By Alfred O. Erickson (Volume XV: Page 185)
Ingebret and Ingeborg Eriksen, my parents, were among the first of the covered-wagon
pioneers at what became Scandinavia, Waupaca County, Wisconsin. Ingebret was born at
Slemdahl, Telemarken, on November 23, 1819; Ingeborg Olsdatter Solverud was also born
there, on March 12, 1830. On November 16, 1850, they were married by the Reverend H. A.
Stub at Norway Prestegaard, Racine County, Wisconsin, the nearest church to Muskego.
Ingebret had arrived at Muskego in 1846 at the age of twenty-seven. At eight dollars a
month he acquired eighty acres of land near Pine Lake, close to Muskego, and let no one
think he did not encounter privation and hunger in the process. In 1850 his betrothed,
Ingeborg, arrived with her parents, Ole and Kari Solverud, and her brothers.
Ingebret was not particularly contented in the vicinity of Muskego. The productivity of
the soil did not measure up to his expectations; he wanted more and better land. So,
impelled by the Norwegian propensity to roam, to rove, to explore, to see what is beyond,
he and Isak Toldness from Porsgrund, who was to be his brother-in-law, traveled on foot
for more than a hundred miles, mostly on the winter's snow crust, to what became
Scandinavia. Here they found farm land more promising. Returning, Ingebret sold his eighty
acres, and in 1852 he and Ingeborg fitted up an improvised covered wagon and with little
Erick, their first-born, set out on the northwesterly journey, trekking with oxen and
letting their two cows and a yoke of steers browse along after the caravan. With undaunted
courage and unconquerable wills they made the venture. More timid Muskegoans had warned
them against Indians, against the lack of roads and the multitude of lakes and streams;
asked how they would get food or medical aid if needed. Such were the sentiments at
Muskego, but go the Eriksens must. Neighbors gathered around their caravan to wish them
luck and Godspeed. "If you make it, let us know, and we will come too," they
Almost from the time Ingebret emerged from the cradle in Telemarken, he had done a
man's work. Cutting timber was his daily vocation. He had a stepmother; he was more or
less "pushed around"; and he yearned to go to America to better his condition.
His father, Erik Ingebretsen, quite readily gave permission. Thus, trusting to his lusty
muscle, rugged physique, and indomitable determination, Ingebret prepared to leave.
In so doing he incurred a disagreeable tirade of abuse from his pastor, the Reverend
Mr. Steinbuk. The parson stormed at him. "So Erik Ingebretsen, my old and cherished
friend, will take this risk!" he exclaimed.
Between breaths, Ingebret got a word in. "May I correct you, Reverend -- it is not
my father I am petitioning for; indeed it is I."
"Oh! That I can believe," retorted the pastor. "It is you, stubborn,
unruly, and disobedient son; it is you! Well, go -- and good riddance!"
Many, many times during the Muskego-Scandinavia trek Ingebret had to cut a way through
the forest. It took the family over a month to make the expedition, weaving their way
among the innumerable lakes and streams. Their meals consisted of salt pork, coffee, and
porridge; at least they had flour and milk aplenty. The two cows, Ingeros and Blomeros,
grazed as they straggled along behind the caravan, and supplied the principal nourishment.
Mother said, "We were not much afraid of wild animals on the way, but we shuddered
with fear at the shrill shrieks of the semi-nude redskins, lashing their spotted ponies
and galloping through the trails." To break the monotony in food it might have been
wise to take along a shotgun and a hook and line, but they had not done so. There were
many harrowing incidents en route, but I must go on with the main features of this
narrative, told so many times to me, so vivid in my mind.
Obviously my parents did not know that the region to which they were going was still
Indian land; at any rate, that part of Wisconsin was subject to various Indian incursions,
and these intrepid vikings actually settled there before the treaty between the government
and the Indian tribes had been concluded. The Indians were combative, belligerent, and
obstreperous -- they did not take kindly to invasion by the whites.
At long last, however, the Eriksen caravan reached the coveted spot. There they were,
the wagon halted at an open tract on the west bank of the south branch of the Little Wolf
River, a beautiful gurgling stream shrouded with gorgeous foliage and edged with wild
fruit trees; to the left they could discern a huge, dense forest of birch, pine, and
spruce; to the right they beheld Dreutzer Lake (later called Silver Lake) in an
indescribable scenic setting. Ingeborg, with Erick the first-born in her arms, emerged
from the kubberulle; the oxen were unyoked to graze with the rest of the stock.
