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Reminiscences of a Pioneer Editor
by Carl Fredrik Solberg and edited by Albert O. Barton (Volume I: Page 134)


Introduction

Emigranten, the most important and for a time the only Norwegian newspaper in this country, had its origin in the log cabin of Gunder Springen in the town of Newark, Rock County, Wisconsin, in 1852. It may be said to have had a continuous existence since that time and to be now represented in the Minneapolis Tidende, one of the three great Norwegian papers of this country.

In a sense Emigranten grew out of Nordlyset, the first Norwegian newspaper in the United States, which first appeared in 1847. After that paper suspended publication in 1850, Knud Langland and his son-in-law, O. J. Hatlestad, bought the type and equipment of the old Nordlyset and attempted to start a small democratic paper in Racine. Later Langland removed to Janesville with part of the equipment and began printing the Maanedstidende. In 1851 his printing outfit was moved to Halvor Springen's cabin, near the Luther Valley Church. Reverend C. L. Clausen, pastor at Luther Valley, also urged the starting of a newspaper and on November 15, 1851, a meeting was held at the Luther Valley Church and "The Scandinavian Printing Association" was formed. Associated with Clausen were the Lutheran ministers, G. F. Dietrichson, H. A. Stub, and A. C. Preus, and also one John Holfeldt. CIausen was elected editor and on January 12, 1852, the first number of Emigranten appeared. As some of its founders desired that it should be a Whig organ and others that it should be Democratic, it was agreed that it should carry the old Nordlyset caption, "An Independent Democratic Paper." This it carried during its sixteen years of existence. In its second number, issued on January 30, 1852, it was announced that it would be democratic in a broad sense and not in a partisan sense. In March, 1852, J. D. Reymert, former editor of Nordlyset, was elected foreman of the association and John Holfeldt bookkeeper and treasurer. On August 27, 1852, Clausen retired as editor and was succeeded by Carl Martin Riise, a Dane, (later Charles M. Reese and a major in the Fifteenth Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry). Although Riise announced that he was a Free-soiler, the paper actively supported Franklin Pierce for president and opposed the election of General Winfield Scott as "dangerous." In its first year there was much discussion in Emigranten of Ole Bull, of Marcus Thrane, and of Kirketidende, published at Racine.

In 1853 the paper began appearing from the new printing plant which had been built. An attempt by Riise to obtain control of the paper led to his removal as editor and the election of Knud J. Fleischer. In June, 1854, the office was wrecked by a cyclone, and the paper was suspended until October, 1854, when it appeared as a Whig paper. It was now the only Norwegian newspaper in the field, several others having been started and suspended. With the organization of the Republican party, Emigranten took up the cause of the new party.

Carl Fredrik Solberg became connected with the paper in June, 1856, and eventually became its editor and publisher and conducted it through its period of greatest influence. In the latter part of 1856, it was removed to Janesville, and in May, 1857, to Madison, where it was published until its consolidation with F˜drelandet of La Crosse in 1868. In 1860 Emigranten absorbed Nordstjernen, which had been a rival publication in Madison for some years. Solberg served as editor of Emigranten from 1857 to 1868. He died in Milwaukee on September 14, 1924, the last of the pioneer Norwegian editors. The material that follows is a report of an interview given by Solberg to the writer on July 25, 1919, at Milwaukee.

TEXT

I was born in Christiania, Norway, on June 8, 1833, and so am now eighty-six years old. When I was quite a young boy my father moved to Soro, Denmark, where he conducted a bakery, and where I attended a select school, which was a sort of Eton of the north at the time. It was a school for sons of the nobility and the rich, and had been endowed by Holberg, the great author, among others. It is said to have also been the school of Saxo Grammaticus in an earlier day. In this school, in addition to book studies, we were taught every accomplishment then thought necessary to a gentleman. We had our own botanical gardens, swimming and skating pools, riding grounds, and the like, and received instruction in music, horsemanship, dancing, and social deportment as well as intellectual training. We were also taught English, German, and French, and as I thus knew English before coming to America I had an advantage over many other immigrants.

My father not prospering in business, he resolved to emigrate to America and we came to New York in 1853. Ole Bull was then deep, in his project of founding his Norwegian colony Oleana. in Potter County, Pennsylvania, and he came to New York and engaged my father as a director of it. When we moved to Oleana I was wearing broadcloth and kid gloves. Most of the settlers were very poor and were then building small loghouses and trying to clear farms in the stony mountainsides of Ole Bull's ridiculous purchase. The colonists had a hard time of it. What induced Ole Bull to buy this miserable mountain tract when millions of fertile acres were to be had in the west it is hard to say, unless he had some fantastic idea that the settlers would feel more at home among mountains, as in their own native land. At any rate, he was shamelessly swindled and his dream of founding a little Norway in America was soon to fall through. The new Norway, as much as it could be called so, was to spring up in the West, beginning in Illinois and Wisconsin. Two or three good-sized and more comfortable houses were built at Oleana, one being intended for Ole Bull when he should be there, and one for our family.

