The First Norwegian Migration into Texas
Four "America Letters"
Translated and edited by Lyder L. Unstad (Volume VIII: Page 39)
Only three Norwegian settlements of any significance have been established in Texas: one in and near Dallas, a second in the eastern portion of the state, and the third and most important in Bosque County, with the town of Clifton as center. In the general history of Norwegian migration, however, these few settlements have become well known in spite of their small number.
The first Norwegian known to have settled in Texas is Johannes Nordboe, who took a large tract of land in Dallas County in 1858 or 1839.
In 1845, however, the first actual Norwegian settlement was founded in Texas, at Brownsboro ("Normandy"), Henderson County; the most outstanding names connected with this enterprise were Reiersen and Wærenskjold.
Johan Reinert Reiersen, a highly educated man, was the founder and editor of Christianssandsposten, which still continues as one of the leading newspapers of southern Norway. He was born in 1810, the son of a deacon, and received his primary education from a private tutor. While attending the university at Oslo he was unlucky enough to be caught in a "youthful indiscretion," and was dismissed from that institution. He then lived in Denmark and Germany for some time, supporting himself by translating German and French books, and after several years returned to Christianssand.
There he established his paper, and through it he found an outlet for his antagonism toward the aristocratic classes of Norway. He fought valiantly for education, freedom of conscience, religious tolerance, and the development of public opinion; he became "the most vigorous defender of emigration in Norway in the early forties. . . . and a firm believer in the desirability of organized colonization."
Activities of this kind naturally brought Reiersen many enemies among the official classes, in which there was strong opposition to emigration. He had, however, a few friends; and a group of them, headed by Wærenskjold, induced him to go to America to make a personal investigation of the social and economic possibilities for Norwegians in the New World. For this purpose they furnished him with the sum of three hundred "specie dollars." In 1843 Reiersen sailed to New Orleans, whence he proceeded to Illinois and Wisconsin, where a number of Norwegians had settled already. On his way north he made an investigation of both Missouri and Ohio; by the early part of the next year he had satisfied his curiosity about all the northwestern states. He gave serious consideration to California as a suitable region for colonization, but concluded that the difficulties of transportation made the west coast impracticable from the point of view of immigrant settlement.
"Meanwhile the Texas consul in New Orleans had suggested Texas and made an attractive offer of land for Norwegian colonization purposes there, and Reiersen therefore concluded to investigate the northern area of Sam Houston's domain." In March, 1844, he arrived by stage in San Augustine, Texas, and from there proceeded to Austin. He was well pleased with Texas; at once he began to formulate a colonization plan and "was convinced that for thousands of Norwegians then 'gathering crumbs from the table of the aristocracy' relief was in sight." At Austin he met Governor Houston, who was greatly interested in the proposed
colony and promised every aid from the Texas government. From Austin Reiersen went to Houston, then to Galveston, and finally to New Orleans. There he took a steamer to Cincinnati, Ohio, on his way to New York to catch a vessel for Norway. In a long letter written from Cincinnati on March 19, 1844, he revealed that his "mind was not made up as to the wisest choice of a colonization site, but in balancing advantages and disadvantages he seemed most interested in Texas."
While Reiersen was traveling about the United States, he was constantly taking notes about his experiences and observations, as well as about anything else he could learn about the social, economic, political, and religious aspects of American life that he thought might interest prospective immigrants from Norway. He published this information in book form late in 1844, and the volume obtained a wide circulation. It contained a special chapter on Texas.
Reiersen also proclaimed his views on conditions in America in general and in Texas in particular, in his own paper, Christianssandsposten. In January, 1845, he published a formal announcement in his paper that he would lead a party of emigrants to America the following summer via Havre and New Orleans, and those interested were invited to join the expedition.
That spring Reiersen led a small group, including his father, his brother, Hans Grögaard --- a man of good family who was to be their future teacher and preacher --- and several others to the New World as an advance guard. The final decision as to the destination of the party was delayed until it reached New Orleans; its members wanted assurance that Texas would become a state of the Union. When they
arrived there they learned of the congressional resolution providing for the annexation of Texas, and decided to go there.