Father often told of this moment: how Mother Ingeborg, tall and slim, her flaxen curls
fluttering in the breeze, both wept and laughed in ecstasy as she beheld a spot so much
like Telemarken -- for, though the land they had chosen was only slightly rolling, they
saw in the offing huge wooded knolls and ridges. Mother said, "I will go no farther
-- I will stay here." Then on bended knees they offered a fervent supplication to
God, as they had been taught in childhood.
There were just a few earlier settlers near where my parents located: Hans Jakob
Eliasen, Johan Rosholt, Johan Peter Mikkelsen -- about a dozen in all, three families of
whom were Swiss. On the second day Mother sowed some buckwheat, scratching the seed into
the dirt with a dry branch. That was their first crop. Then came the willing neighbors
with their axes and made a foray on the tall trees, chopping them down, peeling off the
bark, and ripping some into boards for roofing; up went a fine log house and next a huge
log barn. These neighbors always conformed to the rule of reciprocity, helpfulness, and
hospitality; and that rule continues to this day.
It took brawn and energy to clear and develop the farm, but the work went fast and
crops were bountiful. The principal problem was to overcome the hatred of the treacherous
Indians. They were not so easily soothed, for they considered the land theirs.
Occasionally while Ingebret toiled in the clearing the Indians would come canoeing down
the stream, jump out and grab a lamb, a pig, or a calf, and make off with the loot,
although the forest was literally teeming with wild game. Ingebret feared them and offered
But as the years rolled on, the Indians became more conciliatory, even friendly. I
remember that even as late as my day they would come to our home, particularly in zero
weather, bowing and smiling, pointing to the larder. Mother would set before them a few
pans of rendered fat and a few loaves of bread; they would sit near the stove and eat;
then offer thanks and take their leave. My older brothers understood much of their speech.
One Swiss family was that of Casper Zwicky, one of the finest families in that
community, kind, helpful, and law-abiding. His first-born was once left alone in the log
hut while the parents were out in the field. When they returned at evening the babe was
missing, to their consternation and anxiety. Neighbors joined in the search to find the
babe. Next morning came the Indians carrying the little tyke unhurt, and brought with them
the hindquarter of a deer. They said, in broken English, "We had never seen anything
so beautiful, and we could not resist taking the babe to show to our tribes. But here we
bring him back unhurt, and as compensation we give you this venison. We shall always be of
friendly aid to the whites."
Though in the beginning -- in 1850 and the years immediately following -- the settlers'
houses were of logs, as farms were developed and cultivated extensively, great commodious
frame buildings were erected, modern barns and granaries, and later silos. The farmers
soon found that the region was particularly adapted for potatoes and dairying; butter and
cheese factories were established all over the county. Guernsey cows were raised for
butter and Holsteins for cheese. Morning saw a continuous procession of teams hauling milk
and cream to the cheese and butter factories. In autumn potatoes were hauled to the
station of the Green Bay and Western Rail Road, for shipment to Chicago.
By 1860 every piece of land worth cultivating had been taken up. Then there was a
tremendous influx of newcomers. In summer they found employment as farm hands, and in
winter they repaired to the "pineries," or lumber camps. These rugged men from
Norway, skilled in the use of ax and saw, had no difficulty in getting work, and how they
throve on it! When spring came, and there was no more snow for hauling the pine logs, they
found work in the numerous sawmills; and some of them, who knew how to drive logs down the
Wolf River to Oshkosh, Neenah, and Menasha, earned five dollars a day! The great majority
of them, sober, industrious, and frugal, found tracts of land here or there, and soon
To this day Scandinavia is a religious, law-abiding community. Right from the start, in
1852, agitation for a church began, but funds could not be raised immediately. "Use
Ingebret Eriksen's huge barn!" the settlers said. It was a marvelous barn -- made of
tamarack logs, barked, notched at either end, and covered with split cedar shingles. The
doors were of boards, with hickory pegs for nails. And in this barn Lutheran services were
held. The Reverend Mr. Brandt was the first pastor; then followed Muus, Koren, Duus,
Mikkelsen, Museus, Ellestad, and Ole Nilson. Others substituted at times. In the sixties
the strikingly attractive Lutheran church was erected on land given by Ingebret Eriksen,
and it stood until taken down in recent years.
