Saturday, Jan 28, 2023

John C. & DeSena Andersen

John C and Desina Andersen Family

John Christian and DeSena Sorensen Andersen

John Andersen was born 22 May 1877 in Mendon, Cache, Utah, to Andrew Andersen (Anders Jorgensen) and Sophia Larsen Andersen, the third child of ten. 

With his father and older brother Otto, he first came to the Bannock Valley (later called Arbon Valley) in 1892, at age fifteen. He returned with them in 1893.  He wasn’t old enough to file on a homestead at that time, so helped his brother Otto with all the requirements of homesteading. They built the first cabin in the valley, gather wood for fencing, building, and burning, dug a well, and broke out the land for planting.  When he was old enough, he applied for his own ground alongside his brother.

“The Andersen family was the largest family to settle and homestead in the Arbon Valley” (p. 29). 

Today we can only imagine what it was like starting out in a new country, with only hand tools and horses to help settle new land. “On arriving in the valley, Otto and John settled at the head of Bannock Creek, John on the west side and Otto on the east side of the creek. The days that followed were busy ones. With a hand plow they plowed up about fifteen acres….This was planted with wheat and some oats. As soon as the plowing and planting was done, they went to Bull Canyon and cut logs for a house on Otto’s place, a fourth mile from John’s.” This was the first house in the valley, as most other settlers were still living in dugouts or tents. “A pole corral was built to hold the horses,” and a scythe was used to cut the meadow hay with which to keep the livestock fed in the wintertime. “Some more land was plowed with the walking plow for spring planting. In the meantime, John traveled with Otto to Blackfoot where the land office was. This trip took more than three days. In the fall when it started to get cold, the brothers headed back to Mendon to their parents’ home. John got a job working on the railroad in Parley’s Canyon through the winter.

The next spring the brothers returned. They were loaded with supplies – everything their mother could spare for her two oldest boys. They had “sugar, flour, baking powder, salt, dried fruit, and matches,” along with food they could cook over a campfire on their trip. “John was a hunter, and with an old shotgun and rifle, furnished…venison, wild game, duck eggs, and once in a while a big fat cottontail rabbit.” They remembered living on potatoes and sourdough bread that first summer. They worked hard, plowing and planting more acres.  When the days started getting shorter and the nights started getting colder, the brothers again headed back to Mendon for winter employment.

Everyone worked hard when farming equipment was primitive. “The first crops were cut with a binder and every field was full of shocked bundles.” Later on, the first combines in the valley were pulled with eight to twelve horses. “A horse-powered threshing machine threshed the grain from a tall round stack. With the arrival and purchase of a header to cut the grain, which was stacked in large stacks, and the purchase of a ‘Red River Special’ horse powered thresher, harvest was still a long, hard, drawn-out time.”

Neighbors helped each other, as it took at least fourteen men to run the horses and equipment. Then the grain, in eighty-pound sacks, had to be hauled to market. At first all the grain in the valley was hauled up over Rocky Ridge, east of John and Otto’s places. All the grain was hauled by wagon and four horses to Collinston, Utah, usually taking two or three long days to make the trip.” Collinston, in Bear River County, had the railroad where they could ship their grain.  Later, the men started hauling the grain north of the valley to Michaud, which was on the Union Pacific Railroad. It was a long trip either way for man and horses, and required at least two to four days.

In 1895, “John and several of his brothers staying in the valley from then on through the entire year. John, Otto, and Magnus batched together for about ten years” (p. 32).

When John and Otto started staying in the valley through the winters in order to feed their stock, the mail route “came up to the head of Malad River and on into Arbon over the old Rocky Ridge road just each of Otto and John Andersen’s homes. These two men, John and Otto, often took four horses and hooked them to a sleigh, proceeded to the top of the Rocky Ridge to break a trail” so the mail could get in to the isolated valley (p. 30). This was a great service to the valley.

It seems there was never any rest for the early settlers. When the plowing or planting or harvesting was done, “they hauled wood from the canyons in winter and cut it up for spring and summer,” as it was always needed for cooking, building, and fencing, along with needing it for fuel to keep warm.

One wouldn’t know it from driving through the valley today, but sheep raising was a large industry in the early days. John, Ezra, and Magnus did sheep shearing in Dairy Creek (the next valley over the mountains east of the Andersen holdings) for several years, at first using hand clippers and later gas-motored clippers. Some days, over 5,000 sheep were sheared by the crew.

John married DeSena Sorensen on 7 March 1906. She was from Smithfield, but had been helping her sister in Mendon, where the young couple first met. “The newlyweds moved to Arbon Valley where they lived in a tent until a one-room cabin could be constructed. That same homestead log cabin is still on the farm.” The new bride knew how to work. She “milked cows, fed chickens, split kindling wood, and helped with the farm work. She would hitch the horses to the buggy along to do the Relief Society teaching” (p. 32).

The women of Arbon are the unsung heroes of homesteading. The Andersen family raised all the fruits and vegetables they could in the short growing season, canning over the wood stove. They also butchered their own pigs, “rendering the lard, cured the ham, shoulders and bacon slabs in slat brine. After the meat was cured and hung up to dry off a bit, it was put in cloth sacks and buried in the grain bins to keep it cool” (p. 33).  Sena milked cows and made butter in a big wooden churn which she sold to the store for ten cents a pound. She also made her own cheese. She cooked not only for her own family, but also for the hired men and any visitors who happened to wander in. According to her history read at her funeral, “at times during threshing she would cook for as many as twenty-five men, always serving pies, cakes, and fried chicken.” She also made her own laundry soap, scrubbing clothes on a washboard, at first getting water out of the scooped-out waterhole in the slough and heating it on the wood stove. In addition, she did all the sewing for the family.

Eventually John and Sena became the parents of seven children: Willard, 1907; Ada, 1909; Andrew “Mark,”1912; Alane, 1915; Hazel, 1917; Glenn, 1920; and Norman, 1924. They lived in a one-room log cabin for the birth of their first three children, and in 1915 moved into their new four-room home. It must have seemed like a mansion!

Along with the joys of living in the valley, with family and good neighbors, sorrow was also a frequent visitor to the hardy homesteaders of the valley. John and Sena lost their beautiful six-year-old daughter, Alane, on 21 August 1921 of appendicitis in the old Bethany Hospital in American Falls, Power, Idaho. One hates to imagine that frantic drive over fifty miles of wash-boarded, dirt roads getting Alane to the hospital, hoping a trained medical doctor could save her. She was buried in the Arbon Cemetery.  Another trial to the family was when the youngest, Norman, was severely burned when a toddler, and many months of care were given to him by his mother.

John and Sena’s son Mark eventually took over the farm, and John and Sena moved to Pocatello  in 1946.   Sena died first, on 24 April 1959 in Clifton, Franklin, Idaho, and was buried in Mendon, Utah. As so often happens, John died soon after, on 1 August 1959 in Clifton, Franklin, Idaho, and was buried in Mendon, the town of his birth, sharing a headstone with his wife. Partners in life, in death they were not parted.


Call, Laurie Jean, Bannock Valley (Providence, Utah: Keith Watkins and Sons, 1989).

The links provided here will lead to information on other family members.