In New Orleans Ole Reiersen, father of J. R. Reiersen, bought a land patent for 1,476 acres in Texas, with the privilege of selecting any tract of unclaimed land on which the group chose to settle. About ten of them set out on a laborious and trying journey by way of Natchitoches and Nacogdoches to San Augustine.
In the fall of 1845 they took land in northeastern Texas, christening the place "Normandy"; it is now called Brownsboro. Thus the first Norwegian settlement in Texas came into existence.
J. R. Reiersen, who expected a much larger group from Norway, including the rest of his family, to arrive that same autumn, returned to New Orleans as soon as the land question was decided. Some of those he awaited, however, were unable to leave Norway that year; and most of those who actually reached New Orleans went on to Missouri. Thus, the Texas colony was increased but little that season.
Before Reiersen had left Norway he had established a small monthly magazine "to serve as a medium for his own and other reports from America and for discussions of social and economic conditions among Norwegian farmers and laborers." Quite appropriately this periodical was called Norge og Amerika (Norway and America). Its first issue appeared in July, 1845; Reiersen was the editor the first year. He believed it absolutely necessary that a portion of the apparent oversupply of labor in Norway should emigrate to America, which was, in his opinion, "the home of liberty and defender of human rights." In a number of "Sketches from Western America" and in various "America letters" he endeavored to contrast conditions in Norway with those in America, with of course a favorable balance for America.
Many vigorous articles on the problems of immigration came from his pen.
In 1846 a large group of immigrants from Norway arrived in New Orleans, and about fifty of them made their way to Texas. The conspicuous Grögaard, whose leadership in the colony had been of importance in winning emigrant friends in Norway, died that year, and the "emigration fever" for Texas cooled perceptibly; the year 1847 brought few additions to the colony. Among them, however, were the cultured Wærenskjolds. Mrs. Elise Wærenskjold had been a school-teacher in Norway; and she was instrumental in publishing the second volume of Reiersen's magazine (1846-47). The letters of the Wærenskjolds, as well as Reiersen's, gave Texas a prominence in Norway entirely out of proportion to the number of Norwegians in that state.
Sickness broke out in the colony at Brownsboro and some of the settlers died. As a result of this and other hardships Reiersen moved westward with his family in 1848 and founded a second colony in Van Zandt and Kaufman counties, southwest of the present city of Dallas; the settlement was established at Four Mile Prairie, with the village of Prairieville as nucleus. Other colonists at Brownsboro, discouraged with conditions in Texas, moved to Norwegian settlements in the northwestern states. The Wærenskjolds joined the Reiersens at Prairieville the same year; and in 1850 fourteen additional families from Norway arrived there.
Neither of these two colonies can be compared in ultimate importance, however, with the third settlement, founded in 1853 in Bosque County near Waco. This colony centered in the town of Clifton, and was established by Ole Canuteson, a farmer from the Fox River colony in Illinois who had visited Texas three years earlier and had found conditions favorable. Here grew up the largest colony of Norwegians in Texas.
In 1849 Cleng Peerson made an "investigation journey"
to Texas, and while there he visited Johannes Nordboe, who, a decade earlier, had settled a short distance south of Dallas. Peerson was very enthusiastic about Texas and even stated that "better land and a more favorable climate give distinct advantages to Texas over these northern regions." In 1850 he was back in the Fox River colony, enthusiastically preaching about the glories of Texas; and he was able to induce a small group of his countrymen to accompany him there that year. They journeyed down the Mississippi to New Orleans, then turned west and followed the New River to Shreveport, whence they traveled by ox carts to Dallas County In 1854 they moved to Bosque County.
In the winter of 1854 the first Norwegian Lutheran church in Texas was built in the Bosque County colony; and in later years an academy and junior college were founded in the town of Clifton. In Norse, a tiny town a few miles west of Clifton, is a graveyard close by an old brick church; there Cleng Peerson was buried in 1865, and a fine monument marks his grave.
