Mary Larsen Benson Peterson
An Enduring Legacy, vol. 6 (Salt Lake City: Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 1983), 129–36


Wesley Taft Benson, responding to a request from the Benson Family Organization for a history of his grandmother, Mary, wrote:

I have relied to a large extent on research developed by three of my cousins, Helen Carlson Smith, Ann Larsen Everton Jensen and Virginia Peterson. These relatives are responsible for many of the records of the Larsen family and have been most generous in sharing with me information in their possession.

An earlier eyewitness source is Mrs. Laura Michelson, who served for many years as president of the Logan 4th Ward Relief Society. She grew up in Logan during the 1860s and as a young woman in her early twenties, was personally acquainted with Grandfather Ezra and Grandmother Mary. Sister Michelson was a frequent guest in the Logan home of my parents during the First World War. She used to entertain us by the hour with stories about my grandparents and their influence for good upon events in Cache Valley. She described Grandmother as a woman about five feet eight inches tall, dark complexioned, with a most pleasant personality. Her circle of admirers and friends was extensive. She and Grandfather made a handsome couple.

As a teenager, I was also well acquainted with Grandmother during the last ten years of her life. Every summer I spent a good deal of time in Petersboro working for my father on his farm. This meant a call to the Peterson ranch for a visit with Grandmother. I was a frequent guest for dinner or supper and knew from firsthand experience the quality of her cooking. I remember her as a gracious lady who was concerned for the welfare of others. She sacrificed much toward the building up of Church and Utah Territory.

Mary (Ane Marie) Larsen was the first child of Maren Hansen and Magnus Larsen. She was born December 19, 1843, at Rostofte, Sjaelland, Praesto, Denmark

Her father, Magnus Larsen, was born October 15, 1817, at Langoe, Praesto, Denmark. His parents were Lars Magnussen and Ane Kirstine Hansen. He had five sisters and three brothers. Magnus Larsen worked fourteen years as a butler and coachman for a Danish nobleman. In these occupations he furnished services of high quality. He also became skilled in the weaver’s trade, which he learned from his brother and practiced after he came to Utah. He was always kind and gentle with his family. Death occurred at Mendon, Utah, July 23, 1894, and he was buried there.

Mary’s mother, Maren Hansen, was born August 8, 1824, at Kalvehave, Praesto, Denmark. Her parents were Hans Anderson and Ane Marie Jensen. She had two sisters and a brother. Her brother ran away to when he was sixteen years old and was never heard from again. Maren came from a wealthy and refined family, which made the long pioneer trek to Utah especially hard for her to endure. She died in Mendon, Utah, July 23, 1906.

While Magnus and his wife Maren lived in Denmark, nine children were born to them: Mary, Larsene, Ane Kirstine, Sophia, Fredrick, Bolette, Lars, Bolette #2, and Amalie. Copenhagen LDS Branch records show that Mary was baptized August 2, 1857, by A. Jensen and L. Ericson, and was confirmed a member of the Church the same day. These missionaries were transferred from Iceland to Denmark and while working with Erastus Snow, were largely responsible for the conversion of the Larsen family to the Mormon Church. Mary and her sister Larsene were baptized and confirmed the same day. Their father Magnus and mother Maren were baptized April 6, 1857. He was the first of his brothers and sisters to be baptized. After the Larsens arrived in Utah there were some rebaptisms.

The Larsen family wanted to come to America and become associated with the main body of the Church, but motivation came from another source as well—poor economic conditions in Denmark. Advantages were limited for the entire family. There was not enough work to provide an adequate living for all.

With these powerful forces as a stimulus, the Larsens arranged passage on a German sailing ship , Athenia. They left for America April 25, 1862, from Hamburg and arrived in New York June 7, 1862. Ola N. Liljenquist served as leader of the company. Poor quality living conditions made the trip almost unbearable. There were more passengers than the boat could accommodate. Nearly all the children under nine years of age died and were buried at sea. (Amalie was one of these). The Larsen family did not take rail passage west from New York, but instead sailed into the Mexico and up the Mississippi River to Florence (Omaha) Nebraska, on a steamboat. The journey across the Plains to Salt Lake City was trying and slow. Church teams hauled their provisions, but the family had to walk most of the way. The hardships of the long journey—the heat, the duststorms, and the poor food—were almost more than the refined mother could endure. The father remained pleasant and uncomplaining all the way. Upon arriving in Utah, they found good food and rest for their tired bodies.

In the month of October 1862, the family arrived at Brigham City. Here Magnus Larsen found work with a man who owned a threshing machine and who went around the county doing custom threshing on the farms where grain was raised. The family stayed in Brigham about one year and then moved to Mendon, Cache County, where they established a comfortable home and spent the remaining years of their lives. Three more children were born to the Larsen family after they settled in Mendon: Peter, Andrew and Magnus, Jr.

