of Cedar City.
For weeks they had been working their way a few miles each day over untraveled deserts and through uncharted canyons toward a place on the San Juan River where they were to make their new home. Their milk cows and a few other cattle and sheep were herded by the younger boys while the older men made roads and directed the course of the company.
But now they were all stopped. They could go to the edge of the cliff and look down fifteen hundred feet to the river, a tiny silver thread at the bottom of the canyon; but how to get down there, not even her father seemed to know. Up and down the river the canyon was the same, just a huge gorge cut in the earth that only the birds could cross. There was only the crack in the rock plateau where they could get the wagons down if they could but make that opening large enough.
For six weeks the men worked early and late, digging, chipping, gouging and blasting, to make the Hole-in-the-rock large enough to get their wagons through.
When at last it was finished, the wagons were let down very slowly, being first anchored to heavy rocks above and then lowered again until they reached the bottom. Caroline and Cindy stood on the top watching it all and clapping with glee. Their white mules looked like kittens down below. All day the men worked at this perilous job of getting the wagons through. That night Mother helped Cindy and Caroline climb down through the crack and at night they camped on the banks of the river. They camped there for several days after while the men built rafts on which to load the people and wagons to cross the river. The bawling, lunging cattle and horses were herded into the river to swim across.
The worst of their journey was over, but there were still many weary weeks of dangerous travel before they came to a place to stop. They had intended going to the mouth of Montezuma Creek, but when they reached Bluff their horses were worn out and they could go no further.
Bluff was a little green, homey spot hidden down among the cliffs, a welcome haven of rest to the weary wanderers. Spring had come early; the grass was green, and once more the little company had found a home. This time it was hundreds of miles away from any white settlement, the towns in Colorado being their nearest neighbors. They were on the very edge of the Navajo country, and they had been sent there to make friends with the Indians and to protect the other settlements against the thieving outlaws who sought refuge in that wild corner of the state. Their mission was to bring civilization and law and order.
No time was wasted. Some of the men began breaking the ground in preparation for planting and making ditches while others worked on the “fort,” a long, dirt-roofed house they were building for all of them to be sheltered in until each family could have a home of their own. It was built so that it could protect them against unfriendly Indians.
They were nearly out of flour, but they still had wheat. Caroline and Cindy often went with Mother about a mile down to the river and there played in the sand in their bare feet while she washed the wheat. When it was dry, she ground it into a coarse brown flour in a little hand coffee mill. Sometimes Margaret helped grind also, for it really was a tiresome task to keep flour enough for the family.
Bishop Nielson had received word that some of the Church authorities were coming soon and Mother felt that, to show her respect, she just must have something nice to offer them. That faithful woman had sacrificed much for her church and still gladly gave the best she had. It was a lesson that Caroline never forgot. Even when she was grown and had sons of her own, they teased her about putting her best blankets and quilts away to keep only for the “Apostles' Bed.” Her husband was then stake president.
The winters in Bluff were mild but usually there was enough snow for a few days of sleigh riding. For its kind, it was most hectic and most hilarious. The youngsters would crowd onto and old dry cow hid and sit tight, hold to the edges. A rope would be tied to the tail of the pelt and then someone on a pony would pull them over the crusted snow.
The children were taught to help, too. While still small, the girls learned to knit. Every summer they must knit to pairs of wool stockings for winter, and every winter they must knit two pairs of cotton stockings for summer. When Caroline was married she had seven pairs of stockings she had knit for her trousseau.
As the girls of Bluff grew older, many went away to work, but Mother guarded her girls carefully and found work for them at home. She taught them to raise gardens. There was always plenty of sale for their melons to the Indians. They always earned the money to buy their own clothes. On a few very prosperous summer days, they sold as much as ten to twelve dollars worth of melons and fruit, and the money was put away to buy the necessities.