The Norwegians in Texas were never distinguished for their religious devotion. The early Lutheran ministers did net find the "fields of souls" very ripe; the Norwegian pastor at Norse was their only pastor for years, and he was something of a missionary. Thus the following excerpt from a letter, written by a physician in Clifton in 1870 to Marcus Thrane, "radical" editor of Dagslyset, is readily understood:
Dagslyset is a gallant little paper and ought to be supported by all liberal men, who possess sufficient courage to think for themselves. It contains sound, spiritual food for the thinking reader and ought to have several thousand subscribers among the Scandinavians in America. In this district are many of our countrymen, who do not think very much of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and who are not longing for the fleshpots of Egypt.
The following are translations of four letters written by Norwegians in Texas to friends in Norway. They were written in 1852 and 1853 and illustrate the artificial and cumbersome style of the time, in long and involved sentences sprinkled with highly artificial Danish and Texas-English-Norwegian words. Even Reiersen, the author of the fourth letter, used a degenerate style. The present translator has attempted to retain as much as possible of the original spirit and atmosphere of the letters.
The letters were all published in Arbeider-Foreningernes Blad, the organ of the Norwegian labor movement, a file of which is in the university library at Oslo. There can be no doubt that Marcus Thrane, the editor of this paper, brought out the letters for the purpose of interesting unemployed or poorly-paid workers in Norway in emigration to America, which he designated "the republic of free and independent people." Thrane believed that emigration should be promoted in order to create a shortage of labor in Norway and thus bring about higher wages and shorter hours of labor.
T. GRIMSETH TO T. A. GJESTVANG, July 20, 1852
[Arbeider-Foreningernes Blad, December 11,1852; translated from the Norwegian]
FOUR MILE PRAIRIE, July 20, 1852
MOST HIGHLY HONORED FRIEND, MR. T. A. GJESTVANG!
My dear friend, be not impatient with me because I have delayed writing you for so long; I presume that my father has informed you that I wished to look over the country somewhat before I wrote you. I supposed that by that time it would be more interesting to you to receive my humble literary endeavor --the details of which I hope you will graciously excuse, since you know quite well that I am not much good either as a stylist or as a penman. But what I write is meant sincerely and is a product of my own experience. I shall not try, at this time, to give you detailed information about any special conditions in
America, because I am, as yet, altogether too little acquainted with them.
The soil in this part of the country is of various qualities; here in Texas some of the land is so rich that I do not think any better can be found on this earth, but it is useless to look for that kind of land in the neighborhood of Four Mile. Although the soil here is not so poor that it prevents a man from making some reasonable headway, I can tell you that I shall leave here as soon as I can obtain land somewhere else, where the yield may be ten times as much in a year. Mr. Reiersen himself has, so far as I am able to judge, a part of the very best land near Four Mile, but even that is far from as good as I have seen in other districts. Mr. Reiersen himself realizes this full well; but when he settled he had not been here very long. When I arrived here and had a talk with Mr. Reiersen he told me at once that anyone who wished to buy land ought to exercise great care in the selection of it; and he added that anyone who had not been farther into Texas than Four Mile had not seen what may be called rich land.
After I had been here for some time, a few other Norwegians and I decided to join Mr. J. R. Reiersen in an attempt to search for a better quality of farm land. Reiersen led us from here in a northwesterly direction and we did not have to travel very far beyond Cedar Creek before we realized that the land was much better and much more fertile. But I must not forget to mention to you that on our journey we passed through Dallas County, where old Nordboe lives. There the land was extraordinarily good and beautiful, but lacked trees and forest. I extended greetings to Nordboe from you, and he said that he could remember you as a small boy from the time when he knew your father; he said also that it would have pleased him very much to have had a chance for a personal conversation with you.
