Hole-in-the-Rock Landmarks and People

Hole-in-the-Rock Landmarks and People
Answers at bottom of the left column.

January 7, 2010

Mickelsen, Peter and Harriet Emily Decker

by Bonnie Trower Brantley, Eureka, Utah.

Peter Mickelson (1858-1888) He was born 23 Oct 1858 in Cedar City, Iron, Ut. Parents were Rasmus Mickelsen (1819-1903) and Anna Nielsen (1825-1908).  He married his 2nd wife, Ida Mary Dalton in 1883.  Peter died 25 Apr 1888 Hackberry, Mohave, Az but was buried in Manassa.

His father, Rasmus Mikkelsen, was born in Brussereup, Denmark in 1819 and married Ane Neilsen born in Sonder, Denmark in 1825. They were married in 1848 and accepted the gospel in 1851 as a young married couple. They were encouraged to go to America so they could live among the church members, where it would be easier to practice their religion, and to help build up Zion. The 1849 constitution of Denmark granted freedom of religion but the minds of the people changed very slowly and the Church was not readily accepted among their neighbors.

It was not easy to leave the land of their birth, and all they knew and loved. They left behind two tiny graves, babies who died not long after they were born. Their fourth child died at sea as they were coming to America in the year 1851. The tiny body was wrapped carefully and lowered over the side of the ship, "The Monarch of the Sea." Of the four children born to them in Denmark, only their second son Niels survived to arrive in America with his parents.

There are few details of this family, but all pioneer families sacrificed much when they accepted the gospel. They raised a large family, as records show that they had six more children when they settled in southern Utah.
In 1850 a call was sent to 100 members of the church to form the Iron County Mission in Parowan and Cedar City. Family History records tell us that Ane gave birth to a daughter in Cedar City in 1855 so it seems this family went right to Cedar City, after they landed in America.

Their 7th child was a son named Peter, born 23 October 1858 in Parowan, Iron county, Utah. He was baptized a member of the church in 1869 when he was 11 years old. When Peter was 20 years old he married 18 year old Harriet Emily Decker in the St. George Temple. Harriet was the daughter of Zachariah Bruyn and Nancy Bean Decker of Parowan, Utah. Nine months later their first baby son, Don Alvin Mickelsen, was born in Parowan.

The San Juan Mission was formed to help protect the south eastern part of the Utah Territory from some very dangerous elements. It was an isolated area, perfect as a hide out for the many bank and train robbers, cattle rustlers and other criminals that were found there. Also the Church leaders had a desire to help the warlike, destitute Native-American's find a more peaceful and prosperous way of life. There was farm and pasture land, and the church leaders hoped that area could be settled while land was still available.

Little did Peter and Harriet know of the terrible trial that lay directly ahead of them. When their baby was a newborn, they became a part of the "San Juan Mission", better known as the "Hole-in-the-Rock Trek." This "Trek" consisted of 250 men, women and children in about 85 wagons, about 1000 animals and was expected to last 6 weeks. It became an unbelievable ordeal of building roads through rocks and mountains that lasted 6 months, from October 1879 to April 1880. It has been called the most difficult of any journey taken by Mormon pioneers.

"The Hole in the Rock is a trail forged by early Mormon pioneers across southern Utah. The Hole in the Rock Trail is so-named due to a large crack in a cliff wall enlarged by the pioneers, 1800 feet above the canyon floor, so that they could transport their wagons through it and down across the river in the bottom of the canyon. The struggle to accomplish this task was so great, that the entire trail became known as the Hole in the Rock trail." (http://holeintherock.info/overview/overview2.htm)

Elizabeth Decker, sister-in-law of Peter and Harriet wrote about her experience:
"We crossed the river on the 1st of Feb. all safe; was not half as scared as we thought we'd be, it was the easiest part of our journey. Coming down the hole in the rock to get to the river was ten times as bad. If you ever come this way it will scare you to death to look down it. It is about a mile from the top down to the river and it is almost strait down, the cliffs on each side are five hundred ft. high, and there is just room enough for a wagon to do down. It nearly scared me to death.

The first wagon I saw go down, put the brake on and rough locked the hind wheels and had a big rope fastened to the wagon and about ten men holding back on it and then they went down like they would smash everything. I'll never forget that day. When we was walking down Willie looked back and cried and asked me how we would get back home. (http://holeintherock.info/TakeThePlunge/down16.htm)

Peter and his young wife were completely unprepared to spend six months living in a covered wagon with their tiny baby son, but miraculously they survived and set up housekeeping in Bluff, Utah, which was also home to vicious outlaws, wild animals, hostile Native-Americans and a land that was almost impossible to farm. The pioneers built 40 to 50 one room cabins closely together in a large square to form a fort to offer them protection.

A year later, May 13, 1881 Harriet gave birth to a second son, Peter Adelbert, and 18 months later, Oct 13, 1882, her third son, Joseph Rasmus was born in Bluff.

