Jensine Hostmark Grundvig: Zionward

Jensine was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1837, her parents’ youngest child. Her father died when she was 4, her mother when she was 12; she probably spent her youth in the household of one of her much older brothers. In1857 Jensine was married to Frants Christian Grundvig, a young joiner who had come to Copenhagen a few years earlier to learn his trade.

A year later their son Severine was born. Although Jensine was to bear to at least three more children in the next few years, Severine was her only child to live past birth, and she devoted herself to his care.

In 1860 an unusual interest in religion swept through Copenhagen, according to Frants’s reminiscences, and the young couple was caught up in the wave. Frants was especially interested in the preaching of the Mormon elders visiting Copenhagen. After having what to him was a dream with religious significance, Frants was baptized as a Latter-day Saint in 1860. Jensine required more time to think and decide; a year later, she, too, was baptized. At least one of her siblings, her next older brother, Carl, had joined the church earlier, and soon emigrated with his young wife and children to Utah.

Their conversion would uproot the Grundvig family. Frants was called as a missionary to work in Nestved, about 50 miles from Copenhagen. The only way to support him financially was to sell his carpenter’s tools, leaving the family to face an uncertain post-mission economic future. Jensine and Severine remained in Copenhagen while Frants served in Nestved for about a year, and then in Christiania (now Oslo) in Norway, where he served for another two years. Jensine supported herself and son by making and selling ladies’ gloves.

Frants was released in the early spring of 1865, and Jensine joined him in Christiania to prepare for emigration. (She joined him in Norway, and in fact he had been sent to Norway in the first place, to avoid being drafted into the Danish military.) Jensine is the one who came up with a plan to earn money for their emigration: She learned from another woman how to make “electrical belts,” powered by batteries – in that generation, a popular folk belief was that electrical current would cure rheumatism and other ills – and sewed enough of them, which Frants sold door-to-door, to earn their passage money in only a few weeks.

Jensine was a fine singer, having sung with a choir in Copenhagen. She also sang while the family was in Christiania (whether for a church choir or in a professional way, I do not know). Frants recalled that on the family’s last night in Christiania, Jensine sang a solo composed by the great master Ole Bull, for which she was “greatly applauded.” The family also had a photograph taken before they left for the New World.

The Gundvigs sailed with other Mormon emigrants from Christiania back to Copenhagen, where they visited quietly for some ten days, then sailed to Hamburg. There they boarded the ship “G. S. Kimball” bound for New York.

It was a difficult six-week ocean crossing. An epidemic of measles struck the emigrant children, eventually killing 32 of them. Severine caught the disease, too. Jensine nursed him day and night. He survived, one of only two or three children on the ship to have caught the measles and lived. The Grundvigs arrived in New York harbor on June 14, 1865, traveled by railroad to the end of the line near the Missouri River, then traveled by river boat to the Mormon outfitting point at Wyoming (a site near Omaha, Nebraska, not the western state).

There the emigrants, nearly all Danish, were unexpectedly delayed due to uncharacteristically poor emigration planning that year. No down-and-back wagon companies had come from Utah to ferry emigrants to the west, and no one had purchased wagons or cattle for emigrant companies. For six weeks, agents scoured the region to purchase the necessary equipment. Few wagons could be found, and none of the Danish brethren were at all familiar with oxen and had to be taught how to drive them. The emigrants were told that due to the scarcity of transport, most of their goods would have to be left behind; the Grundvigs, along with everyone else, disposed of their property at a great loss – residents in the area, having grown accustomed to such “fire sales” on the part of emigrants, would pay virtually nothing for goods they knew would be abandoned if not purchased.

Finally, Miner G. Atwood was appointed by church agents to lead the Danish emigrants to Utah. He had less than 48 hours notice of his appointment before departure. Probably no man in the history of Mormon emigration hustled harder to outfit his company, and then to shepherd the emigrants – whose language he did not speak – overland to Utah. Some of the emigrants of that company, not understanding the handicaps under which Atwood worked, and not appreciating the necessity of his continually pushing the emigrants to move faster and travel more hours in a day than usual due to their late start (it would be well into November before the company reached the Valley), have left unflattering accounts of a harsh taskmaster. In hindsight, though, he seems to have done no more than was necessary for safety, and no emigrant accused him of objective wrongdoing, nor of demanding more than he contributed himself.

When Atwood arrived in camp to organize the company, he discovered it was necessary to purchase more supplies, at relatively high prices due to the urgency of the situation. He assessed each family a certain amount based on family size – the Grundvigs’ share was $50. In order to raise that amount, Frants sold his pocket watch and Jensine contributed her jewelry – including her wedding ring. Finally, the company moved westward.

1865 was the beginning of the Indian wars on the Plains, which would become worse and terrify overland travelers in 1866 and 1867. The Grundvigs’ company was wakened on the night of September 17, near Fort Laramie, to the alarm that Indians were driving off their cattle. Some 22 head were discovered to be missing the next morning; a few were recovered by men sent out to look for strays. From then on, the company posted stronger guards at night – stronger, but more exhausted, as Atwood pushed them to travel as far as possible during each day.

On the morning of September 22, west of Laramie, the company passed through some hilly country on the road. Jensine, walking, as she did every day, grew weary, and Frants stopped with her to rest a while. Ordinarily this would have posed no problem – the company stopped at noon, unhitching the cattle to let them feed and rest, and any stragglers would have plenty of time to catch up. But on this morning, while Jensine and Frants lagged about a mile and a half behind the wagons, a band of Sioux, hiding in the hills along the road, swept down between the Grundvigs and the wagons. Their targets were the loose cattle being herded by a group of boys to the river’s edge. The emigrants, however, saw the Indians coming and ran out of camp with their own weapons, and drove the attackers back down the road … directly into the path of Jensine and Frants.

Two of the Indians grabbed hold of Jensine, and passed her to a third who slung her face down over his horse and rode off. Frants chased after him on foot, calling for help, and fell as if dead from an arrow that pierced his left hip. The emigrants saw what was happening. Several men tried to go to the rescue, but Atwood restrained them, fearing both for the lives of any would-be rescuers and for the safety of the emigrants and cattle left behind. Besides, there were only two horses in the company, so no realistic pursuit was possible.

When the Indians had gone, carrying Jensine with them, Frants pulled the arrow from his hip and crawled toward camp. Rescuers placed him in a wagon where he rode the rest of the way to the Valley, his terrified 7-year-old son by his side. When the company reached a telegraph station, word of Jensine’s kidnapping was sent back to the soldiers at Fort Laramie, who rode out to look for her. They did not find her.

Jensine was never heard from again.

Frants was crippled for two years by his hip wound, until a doctor, probing the hip, discovered that a piece of the arrowhead had broken off and remained inside. After it was surgically removed, Frants recovered.

Frants married again in the Valley, first in 1866 and again in 1874. When he went to the Endowment House with his bride in 1866, he asked to have Jensine sealed to him. Asked whether she was dead, Frants had to say that he did not know. The recorder went for advice from Daniel H. Wells, who was presiding in the Endowment House that day. President Wells came to the door of the room and locked eyes with Frants for a few moments, then nodded, and said “His wife is dead.”

Severine lived to adulthood and raised a large family; through him, Jensine has many living descendants.

Jensine Hostmark Grundvig is the only Mormon emigrant ever to have been taken by Indians in the entire history of Mormon overland travel.

UPDATE: A reader informs me here that Elizabeth Brettle Cottle was also captured by Indians, in 1866. More research, and another story forthcoming …

Cross-posted from Keepapitchinin — click here for comments.