About 120 English miles from here, on a branch of Trinity River, which is called West Fork, at the place where it is joined with Walnut Creek, the land is located at 33 degrees north longitude and 79 degrees west latitude. Here all of us agreed that we had found the most beautiful and most fertile land that any of us had ever seen; the water was quite crystal clear and
there was also a fair amount of useful forest. But this land is completely deserted and altogether unsettled. We looked over many thousands of acres of wild rye, and timothy and grass grew more luxuriantly than it would be possible to get it to grow in Norway, even though one manured the best kind of land there most extravagantly. The soil was of a black, spongy earth mixed with a great amount of limestone, and I can assure you that the surface soil was at least three yards deep. Such a soil will undoubtedly produce all possible kinds of verdure.
If you ever come to Texas, I shall consider it an honor to accompany you on an investigation journey over this country. Here would be a good market for whatever wares one could have to sell; for, on one side of this stretch of land is Fort Worth, with two hundred cavalry men, and on the other side we find Fort Belknap, with five hundred men. These forts are there for the purpose of keeping the Indians under control. West Fork of Trinity River passes right through this tract of land, and no doubt there will be steamboats plying on it before so very long. This very summer a steamboat passed up Trinity River clear to a place twenty miles from here called Porlosbluff [Porter's Bluff]. At Fort Worth we stopped over for a day and a night, and while we were there Reiersen and I went out on a little trip to see and talk with the Indians. These people were rather unusual creatures for us to see, for I had never before seen Indians. We sat in their tents a long time conversing with them; this was possible because one of them knew the English language quite well. They were greatly distressed at the miserable treatment they had received and because they were driven hither and thither; and they believed that in time they would die from sheer starvation.
In Texas also lives an old Norseman named Kleng Pedersen; I presume that you have already heard about him. He was the first Norwegian who came over to America with the purpose of founding a settlement, and he has been in this country for thirty-one years.
On the fourth of July I had the pleasure of accompanying Reiersen to the other side of Cedar Creek, where we visited a man named Captain Balhard. There the anniversary of the
American constitution was celebrated and our visit there was very pleasant; no disturbances of any kind took place. The Americans do not consume strong liquors at festive occasions of this kind.
This must be sufficient until a later occasion. Please accept my most cordial thanks for the kindness and goodwill that you have continuously shown me, and may you live pleasantly and happily, my dear friend! Accept for yourself and your family the most genuine regards and greetings of your devoted
-- J. GRIMSETH
J. BRUNSTAD TO T. A. GJESTVANG, July 21, 1852
[Arbeider-Foreningernes Blad, December 18, 1852; translated from the Norwegian]
Four Mile Prairie, Wanzant County,
July 21, 1852
MOST HIGHLY HONORED FRIEND, T. A. GJESTVANG!
I shall take the liberty to tell you something regarding the purpose of the journey that we undertook this summer, in a westerly direction from here. The soil here at Four Mile is poorer in quality than I had believed land of this kind could be in America, and I can assure you that it is far from being as you have been informed. In addition, we have no other water than what we can find in stagnant pools in the brook, where even the pigs are wallowing and bathing. Furthermore, this water has to be carried a long distance, which, of course, is an unfortunate handicap in a country with such a hot climate.
Therefore, we decided to look about the country to see if we possibly could find a tract of land of fair quality where we could also find good water and woods. In that case we then could start a new Norwegian settlement; furthermore, I know that many people in Norway are intending to emigrate over here. At West Fork of Trinity River we found excellent land; just the same, we have decided to undertake another journey in the coming autumn in order to get still better acquainted with the country. One ought not be in too much of a hurry buying land, for one might have to regret it ever afterwards.
When we had passed by Fort Worth, where a force of two
hundred cavalry men are stationed, we saw many Indians. They are copper brown, very small, have rather slender limbs, and walk around with a downcast countenance. Their apparel consisted of a pair of deerskin trousers, which reached from the ankles up on the thighs; they were almost all barefoot, but they wore garments that covered them both front and back, while their hips and their heads were bare. They have coal black straight hair, which they comb and divide from the middle of the head to both sides and cut on the level with their shoulders, leaving sufficient hair in the back with which to form a braid that reaches far down the spine. I am told that they are not in the least dangerous if they are not offended in any way, but they are said to have a tendency to steal.
