Jens Nielson (Laaland, 1821 – Bluff, Utah, 1906) was a prominent Mormon pioneer, a community leader, and a settler of the western United States. Nielson was one of the Mormon handcart pioneers that traveled across the plains to Salt Lake City under captain James G. Willie. Nielson and his family settled 6 towns, including Bluff, Utah, where he was an LDS bishop for 26 years.
Nielson was born on April 26, 1821 on the Island of Laaland, one of the group of Islands which composes the kingdom of Denmark. The son of Niels Jensen and Dorothe M. Tomson. Nielson became industrious and fairly successful in the coastal city of Aarhus where he also owned land and livestock.
After serving as a missionary in his native Laaland, Nielson left Denmark with his wife Elsie, their 12-year-old son, and a young Mortensen girl, for whom they assumed responsibility to bring to Utah. It appears that Nielson had resources enough to have obtained wagons, horses, stacks of food and other supplies and traveled west early enough to beat the winter. Instead, he joined the handcart company led by captain Willie.
Jens' and Elsie's twelve-year old son, Jens, and the Mortensen girl succumbed to the snow, cold, starvation and exhaustion, and were buried in shallow graves under the snow. Nielson's feet became so frozen it caused his right foot to be at right angles and limped from it the rest of his life.
One of the theories regarding Butch Cassidy and Elzy Lay robbing the Pleasant Valley Coal Company in nearby Castle Gate, is that they stayed in Huntington Creek (Utah) at the ranch of Jens Nielson, where they had been employed under the names Tom Gillis and Bert Fowler, respectively.
Nielson was also an influential church and community leader in southern Utah. He is known as the founder of several communities including Cedar City and Bluff, Utah as part of the Hole-in-the-Rock expedition. Nielson served as a bishop for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Bluff area. He was known for his kind leadership, heavy accent and a "sticketytoit" attitude. Nielson was also known to have served as an American Indian translator in the San Juan County area.
Nielson died 1906 while still serving as bishop. He is buried on Cemetery Hill, above town. One of Nielson's houses, in Bluff, still remains and was listed in 1982 on the National Register of Historic Places in San Juan County, Utah.
- Richard M. Paterson. Butch Cassidy: A Biography U of Nebraska Press, 1998; pg 105. ISBN 0803287569
- LaVerne Tate, The San Juan County Historical Society. Early San Juan County. Arcadia Publishing, 2008; pg 77. ISBN 0738556491.
- Barbara Oakley. Cold-Blooded Kindness. Prometheus Books, 2011. ISBN 1616144203