Monday, April 18, 2011

Happy 146th Birthday, Victor Charles Hegsted (1865-1941)!

Gawain's grandfather

Victor Hegsted died the year before Gawain was born, so he never knew this grandfather.  From being an infant Danish pioneer to healing people in the flu epidemic of 1918 to driving new cars, Victor spanned the ages and left a marriage mystery behind.

Victor was born to Danish LDS converts Hans and Mary two weeks before emigrating, and named after an older brother who had just died.  He was the oldest living of their ten children (with more half-siblings). Measles broke out on ship and almost all the children died, leaving just Victor and one other.  Mary was ill and nursed her baby (two weeks old when they left and seven months old when they arrived), but he was mostly carried across the plains by the other grieving mothers— sometimes his mother did not see him all day as he was passed from one woman to another.  Years later, many members of the emigrating company shook his hand to say, “Oh, you are the baby I helped carry across the plains.”

Victor’s mother taught him to read in Danish at age four by reading the Book of Mormon.  He helped his father farm and make bricks, and he also became a good hunter and fisherman.  Victor attended the Weber Stake Academy and performed in many plays.  At age fifteen he worked to build the railroad in southern Idaho and served as a night watchman for the company’s horses, a lonely experience with only the coyote howl to break the desert night stillness.  He was accidentally shot through the leg, and with no medical help nearby, one of the men ran a dishtowel through the wound to cleanse it.  He sent most of his wages home.  Already Victor had learned to be a tithe payer, but once upon his return he asked his mother if she tithed the money he sent to her, and added, “Now, Mother, I have tithed that money once and you do not need to do it a second time!”

Only months after his first marriage, Victor was called on a two-year mission to Denmark, and he traveled to many of the same towns where his father had preached a quarter-century before.  Unfortunately, Lavinia died while he was gone, and his aunt and uncle took him into their home as he mourned her.  Victor spent much time publishing the Scandinavian Star.  He once administered a blessing to a member’s non-member husband, who was immediately healed.  In the blessing he promised that the man would accept the gospel and go to Zion with his wife, but then Elder Hegsted was transferred and never learned what happened.  In 1921 he bore that testimony in a meeting in Mesa, Arizona, and a young man a few seats away arose and affirmed that Brother Hegsted told the truth, for that sick man was his father who was healed, joined the Church, and brought his family to Utah.

Victor had a dismal mission homecoming finding his father jailed for polygamy and his wife dead.  He wrote in his journal, “I could only see Lavinia but Lavinia was not there.”  Victor married Ada a few years later.  He struggled with odd jobs, at one time running a barbershop in Blackfoot, Idaho.  He also worked as a farm foreman in Perry, Utah, a haven for hiding Church officials during the polygamy raids.  His service caring for their teams put him in close contact with John Taylor, George Q. Cannon, Joseph F. Smith, and others whom he was honored to know. Victor moved his family and his parents to a farm in Salem and then he moved to Idaho Falls to manage a farm implement business.  Once while trying to collect a bill, he trailed a client attempting to get out of the county with a new unpaid wagon.  Victor came near to drowning in Jackson Lake, but he crossed by boat and beat the fugitive to the next station. 

Victor was involved with the state legislature in Boise as a state senator, and also traveled as a state land appraiser.  He organized the Hegsted Jensen Mercantile Company, and later took over the management of the Hegsted Furniture and Undertaking Company.  Victor also served as bishop of the Salem ward for five years.  During this time he married Hannah Grover polygamously after the Manifesto, maintaining one household in Idaho and another under an assumed name (Brown) in Salt Lake, which had tacit approval from Church leaders as he continued to serve in leadership positions.  Ada died just eight years later, simplifying his life to just one mortal wife, and Victor and Hannah remarried legally in Salt Lake City on January 8, 1914.  After that, Hannah moved north and the family lived together, with some adjustment in family relationships, in Idaho and later Salt Lake City.

Victor attended to his own prayers very faithfully.  He served in the High Council, and once drove a six-cylinder Studebaker leading a procession across the Teton Pass to a district stake conference.  Many testified that he had the gift of healing, and during the flu epidemic of 1918, Victor went from house to house to administer and the sheriff said, “Vic, if you don’t stop I will lock you up!”  But his answer was, “I will not stop as long as a sufferer calls for a blessing from my hand.” Unfortunately, this resulted in a serious illness, which he suffered from for years.  Victor moved south to Arizona in 1921 for health reasons.  After a few years in Arizona, Victor worked as a Nathaniel Baldwin Company radio salesman in Salt Lake and Chicago.  Two of his sons went off to fight in World War I. 

He attended the Salt Lake Temple almost daily in his later years, walking down from 460 Douglas Avenue (by the U) and riding the streetcar back home after a full day.  The doctor advised him to ride both ways and to walk, not run, as his heart couldn’t keep up with him, but this was very hard: “Slow down!  Not me!” he would say.  He finally succumbed to pneumonia.  Victor is remembered for his love of education, literature, history, and genealogy, being a highly respected leader and great father to all, but additionally for the intriguing mystery of his post-Manifesto polygamous marriage to our ancestor Hannah.

I would give him a Vespa--I can just see him riding that around town.


  1. I'd give him a new photo shoot: he looks vaguely annoyed and a little tired in these.

  2. Interesting new information about another plural wife for Victor, Anna Sophie Jacobsen, who later became Apostle Lyman's mistress.