Mormon Missionary Diaries
About the Collection
by Jeffrey S. Hardy
Abinadi Olsen was born on New Year’s Eve 1865 in Spring City, Sanpete County, Utah, to Henning Ungermand Olsen and Anna Magdalene Rasmussen, both immigrants from Denmark. As his parents were stalwart converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, young Abinadi was baptized into this Church at the age of eight, on 16 August 1874. Six years later Abinadi’s mother died and he was cared for by his father’s other polygamous wife, Christine. In 1882 the family moved to Castle Dale, Emery County, Utah, on a settlement mission, and here Abinadi met his future wife, Hannah Seely. After an extended courtship they married on 21 February 1887, and were eventually blessed with eleven children. During this time Abinadi was working at a saw mill many miles out of town during the summer and as a barber in Castle Dale during the winter.
In 1894, just after the saw mill closed, Abinadi received a call to serve a Church mission to Samoa and on New Year’s Day 1895 he left home, bound for the South Pacific. After a month’s journey on the steamer Arawa he landed at Apia, Samoa, and immediately purchased a white suit, for “a minister in this country must ware [sic] white cloths on the Sabbath and have a beard if possible, or they say he isn’t wise.”1 A brief spell of homesickness gripped Abinadi during the first few weeks of his mission in which he prayed, “that I may deliver the message that I bear to this people and again return to the land that gave me birth and meet my loved ones,” but he swiftly began studying the language and preaching the gospel.2 The mission president soon assigned him to labor on the islands of Tutuila and Aunuu, which today constitute American Samoa.
Abinadi was stricken with a tropical fever for much of his mission, and also suffered from hunger, but he resolved to honorably fulfill his calling and not return home early. As he aptly exclaimed: “I feel that it is an honor [sic] to be an Ambassador of Christ.”3 On 8 December 1895 Abinadi delivered his first full-length sermon in Samoan: “In the afternoon the time was given to me and for the first time on Samoa I took up all of the time. The saints were greatly surprised.”4 After three years of successful labors, during which Abinadi baptized many people into the Church (forty during the last seven months alone), the time came to bid farewell to the land he had grown to love. He recorded in his journal the circumstances surrounding his parting: “Here come the saints from Pesega to bid me goodbye….Their large black eyes are full of tears and their hearts are heavy….I cannot speak. I can only take the last fond look and…plead…that we may meet to part no more in the place that is awaiting to receive the faithful.”5 On 18 May 1898 Abinadi left Samoa to reunite with his family at home in Utah.
After returning home, Abinadi took up farming to provide for his family and in 1898 assumed the elected post of Treasurer of Emery County. In 1901, in search of more profitable employment, he moved to a new mining town in Carbon County, Utah, and opened a hotel capable of lodging fifty people at a time. But he soon tired of this business and its perceived negative impact on his family so he moved back to Castle Dale the following year. Here, in 1904, he received the important ecclesiastical calling of Patriarch for the Emery Stake of the Church, a position which he held for the remainder of his life. A tribute to the many blessings that he gave in this capacity was voiced by a friend of the family many years later: “In angelic language, in individuality of blessings, and in prophecy; he stands head and shoulders above any man whose blessing I have read. He can only be described as a spiritual genius.”6
In 1908 Abinadi took up ranching and farming in nearby Joe’s Valley and with the help of his children succeeded in obtaining a comfortable living amid the beautiful red-rock scenery that he loved. After the death of his wife, Hannah, in 1925, Abinadi mainly lived with and was supported by his children, but he always spent the summers on his beloved ranch. A tribute to his spiritual power was his appointment in 1928 to the position of chaplain for the Utah State Legislature. Soon thereafter, however, Abinadi Olsen became sick with cancer of the liver, and passed away on 17 July 1931. He was remembered by his posterity as having “an influence for good on those with whom he came in contact….[and an unwavering] testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”7
1 Abinadi Olsen, “Diary, 1895,” 28 January 1895. MSS 1454, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.
2 Ibid., 4 February 1895.
3 Ibid., 19 February 1895.
4 Ibid., 8 December 1895.
5 Olsen, “Diary, 1897-1898,” 18 May 1989. MSS 1454, LTPSC.
6 Rulon Killian to Delon Olsen, 2 February 1974. MSS 1454, LTPSC.
7 Chasty Olsen, “History of Abinadi Olsen,” p. 20. MSS 1454, LTPSC.
Family Group Record — Ancestral File. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2002. 18 February available from http://www.familysearch.org/Eng/Search/frameset_search.asp?PAGE=af/search_AF.asp&clear_form=true.
Jenson, Andrew. Encyclopedic History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City: Deseret News Publishing Co., 1941.
Olsen, Abinadi. “Papers, 1895-1898, 1931.” MSS 1454, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young Univeristy.
United States Census, 1920. Provo, Utah: MyFamily.com Inc., 2003. 17 February 2003 available from http://www.ancestry.com/search/rectype/census/usfedcen/main.htm.