Thursday, July 15, 2010

History 101

I have several family histories written by relatives back in the days of ditto machines ( I can smell it now) and legal size genealogy pages that I want to transcribe to text format.  I thought surely there must be someone else out there who would enjoy these jaunts back in history so today I begin the monthly edition of 'History 101'

This month's history lesson is about Niels and Rebecca (Bake) Madsen, one of my maternal great-great grandparents.




Niels and Rebecca (Bake) Madsen

In May of 1900 Rebecca and Niels (pronounced “Nels”) Madsen left their home in Southern Idaho to join a group of pioneers called by the Mormon Church to settle in the Big Horn Basin of Northern Wyoming.  They were members of Company #___, which made the 400 mile trip by wagon.  With them were their 7 living children: Orson, 19, Oliver, 17, Hazel, 14, Sarah Ronella (called Roie), 11, Vida, 9, Ivy, 4, and Franklin, 17 months old.  Hazel remembered the trip in this way: “Mother and I and the younger girls rode in the wagon, but Roie, always a tomboy, was on horseback out in front of the wagon with the boys.  Mother and I took turns holding baby Frank during the long days in the wagon.  I particularly remember a night when the wagon train was camped on the Western side of the Wind River and the Indians were camped on the other side.  It was a very strange and different place from home.”  Hazel always remembered the wind and the sand and the sagebrush.  The Madsen children who accompanied their parents to the Big Horn Basin must be counted among the original settlers as well.

Once they arrived in Wyoming, Niels and his older two boys went to work immediately on the Sidon canal and were participants in the completion of the project.  Niels is in the group picture taken at “Prayer Rock” as it split in half and rolled out of the canal’s path.  The devotion of the Madsens to their church is not well documented, but is evident by their willingness, well into their middle age, to uproot their family and move to an unpopulated, severe, and desolate place in order to follow the Church objectives.

The Madsens set up their home in the Southwest corner of the Byron town plot, and received 80 acres of farmland on the upper bench just west of the townsite.  That summer and into the fall they constructed a log cabin, from timber brought down from the Prayer Mountains, in which he family lived for the next 60 years.  They dug a root cellar, constructed out buildings, and planted lilacs.  By 1956, surrounded by giant cottonwood trees, the house was one of only three of the original log homes built in 1900 that was still standing, with relatively few changes from when it was built.  While cold running water had been piped in from the well, no other modern plumbing had ever been installed.  The property was sold around 1959 and the house torn down.  This was the end of all evidence that these brave and devout pioneers played a part in the founding of the town of Byron.

Background:  Niels and Rebecca were not new to immigration and following the call of the Mormon church.  Niels was born in Denmark on December 4, 1846.  When he was 10 years old, his whole family were converted to Mormonism during the European missionary movement.  They later immigrated to the United States and followed the emigration of the Saints to the Salt Lake Valley in or around 1860.  They set up their first home in this country in Ogden, UT, where the last of Niels’ siblings was born.  Sometime later the family relocated to the Bear Lake regions of Southwestern Idaho where Niels met and married Rebecca Bake.

Rebecca’s mother was born in Wales and her father in England.  Her parents didn’t meet on the other side of the Atlantic, however.  Her mother had married in Wales and immigrated to Pennsylvania where her first husband died in 1848.  It seems reasonable to assume that Rebecca’s parents meet in Pittsburg sometime around 1851.  Her mother must have been converted early in the Church’s history, possibly in Wales, since Rebecca’s brother, Oliver Cowdry Bake, carried the name of one of the church founders and early missionaries.  After their marriage, it appears that the Bakes went to Kentucky for a time before returning to Pittsburg, where Rebecca was born on January 25, 1857.  According to family anecdotal history, Rebecca’s father was a physician and he continued to practice medicine throughout his lifetime.  When Rebecca was 4 years old, the family joined the LDS migration by wagon and handcarts to Zion, where they settled in Goshen, Utah.  But by 1864 records show that they had moved to Bloomington, Idaho.

Niels and Rebecca were married in Bloomington on February 8, 1877.  It was here that all of their children were born.  But it was not a joyous beginning of their family.  Rebecca’s first two babies were stillborn and the third baby, named Elizabeth, lived only for a few hours.  Subsequently, they had 8 more children.  Their 10th baby born when Hannah was 40 years old, was also stillborn and two years later she gave birth to their last surviving child.  He was just over one year old when they journeyed north to the Big Horn Basin.  Niels died in Byron on September 7, 1921 and Rebecca survived him by another 18 years.  She died in her home on October 26, 1939 at the age of 82 years.

Their Legacy -- the children:  Henry Orson worked with his father on the Sidon Canal and on the farm; he never married.  Sometime in 1931 he injured his leg and as a result requird progressive amputations which were unsuccessful in deterring the spread of infection.  He died from gangrene poisoning at the age of 50.  Jacob Oliver, the second son, also remained a bachelor.  He contracted influenza when he was 35 and was a victim of the great flu epidemic of 1918.

Hazel, the oldest daughter, returned to Bloomington, where she married William Piggott in 1910.  They had a long and happy life together and raised their family of four sons and one daughter in Bloomington, whre she died on January 1, 1968.  Roie, always headstrong and willful, moved to the Big Horn area of Montana where she married Robert Stewart Smith.  They were the parents of seven daughters and one son.  She died in Billings at the age of 70.  Ivy, also left Byron when she was a young woman, and in 1919 married Malcolm Crocker in the Big Horn area of Montana where she lived out her life.  They had one son and one daughter.  She died in 1979 at the age of 85.

Franklin Bake Madsen, the last of Rebecca and Niels’ children, lived in and around Byron for most of his life.  After his mother’s death, Frank moved to the Madsen homesite where he lived with his family and grew his incomparable vegetable gardens.  He was a self-taught musician, with a lovely tenor voice -- his talent inherited by a grandson he never knew.  His singing as he accompanied himself on the mandolin, or the sound of the old tunes he played on his harmonica, are cherished memories.  He worked in the oil fields, and farmed the 40 acres* he inherited from his mother.  Frank died of cancer in his family’s original log house in 1953.  He is buried in the Madsen family plot in the Byron cemetery beside his parents and his brothers.  Frank was married three times.  In 1926, he married Dezzie McLamore Lindsay (who had two children == Tommy and Virginia Lindsay; they lived with their father in Byron).  Frank and “Dez” had one daughter, Frances, who would be the last direct descendant of Niels and Rebecca to carry the Madsen name (although later his stepsons changed their names to Madsen). In 1945, Frank married Helen Dudley, mother of two sons, Neil and Larry. While the children all attended and graduated from Byron High School, no one bearing the Madsen name has lived in Byron for over 40 years.

*Of possible interest:  Sometime in the 1940’s Frank sold 15 acres of the farm to Don and Lou Snyder.  Today, the D&L Motel and Café sits on original land homesteaded by the Madsen’s in 1900.  Another forty acre plot across the highway, on the river bluff, lies fallow.  It is presumed this land is still titled to multiple Madsen heirs (under the trusteeship of Roie Smith’s only son, Robert since the early 1960’s)  However, since his death two or three years ago, it is unclear what the status of the land is at this time.  An inquiry will be made at the County offices in the near future.

This narrative of the Madsen family, original settlers of the town of Byron, was provided by Frances (Madsen) Towle.  This is a “work in progress”, prepared from memory and assumption.  Anyone who can add stories, facts, or corrections, please contact her.  Particularly interested in personal information about her father and mother.

I don't know when Frances wrote this (she doesn't either -- lol), but it was many years ago.

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