Biography of Thomas Gundersen
by Ada Hamilton
Thomas Gundersen, Jr. was born 25 September 1850 in Dramen, Norway, the son of a lumberman,
Thomas Gundersen, Sr. and Olena Gundersen. There were eight children in the family, Hans, Antone,
Annette, Edward, Thomas, August, Olaf and Josephine. Antone, born in 1847, was drafted into the
army, but deserted and went to sea when sixteen years of age. His family never heard from him again and his mother grieved until her death for her lost son.
When Thomas was a child he played around the shore of the ocean. He was an excellent sportsman,
clever at swimming, boating, fishing, ice skating, and skiing. His home conditions were humble. At
one time he wanted to go on a trip and his father surprised him by giving him some money. He
remembered this incident all of his life, because his father told him that he needed money for a trip while they did not need it at home.
Thomas attended school and could read and write. His mother was a religious woman and belonged to the Lutheran Church. When the Gospel was introduced to this country in 1852, the family heard the Gospel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints from the Elders and they joined, being some of the first members in Norway. From this time on the family was persecuted. At one time, the mob came to disband a small group of the Saints at a meeting. Thomas Sr. was a man of great strength. He became angry at the insults and violence and picked one of the mobbers up bodily and threw him out the window. Then in another gust of righteous indignation, he picked up the stove and threw it out of the building.
The principle of polygamy was revealed by the Lord to the Prophet Joseph Smith, but it later was contrary to the law of the land. The participants were hunted by officers of the law and Thomas was arrested and served three months time in the Utah State Penitentiary and was fined. At one time he
went to Mexico in a wagon with a company of men to escape the law against polygamy – and another time he came to Idaho to hide for a while. He lived on a farm with his brother Edward at Menan. He and his family had to support themselves as best they could. In spite of the persecution he suffered, he
never denounced the principle which he knew was right. He supported both of his wives and their families all of their lives.
In Norway after joining the Church, the family found mob violence became hard to bear. The Elders were often treated rudely and violently. The Gundersens were on hand to help protect them. On one occasion, Father Gundersen saw several men coming toward them and knew it was for no good. He got the Elders into a boat and sent his young son, Hans, to row them out on the water to safety while he gave the group of men a good whipping. Such Elders as Caunte Petersen, Ferdinand and John Dorius and others knew that they had a good friend in Thomas Gundersen. They knew also that they were always welcome at Olena's table. For a period of years the family was kind and helpful to the Elders.
They had the spirit of gathering to Zion and were making preparations to go to Utah. The eldest daughter, Annetta, preceded the family to Utah by four or five years. In 1866 they sold and gave away their property, getting to Zion was the most important thing in their lives. After six weeks on the ocean they landed and travelled to LaCrosse, Wisconsin. Here Thomas and his sons found work on the Mississippi River. While they were living in LaCrosse, another tragedy befell them. Their eldest son, Hans, fell sick and died in 1869. He had a wife, Margetta, and two small sons who came west with the family. Hans had a strong testimony of the Gospel and requested his parents to do his temple work just as soon as possible.
The family worked hard to get ready to make the westward trek across the plains and the mountains, and work came plentifully to them. A log jam occurred on the Mississippi River and Thomas, or Torger as he was sometimes called, was employed to break the jam by loosening the key log. This was a perilous task for when the log was loosened, the rest of the logs moved rapidly and Torger had to make a run for his life. He was successful in this venture and was paid a good sum of money. The family was then able to buy equipment to go West to the Promised Land. They started early in the summer and arrived in Salt Lake City, September 25, 1868. Although it had been years since the first pioneers had crossed the plains, they still suffered many hardships and hunger. Olena tells how there was no sugar to sweeten the dried fruit they had purchased. They thickened it with a little flour and water.
When Annetta had arrived in Utah she had met and married a man named Christiansen. Uncle Christiansen, as he was called, owned a farm in Cottonwood and it was there the Gundersens went. In Big Cottonwood they homesteaded a farm and built a dugout in a hillside for a home. It was not long until they hauled logs from the mountains and built a small log house. As time went on, they learned the art of making adobe and soon built and adobe house for themselves and the boys. These houses were so substantially built that they are still standing.
Uncle Christiansen also taught the boys the plastering trade, which they followed for years and which many of their descendants follow at the present time.
Thomas met Harriet Pricilla Casper at a Church dance. They were married December 16, 1872 in the Salt Lake Endowment House. To this marriage, eleven children were born, Peter, Harriet, Thomas, Alice, Irona, Ada, William, Franklin, Annetta, Josephine, and Joseph. After six years of wedlock, he embraced the principle of polygamy and married Erika Ask in 1878. Three children were born to this union, Bird, Carl, and Wilford. Of his fourteen children, six grew to maturity.
The Gundersens owned a track of land on the flats below Park City and pastured cattle there. Mining became more extensively carried on in Park City and the minerals from the mines ruined the land for farming and grazing. The city purchased the land.
Thomas Gundersen, Sr. (as he was now called) accepted and practiced the law of plural marriage. he married Maren Neilsen and six children were born to them, Henry, Alfred Martinus, Amelia, Eliza, and Arthur.
Olena was not so well pleased with this. She decided to live with her son Thomas the rest of her life. She never divorced her husband and they remained good friends. He visited her every day and it was a common sight to see him walking down the road slightly stooped over with his hands clasped behind his back.
God blessed them always. They remained faithful Latter-day Saints to the end of their days. Thomas Gundersen died in November 1900, at the age of 79. He and Olena were not separated long. She died July 9, 1900 at the age of 84