After I had been in Oleana a few days I found that my fine clothes were out of place. I couldn't wear polished shoes and kid gloves in a lumber camp and do anything. This gave me much anxiety, but after about three weeks I had my mind made up and went to my mother and told her that I was going to discard my broadcloth for a leather suit and logger's boots. She felt badly at this resolution, but there was nothing else to be done. Very soon I became a regular lumberjack and cut down trees and floated them down the rivers with the rest of the men and had my share of falls in the icy water.

As there was no way for the most of the settlers to make a living at Oleana, they had to go out to work in camps and factories and on distant farms of other settlers, and I soon decided to leave, too. I went about ninety miles down the river valley and obtained employment with a farmer named Goodman. When he learned that I was a newcomer and city-bred, he said good-naturedly, "Well, Fred, we'll try you first on splitting kindling and see how you get along," and he took me out to the woodpile and left me. After I had been working a while a servant girl came out of the house with two pails. These she threw at me and told me to bring her some water from the spring some distance below and went back into the house. I couldn't help smiling at myself. I had never been accustomed to such treatment. "You surely are a gentleman no longer." I thought, "to be cuffed around by a servant girl." After I had recovered from my astonishment, I brought her the water and was then ordered by her to bring in the wood. She gave me to understand that I was to wait on her. I got along well with my employer, however, and stayed with him a long time.

One of Ole Bull's secretaries at Oleana was Bertol W. Suckow, whom he had also engaged in New York and who was later to become a prominent book-binder in Madison and the publisher of Billed-Magazin, the first Norwegian magazine in America. After the failure of the Oleana colony, Suckow went back to New York and from there went west to Beloit, Wisconsin, where he became the bookbinder for the Norwegian press association which had been formed and which had set up a small printing plant at Inmansville in the Rock Prairie settlement. {1} This association, which had been started by the Norwegian ministers in Wisconsin, had begun publishing a newspaper called Emigranten some years before. The paper had never had a regular editor and was being got out by K. J. Fleischer at the time. The paper was in need of an editor and as Suckow knew that I had some education he urged the owners to try to engage me. I was induced to come west. I had been doing farm and other rough work all this time and had just about arranged to go with a party of four other young men on a long prospecting journey among the eastern mountains and was somewhat reluctant to give this up. We had expected to be away about three years. When I had finally agreed to change my plan, arrangements were made to have me conduct an immigrant family of one Jens Jacobsen on their way west, which I did. It took us a week to make the trip. Jacobsen in a few years was to lay down his life for his adopted country, being a volunteer in the Fifteenth Wisconsin in the Civil War. His daughter afterward married Charles Kittleson, who later became state treasurer of Minnesota.

When I came to Inmansville I stayed at Fleischer's house. There were only two or three houses at the place, so there was nothing thrilling about the life there, but I had good intellectual company. This was in the early part of 1856. I began work on my birthday, June 8, 1856. We also got out the church paper Maanedstidende, of which I was practically the editor for some time. In May, 1857, we moved our paper to Madison and then lively times began. The Republican Party had now come up and slavery had become the great issue. Our paper Emigranten called itself an independent democratic paper, but we were decidedly anti-slavery and republican in spirit. This was distasteful to some of the Democratic politicians, both inside and outside the nationality, and so the Scandinavian Democratic Press Association was organized by them and a rival paper started. Gabriel Bj²rnson was made president and Carl M. Riise secretary of the association. Another incorporator was James Denoon Reymert, who in 1847 had founded Nordlyset, the first Norwegian paper in America. Reymert was an ambitious Democratic politician at that time. On June 10, 1857, the first number of the new paper appeared under the name of Nordstjernen, with Riise as editor. It declared itself a national Democratic paper, but was not able to make much headway among the Norwegians, who were fast going over to the Republican Party of freedom. When the Emigranten plant was moved to Madison I was made editor of the paper, and when the new Norwegian paper was started I became at once one of the targets of its abuse. We had it hot back and forth, but I felt that I had the better of it as our paper was on the right side of public questions. Our little controversies became so sharp that it was proposed among our friends that Riise (later spelled Reese) and I should hold a public joint debate. But after a while Nordstjernen began to lose its fire. Riise did not keep up his industry and interest and seemed to confine himself to attacks on me and our paper. About a year after the paper had been started it was sold to Hans Borchsenius, an educated young Dane, later to become a prominent citizen of Wisconsin, who had political ambitions at the time. The paper warfare then ceased and Emigranten devoted itself to broad discussions of the burning questions of the hour.