Peter and Harriet were faithful to their beliefs, and Peter entered into a plural marriage, marrying Ida Mary Dalton in the St. George Temple March 2, 1883. Ida was one of the twin daughters born in Parowan to Edward and Mary Dalton. In February of 1884 both of Peter's wives gave birth to new babies. Ethel Gertrude was born 19 February to Harriet, and on the 27th of February Ida had a son named Edward Meeks Mickelsen. Tragedy came to the young family 10 months later, when 3 ½ year old Peter Adelburt caught scarlet fever and passed away on December 28.

Many challenges had come to Peter and his young family, and more were ahead. Farming in the tiny valley was next to impossible as the farmers were flooded out time and time again. Inside some of the homes, the clay and sand stood two feet deep. The outlaws had become more daring and there was no noticeable improvement among the Native American's as a group. Three times they asked their leaders to release them from their mission.

"Surely the mission had failed; it had butted against the impossible; the Mormon leaders had underestimated the difficulty of the work they had assigned. The people of the mission were reluctant to report again to the Church leaders that the task was too hard, but they were distressed, afflicted, at the end of their resources. They reported the condition of affairs as they stood, and devoted themselves to saving what they could from the wreck of the flood while they awaited the expected permission to look for places to make peaceful homes beyond this disordered borderland. They believed that they could find in any direction a country better adapted to human habitation than this sand-bed in the midst of ten thousand thieves. Joseph F. Smith and Erastus Snow of the General Authorities made the long trip from Salt Lake City to inspect again the important outpost. They gazed with amazement at the havoc of the flood. They heard about thieves, desperadoes; remoteness of isolation with no roads on which to get out; they heard of the festering of natures elements always ready to explode on short notice at this unsheltered end of the trail. They showed their sympathetic comprehension of all these things, yet when they spoke to the people assembled in the old log meeting house, they said in substance. "We love you for the heroic part you have taken; you have made a wonderful beginning towards a most important work; and if it is no more than you can endure, we release you with our blessings to go, but we cannot give up this essential post. Those who go will be blessed, but those who stay will be doubly blessed."

A few of the families who were living in Bluff did leave. Some went to Arizona, and some were called to go to the San Luis Valley in Southern Colorado to teach and help church converts from Georgia learn to farm. Peter and Harriet went to Manassa, Colorado, in the San Luis Valley, by covered wagon. Their reasons for leaving Bluff are unknown to us, but we do know that Anna Mae, the last child of Peter and Harriet was born in Manassa March 25, 1886.

It is unknown when Ida and her son went to the valley in Colorado, but according to family lore, Ida persuaded Peter to leave Manassa, and take her and their son, Edward, to live in Globe, Arizona. His son, Joseph Rasmus, was about 5 or 6 at the time, and the family story is told of little Rasmus, running behind the wagon, crying and begging his father not to leave. But Peter did leave, and Harriet was left alone with 4 small children. The family probably did not see their father and husband again until he was buried in the Manassa Cemetery in 1888.

Peter had long been plagued by ill health and suffered from kidney disease. He became a mail carrier in Arizona, and soon died of kidney failure in Hackberry, Arizona. He was only 29 ½ years old. He left two widows, one in Arizona and one in Colorado, and five fatherless children. His oldest son was 11, his youngest child, Anna Mae, was two.

Harriet remarried nine years later to John Cornelius Gilleland and had two more sons, John Vernell and Cornelius Gilleland. She died in Manassa, Colorado in 1937. 

Ida remarried sixteen years later, to Joseph Booth McDonald, but they had no children. She died in St. George in 1921. If they had stayed, in what ways would they have been doubly blessed?  It makes one wonder, doesn't it? 
(Thanks to Bonnie Brantley of Eureka, Utah,  written Feb 2010 for Daughters of Utah Pioneers)

Harriet Emily Decker (born 4 Jan 1861) was his 1st wife; they were married 8 January 1879.
Saint George,Washington,Utah.  She died 12 Aug 1937. NEW MANASSA CEMETERY COLORADO

Harriet Emily Decker Gilleland shown in photo

The family is shown as members of Conejos Co. Church Records Manassa Ward Members List - 1920.  It shows Harriet with a new name (Gilleland) which is likely as her husband died in 1888.

Child on Trek: Don Alvin Mickelsen was born 12 October 1879 Parowan, Iron, Utah He was the oldest of five children. Don Alvin Mickelsen was born 12 October 1879 in Parowan, Iron County, Utah to Peter and Harriet Emily Decker Mickelsen. Peter was their first baby, and as a family they became a part of the “Hole-in-the-Rock” expedition. As no journals of this family have been located it is impossible to know the experiences of this newly formed family as they prepared themselves to live in a covered wagon with their new born son. He was six months old when the group reached Bluff and set up housekeeping. Three more children were born to Peter and Harriet while they lived in Bluff. Peter Adelbert, Joseph Rasmus and Ethel Gertrude.

 He died 9 October 1945.  (More information included on Children of the Rock: http://childrenoftherock.blogspot.com/search/label/Mickelsen)

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