On the way back we visited old Nordboe and stayed with him a whole day. He is hale and hearty, lives in a well-to-do fashion, and owns a large farm. That he is somewhat feeble from old age is not so surprising, when we remember that he is almost eighty-four years of age. He asked me to extend to you many cordial greetings.
I should have written you much more, but I am not as yet well from the great fever; you must, therefore, pardon me. Later on I shall send you some more detailed information about the life and conditions with which it may be my lot to get acquainted; but this much I can tell you, that I do not regret that I migrated hither. I realize quite well that the possibilities for the future are far better here than in Norway, if only I could succeed in procuring a good piece of land in a vicinity where I could settle down among pleasant and homey neighbors.
Please, accept the cordial greetings of your devoted friend,
ELISE WÆRENSKJOLD TO T. A. GJESTVANG, July 25, 1852
[Arbeider-Foreningernes Blad, January 1, 1853; translated from the Norwegian]
FOUR MILE, July 25, 1852
MR. T. A. GJESTVANG!
I have had the pleasure of receiving the letter that you were kind enough to send me, enclosed in the one to Grimseth, and I
presently sent both letters to old Nordboe with Cleng Pedersen. But the six letters mentioned have not arrived as yet. From your letter I understand that a large flock of people intend to emigrate this year. I do wish that all of them would realize most thoroughly at least one thing --- namely this: that the one who neither knows how nor wants to work, and who does not possess a sufficient amount of money, will not have any success in America. For, since workers' wages are so high, one can easily surmise that it does not pay to hire people to do anything and everything. I cannot emphasize this too much, having my own countrymen in mind; for, those coming over here with other expectations must necessarily become disappointed. As a good example of this we have one person among us who every day pours forth scolding phrases about America but who has not, since he arrived in this country, been gainfully employed enough to earn sufficient food for a single day. Obviously, this is an exception to the rule; however, there are altogether too many who, as yet, have not learned the American saying, "Time is money."
Bjerke left us at once and journeyed to Rusk, but he has also left there with his wife and mother-in-law. I presume that most of your acquaintances are writing to you, and no doubt they can tell you much better than I can how they themselves are faring and farming from day to day.
The fourth of August. On the day after I had begun writing this letter I received the package with six letters, several of which were for myself.
This summer we have a good crop of all kinds of farm products. Thus, the recently-arrived immigrants will be able to procure foodstuffs at priers considerably lower than those of the last two years.
I don't know anything further of interest to mention to you just now, because in my earlier letter I told you about the general conditions of this country. Well, yes, I must tell you a little about camp meetings, which are the most extraordinarily odd form of Christian worship that any person can imagine. Somewhere in the woods they build a shed --- that is to say, a roof which rests on posts, but has neither walls nor floor; there are a few logs to sit on, as well as a raised platform that serves as
the pulpit. There are five preachers present --- at times even more than that --- who continue preaching day and night for a whole week. The people in the vicinity congregate around the camp and remain there--some in wagons and tents, and others in small log houses which they have constructed for their own comforts there. All of them bring from home sufficient food products and household utensils for the length of time they intend to stay. We arrived at the camp at noon and left the place at midnight. We were at once invited for dinner by two American families, after which we entered the church, where nothing out of the ordinary took place this time. But, later on in the evening the women folks wandered out into the forest for the so-called secret prayers; the men folks went in another direction for the same purpose. They alternately sang psalms and poured forth long prayers --- which various ones present speak responsively. They become so inspired on these occasions that one after another they begin to sing and cry out as loudly as they are able, clapping their hands, "Glory! Glory!" They begin pounding on the ones nearest, throwing themselves on their knees or on their backs, laughing and crying --- in short, conducting themselves like perfectly insane people. At the evening service the same comic behavior took place, and the preachers exerted themselves to their utmost capacities to bring the people into the highest ecstacies. At these camp meetings people are baptized, married, and tendered the Lord's Supper. On the whole, it must be said that the feelings that the whole comedy aroused were nothing less than devotional.
