Friday, January 1, 2010


Gisli Bjarnason was born 10 October 1879, the son of Bjarni Jonsson, born 12 September 1854 died in Utah 16 August 1883; and Johanna Jonsdottir, born 10 March 1856 in Rangarvalla. Gisli’s father, Bjarni Jonsson, immigrated to Utah in 1881 leaving his fiancée Johanna Jonsdottir and their son Gisli in Iceland. Johanna and Gisli immigrated to Utah in 1883. His father died two weeks after he arrived in Utah. His mother Johanna married Erlendur Arnason.
At the age of seven Gisli went to live with Petur Valgardsson. Petur had baptized Gisli’s mother in Iceland 12 March 1883. Gisli lived and worked with Petur until he was able to be self-supporting. At a young age of 15 he went to work on the Rio Grande Railroad. He also worked in the mines at Scofield for three or four years, and was working there when the most tragic coal mine disaster, in terms of the number killed, in American history occurred, up until that time. The Scofield mine disaster occurred 1 May 1900, when an explosion ripped through the Winter Quarters Number Four mine located west of Scofield. Men working in the mine were killed outright by the explosion, which occurred when an excessive amount of coal dust ignited inside the mine. Gisli was not on shift when the disaster occurred, but he helped with the rescue effort. With the $805.00 in gold he earned he paid off his first ten acres of land he had contracted to buy at the age of seventeen. From that time on farming and raising stock, were his life.
Gisli married Sarah Ann Tilley 12 March 1902; she died 7 November 1903, when their daughter Sarah Ellen, was born. Gisli married Vilmina Christina Valgardson, born 3 September 1882 in Spanish Fork Utah the daughter of Petur Valgardsson (1842 -1918); and Gudrun Soffia Jonsdottir (1863-1893), 22 February 1905. Gisli and Christina had ten children: Fay, Bertha, Wilma, Elva, Mildred, Bernice, Geraldine, Perry (who died shortly after he was born), Sherman, and Norma. In addition to these children, Sarah Ellen, Gisli’s daughter, with Sarah Ann Tilley lived with them and Christina’s brother, Ephraim’s two children: Hannah and Paul Valgardson.
Gisli and Christina went to Roosevelt, Utah, where he homesteaded. There were no houses, and the family lived in a tent. He helped to bring the first water to Roosevelt. After improving upon his homestead he sold out and moved back to Spanish Fork. Gisli saw many changes in farm equipment; he always kept up on the latest. As a boy he walked to Leland to work on a horse- powered threshing machine. Later he and his partner, Arni Johnson, owned and operated three different steam-engine threshing machines. They were the first to thresh grain at Roosevelt; they threshed all over Utah, Idaho, and even into Canada. They later owned two different gas-tractor operated threshers. The last part of his life, he owned, along with his son Sherman, the latest models of combines used for harvesting grain, as well as other modern farming equipment.
Gisli was appointed to the Board of the East Bench Canal Company in 1931 and served in that capacity for forty years. He worked diligently to promote the business activities of the Spanish Fork River System. He gave progressive leadership and was untiring in his efforts to promote the growth and development of water resources and made great contributions to agriculture on lands served by the system in the State of Utah.
He was an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; he served in the bishopric of the Fifth Ward with Bishop Arthur T. McKell, and on the building committee when the church was built. He always actively supported the ward and stake farms. He is remembered as a man who helped shape the destiny of his children, and tried to instill in them the principles that were important to him: honesty, integrity, love of work, the will to help others, and the determination to keep going when things get tough.
Gisli donated a small corner of his property to the Icelandic Monument in Spanish Fork, Utah. The Lighthouse Monument was dedicated 2 August 1938. Gisli actively worked on his farm chores almost to the end of his life. At the age of 90 he could be found working on the haystack and doing other chores around the farm. When he could no longer drive he would have one of his children drive him around to check on the crops or the cattle. He died peacefully 4 August 1972 and is buried in the Spanish Fork Cemetery. In Utah he was known as Gill Bearnson and Gesli Bearnson. Gisli is number 190 in Icelanders of Utah.


arlans said...

Re the Gisli Bjarnason article. Are you certain about wife of Bjarni Jonsson? I have her as Arnadottir, born in Vestur-Skaftafellssysla? Also, the Monongah, West Virginia, coal mine explosion of 6 Dec 1907 was easily the worst in American history, with, perhaps, a casualty total of over 900 men and boys. The official total is 362 and it is almost certain that over 500 actually died. The Scofield explosion and aftermath may have killed as many as 246 and may be the fifth worst disaster, certainly not the worst.

David A. Ashby said...

The Scofield Mine Disaster was the worst mine disaster up until that time. I have corrected my notes. Johanna, born 10 March 1856 in Rangarvalla, the daughter of Jon Bjarnason born 11 October 1823. Halfdan Helgason's web site has her name as Johanna Jonsdottir (Johanna Arnadottir). Not sure why?