The Nielsons raised a good peach orchard, and Cindy and Caroline earned money drying and selling peaches. The foreman of the L.C. Ranch used to contract their dried fruit. The girls had peach drying bees, and it was great deal of fun, too, to have a crowd come at night to help cut the peaches. Boys weren't so loathe to do woman's work with a crowd of jolly girls. Of course, they returned the labor when neighbors had fruit to dry.
The girls worked in the sugarcane fields, too, for the Nielson family made their own molasses and sold the surplus to get flour. The cane was stripped and the juice crushed out in a home-made mill drawn by a horse. Then the juice was boiled down in huge iron kettles over a slow fire. The molasses making was a community affair. In the evenings at molasses time the folks got together and had candy pulls, plenty of chance for budding romance. It was at such a party that Caroline first met Wayne. That was when she was nearly sixteen.
She was sixteen when they started “going together” and nineteen when they decided to marry. Wayne was twenty-four. He had been managing his father's cattle and sending money regularly to help his family in Mexico, but he had made enough to buy the Haskell place, a dream home to them, just a log house with one large nice room and a lean-to.
Early in November, when the fall work was done, the round-up over, and the cattle drifted, Wayne came in off the range and they left to go to the Salt Lake Temple to be married. (15 Nov. 1893).
There began one of the loveliest romances between man and woman. Wayne loved and wooed her ardently. He did not go on to Mexico with his family as he had intended doing, but stayed to work as a cowboy in Bluff and to marry the bishop's daughter three years later. He was twenty-four and she was nineteen when they went to the Salt Lake Temple and were married in 1893 for time and all eternity. In that marriage was genuine love, loyalty, understanding, and a remarkable companionship.
Wayne was gone two-and-a-half years on his mission, and before he reached Bluff on his return home, he was called into the stake presidency as a counselor, and he continued a life of active service for church and community. For Caroline it meant sacrifice and loyalty to a husband who was to become a bishop, stake president, and patriarch. Her life was built around his life. Her ambition was that of an ideal wife and mother.
They prospered financially, owning quite a herd of cattle. Together they went through hardships to build a lovely seven-room rock house in Bluff, only to sell it when they decided to move to Blanding in 1909.
Caroline began pioneering again. With their five children they moved into the little rock granary and a tent. It was five years before their home was built in Blanding. During this time more babies came and, too, their little Metia was laid to rest on the hillside where only two other graves had been dug. Maybe she died of diphtheria. There were no doctors within a hundred miles and she was taken so quickly. Caroline and Wayne buried two other babies.
Wayne always said of his wife that she understood psychology better than many students of the subject. She was a diplomat in dealing with her children. Could her high regard for the schools have possibly been back of bringing five school teachers and also a music teacher into the family as in-laws, and making teachers of three of her own daughters, and a seminary teacher of Wayne? The ten of them in her family had enough certificates and qualifications to have manned a good sized school from the first grade up through high school, including seminary.
She was always good to the Indians. The family smile rather indulgently when they think of her always saving food "in case some Indian should be hungry. " She said her father taught her an obligation to the Indians that she could never forget. She could remember when they were at the mercy of the Indians in Bluff in the old days.
Motherhood is a partnership with God, and Aunt Caroline was surely a good partner. She brought twelve children into this world. Three of them died in babyhood, but the other nine were reared to be honest, hard working, well respected citizens, and a strength in their church. They all nine were worthy to be married in the temple. They are loyal to the cause for which their parents and grandparents sacrificed. Thirty-eight grandchildren and forty-three great-grandchildren survive her. One brother, Uriah, and one sister, Cindy, are still living. Of her twelve children, seven were alive at the time of her death: Leland, Joe, Alma, Miriam, Josephine, Bernice, and Norma.
(More details are in the Nielson history collection in posession of Mike Halliday and Donna Nielson Jensen of Blanding.)
(Story and picture of Francis Nielson home in Blue Mountain Shadows Vol. 24, p. 11; Wayne Redd home pp 9-10)