It was during my first year in Madison, 1857, that Ole Bull made his first visit to that city. Wisconsin at that time had the greater number of Norwegians then in America. He stayed a couple of days in Madison and gave two concerts in the Baptist church, about the first of July. I wonder if anyone else is left who heard him then? We entertained him as best we could and he did me the honor to visit me in my office on the third floor of our quarters at the corner of King and Webster streets, where Emigranten was then published. I remember when he came he took the stairs two at a bound.

In 1860 I formed the first merger in the history of the Norwegian-American press by buying Emigranten and Nordstjernen and consolidating them. Borchsenius had been elected to a county office and so could give no more time to the paper. When Emigranten was first brought to Madison, Fleischer was still connected with it, but soon afterward he dropped out and went into business and when I bought Nordstjernen the Scandinavian Democratic Press Association also dropped out of existence, so that during the first years of the Civil War Emigranten was practically the only Norwegian paper in this country. In 1864 the F˜drelandet was started at La Crosse and in 1866 John Anderson founded Skandinaven in Chicago. John Anderson, by the way, was a friend of mine and while he lived he regularly sent me his paper. L. S. Hanks went my security when I bought Emigranten for some three or four thousand dollars.

Although I was a comparatively young man while I was an editor in Madison, I had considerable influence. I had practically free entree to the governor's office in the capitol. In those days the governors felt that they belonged to the public and their offices were open, so that we could go in and out as we pleased and it was a sort of common visiting place.

I became well acquainted with Hans Heg, later colonel of the Fifteenth Wisconsin, who was afterward killed at Chickamauga. When he was a candidate for state prison commissioner in 1859, I circulated printed tickets for him at the state convention and thus helped much to bring about his nomination, I think, as printed tickets were not much used on such occasions then. After he became prison commissioner, I spent a week with him at Waupun studying prison methods and practices, and wrote a series of articles on the prison and its administration by Heg which I published in Emigranten. {2}

At that time I was living at the Christiania House in Madison, as I was not yet married. One night after I had gone to bed and fallen asleep Mr. Heg came into my room and got in bed with me and woke me up. He said he had decided to enter the military service and had come to Madison for that purpose. We stayed awake the rest of the night talking over his plans of raising a Scandinavian regiment, concerning which he was very enthusiastic. I remember he said, "The men who conduct this war are going to be the men who will conduct affairs after it is over and if we are going to have any influence then we must get into the war now." He was shrewd enough to see the trend of things.

While still carrying on his duties at the state prison in 1861, Heg devoted a great deal of time to getting recruits for the Fifteenth Wisconsin, so that before the end of the year some six hundred volunteers were in barracks and receiving training at Camp Randall. One company, known as "St. Olaf's Rifles," came from Chicago. Another from Racine County (Heg's old home) was known as "The Norway Bear Hunters." Waupun sent a company, "The Wolf Hunters." Then there were the "Rock River Rangers," and "Wergeland Guards" of Dane County, and others. Many Norwegians had already enlisted in other regiments, more than enough to make a regiment, but Heg and others urged in the press that unless a distinctly Norwegian regiment were formed it would hardly be known that they were in the service.

They were also stirred into activity by the fact that a Scandinavian company had already been formed and mustered in and sent to the front with a New York regiment. {3} This company consisted of only eighty men, Norwegians, Swedes, and Danes, but it received considerable notice in the Norwegian press. It was organized by Captain P. Hans Balling, a Danish army officer who had served in the Danish war of 1848 before coming to this country. In this connection I may here relate a bit of unpublished history. While Heg was busy organizing the Fifteenth Wisconsin it occurred to me, and to others, that we ought to have an experienced military officer in the regiment in case anything should happen to Colonel Heg. I knew Captain Balling in New York and opened a correspondence with him relative to his joining the Fifteenth Wisconsin. Everything seemed to be working out all right and he resigned his position to come west. Then for some reason there was some objection to his appointment here. I felt badly about it since he had lost his former position. Soon afterward he was made lieutenant colonel of a New York regiment, however, so he fared better than he would have here. He was also an artist and afterward returned to Denmark.

I opened the columns of Emigranten and helped Heg to organize his regiment. Because of my influence with the governor, I was also able to obtain a commission for my father in this regiment, although he was then living in Minnesota where he was one of the pioneer settlers of Freeborn County. {4} When the regiment went south I went with it to St. Louis and spent a while in the camp and field, sending home letters to my paper concerning the regiment and military matters generally.

