Claus Johann Ahrens 1835-1919

Claus Johann Ahrens was born 2nd of February, 1835, in Branstadt, Schlevig, Holstein Prussia, a son of Johann Jochim Christien and Madelaine Mohrs Fischer Ahrens.

Claus Johann had a younger brother, Friedrich, born the 30th of October, 1837, and a sister, Catharina Magdalena, born the 1st of June, 1840.  Their birthplace was Bramstadt Prussia (Germany) also.

Choosing a trade and a wife...

Johann was taught the duties and skills of farming as an occupational means of sustenance.  He was taught to play the accordion, violin, and the organ - of which he found much pleasure.

In his early twenties, he was sent to Denmark by the German Government to learn the grist milling trade.  While residing in Denmark, he met and fell in love with Dorthea Elisabeth Christensen, daughter of Christian Christensen, a journeyman and grist miller.

Johann and Dorthea were married the 15th of November, 1859, in Tarrs Denmark.  They were blessed with two little girls, Catrine Frederike and Charlotte Regine.

Conversion by Mormon Missionaries

In the year 1861, two Mormon Missionaries (both with the last name Dorius) from Utah, U.S.A. came to their home with a strange, but beautiful message, which was truly good news to Johann and his wife.  The Missionaries told them that the Church which Jesus Christ had organized when He dwelt upon this earth had now been reorganized by a latter-day Prophet of the Living God.  They were told that the Gospel was restored in its fullness in the last dispensation through Joseph Smith, a chosen servant of the Lord.  Johann and his wife Dorthea were overjoyed to learn that the Lord still loves His children on this earth and is concerned about them.  They asked the Missionaries how they might know if this message was the truth.  Johann and his wife were exhorted to pray with faith in Christ, sincerity of heart, with real intent, and the truth would be made manifest unto them by the power of the Holy Ghost.  Claus Johann and Dorthea Elisabeth embraced the Gospel and prepared themselves for baptism.  Johann was baptized the 5th day of May, 1861; Dorthea the 7th of August, 1861.

Setting Sail to America

Two years later, they had made a readiness to leave their native countries to emigrate to a Promised Land.  By steamboat, they left the shores of Denmark and headed for England.  Reaching the shores of England, they rode the elevated railroads that were over the tops of the buildings.  Johann wrote an interesting song about this experience.  Upon arriving in Liverpool, they beheld a beautiful sight.   The railroad station was covered with glass.  The trains came in every hour.  It was a very beautiful and busy place.

At Liverpool, they met hundreds of converts to this new religion from other countries, waiting to embark for America. 

On May 8th, 1863, Johann, age 27, Dorthea, age 30, Catrine Frederike, age 3, and Charlotte Regine, age 1 year, along with 650 other emigrants set sail for America.  Hymn books were passed out to the emigrants by the Mormon Elders; songs were sung and friends were made.  There was a remarkable friendly influence produced among people who just hours before were total stranger.  Happily they awaited the next tide that would take the B.S. Kimble and its occupants out into the great Atlantic.

When out at sea, many became fearful because of the rough sea and great waves that splashed onto the upper deck.  Some of the people rolled out of their beds.  The children became frightened and screamed out in fear.  Some became seasick and vomited upon the deck.  It was a dreadful night.

Not all days and nights were bad however.  When the weather was fair, different groups of people wearing native costume took turns entertaining each other by singing songs in their native tongue.

The voyage took about six weeks.  Sometimes they experienced very treacherous conditions while passing through icebergs.  On the 15th of June, 1863, the B.S. Kimble sailing vessel was pulled into the New York harbor troubled souls were happy to see solid earth again.  After the passengers were inspected, they were allowed to leave the ship.

New York to Missouri by train...

The next day they boarded a train.  When they reached the area where Joseph Smith had his first vision, the conductor stopped the train so that the passengers could view the Sacred Grove.  Hymns were sung in ten different languages.  After a short stop, the company moved on, rejoicing.  It was doubtful if the emigrants, hard-pressed by their own problems, had more than a vague realization of the bloody Civil War raging in the land of their adoption.

The train ran until it reached St. Joseph, Missouri, and from there they sailed up the Missouri River to Florence, Nebraska.  Here they joined the Peter Richardson Company who was awaiting them.

Crossing the American plains

About the 1st of July, the Peter Richardson Company and others began the journey across the plains.  Those who were strong enough walked most of the way, as the wagons were needed for luggage and provisions.  Their food consisted of bread, baked along the way, beans, and dried bacon.  They never had their hunger satisfied.

They arrived in the Great Salt Lake Valley about the 1st of September, entering the city tired, hungry, and bewildered.  They camped on what was known as Washington Square, where the city and county building now stands.  Tents had already been prepared for their sleeping quarters, and kind saints brought them food: beef, potatoes, vegetables, bread, butter and molasses.

While in Salt Lake City, they viewed the dome-shaped Tabernacle being built by the saints.

Tragedy on the way to Cache Valley

A week or so later they headed northward with Cache Valley in mind.  Johann and Dorthea had become very worried and concerned over their little daughters, as they were suffering with an intestinal disease and were not getting any better.  As time passed, their condition became worse.  Charlotte Regine (one year old) passed away the 18th of September, and her older sister, Catrine Frederike (three years old) followed her in death the 25th of September, just one week to the day.  They were buried by the way-side, just south of Farmington, Utah.

