Here is a fascinating life story of Peter Julius Christofferson, who worked with John Bushman to colonize St. Joseph Arizona. His details and descriptions give us a good feel for life in these new frontier towns in Arizona.
John Bushman and his family arrived in Allen’s Camp on 30 April 1877, after 2 months of traveling under great difficulties. You can read more about his family’s adventures in John Bushman, Utah-Arizona Pioneer 1843-1926.
Peter Julius Christofferson, Life Story
Peter Julius Christofferson, son of Hans and Elizabeth Jacobsen Christofferson, was born February 16, 1843 at Saerslov, Holbek, Denmark. He was a large man with blue eyes and brown hair. The family came to America when he was fourteen years old shortly after they were all converted and baptized to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The family first settled in Omaha, Nebraska, and Hans was put in charge of the branch of the church there. In 1857 the family came to Utah with Captain Robert F. Nelsen’s ox train, arriving in Salt Lake City September 15, 1859. The family settled in Lehi.
Peter Julius married Annie Peterson, a convert from Sweden, on September 10, 1864 in the Endowment House in Salt Lake City. They went to Mt. Pleasant in Sanpete County to make their first home and resided there for four and one-half years. At that time, the Black Hawk Indian War was raging, and Peter fought against the Indians for three years. At one time during the war, he had a horse shot out from under him. Because of his actions during the war, it was said of him many times that he knew no fear. Once, when he was alone, he swam his horse across the Green River after a bunch of Indians. Old Chief Black Hawk saw him and said he could have shot him but did not because of his bravery.
Two children were born to Peter and Annie during their stay in Sanpete County–Andrew Peter and John Julius. John died and was buried in Sanpete County. They returned to Lehi to make their home, and there four more children were born–Sariah, Mary Anna, Joseph Alfred and Rachel.
When they returned to Lehi, Peter built a new home for his family. It was the first brick house to be built in Lehi. It stood as a home until it was torn down to make room for a modern new bank building early in 1953.
Peter freighted supplies to Camp Floyd where Johnston’s Army was stationed. This was about 18 miles south and west of Lehi where Fairfield is today.
On March 4, 1873 Peter was appointed to the job of town marshal by Mayor William H. Winn and the City Council, but he later declined the appointment because he felt he did not have the time necessary to do the job right.
Peter had become known as an Indian fighter and a man adapted to frontier life, so in 1876 when Brigham Young was getting people together to make the first Latter Day Saint settlement on the Little Colorado River in Arizona, Peter and his family were called to go there to settle. Peter made a trip alone first and then came back for the family. They made the journey in 1877 and arrived at Allen’s Camp, later known as St. Joseph, Arizona, in November. They were accompanied by James Roberts and John Bushman and their families, who had also been called to colonize this wild country. These men were often referred to as “Peter, James and John” of Round Valley, which later was known as St. John’s Stake, Arizona. Peter took up land at Eager and later homesteaded Omer. He also established the People’s Co-op, the Round Valley Store.
There were few roads, mostly trails into the area and they found it to be a raw country indeed. Six weeks after they arrived, a daughter, Leah was born. While living here they lived the United Order.
In 1878 the family was called home again. They were called to the Salem area, now known as St. Johns. Together with the families of James Roberts and James Skousen, they settled 35 miles south of St. Johns in an area known as Round Valley, a rich agricultural section of Arizona, and here they founded the town of Omer, later known as Springerville. Here the Apache Indians were on the warpath so once again he helped fight Indians. The settlement was 200 miles from the nearest railroad. Peter again became a freighter and hauled supplies from Albuquerque, New Mexico. He carried the mail from MacDol to Mesa. He drove a span of mules and a buckboard. One time a hold-up man tried to rob him of the mail. Peter told him there was nothing in the sack. The mule commenced pawing the ground, and Peter told the robber that the mule had already killed two people. The robber stepped back and Peter gave the mules the reigns and they were not long getting away from there. The mail was safe.
Besides the Indians, Mexicans were numerous and treacherous. Freighters were often attacked by Indians who would tie them to their wagons and set fire to all. Women were often caught and their children scalped and burned while the women watched. The Mexicans were not so cruel. Peter, being such a large and very strong man, was generally called to stand guard over the freighter’s supplies.
One time when he was freighting, he stopped at a log cabin for the night and a sense of something evil came over him. He decided not to act frightened and undressed and went to bed, but could not sleep, so he rose and dressed and went on his way. He learned later that a man was killed in that cabin on that night.