One of the early ministers, O. F. Duus,
was a "knockout." After a short
stay in Scandinavia, he and his family left to live in Trondheim, Norway. Years later he
wrote to my father, under date of February 18, 1890. "I have received your good
letter, enclosing the photograph of your beautiful house. What an improvement over the old
log house, where I spent so many happy hours with you, your departed wife, and your large,
fine family!" Then, like all of the ministers, he inquired about the people in his
former congregation, recalling them by name.
Yes, I called Duus a knockout. He was not a very large man but was muscular and
athletic -- a skilled boxer, as he demonstrated. When he came to Scandinavia, Father was
the first to make his acquaintance, we lived so close to the parsonage. Now down in the
village there lived two brothers, blacksmiths, Nels and Simon Aamodt. They were like the
vikings of old in daring and combat; they never neglected to get into fistic encounters.
Proud of their prowess and fighting ability, giants in strength, after imbibing sufficient
alcohol they challenged all comers. This was their week-end entertainment, to the dismay
and chagrin of the peace-loving people.
Olaus Duus, concentrating on his Sunday's sermon about the first or second Saturday of
his occupancy of the parsonage, heard the outrageous noise, cursing, and disturbance
emanating from the village, half a mile away. He hastened down to Ingebret and inquired
about the unusual hilarity and unpardonable profanity, saying that he could not study his
Ingebret cautioned him: "No one can stop those two Aamodt brothers; when they get
obstreperous it's best to let them alone. This is their regular week-end pastime, and
nothing can be done about it -- they are the community champions."
"Is that so!" retorted Duus. "I am going down there and I shall quell
the abominable noise; I know something about the manly art myself."
Ingebret stared at him in amazement.
"Here's how you do it," said the minister. "At the opportune moment
plant a violent, well-directed punch just below the breastbone, and down the man will go.
Come, and I'll show you the trick."
Father, a man of peace, refused, but Duus hurried down to the village and joined in the
melee. He planted his "haymakers," and the champions went down for the count.
Thenceforth the two brothers had a respectful fear of the fighting parson. Now, though
this was long before my time and seems an incredible account of a man of the cloth, the
truth can easily be verified.
----End of Part 1----
From what the various ministers said, Scandinavia was a choice spot. How much grief and
dismay when a change was made! Neither the pastors nor the congregation wanted to change,
but off the clergymen would have to go. I never beheld such love and devotion between
parishioners and pastor, such visiting, such cheerfulness; yes, and they bore him gifts of
all kinds. It seemed to break the women's hearts when their beloved minister had to leave,
yet they grew equally fond of his successor.
I am thinking especially of the departure of the Reverend Mr. Mikkelsen, the one most
loved. He served the Scandinavia congregation in the sixties until, much against his will,
he was transferred to Chicago. On May 16, 1870, he wrote my father his first Chicago
letter. In it he deprecated the new environment -- the noise, the conglomerate populace,
the many foreigners, the impoverished congregation, his own illness. "They have such
poor and inexperienced doctors here," he writes. "I have to make a periodical
journey thirty-seven miles from Chicago for medical help. They say I have brain fever.
They think I should go to Europe, but that is out of the question.
Doctor Bock, from
New York, is at present at Koshkonong, and I have thought of going to see him . . . . How
we miss dear old Scandinavia and our dear friends! Yes, our son Michael sat down and wept;
he said, 'I am going back to Scandinavia!' . . . . It was so sad to part with you at
Oshkosh. I turned around and looked back at you as we parted on the big bridge, but you
kept on going." Then he prayerfully hopes that the new pastor at Scandinavia will be
After Mikkelsen came the Reverend Johan Karl August Museus, and what a messy finale he
made! Church strife, quarrels, bickering, factionalism, even hatred, were rife. The
congregation tried to be rid of him, but Museus was a smart parliamentarian, and he stood
adamant. Those who opposed him counseled with Father as to how to bring about Museus'
Ingebret wrote to divers former ministers, deploring the situation, but not one would
meddle with the perplexing controversy. "Church rules preclude interference,"
was all they would offer. Finally in exasperation Father wrote to Professor W. E. Frich
insisting that some line of action, some solution, be devised and promoted in order to
save what was left of a congregation distraught and shattered by controversy.
