Jens Nielson

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Jens Nielson (26 April 1821 – 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 a bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) for 26 years.

Early years[edit]

Nielson was born on the island of Laaland, Denmark. His parents were Niels Jensen and Dorthea Margrethe Thomsen. Nielson became industrious and fairly successful in the coastal city of Aarhus, where he also owned land and livestock.

Nielson met LDS Church missionaries in the fall of 1852 and was later baptized a member of the church with his family on 29 March 1854.

Pioneer years[edit]

After serving as a missionary in his native Laaland, Nielson left Denmark with his wife Elsie, their five-year-old son, and a young Mortensen girl, for whom they assumed responsibility to bring to Utah Territory. It appears that Nielson had resources enough to have obtained supplies and traveled west early enough to beat the winter, but instead he joined the handcart company led by captain Willie.

On the trip, Nielson's five-year old son, Jens, and the Mortensen girl succumbed to 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.[1]

Colonizing years[edit]

Nielson was 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 LDS Church in the Bluff area. He was known for his kind leadership, heavy accent and a "sticketytoit" attitude.[2] Nielson was also known to have served as an American Indian translator in San Juan County, Utah.[3]


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.


  1. ^ Richard M. Paterson. Butch Cassidy: A Biography U of Nebraska Press, 1998; pg 105. ISBN 0803287569
  2. ^ LaVerne Tate, The San Juan County Historical Society. Early San Juan County. Arcadia Publishing, 2008; pg 77. ISBN 0738556491.
  3. ^ Barbara Oakley. Cold-Blooded Kindness. Prometheus Books, 2011. ISBN 1616144203