The citizens of Cloud county who honor the memory of the old pioneers, of the state cannot overlook this memoir of the late Reverend Niels Nelson, better known to his countrymen as Neils Neilson. He did much toward attracting the attention of Danes to the resources and opportunities to be found in this western country, and the greater part of the Danish settlements in Grant and Buffalo townships came through his influence.
Reverend Nelson was born in the town of Galbjerg, on the Island of Funin, Kingdom of Denmark, on the 23d day of November, 1809. His father was a well-to-do farmer; industrious and strict in all his dealings; especially so in all the doctrines pertaining to the Lutheran religion. He gave his seven children the benefit of a common school education.
Our subject possessed a retentive memory which enabled him to rank first in his studies. At the age of thirteen years he was confirmed in the faith of the Lutheran church. About this time his father died and Mr. Nelson with a younger brother assumed the management of the farm, maintaining their mother and five sisters. Being of an active and inquiring turn of mind, Mr. Nelson was not satisfied with what he could see of religion; he wanted to feel a change of heart and constantly endeavored to find his way. He asked the older members of the church, receiving from those in authority the same response - "If you do all the church requires of you that is enough." But he was not satisfied and sought what his soul longed for by attending evangelistic meetings, studied the church books, prayed for more light, and finally at the age of seventeen years, he and his brother were truly converted by the power of the Holy Spirit and their minds enlightened in regard to the Bible. The doctrines embraced by the two young men were not popular at that time in the Kingdom of Denmark, and they suffered many persecutions; not only from the enemies of the gospel, but from their own mother, who was a zealous follower of the Lutheran church. She was extremely radical in her religious views and was so incensed that her sons should deviate from the beaten path, that upon hearing her boys were attending divine services which were being held at a private house in the neighborhood, she hastened thither, murmuring the while - "I will get that out of their heads." As she shook the staff threateningly at the young converts, in tones of bitterness she asked the dispenser of the gospel - "How much he charged for leading minors astray?"
MRS. ANNA PEDERSON NELSON.
But the mother, true to maternal instinct, was troubled, and as she tossed upon her pillow that night was visited by a dream in which her deceased husband seemed to stand beside her and looking sorrowfully down upon her said - "Will you drive my boys from their home?" This remonstrance was more than her mother heart could withstand; she awoke, arose, hastilly sought her boys and brought them home. They then thanked the Lord for his goodness to them and earnestly besought him for their mother's salvation, which in his good time he granted.
Reverend Nelson remained a member of the Lutheran church fourteen years after his conversion; ten years of that time he was an earnest worker among his people for the cause of Christ and his influence for good was felt. His spare moments were not all spent in the pulpit; he visited the sick, looking after their physical and spiritual needs, reading to them from the Bible; praying with and for them. He also visited the prisons, speaking words of comfort and encouragement often obtaining the assistance of wealthy and influential citizens in gaining the release of some inmate.
He afterward moved to Zealand and resided in the town of Gimlinge, where he married Miss Anna Pederson, April 11, 1838. She was a conscientious young woman of good and pious parentage and with such an earnest companion as he found in her, it stimulated him to greater efforts in his "Master's vineyard." They became convinced that immersion was the only true baptism, and January 24, 1842, they united with the Missionary Baptists and were two of the twenty-four which constituted at the time of their baptism the whole membership of the denomination of Baptists in the Kingdom of Denmark, The Reverend Adolph Monster performed the rites of baptism.
Reverend Nelson was ordained a minister of the gospel in Hamburg, Germany, the following spring, by the Reverend J.G. Oucken and sent out as a missionary under the direction of the German Missionary Association. His journeys were mostly accomplished on foot. He visited different parts of the country, his work extending over into Norway and Sweden; these trips were not made without great peril, especially in winter when facing the blinding snow storms of that region. While passing from one to another of the islands of Denmark he made use of an ice boat and sometimes on account of the thinness of the ice, he would be plunged into the water, reaching his destination with his clothing frozen on his body; but such trials he considered trivial when he thought of what Christ had suffered.