I was on intimate terms with most of the Norwegian ministers at the time and was instrumental in getting the Lutheran congregation in Madison organized. In those days I used to walk up from Madison to the H. A. Preus parsonage at Spring Prairie, near Norway Grove to visit. If I came at night after they had all gone to bed, I would quietly enter the house and go to bed and surprise them next morning by appearing for breakfast. Being better read and educated than most of my countrymen except the ministers, I was perhaps more interesting company to such men and was welcomed by them. But I was not the best sort of mixer among my countrymen. Having learned English before coming over, I was a generation ahead of my Norwegian friends, so to speak, and so I associated more with Americans than they did. For instance, I was well acquainted with the governors and other public men at the time. I was able to get bills through the legislature providing for publishing the governor's messages, the proceedings of the State Historical Society, and other things in Norwegian and thus added to the income of our paper. The translations were made by myself and other members of our staff there. The last year I was in Madison Knute Nelson, afterward United States Senator from Minnesota, was elected to the legislature from a Dane County district and introduced the bill for us. A considerable number of books and tracts of a religious character had already been printed at the Inmansville shop before I came there and this business we also continued after removing to Madison, publishing some very large works. Madison was enjoying an immense building boom when I first came there in the fifties and we shared in the general prosperity of the community and the state.

As the anti-slavery struggle grew in intensity we became more and more pro-abolition. In the election of 1860 we supported Lincoln and did our share toward carrying Wisconsin for him with such a remarkable showing. I may also say here too that when Lincoln was assassinated I was among the thousands who went to Chicago to see his funeral train and to pay our respects to his memory. It was an impressive occasion which I shall never forget.

As Emigranten was the only Norwegian newspaper of any consequence then published in this country, it was also largely used as an organ by the Lutheran ministers and at the opening of the Civil War they printed in its columns the resolutions they had adopted in conference in which they declared that while they were opposed to slavery and would work for its abolition, they could not find that it was condemned in Scripture, which led to a long controversy between Reverend C. L. Clausen and his colleagues.

Among the interesting figures of the time whom I recall was "Brick" Pomeroy, the La Crosse editor, later to become so famous. I used to meet him at state conventions in Madison and rather liked him personally although we occasionally exchanged editorial shots. An interesting local character was Captain Barns, who ran the steamer "Scutanabequon" on Lake Monona and who had a lecture on the angleworm. He had a ready wit. One day he had to hold his boat for a certain lady. When she finally arrived he said as she entered the boat, "Here comes the late Mrs. Smith."

During the war I built up a circulation of nearly four thousand for Emigranten. After the war a new Norwegian paper called F˜drelandet was started at La Crosse by Frederick Fleischer and in 1868 I sold my paper to him. I went to La Crosse and stayed there for a while to assist in the consolidation of the two papers and thereafter I moved to St. Paul, where I established another Norwegian paper, the Minnesotan. Soon afterward I was appointed assistant secretary of state and state statistician. I then turned my paper over to my assistant, Hjalmar Eger, who not long afterward sold it. Since then I have been chiefly in railway office and insurance work, varied with a little travel in this country and abroad in recent years. For many years I have made my home in Milwaukee. Ten years ago Mrs. Solberg and I enjoyed a trip to Europe with our daughter and her husband, Mr. and Mrs. Frank A. Hall. We spent a pleasant summer abroad, chiefly at Aix-la-Chapelle.

Notes

<1> There was, strictly speaking, no village either at Inmansville or at the nearby Luther Valley church building group. Inmansville, now known as Fisher's Corner, was the post office of a large section of the Rock Prairie settlement in its pioneer days. It is situated one and one-half miles north of the Luther Valley Church, where the road running by the church and parsonage crosses the old military road, which is often spoken of as the old Madison road or the territorial road -- now state highway no. 92. The junction is two and one-half miles southeast of Orfordville. Inman and Fisher were two farmers then living at this point and were related to one another. The post office was in Inman's house. Their lands formed, as it were, one large farm. They were of Pennsylvania German descent and since they were among the early settlers of Rock Prairie and were prominent in the new community they secured the post office and had dreams of founding a village there, to be known as Inmansville. Their hope was that a railroad would be built on the ridge followed by the milltary road, but nothing came of it, as in 1856 the railroad was built by way of Orfordville. Two beautiful farm homes, a schoolhouse, and a cheese factory now make up Fisher's Corner. The Norwegian printing office, where Reverend C. L. Clausen also had dreams of the coming of a railroad, is about a mile south of the old Inmansville post office.

<2> See Emigranten, August 3, 1861.

<3> See Emigranten, December 14, 1861.

<4> An obituary account of Solberg's father is printed in the Mankato Free Press for December 30, 1907.

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