Mary did not come to America with her father and mother because of a prior work arrangement with another family, which lasted into the year 1863, and she was not free to go until this obligation ended. Since she was the oldest in her immediate family, she had worked away from home much of the time. In 1860, at the age of seventeen, she was living with her Uncle Paul, Aunt Ane Marie and little cousin Lars Larsen. She left Denmark with them for America at the age of nineteen. On the same ship was another Uncle, Lars Larsen, his second wife, Ellen Margrathea Larsen, and their baby son, Hans Pater Larsen. They sailed on the ship John J. Boyd. The ship left Liverpool, England, April 30, 1863, and the voyage was a pleasant one, lasting only twent-nine days. The vessel was clean and sanitary and the food was good and plentiful The sick obtained wine, milk, sugar, sago and soup from the captain’s kitchen. There were only four or five deaths among the travelers.

The crossing of the Atlantic was a never-to-be-forgotten experience. The ship came within close range of eight icebergs, huge mountains of ice floating upon the water and glittering in the sunlight like crystal. It was a fairyland of beauty to behold, yet hidden danger lurked beneath the sea. The passengers were entertained by whales following the ship and spouting water. At the trip’s conclusion, the John J. Boyd docked safely in New York harbor on Sunday, June 1, 1863. The passengers were all quarantined for a few days at Castle Garden.

The trip from New York to St. Joseph, Missouri, and on to Council Bluffs was made by rail, then by boat on the Missouri River to Florence, Nebraska. From there to Salt Lake City it was necessary for Mary and her party to walk almost the entire distance. Provisions and baggage were hauled by the wagon train pulled by oxen. While crossing the Plains they witnessed what was probably the most disastrous stampede of oxen in the history of the Mormon pilgrimage across the western Plains. This was a most terrifying experience, for they came very close to losing all their provisions and even their lives. One can only conclude that they were given generous assistance from the Lord or they would never have made it to Salt Lake City.

Sometime in August or early September 1863, Mary and her party arrived in Salt Lake City. She was anxious to be reunited with her family, so they traveled on to Mendon in Cahe Valley, for a most joyous reunion. Upon arriving in Mendon, Mary set about to make friends and become acquainted with everyone. Soon she was asked to assist in managing the home of the Joseph Baker family.

It was in the spring of 1864 when Mary became acquainted with Apostle Ezra T. Benson. She accepted an offer of employment and went to work for the family in the summer of 1864. She was well prepared for this responsibility because of her experience in managing homes of wealthy families in Denmark. Research of parish registers in Denmark brought to light the name of Mary Larsen coming and going as contracts of service in home management would commence and expire. She would then move on to another home in another parish where she would work out the terms of another contract.

In her service for the Benson family, Mary continued the same line of work for which she had much experience and in which she was so competent. Here she was able to use much of her talent in practical home management as an assistant to Brother Benson’s wives in the running of their households. In this service she met many people of high station in life. Because of her position and because she was a beautiful young lady with a charming personality, she developed a wide circle of influential friends. When Church leaders and those who were prominent politically came to Cache Valley, they usually stayed at the big house on East Second North in Logan.

Ezra T. Benson came to recognize Mary’s unusual qualities and it was only natural that he should fall in love with her. They were married in the Endowment House in Salt Lake City, September 15, 1866. She was his eighth wife. Mary became the mother of two sons, Walter Taft, born June 17, 1867 and my father, Henry Taft, born March 19, 1869.

In 1869, Ezra T. Benson, through his firm, Benson, Farr and West, obtained a contract from Governor Stanford to build the railroad west of Ogden, Utah. It was there that Mary had the responsibility of managing the food services for the men who worked for the company. In this connection she met Governor Leland Stanford and he was so impressed by the quality of her worse offered her the opportunity to come to California and manage his household on the Stanford farm which later became the Stanford University campus. She had an unusual ability for handling food and turning out meals of high quality. She also had a fine way of teaching others how to do the same.

Mary Larsen Benson became acquainted with Brigham Young because of his many visits to the Benson home in Logan in connection with conferences and meetings on Church business in Cache Valley. Naturally she was called upon to supervise the preparation and serving of the dinners that were served to make such an important guest feel at home.

Tragedy visited this family in the fall of 1869 when Ezra T. Benson died in Ogden as a result of a heart attack. Death of a father brings many problems and dislocations in any family. It was most serious in this case because his business affairs with Governor Stanford had not been brought to a successful conclusion, which meant that five families were left with limited resources.

At a Benson family reunion held at the BYU Campus in Logan in June 1923, Frank A. Benson told about life in Cache Valley in 1869. He told how hard it was to make a living and get ahead. He said when he was fifteen years of age he accompanied his father to Ogden for the purpose of bringing a load of salt to Logan. Later, at the October general conference, he was to accompany his father and three of his brothers to Salt Lake City and attend a school Brigham Young maintained for his family. Their father’s death, September 3, 1869, brought an end to these plans. It was an unforgettable scene, as Frank stood before the assembled family members, holding back the emotions that swept over him as he described in detail the memorable events of the summer of 1869.

Upon the shoulders of Frank A. and George Taft, sons of Adeline Brooks Andrus Benson, rested the leardership of the Benson family. These two lads now had to wear the mantle of grown men. The future still had great promise but it had to be purchased with sacrifice not known before.

