Tucked away in old trunks, desks, and bookcases in countless homes are stories of the pioneers who made the American West what it is today. These journals tend to be terse, matter-of-fact (“Our son John died last night of inflammation of the bowels. Buried near Fort Bridger.”), the kind of simple honesty that led to this collection. The author remembers the guilty pleasure he felt when first reading this journal entry: “Sharpened ax this morning. Wife died this afternoon.” A sad moment, but amusing in the unintended irony that rivals the best remembered J. Golden Kimball tales. Sometimes the humor is less subtle, such as when a forgetful Danish bishop finally said at a wedding, “I now pronounce you fadder und modder.”
These are not traditional pioneer stories. Rather, they are the collected folk humor of the Scandinavian immigrants of Sanpete County, Utah. They provide a peek at the humanity of the people who helped build the West, as if a comedian were cast in the lead in John Wayne’s place. The tales are straightforward and simple, loaded with broad, earthy humor and topped with dry wit.
Edgar M. Jenson first assembled Sanpete Tales: Humorous Folklore from Central Utah in hand-written and -illustrated form for his three daughters. He was well known in the Sanpete area for his love for these stories and his success at collecting them. He died in 1958.
William Jenson Adams, Ph.D., Indiana University, an associate professor of journalism and mass communications at Kansas State University, is a grandson of E. M. Jenson. He finished authoring Sanpete Tales: Humorous Folklore from Central Utah after his grandfather’s death.