URIAH ALBERT NIELSON
Born in Cedar City, Utah, on 3 August 1877, Uriah Albert Nielson, Sr., was the second of three children born to Jens Nielson, and Katrine "Kate" Jorgenson Nielson, his third plural wife, before her death in 1884, at forty years of age. Uriah was three years old. Coupled with the harsh realities of life in frontier-era Utah, the loss of their mother made Nielson's and his siblings' earliest years difficult. As was typical of many polygamous Mormon families, however, Jens Nielson's first two wives raised Kate's three children, and seem to have treated them as their own. Despite the tragedy of their loss, Uriah Nielson and his descendants, fondly describe in their written reminiscences a warm and loving upbringing.
Circumstances and experiences like these are helpful, especially to gentiles (non-Mormons), in contextualizing and demystifying the practice of plural marriage among many pioneering Latter-day Saints. Polygamy had, alongside its glaring negative consequences, more than its fair share of benefits for the settlers of Zion.
His part in the story of South Georgia's Latter-day Saints is equally dramatic, if not more so. In October 1899, Nielson was called to serve in the Southern States Mission, perhaps the most notoriously challenging and hazardous of the Church's mission fields. By this time, aged twenty-two years, he seems to have become a zealous, devout (though on his own terms, concerning many teachings of the Latter-day Saints), and highly driven young man. Mission work, even in the depths of the Southeastern wilderness, was work in which he thought he might excel. He was right.
Nielson was a natural salesman, though it was never his profession. He cast an impressive image, tall and lean, and "immaculate" in keeping every shirt wrinkle tamed, and every hair in place. Uriah Nielson, Jr., known to all as U.A., wrote of his father's statuesque posture, whether on foot or on horseback: "he was just as straight and tall as a tree, he never stooped over."
He enjoyed debate, and never failed to dive into every available, or even potentially available argument. His zest for intellectual jousting tended to give people the impression that he was merely arrogant and obnoxious – he could, at times, be perceived as both arrogant and obnoxious by less familiar acquaintances, according to some family recollections – but he was well versed in a variety of subject areas, and read everything he could get his hands on. U.A. Nielson, Jr., wrote that his father "was quite a reader and retained what he read."
His intellectual and interpersonal abilities, as well as his almost always dapper appearance, had combined to serve him well as he had grown into manhood in the brisk, ever-progressive, if sometimes rather wild West. They would likewise prove quite handy in his mission field. Just as often, however, his personality and demeanor, in the staid and stoic, if not sardonic (but often just as wild) Wiregrass South, severely hindered his efforts, and more than once endangered his life. Surely his most harrowing experience with the darker side of Deep-Southern culture occured on 16 August 1901, on the borderline between Coffee and Ware Counties, near Millwood, at a place now called "Mob Hill" by local residents.
A historical narrative of the violent encounter,
its causes, and its aftermath, can be found on the
'Mob Hill' Incident page on this site.