Mary Larsen Benson shared in the generosity of the older and better established of the Benson families. Now that she had two infant sons, her responsibilities seemed overwhelming. However, there was a spirit of concern about the welfare of all members of the family and a willingness to share whatever was available. She was always grateful for the wonderful attitude on the part of the other wives who helped her during these difficult times.

In 1878, Mary married Peter Peterson. They lived in Logan until the summer of 1879, when the family, with twin sons Oliver Larsen Peterson and Edward Larsen Peterson and Henry Taft Benson moved to Petersboro, Utah. Walter Taft Benson remained in Logan and found employment. Petersboro was practically unsettled prairie, and there they lived in a frame structure.

In the autumn of 1887 the family moved to Petersboro to remain permanently. They moved to the old Peterson home that still stands. At that time the home consisted of one room with a dirt roof. The dirt roof was taken off and a bedroom was built on top. In 1889 a rock lean-to was built on the west side. Two years later a room was built on the north side, and in 1900 four more rooms were added.

In 1889 land was bought and developed by the skillful farming of Peter and sons. Edward was appointed by his father to keep accurate records of all farm supplies, expenses, earnings, savings, etc.

Mary and Peter had a family of seven sons, including two sets of twins: Oliver and Edward Larsen (twins), Levi Larsen, Fred Larsen, Willard Larsen, and the last twins, Jessie and Miles Larsen.

The farm grew in size and productivity to become one of the finest integrated ranch properties in the state of Utah at the end of World War One. Mary’s contribution was so outstanding that she could share the praise for this accomplishment equally with her husband and her sons who managed the property.

During the years of Mary’s life in Petersboro she was a hardworking, industrious little woman who was loved by all who knew her. She was immaculate in her appearance at all times, and kept her home in the same manner. She was thrifty, punctual, strong-willed and dominant. Peter heeded and listened to her desires. Her aim in life was to have something bigger and better, and enjoy the advantages here because they were so limited in Denmark.

Mary would get up early in the morning, milk the cows and then prepare breakfast, which included lovely, light biscuits. This she did every morning for forty years. During these years she cared for and cured the family supply of meat for the year, never once having any spoil. She brined and smoked the hams, shoulders and bacon. They were wrapped and put in wheat sacks, then placed deep under the wheat in the granary. As many as twelve pigs were killed a year. She canned and preserved and made pickles from their own garden. She also made bread, cookies and butter. The fresh milk was kept in the cool cellar in large fiat pans. Within twenty-four to thirty-six hours she would skim the cream off the top with a short-handled wooden ladle. Then she would churn the cream, work the buttermilk from it and place the butter into round molds. Each mold of butter was wrapped in a square piece of waxed paper which she bought in a square pack, individually cut. Later she had her name stamped on the paper. She often carried a basket of butter and another of eggs, or sometimes two large baskets of eggs, to Mendon, walking a distance of four miles on the railroad tracks which were directly west of the Peterson home. This produce she exchanged at the Hi Richards store for groceries or money.

There wasn’t much time for recreation, but the entire family did enjoy going by horse and buggy and visiting relatives and friends in Mendon. The visits were returned about once a year, or when there was a funeral in the family.

Sadness again came into the lives of Mary and her family when Peter Peterson died in the Dee Hospital in Ogden on June 3, 1914. The funeral was held in the old rock church in Mendon.

These incidents were related by May Pederson, daughter of Mary’s brother Peter Larsen:

“Three of the Peterson sons wanted to buy materials to build a boat, but their mother was very much against it. However, after her brother Peter explained that if the sons went away from home for entertainment it would cost more than the price of building a boat, Mary agreed and the sons built a safe, substantial boat, complete with motor. They spent many pleasurable hours on the Logan River in the boat, and it was the pride of the valley.

“The Petersons had the first icehouse on the west side of the valley, at a time when an icehouse was a real luxury.

“The first dry-farming experiments in Cache Valley were begun on the Peterson farm. Peter often had some of the dignitaries, as he called them, from the college come to the farm to watch or ask about methods he used both in farming the land and caring for farm animals.

“In 1910 the Peterson family purchased their first automobile, a Cadillac, with a right-hand drive. This car and one belonging to the Thatcher family were the first in the valley. Mary was surely on the warpath when this purchase was planned, but again her brother Pete interceded and the purchase was made. However, it is said that she never did take a ride in it. That same year her husband also built a red brick home, four rooms and bath upstairs and four rooms in the basement, at 265 North 1st West in Logan. There was also a handsome brick barn in the back of the lot, with a loft for hay for the horses. Mary did not make much fuss about the building of that home, but when it was finished she refused to move to Logan. The house served as a home for the boys attending college—Willard, Jessie and Miles. It was also a place where the family went while in Logan. It was furnished with beds and a kitchen so they could prepare a meal. Later Fred and Emma lived there until their home was built on the ranch and Willard and his wife lived there when he taught at the Logan High School. Mary believed in education and wished all of her sons to have an opportunity to attend college.

“This is gracious, kindly woman died February 21, 1926, at the age of eighty-three. She was buried in Mendon, Utah. She had dealt with many tribulations, but she remained true to the covenants she had made in the Endowment House and was faithful to the end of her life.”

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