Of all the romances I have ever read, the romance of Papa and Mamma was my absolute favorite. John put us in the front row for the impending nuptials of Tom and Tena Fitzgerald.
* I won't spoil it for you if you haven't read it.
In the weeks following my first complete reading of Papa Married a Mormon I would sneak downstairs every night and re-read my favorite scenes. Everything from Uncle Will arriving in Silverlode to S.D., T.D., and J.D. taunting Old Lady Miller. Chief among my reads was the elopement of Tom and Tena. When I finally settled into the idea of researching the history behind the books, I immediately set out to confirm the romance of Papa and Mamma. My very first solid historic acquisition was a copy of their wedding license.
Once it arrived, I studied every name, word, date, and signature at least a dozen times. My favorite part was the crossing out of Salt Lake and scribbling Carbon in its place. For my money this was final proof that John had told the story accurately. Price had freighters, saloons, and an overland passage. It all worked. Then Sarah Reeder Lewis had a book club and everything shifted.
In the spring of 2017, Great Brain Facebook fan, Sarah Reeder Lewis reached out to me and asked if I could help her come up with questions for her book club discussion of Papa Married a Mormon. Enthusiastically I fired off an abundance of ideas, but she was already way ahead. She kindly agreed to send photos after the event and let me know how it went.
The night was an amazing success. Questions were answered, theories discussed, and plot twists opened. As the women were sharing, one of them said, "I know I have read this elopement story before." A few days later a link arrived in my inbox. It was the biography of Charles Joseph Leonard Mellgren.
Charles Joseph Leonard “J L” Mellgren was born 16 September 1844 aboard a Sweden sailing vessel. He was the son of Joseph Leonard and Catherine Mellgren. He immigrated to America about 1862, and in 1870 was a prospector, living in Cedar Creek Mines, Missoula, Montana Territory. He married Ane Bertine Maria “Anna” Nielsen about 1874. They had six children.
I still wasn't quite sure where this was going. The name Ane Bertine Maria Nielsen hadn't connected with me yet. The dawning occurred while reading the next couple paragraphs.
Their story is interesting – Anna had immigrated from Denmark to Utah Territory and was staying at the home of a Mormon bishop with three wives. Thinking her husband would want to take Anna for his wife, the oldest wife arranged for her brother and a college chum, Charles Joseph Mellgren, who were mining engineers in Silver Reef, Washington, Utah Territory, to spirit Anna away. She hid in an empty barrel in their freight wagon and then joined them in the front seat when they were out of town a few miles. As they prepared dinner in camp, they heard horses’ hoofs. Anna quickly hid under the barrel and they put some food on top of it. The Marshall rode up and demanded to search their wagon for Anna, but did not find her.
The two young men were taking silver specimens to Salt Lake City. They had been warned about Butch Cassidy and his gang of robbers. Anna rode in the back of the wagon, pretending to be ill, with the silver specimens hiding in her skirts. Butch ordered the two engineers out of the wagon, and one of his robbers jumped into the back. He called to Butch, “There’s a woman in here right sick.” When Butch asked who she was, Leah’s brother said she was his wife, very ill, and they were taking her to Salt Lake City as fast as they could. Butch said, “Never let it be said that Butch Cassidy was impolite to a woman” and the gang rode away.
Now my curiosity was piqued, was this Anna, John's oldest aunt on Mamma's side of the family? Sure, enough it was. With the Nielsen family having ten children total, I had trouble remembering all their names. I also knew that multiple Nielsen families had joined the Mormon church and immigrated to settle with the Saints. It was easy to lump them all into one family group.
True Love -
The rest of the brief biography states,
It was love at first sight for Joseph and Anna. They were married in Salt Lake City and Anna joined his church, the Episcopalians. They lived in Silver Reef. On the 1880 census, J L was keeping a boarding house, living with his wife and two sons in Silver Reef. The next year, they left Silver Reef in their own private horse-drawn carriage. They lived for a short period in Phoenix and then Prescott, but soon settled in Tombstone, Cochise, Arizona, where J L became a merchant. He was made a naturalized citizen in 1882 in Cochise, Arizona.
J L was the proprietor of the Oriental Saloon, the place “to get the finest wines, liquors and cigars and the best of mixed drinks”. His saloon was voted the official meeting place for the regular meetings of the Cowboys and Miners of Cochise County. J L was ordered to “be always present to minister to the wants of members”. In 1886, J L was the first commander of the Ancient Order of United Workmen (AOUW) in Tombstone. At the end of his term he was presented with a gold quartz locket with the raised seal of the order.
As I read the piece over, I found myself bemused and delighted. Throughout my entire life, I felt like John was guiding me to and through his books. He had written in his foreword to Papa Married a Mormon, "The story of the miners and the Mormons as Papa, Mamma and I knew them still had to be told, and could be told only by some use of poetic license so that the story would be of the people who made Utah history and not history per se." All I could think was that John is still writing the story, whatever realm he lives in. With a few turns of phrase John melded both his parents' and his aunt's elopements into one story. It really was "history per se". And both were truly love stories. I couldn't be happier.