His growing family required some of his time as he was not sufficiently remunerated for the missionary labors to support them. He would work in the field all day and at nightfall would hasten away on foot to fill an appointment made for the next day some forty miles distant; often making the entire journey between two suns. After making his family comfortable he often started out to preach with scarcely a cent in his pocket. While upon one of these expeditions footsore and weary, he wandered on with no house open to him and only four skillings in his pocket. (About three cents in American coin.) He entered a village where he spent his last cent for a loaf of bread. He passed on, eating the loaf as he went feeling thankful to be thus able to appease his hunger, and after he had nearly finished his repast rejoiced to find embedded in the loaf a piece of money of the same value as the one just expended.
The power of God through his teachings began to be felt throughout the land so much that the authorities began to inquire the cause and as a consequence he was accused of working against the state church and ordered before a magistrate to give an account of his doings. This occurred several times but nothing could be proven against him and he was sent away with the admonition to withdraw from his labors for he was disturbing the peace. The judge told Reverend Nelson that he ought to have sense enough to see, if he did not stop his religious work he with his family would be crushed. The undaunted reply was - "God will provide for his own. I ought to obey him rather than man." Whereupon the judge grasped him by the shoulder and shook him. Not regarding their threats he continued, and complaint was made to the King, Christian the VIII, petitioning him to appoint some person as a leader of the Baptists and hold that person responsible for all their wrong doings.
In the year 1842, Reverend Nelson was appointed by the King to fill that position. He was ordered before the judge and given his choice between imprisonment or ceasing to administer baptism. He was allowed to preach but not to baptize nor celebrate the Lord's Supper. To see that this was observed, he was required to notify the justice of the peace. The urgent requests for baptism became so frequent that he determined to give them. He might be compared with Moses and the Israelites, as "the man of God who stood between the King and the people." He selected from their number one worthy for the service and under cover of darkness the rites were performed. But Reverend Nelson was ordered before the judge and not being able to pay the fine imposed, his property was confiscated and his family left destitute. His ever patient wife united her efforts with those of her husband, and through persecution and disaster succeeded in sustaining their family. Nor did Reverend Nelson lose faith in God; his confidence remained unshaken, and again labored in his cause until the authorities ordered him with others before the judge, and he was fined a second time, the amount being for each about $275. It was not immediately collected and in the meantime King Christian the VIII died, and was succeeded by Frederick the VII, who gave the people Christian liberty, and therefore the fine was not collected.
Being no longer persecuted but free to work, Reverend Nelson organized nine congregations in Denmark and built seven houses for worship. For twenty-four years he was pastor of one church, doing active outside work at the same time. During this period, in the year 1857, he published in the Danish language a collection of hymns, many of them being his translation from the Swedish and German languages. In 1859 he published a second and enlarged edition of the same collection. In 1861 he wrote and published two tracts, namely: "The Lutheran Church and the Bible." "What is Baptism and Who Shall be Baptized?" In 1863 he wrote and published a third tract called "The Golden Ring." About the same time he gave to the world a fourth called "The Law or the Ten Commandments."
His family now being large and some of them having left the parental roof to try their fortunes across the water in the "New World" the heart of the father yearned to see his children once more and with his wife, two sons and one daughter he came to America where five sons and one daughter had preceded him. "Father" Nelson arrived in New York City in August, 1865, and came direct to St. Louis, where he joined his children twelve miles south of that city. The two years he lived there were spent principally in gaining a knowledge of the English language.
The church he had served in Denmark for so many years became involved some doctrinal difficulty and the thoughts of the congregation immediately reverted to their old pastor and they sent for him with the promise of paying his fare there and return, and remunerate him in addition if he would return and help them for a short time; but Reverend Nelson had accepted a call from the First Scandinavian Baptist Church, of Chicago, and had been commissioned by the American Home Mission Association to labor in Chicago and the surrounding country; hence, could not accept their proposition but wrote them instructions with Bible references.
