Biography of Harriet Pricilla Casper Gundersen
by Ada Hamilton
William Wallace Casper and his wife, Sara Ann Bean, had joined the Church in Illinois and when the Saints were driven from Missouri the Caspers decided to come west with the Saints.
When the call came to form a Mormon Battalion, William Wallace Casper volunteered and left his young wife and small child to get to the Rocky Mountains as best they could. Sara Ann's sixteen-year old brother, George, drove her oxen and wagon from Missouri to the Salt Lake Valley. They arrived September, 1847 in the Jedediah M. Grant Company. On the 7 th of October, she was joined by her husband who had marched with the Battalion to California and back to the Salt Lake Valley. They settled seven miles south of the city in what was then part of Mill Creek, now Winder Ward. To this union was born eleven children; Sarah Jane, Nephi, Moroni, Elizabeth, Harriet Pricilla, Jedediah, George, John, Shimria Ellen, Emily, and Ruben.
Harriet Pricilla, born 29 October 1855, was the fifth child of the eleven children. During her childhood she worked very hard and had to assume much of the responsibility and care of the home, as her mother had become an invalid because of the hardships and starvation she was forced to endure in pioneer life. The family lived in humble circumstances in a crude log house with only a fireplace to cook on. They were hard workers but had to wait long years for returns from their labors.
Mother was a large child before she tasted apples. On Christmas Eve her father came home with a large sack of apples and, opening the door, he rolled them onto the floor to see the children scamper after them. The children were born and raised to have a testimony of the truthfulness of the Gospel, for which their parents had sacrificed all of their worldly goods.
The children had the opportunity of attending school possibly three months out of the year. Good teachers and facilities were hard to obtain. However, Harriet learned to read and write very well.
Harriet's main recreation was dancing and she had the reputation of being an excellent dancer. Her older brother took her to a dance in the community where she met Thomas Gundersen and his brother Edward, who were converts to the Church and immigrants from Norway. Thomas was called the good-looking one. Upon being asked which brother she preferred, Harriet laughingly replied, “The good-looking one, of course.” She married the good-looking one December 16, 1872.
The young couple traveled seven miles in a wagon on roads hub-deep in mud to be married in the Endowment House in Salt Lake City. To this union were born eleven children.
Harriet and Thomas built a one room adobe house to which more rooms were added as the family increased. This house was built on a farm purchased from William W. Casper who had homesteaded the property.
There were many trials to be endured by the bride; her first child was stillborn. Her second lived only eight months. During the sixth year of married life, her husband embraced the principle of polygamy and with his wife's consent took a second wife, Erika Ask, who was converted in Norway. There are a few of us who remember how those good people were hunted and abused by the officers of the law for living the law of the Lord. Many of the officers would walk right into people's homes and at any hour of the day or night without warning. Upon one occasion, Auntie, as we called her, was at the house and Harriet saw the officer coming and met him at the door. She refused to let him enter. When Harriet told him that she had no stolen goods concealed, he drew back his coat and showed her his badge and asked, “Do you know that you are defying an officer of the law?” In the meantime Auntie had made her get away through the back door and was safe.
Several years later, when the Black Diptheria raged among the people, Harriet nursed her five small children through its ravages. Her husband was unable to be with her at this trying time as he was being hunted by the officers of the law for polygamy. Alice Maude, age seven, passed away and was buried.
There was no way of Harriet's communicating with her husband, or even of knowing where he was. The only help she had during all of this sickness was from her mother-in-law, who stayed with her. One night, shortly after they had retired, Harriet sat up in bed and said, “Mother, I heard Thomas. He
called to me.” Her mother-in-law looked outside but found no one and admonished Harriet to go back to bed. A little later she again insisted that her husband was calling to her and she answered him. This time he answered her from outside the window and asked if their child was really dead. Harriet
answered, “Yes, Thomas how did you find out?” “I read it in the newspaper,” Thomas answered.
All her life Harriet sacrificed much for the sake of the Gospel. She shared her home with several converts and families from Norway at different times in her life. Besides her own four children she raised three orphaned children, Luis Gerard, Joan Anderson, and Bjorne Rider Hansen. She was a Gold Star mother during World War I, as Bjorne served his country overseas.
In 1895 her husband was called to Norway to fulfill a mission for the church, during which time Harriet supported her family as well as helping to keep him in the mission field. She gave a great deal of service in the Church, serving thirteen years as president of the Relief Society in her ward. In later years her life was easier and she worked in the Temple a great deal. She asked very little of life and had few luxuries. The only pair of silk hose she ever wore were the ones she was buried in when she died December 21, 1923.
Her life was one of service. She lived sharing her best with others. It can truly be said of her, she was blessed of our Father in Heaven.
Glen McDonald writes of her: Grandmother Gundersen was a great person. I will always remember her wonderful home. The living rooms was one of the nicest places I had ever seen as a small boy of twelve years. Even though we lived in the kitchen most of the time, the living room was used for Sundays and when company came. I remember the Christmas before she died, she had a crowd in for dinner. It was a wonderful Christmas for all of us.
When Grandmother was sick and did not expect to live, she said to me, “It won't be long after I am gone that Lloyd (Lloyd McDonald, my brother) will be with me.” It was just one year and a few days until Lloyd was also called home to his Father in Heaven.
Also, while I was living with my Grandparents, Erika became ill. Many nights I slept at Erika's so that she would not be alone. Then Grandmother brought her to her home and cared for her until her death. One day I heard Erika say to my Grandmother, “I love you Harriet; you have been kind and good to me always – you have been a true sister.” This was a great tribute to my Grandmother, but I know she deserved it.