The following quote is taken from Kate B. Carter's Treasures of Pioneer History vol. 1 in her accounts of Pioneer Humor [available on ancestry.com]
"The main speaker who had been sent out from Salt Lake for the semi-annual conference at Moroni, Utah in 1872 was Brother Forsgren. Brother Forsgren had known my grandfather, J.C. Nelson (or Nielson) as the president of the Aarhuss Latter-day Saint mission in Denmark; and now that he was mayor of Moroni and still a fervent worker in the church, it was only fitting and proper that Brother Forsgren should be his guest. But, Brother Forsgren became ill and it was discovered rather belatedly that he had smallpox. Nelson's oldest son, Andrew, contracted the disease and since the mother had recently died the father waited on him and then came down with the disease himself.
"On day Nelson decided he was well and although the quarantine flag had not yet been taken down, he thought it would not hurt him to take a horseback ride. So the horse was saddled and Nelson rode proudly up Main Street and on up into the hills, then back home. But the news of his trip had spread like wildfire, and when he arrived home, Jerome Bradley, the city marshal, was there to arrest him for breaking the quarantine and exposing the public. He was immediately hauled off to the city hall for a hearing. Within a few minutes half of the town had crowded into the little courtroom to hear the trial. The judge heard the marshall's story, then he hurriedly looked around at the crowd which had assembled and at those outside who were peeking though the doors. It was at this instant that it dawned upon the judge that Nelson had the smallpox. So with a broad smile and a quick gesture he ordered the courtroom cleared - case dismissed - and Nelson to to home and stay there until quarantine flag was taken down."
I had never heard ANY references to John having had smallpox. My thoughts race to wonder that if he did, how bad was his illness...and was that one of the contributing factors to a debility he later claimed for his not being able to work (for example he was supported by the efforts of his wife when they lived on the East bench in SLC). I remind those reading accounts such as this that it is a tale. It may be a true tale or it may be embellished through repeated telling. Kate Carter's compilations have not always been true to fact, so unless we can learn further information we have to just take this story at face value, be amused by it, but also hope to prove it!
From the time I was a young child I have heard the stories of the Forsgren siblings: of John Erik's missionary journey back to Sweden, of how he found his very ill brother Peter Adolph whom he blessed and healed, of how his sister Christina Erika had had a vision that a man would come bearing books that she was to look at and pay attention to...and, of course, the very common reference to Peter Adolph being the first baptized convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in all of Scandinavia. The stories have been repeated in Church media for years, particularly on the anniversaries of various Scandinavian events.
John Erik Forsgren was a great force for good and growth for the early burgeoning church membership. It is stated by those who knew him then that he embraced the doctrine with great zeal and preached firm and fiery sermons. He led a group of Saints across the ocean and into the Salt Lake Valley, encouraging them and admonishing them all the way. He served in the Mormon Battalion.
It is also true that later in his life, for reasons we don't totally understand, he became disenchanted with the Church - or more accurately, with some of its leaders. He began to be very vocal in his statements against Brigham Young whom he felt had cheated him out of a land inheritance due him from his service in the Battalion. At this point people said of him that he became cantankerous and a religious fanatic. He set up a tent on the East Bench of Salt Lake City and began preaching his own form of religion. At first he had followers, but over time lost the attention of local residents and was ignored. Tragic events occurred in his life which are referred to in other blog posts. He died in great poverty after living for a time in Idaho, then wandering homeless in Utah - a nonmember of the Church he had earlier embraced with such zeal.
This part of the story is, of course, very distressing to his descendants who for many years did not want to talk about the last years of his life. But I feel that accurate history is honest history. Not addressing an unpleasant event does not change the event. What was, was. What OUR responsibility is is to not judge. We did not walk in his shoes or live inside his head. It is our job to look at the entirety of the life of this unique man, admire him for the incredible contributions he made and not be overly critical of things we don't know much about. John E. kept a huge journal of his life. The greatest tragedy for us is that that 720 page manuscript has disappeared and we can't know all that he related in it.
This blog was created for the purpose of setting forth all the information about John Erik Forsgren that I have been able to glean from as many sources as I could. It is very much a work in progress. It is my hope that his numerous and wonderful descendants might contribute, correct, question and help verify any data I have included here...and, that ultimately this be a means of reaching out to others who want to know more of this man. I have come to reverence and respect him as I have worked on details of his life and the individuals connected to him by blood and marriage. As keeper of the Forsgren Family Association Archives it is my great pleasure to offer up what information we have. Believe me, there is nothing that better "turns our hearts to our fathers" than researching details and events of their lives. Enjoy!
Adele Manwaring Austin, July 2010