Here in Arizona, Peter and his family endured many hardships, having barely the necessities of life. Often being without wheat they had to eat barley bread, which was coarse, black, and disagreeable. They recall how the barley beards would stick in their gums and between their teeth. They cut their grain with a scythe and sometimes a cradle which was a real luxury. It was tied in bundles with anything available. It was threshed by sheep tramping on it or by a windmill contrivance. Then it was ground ready for use between two stones, one large and concave, the other smaller and convex.
Peter’s older children attended school in a log house with a dirt floor and roof. The benches were of split logs with pegs for legs. They had no desks.
For lights, this family, like other families, had tallow candles made from beef or mutton fat which they made for themselves. Sometimes they only had a plate of grease with a rag in it they called a “witch” which they burned for light.
Peter was ordained a High Priest and first bishop of Eager Ward on September 20, 1880 by Erastus Snow. Omer Ward came into existence October 29, 1882 when the Round Valley Ward (Omer Ward) was divided into two wards, namely, Amity Ward and Omer Ward. Peter, who had acted as president of all of Round Valley, was chosen Bishop of the Omer ward. While he was bishop, they erected a log church building with lumber floor. This was also their recreation room where they danced. The people brought produce to pay for their tickets. Lyman Hamblin, a son of Jacob Hamblin, was fiddler and caller.
A mob tried to stop the Saints from holding meetings in their new meeting house, so Bishop Christofferson posted his son, Andrew, who was then 16 years old, outside the church with a gun and he was told to shoot anyone who tried to cause trouble. When the word got around, no one came very near.
While Peter was Superintendent of the People’s Co-op of Springerville and a bishop, he was advised by President Wilford Woodruff, who was visiting the wards and branches of the church, to enter into plural marriage, so on February 13, 1881, he married Sarah Huldah DeWitt in the St. George Temple. She was working at the Co-op store and continued to do so after their marriage. She was not yet 18 years old when they were married. In 1884 Peter was convicted of polygamy by Judge Sumner Hower, and was sentenced to the House of Corrections in Detroit, Michigan for 3 years 6 months. This was a contract prison, where hard labor accompanied the prison sentence. In conducting the trial, Judge Hower asked, “How do you know he has two wives?” Witnesses replied, “We saw two women in his house, one washing dishes and another doing something else.” “That’s enough.” replied the judge. “He is convicted.” The sentence also carried a $500 fine.
His two wives and nine children lived on a ranch just 70 miles from the Indian Reservation and were in constant fear of these Indians, who at that time were a fierce and savage people.
In his journal he kept while in prison, he wrote this paragraph: “After entering the prison an officer conducted us to our cells. I asked the officer if I could have another pair of blankets. He replied that I was big and fat enough to keep warm. I knelt down and poured my soul out to my Heavenly Father in humble reverence, and thanked Him for my lovely family, and for being permitted to come to the earth in a time when the true Gospel was being proclaimed and that I might continue to be a partaker of it’s blessings. I asked Him to help me to endure the severe cruelty inflicted upon me, that I might remain true and faithful to my family, my brethren and sisters, and to my God…… But oh the thought of how I had been dragged 2000 miles from my home and friends leaving my poor broken family in their humble cottage on the prairie of a frontier country, left to the charity of a cold world while I was doomed to toil away my life in a gloomy prison, when my family needed the proceeds of my labor every day; and all this contrary to law and justice.”
After Peter had gone to prison, the management of the store was given to another man. Peter’s own son Andrew was old enough and capable enough to run the store, but was denied the right. Peter’s wife, Sarah, was no longer allowed to work there either so both families were in dire circumstances. Every means of maintenance seemed closed, but by sticking together and working very hard, they pulled through. Andrew and Peter’s wife, Sarah, milked 30 cows twice a day for John Clark. The families could receive only 1 letter a month from their husband and father.
The decision by which Peter had been found guilty of polygamy was a legal monstrosity and when word of it reached the ears of President Grover Cleveland on October 8, 1886 he gave Peter and Ammon M. Tinney and Christopher I. Kempe full and complete pardons without any requests on their part or in their behalf ever being made.