Lonely and heavy-hearted, Johann and Dorthea traveled on.  They reached Cache Valley a few days later, passing through Wellsville, Mendon, and Logan, traveling to Smithfield.

The town of Smithfield was just four years old and had been troubled by Indians.  The people there had built their cabins close together to form a square fortress for protection.  It is not known at this time whether Johann and Dorthea lived in a cabin of their own, or if they lived in with someone during the winter months.

When spring arrived (1864) every one (family) was given the privilege of selecting ten acres of farming land and ten acres of pasture land.  This was deeded to them by the government.  John and his wife chose a plot of land east of town on the south bank of Summit Creek.  There they built a cabin and planted crops.  They were indeed happy to be located on land of their own.  They wanted to produce for their needs and give the Lord his share.

Cost of living in those early days...

The year 1864 showed a decided growth in home industry.  Again the people were advised that in order to be independent they must be self-sustaining. 

Foods were rather expensive and money among the saints was scarce.  Flour was $15.00 per 100 lb., dried apples $0.50 per lb., dried beef $0.50 per lb., fresh beef $0.12 to $0.15 per lb., butter $0.80 per lb., molasses $4.00 per gal., sugar $1.00 per lb., wheat $5.00 per bushel, cheese $0.50 per lb.

Johann and Dorthea’s third child was born the 29th of March, 1865.  He was given the name John Lorenzo.  Their little son lived to be two years and seven months old, then he too became ill and died, 6th of November, 1867.

Two little sisters by the name of Ridgeway became orphans when their parents were taken in death.  The Bishop of Smithfield asked the sad and lonely Brother and Sister Ahrens to take these children to care for and love.  This they did gladly.

Johann was then asked by the Bishop to marry and support a widow with two children.  Although Johann did not fully accept plural marriage, he agreed to take the responsibility of this request.  A home was built and financial provisions were arranged for the widow and her children.  Dorthea also shared her material possessions.  A few years later this agreement was dissolved.

More children born...

Johan and his good wife were blessed with four of their own children who lived to adulthood. 

Listed below are the four children:

  • Louise -Born 23 Sept 1867
  • Walter Dorius (my father) -Born 19 June 1870-31 May 1937
  • Eleanora Augusta -Born 20 Jan 1873
  • Julia Charlotte -Born 22 Sept 1875

Louisa, the elder, married and blessed her parents with six grandchildren.  Johann and Dorthea took their unmarried children and moved to Petersboro (about 20 miles southwest of Smithfield) and left their home to Louisa and her family.

In Petersboro, they built a house of rock gathered from that area.  This house had thick walls which kept them warm in the winter-time and cool in the summer-time.  Part of it stands today.  They homesteaded one hundred and forty acres, raising mostly wheat in Petersboro.  Dorthea and her daughters prepared and cooked meals for ten to fifteen men at threshing time.  A stream of water which passes this property is called Three Mile Creek.

Their daughter Julia, age sixteen, died of (Diphtheria) while living in Petersboro, 9th of February, 1892.  Four years later, their daughter Eleonora married George Hennen, but died six weeks later of (Scarlet Fever), 7th of May, 1896.

Return to grist milling for Claus

Claus Johann then took up grist milling again.  His mill was located about six miles south, about half-way between the towns of Mendon and Wellsville.  Much of this time he walked beside his team of horses and wagon, taking time to study the wonders of nature, which he loved.  Wild animals, birds, and flowers were a joy to him.  He loved to whistle like the birds and learned their calls while traveling to and from his work.

Johann loved music and spent hours playing the organ, accordion, harmonica and violin.  He taught his only son, Walter, to play these instruments and they played for dances among their friends.

Return to Smithfield

Johann and Dorthea returned to the city of Smithfield after selling their farm in Petersboro to their son and his bride, Bessie Sorensen Ahrens.  They built an adobe brick house in Smithfield on his property there.  This was to be their last home.  Claus Johann served as sexton in Smithfield.  There he planted fir and cedar trees on the cemetery lot.  He helped build a fence around this lot and was instrumental in helping with its beautification.

On the 16th day of March, 1910, their only living daughter, Louisa, died of (Rheumatic Heart) at the age of 43, leaving her husband, Nephi Peterson and six children ranging in age from about six to sixteen.

After Dorthea’s death the 4th of October, 1917, Johann moved to Mendon to live with his only living child, Walter, his wife and seven children.  They had moved to Mendon after selling the farm in Petersboro.  Johann lived two years in Mendon with them.

Claus Johann Ahrens passed away the 10th of February, 1919, at the age of 84 years.  He was known as a jovial person with a keen sense of humor.  He was admired for his love and concern for others.  He was nicknamed Honest John because of his honest nature.  He was honored by those who knew of him for the faith and integrity he had as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

His funeral was held the 23rd of February, 1919, in the Smithfield Tabernacle, of which he helped build.  He was buried in the Smithfield Cemetery, of which he helped protect and beautify.

The songs, so appropriately chosen were: “When First the Glorious Light of Truth”, “I Know That My Redeemer Lives”, and “Rest, Rest for the Weary Soul”.  Speakers were: Robert Thornley, R.B. Thornley, Peter Hansen, Bishop C.J. Plowman, and Bishop William L. Winn.  They spoke of Brother Ahrens with much respect and high esteem.  Many friends from both First and Second Wards attended.

History was written by a Granddaughter, Jessie Ahrens Spicker, November, 1973.

Copyright 2019 Smithfield Historical Heritage Society

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