Please accept for yourself and the whole family the most friendly and cordial greetings from Vilhelm, Otto, and myself.
J. R. REIERSEN TO T. A. GJESTVANG, July 27, 1852
[Arbeider-Foreningernes Blad, January 13, 1853; translated from the Norwegian]
FOUR MILE PRAIRIE, KAUFMAN COUNTY, TEXAS,
July 27, 1852
MR. T. A. GJESTVANG!
When one has postponed writing for weeks, and month after month has gone by, until the delay amounts to a number of
years, then one becomes almost afraid even to try to amend the neglect, since one hardly knows even where to begin. That is the case with me at present. And, when, after a long delay, I then take hold of the pen for the purpose of mending an overlooked duty, I beg of you beforehand not to expect in any way a comprehensive and concise whole, but only a little fraction of what I had in mind to tell you. To begin with, I shall in all terseness merely inform you regarding myself, that I live as contentedly as can be expected of a father of a family who has been bereft of his dear and faithful life partner. I have learned to love the country to which I emigrated more sincerely than my old fatherland, of which I can never think with any heartfelt longings. From my point of view I consider the old monarchic, aristocratic, and hierarchic institutions as contemptible playthings, of which the human intelligence ought to be greatly ashamed. I feel free and independent among a free people, who are not chained down by any old class or caste systems; and I am very proud of belonging to a mighty nation, whose institutions will and must in time come to dominate the entire civilized world, because they are founded on principles that sound intelligence must recognize as the only ones that are right and correct. So much with respect to myself.
Last summer when I learned that a group of immigrants were expected from Norway's most favored districts, my first thought was to try to find out if I could possibly be of any service to them in the selection of a place of settlement for the future. A long time before that I had discovered the shortcomings of the district in which I live --- a knowledge that can be learned only by experience. I have found the land here to be, on the whole, entirely too poor. The water is of a very inferior quality. The main defect of the land here is that the surface soil, which con-rains a good amount of clay, is too little mixed with sand, so that, right after the spring rains have ended, it is baked hard by the summer heat; and, if rainstorms do not occur frequently, the soil will bring forth quite a mediocre crop. I have seen good examples of this, especially during the last two years, when very limited crops were obtained and, consequently, the grain sold at very high prices.
The crop consists mostly of wheat, which, on account of its early ripening --- in the latter part of May and the first part of June --- is quite reliable. If the fields are not located, however, in the prairie bottoms, but at higher levels, then one cannot realize more than half a crop --- from ten to twelve bushels per acre. In the western portion of this county, which borders on East Fork of Trinity River, the soil is of an entirely different nature. To a considerable depth the entire surface soil is as black as pitch, with a bluish subsoil, but it lacks the least trace of sand. It is very difficult to break --- the task necessitates from four to five pairs of oxen; but the soil is rich and fertile and appears to be inexhaustible.
The same kind of soil is to be found in the neighboring counties of Dallas, Navarra, Elles, and Kollin --- all of which are watered by branches of Trinity River, namely, East Fork, Elm Fork, and West Fork. All of these counties rest on a layer of white rock, which is rather easily pierced, and in which all the rivers and streams flow. The general characteristic of that part of the country is large and wide prairies--with a scanty supply of timber along the watercourses. My principal objections to this entire rich expanse of land --- where every inch is fertile --- are the lack of timber and the conglutinate character of the soil after a heavy rain. The latter cannot be compared with anything but pitch, which one cannot remove from the soles of the shoes except with the help of a knife. To be sure, this adhesive quality of the soil disappears after about two days of sunshine and the plowed fields become loose and tender. The soil contains a considerable amount of elasticity; when a person steps on it it is like a sponge; however, no kind of work can be done with it during the rainy season, on account of the impossibility of plowing it then. The water is clear and clean, but very few of the watercourses have enough water for milling purposes during the entire year. For these reasons I did not believe that this district could be recommended for a Norwegian settlement.