In 1867 taking his wife and four youngest children with him, Reverend Nelson moved to Chicago. After two years of missionary labor he conceived the desire of having his family settled near each other and started for the frontier, that they might take homesteads in the same settlement. He with others visited Kansas in the autumn of 1868 and while in Junction City looked over the map with other of his countrymen and through an agent homesteaded a quarter section of land then inhabited by the buffalo and the Indian. The Nelsons were the second settlers west of the Republican river and north of Buffalo creek. Several Swedes in Chicago interested other of their countrymen who were a laboring but progressive people and formed a colony. They started the movement in 1867 but in 1868-9 others came and the town of Scandia was founded and a colony house was built. (This was afterward used as a school house.)
The colonists settled on both sides of the river from Lake Sibley north to the Nebraska line. Many other nationalities settled there, as many who filed delayed coming and their claims were contested; again some grew discontented, returned to their homes or went elsewhere. Something near four hundred farms were secured in a strip of land extending one mile back from the river and they also bought the state land in that vicinity. Of this number only about one hundred and fifty actual settlers came. The leaders of this scheme gave out the impression, if improvements were made they could hold their lands; they were people who were tied up with business affairs in Chicago and they trusted these agents, but their claims were contested and lost as a matter of course.
When the Reverend Nels Nelson came to the country and saw the condition of things he at once withdrew his support and in the meantime with other Danish emigrants established a colony. In 1869 his property was destroyed by the Indians as told in another part of this history. "Father" Nelson was the "Good Samaritan" of the pioneer settlement. His humble home on the frontier was open to all new comers; he followed the injunction - "Freely ye have received, freely give," until his hospitable dwelling was widely known as the "Free hospital and church," for he also held divine service there.
On July 30, 1871, the Reverend Nels Nelson organized a Danish Baptist church, - the first Baptist church west of Atchison, - with eleven members and later built the Saron Church, where, as long as his health permitted, he preached to his beloved people, and where all that is mortal of this reverend gentleman lies peacefully sleeping. He officiated at the Lord's table in the little Saron Church until the winter 1886, when his health failed, and March 10, 1887, the doors closed upon one of the most eventful lives recorded in these pages. "Father" Nelson was an elderly man when he left his fatherland. Upon coming to America he made the church his chief cause, was the spiritual advisor of the community of Danes and through his influence much is due for the settlement and prosperity of his people. The Saron Church is the only Danish Baptist Church in the Association. "Father" Nelson organized a Swedish Baptist Church ten miles east of his homestead and ordained August Johnson, pastor.
"Mother" Nelson, the life-long counselor and companion of the subject of this memoir, died February 27, 1902, at the age of eighty-six years. She was laid to rest in the Saron Church cemetery, by the side of her husband and son, Nels Nelson, Jr., whose demise preceded her own but a few weeks. She was active in mind and body, and until a short time before her death often walked to a son's home, four miles distant. She lived with her son, James Nelson. Both Mr. and Mrs. Nelson were life members in the American Home Missionary Society.
Besides the two sons, Nels Nelson, Jr., and Henry Nelson, whose sketches follow, there are three sons and two daughters. Charles, a resident of St. Louis, Missouri; Caroline, wife of Martin Olsson, a farmer living three miles east of Hollis; James, the father of Doctor Nelson, of Concordia, is a well-to-do farmer of Republic county, and Mary, wife of O.E. Garder, a prosperous farmer of Buffalo township, two miles north of Yuma. The two younger sons, Christ and George, are thrifty farmers and stockmen, residing four miles northeast of Jamestown.
Transcribed from E.F. Hollibaugh's Biographical history of Cloud County, Kansas biographies of representative citizens. Illustrated with portraits of prominent people, cuts of homes, stock, etc. [n.p., 1903] 919p. illus., ports. 28 cm.
Home Page for Kansas
Search all of Blue Skyways
The KSGenWeb Project