The text of the hand written pardon follows:
Grover Cleveland, President of the United States of America
To all to whom these Presents shall come, Greetings:
Whereas, at the November term 1884, of the United States District Court for the District of Arizona, P.J. Christofferson was convicted of Polygamy and sentenced to three years and six months imprisonment in the House of Corrections at Detroit, Michigan and to pay a fine of five hundred dollars;
And whereas, it appears that grave doubts exist concerning the grade of the offense of which the said P.J. Christofferson was really guilty and that, if the benefit of a very substantial doubt be given him, his punishment has already been greater than his crime warranted;
Now therefore, be it known, that I, Grover Cleveland, President of the United States of America, in consideration of the premises, divers other good and sufficient reasons me there unto moving, do hereby grant to the said P.J. Christofferson, a full and unconditional pardon.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto signed my name and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the city of Washington, This eighth day of October, A.D. 1886, and of the Independence of the United States the one hundred and eleventh.
signed: Grover Cleveland
By the president, Jas. O. Poster, Acting Secretary of State.
Upon returning to Round Valley, Peter discovered that land jumpers belonging to a lawless mob and claiming squatters’ rights, had ordered the Mormons to leave. These claims were made after the Mormons had built homes, constructed ditches, and lived on the land six years. The settlers made every effort to make peace with the squatters. They endured the lawlessness and depravations, also persecutions because of plural marriage, for several years. Elder George H. Crosby told those who claimed the land that the Mormons would leave and go peacefully, but that the land would lie idle and be of no use them. It is a significant fact that most of the Omer town site still lies in sagebrush to this day. In the meantime, St. Johns Stake was organized with P.J. Christofferson named as first High Councilman in 1887. He had filled an eight months mission to the Indians of Southern Arizona. Because he spoke Spanish so well he was sent on a mission to Mexico with Brother Ammon M. Tingey and Brother Albert D. Greer.
In November 1888 Scarlet Fever, a serious and dread disease in those days, struck at the younger members of the Christofferson family. Lafayette Omer, the youngest child of the first wife, then three years old, suffered extremely. After he recovered it was discovered that the disease had settled in his back leaving him a cripple. Medical care was not to be found. The mother decided that the child must be taken to Salt Lake. Peter sold what land he still possessed– some horses and cattle –and arranged for his first wife and her children to go to Utah.
Many of the Saints of Round Valley were obliged to leave because of loss of homesteads. Then, too, there was no relaxation on the part of the federal government to suppress polygamy. Peter could not return both of his wives to Utah. Consequently as soon as he was able to provide means, the second family was taken to Colonia Diaz, Mexico. There they lost almost all of their cattle and horses they had received in trade for their home in Arizona and had years of pioneer life to live over again–no water for irrigation, no timber for building, and the ground was covered with mesquite, a stubborn shrub with roots tangled and matted underground. It was harder to clear then heavy wooded sage brush land. There was, however, tall grass for the cattle–tall enough that the herd at times were hid from view. Soon they devised a bell to put on one of the cows. Peter traded three head of cattle for 40 acres of ground. As soon as they could dig a well, they found water at 12 feet. A daughter, Erma, was born while they were in Mexico.
The Christofferson family farmed 40 acres and lived in the little town of Diaz. Their home in Diaz was a small adobe house built by their own hands. The children went to school where an American, Mr. Dennis, was the teacher. The town was named for Perfirio Diaz, President of the Republic until the revolution. when the insurrection broke out many of the American people were forced out of their homes. Peter moved his family back to Arizona, settling in the little town of Woodruff on the Little Colorado River. While in Woodruff, Peter was the first counselor to the bishop, also Sunday School Superintendent. The family remained there six years.
Peter made a trip to Lehi to visit the family there. In 1899 he was very anxious to have both of his families together, so they moved to Lehi, Utah where they settled permanently. He built homes for each of his families on the farm north of Lehi.
He died on February 3, 1910 at the age of 67 in the hospital at Provo, Utah. Having lost his wife, Sarah, 5 1/2 years previously, he was survived by his first wife, Annie, and their six children, Andrew, Peter, Joseph, Mary Ann, Leah, Pearl Lodena and Lafayette Omer; and by eight children of his second wife, Eudith Rebecca, Elnathan Julius, Alexander DeWitt, Nena, Erma, Isabel, David Ward and Wallace.
He was laid to rest in the family plot in the Lehi City Cemetery by his wife, Annie.
He had always been an ardent church worker and faithful tithe payer, and was always anxious for his children’s religious advancement.
Arranged from several biographies by Erma Klemm, a granddaughter.