Therefore, I turned my attention to the tract of land, that is located near West Fork --- between the southern and northern cross timbers. For this purpose I decided, in the month of November last year, to make a journey up through this
territory; and, now, I shall inform you briefly as to the result. As soon as one arrives at cross timbers, i. e., to the actual timber belt, the black, sticky soil disappears and a loose, red, sandy soil, covered with post oak, begins. This land does not appear very fertile, but it does produce a good quality of grain and cotton, though I don't believe this quality will last so very long. The first prairies on the other side of the forest have a dark brown Soil, which is sandy and somewhat porous and of an especially rich quality.
Ten miles from this forest Fort Worth is located, at the junction of Clear Fork and West Fork, on a beautiful, elevated plain, which, in turn, is surrounded by rich prairie land. This fort has existed for three years, and forms the boundary line against the Indians, who are never allowed to come inside the fort. Between thirty and forty families have, during these years, settled at a distance of from five to six miles around the fort, but beyond that no settlements have been founded. Accompanied by a Captain Kartelet, who had found a good deal of land in this district, I journeyed about twenty miles up the river West Fork, which is considered navigable clear up to the fort. Here the land had an entirely different character; cliffs and valleys began to form the general outline. West Fork, the main river, and all of the branch rivers pass through valleys which are from one to two miles wide and are shut in on both sides by high and rough cliffs, of which a few reach the height of from five hundred to six hundred feet precipitously above the river. From there the cliffs in turn form the ground line for the high flatland, which continues over to the upper cross timbers. In these valleys we find land really fit for settling purposes. There the soil is deep, black, and sandy, and the wild rye and timothy indicate quite conclusively the abundantly fertile quality of the land. The brooks emerge from the pure sandstone cliffs, each brook having a foaming and audacious course with clean, wonderful, and clear water, whose quantity is sufficient for milling purposes during the entire year.
On the mountain sides the woods grow all the way up to the cliffs, and the trees are of sufficient abundance and quality for all agricultural purposes; but only oak is found, not pine or
cedar. A more beautiful situation, better water, and richer soil cannot possibly be found anywhere, and I dare give my head as a pledge that no man with sound sense and reasoning power can see this land without liking it very much.
The main river and the branch rivers have deep beds and never overflow; there are neither swamps nor stagnant water pools to infest the air with infectious diseases; and if any district can be called healthful, it must be this one. Around Fort Worth the settlers get from thirty to thirty-five bushels of wheat per acre, and from forty to sixty bushels of corn per acre. A bushel of wheat weighs seventy-one pounds --- a better weight than any other known on the best wheat lands in America. After having tramped through this district for about a week, I returned quite determined to recommend, to Norwegians who were arriving, this district as the one most fit for settlements, and I, myself, was to accompany them up there. I became acquainted with Johan Grimseth; he wished me to go with him to the tract of land located near cross timbers; and when we had decided to make the journey, both Johan Brunstad, Karl Kvæstad, and several younger folks joined us. The result was of the kind that could not be doubted beforehand; all of them became so enthusiastic about the land that they determined to start a settlement there next fall, and the plan ripened into a definite decision later on.
Thus far you have, in brief, a summary of our plans and prospects here. If a larger group of emigrants from your district can be gathered, and people with the spirit of initative and enterprise, as well as a small amount of capital, will come to Texas, then I am positively certain that this district near West Fork would be best suited for a thriving settlement and would give the arriving immigrants the greatest advantages. Besides, mills and other kinds of machinery can easily be established there. I believe that the soil there is of such a nature that all kinds of farm products, raised in the different sections of the country --- as for instance, wheat, rye, corn, cotton, tobacco, rice, sugar, sweet potatoes, and Norwegian potatoes, as well as all kinds of garden produce --- will thrive there in the greatest abundance and with less work and attention than anywhere else.
