Niels and Hans Larsen were left alone. Their parents died, along with their siblings, when they were only ages 14 and 8, respectively. Today, 140 years later, they are anything but alone. They have more than 2,000 descendants, many of whom recently celebrated the lives of these Utah Pioneers.
The Larsen family held the first ever Larsen reunion in the bowery of This Is the Place Heritage Park on Saturday. Almost 200 people, each displaying a blue or white bandana, attended the event. The white bandanas represented Niels' descendants; the blue ones were worn by Hans' posterity.
"It is a monumental story," said James W. Petty, a professional genealogist whose wife, Mary, descends from Niels.
Petty told the gathered Larsen family about how Niels and Hans eventually made their way to the Salt Lake Valley.
Niels and Hans' parents, Lars and Sidse Larsen, joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Denmark in the mid-1860s. In 1866 Lars paid for his family and 65 other members of the church to cross the Atlantic. During the journey some of the Larsens became ill with cholera. Lars' infant son, Laurids, died at sea. Sidse died a few days later.
Lars and his remaining family were treated at the Emigrant Refugee Hospital upon arriving in New York after their two-month voyage. Peder, Lars' son, was released from the hospital and left for Utah. His daughter, Karen, was taken to the women's ward and never seen again by her father or brothers. Petty discovered from records that she died. Lars died in the hospital of typhoid fever. Before he died, he charged his son Niels to "go to Zion and finish the work I have started."
"It's such a poignant story to go to Zion and finish the work," said Steve Handy, a Larsen descendant and one of the reunion's coordinators. "And they did it."
After a two-year stay in New York City with the Eastern States mission president, William H. Miles, the boys set out for the western territory with little understanding of the language or culture. They took the railroad to Nebraska, and from there they met an Irish wagon train trekking to Utah. They walked behind the wagons and slept underneath them with their only possession, a blanket.
Niels left Hans on the trail in Wyoming to go work for the Transcontinental Railroad. They met again three years later in Salt Lake City. Hans was adopted by the Porcher family but later ran away to live in Brigham City with his brother. There he became a state senator and city councilman. He also served a mission in Denmark and had 10 children.
Niels was adopted by Brigham Young, who provided him with a home and money for further education. He hurt his sight due to the brightness of the snow while logging in Alta Canyon and suffered permanent blindness from a mistaken prescription for his eyes. After that he sold books and pictures in Salt Lake City and raised 12 children.
Twenty-two of Niels' and Hans' 26 living grandchildren were present at the reunion."What a joyful occasion to have all of us cousins together," grandson David Larsen said.