The district is also exceptionally well suited for cattle-raising, because the wild rye grows knee-high during the winter --- making the most excellent pasturage for cows and horses. The people in some of the Norwegian settlements in Iowa and Missouri intend to move to Texas next fall; and the district mentioned has been selected for their new settlement.
Last year it was my intention to write --- and I had already gathered a large amount of material --- a complete description of the entire older Norwegian settlement. I had it in mind to illustrate, with statistical data, the general condition of each and every family: when they arrived, their progress, and their present situation; but I was not able to secure all of the necessary information. I shall therefore state briefly--and the truthfulness of my statements can be verified by the people from Hedemarken who arrived from Norway last year --- that all of the Norwegians who came to this country in 1847 from the mountain communities in western Norway have, without exception, become well-to-do people. Most of them possessed very little surplus capital when they arrived; some were without a penny and a few were even in debt for their passage across the ocean. Now, all of them have bought land and have paid for it; they have built good houses; they have sufficient cattle, oxen, and horses for the management of their farms; and they get annual crops so large that there is a surplus to be sold to the newcomers. A few of these men, who had large families and debts of more than one hundred dollars each, can now be estimated as being worth more than one thousand dollars per family. They have succeeded even under unfavorable circumstances; and all of them are actually independent farmers, free from any fears of either taxes, mortgages, or foreclosures. Thus, each one of them is very well satisfied. These are the facts, which the statistical data can verify whenever that is desired; and when those immigrants, who, at their arrival, were rather inferior to the Hedemarkings both as to agricultural training and culture in general could, even under conditions more unfavorable than now, have succeeded so well --- by sheer work and diligence --- then I believe that skillful men from your district may expect to make much better progress --- especially if they take favorable land.
Then a few words regarding the Hedemarkings who have come among us. Knud Olsen Ringnes was able to pay for his son's passage across the ocean and, in addition, to buy forty acres of land (he had, then, been in Texas only one year, and arrived here in debt for his own ocean ticket). He has broken up a piece of land of between four and five acres on his own farm and is at present occupied as a wheelwright. He is an efficient and true worker, and undoubtedly will make good headway in life. Mr. Grimseth and Ballishoel have moved over to my home, and in the last part of August Knud Andersen is to start a blacksmith shop on my place in company with myself. Halvorsen has also stayed with me for some time. Both Karl Kvæstad, Jens Ringnæs, and Johan Brunstad will get fairly good crops this year. The corn crop is excellent all over the country, and corn is sold at from twenty-five to thirty cents per bushel, but the price is expected to rise to fifty cents in the winter. The wheat crop has also been good, and the sweet potato crop is promising. Thus, you see, here is an abundance of everything for the arriving immigrants. Many people from the other southern states are expected to move to Texas.
Cordially and respectfully yours,
J. R. REIERSEN
<1> For information on Norwegian settlements in Texas see R. B. Anderson, First Chapter of Norwegian Immigration, 370-395 (Madison, Wisconsin, 1896); Martin Ulvestad, Nordmændene i America, 1:197-203 (Minneapolis, 1907); and Theodore C. Blegen, Norwegian Migration to America, 1825-1860, 177, 178, 181-189 (Northfield, Minnesota, 1931).
<2>The quotations are from Blegen, Norwegian Migration, 177, 178.
<3> Veiviser for norske Emigranter til de forenede nordamerikanske Stater og Texas (Christiania,
1844). Chapter nine deals specifically with Texas. Chapter ten, entitled, "Norske Setlementer," has been translated into English by Theodore C. Blegen in Studies and Records, 1:110-125 (Northfield, Minnesota, 1925).
<4> Grögaard and a few of the others decided to take another route; they went by way of Marshall. See Anderson, First Chapter of Norwegian Immigration, 374.
<5> See the author's article, "Hos Nordmænd i Texas," in Nordmands-Forbundet August, 1930.
<6> Dagslyset, July 31, 1870. An almost complete file of this paper is to be found in the library of the University of Wisconsin.