Strange to say, after a few exchanges of letters, Professor Frich yielded; he would
formulate a plan to be suddenly adopted at a regularly constituted congregational meeting
and to be followed minutely. Pledging Father not to divulge his part in the crisis, Frich
said that he would send the instructions by registered mail.
Father went daily to the post office, and on November 10, 1882, he got a real shock.
The letter, registered, was at the post office, but it had been opened and put back in his
box. He demanded an explanation of the postmaster, Lars Nilsen. "I know nothing about
it," Nilsen maintained.
I was a mere child then, but my recollection of the following Sunday is still vivid.
The Reverend Mr. Museus mounted the pulpit and with a smirk of bravado gazed down to where
Dad and I sat in the front row. "I understand," he said, "that there are
additional charges conjured up against your pastor. I think Ingebret Eriksen sitting down
there has his pocket full."
The sermon he delivered I don't remember, but the Frich plan worked out admirably. The
meeting was held according to directions; the foreman opened the meeting, stated its
purpose, and then asked, "Do I hear a motion?" That was the signal for clamor.
Everyone was on his feet to be heard! The motion was made, seconded, and carried. Then the
meeting was adjourned -- some going home with bruises. "Come across with the keys to
church and parsonage," demanded the foreman.
And Museus complied; he knew when he was beaten. With headgear askew and a smirk on his
lips, he strutted home to his very charming wife. Precipitately they took their leave for
Norway; there he operated a dairy farm. Both he and his wife lived to a good old age. I
visited them in Oslo in 1924; they were then eighty-one and eighty years old respectively.
And let it not be thought that his larder was impoverished nor his stock of choice liquors
low. The two harbored no ill will toward Scandinavia, and "the Reverend"
remembered and inquired about all his former parishioners.
Later in the eighties, after Museus left, along came one of the finest and most learned
of them all, the Reverend Nels J. Ellestad. His charming young wife was from Portland,
Maine. They drove up to Scandinavia from Norway, Illinois. Ellestad's congeniality, his
rare qualities, his breezy poise and manly bearing, his sincerity and devotion served to
still the discordant elements, to heal enmity. He restored friendly feeling and
association; the Museus fracas was soon forgotten. After Ellestad came the Reverend Ole
Nilsen, and none was more loved and respected. He died some years ago at Grand Forks.
Now, before I close my saga of the clergy, may I give vent to some unorthodox feelings
about their behavior? Because of its proximity to church and parsonage, our house became
the rendezvous for newcomers and ministers; and the many frequent synodical gatherings
inflicted real hardship on our family. Our parents had twelve children, the first nine of
whom were boys; Mother was timid and frail and had her hands more than full with her
arduous daily tasks. And then, parading up from the railroad station would come three or
four big, fat, overfed clergymen, bouncing in on us with agility and alacrity, throwing
down their baggage, filling their pipes with strong tobacco. "Well, here we are
again!" they would exclaim as they lit their pipes and settled down comfortably.
Came mealtime. They took what was available for the first meal, but after that they
became more fastidious. Said the first, "I would like young roast pork,
Ingebret," The second, "As for me, I prefer roast veal." The third,
"Well, turkey would be most welcome to me."
And Ingebret meekly went to the barnyard and performed the slaughter to satisfy their
voracious appetites, and for good measure, if he had no turkey, would raid the henhouse
and bring the pullets to the guillotine.
The clergymen did not mind sleeping on straw or cornhusks so long as they had food in
abundance, and they had no qualms at staying three or four days. How well I remember them,
Homme, Bothne, Stromme, and the king of them all, with the pioneer, traditional, frontier
name, the Reverend Hans Gerhard Stub!
In later years, when I spoke of these long visits, the late Nicolay Grevstad, editor of
Skandinaven, poked me in the ribs and chuckled, "Well, why should they hurry
away when they were being so royally entertained?"
Perhaps comparisons are odious, but I have two cherished relatives who are Lutheran
ministers, and I have a clear and well-defined opinion of how they would approach a
similar situation. If they came without notice to a household where a busy mother had no
one to help her they would first be profuse in apology, and then they would peel off their
coats, roll up their sleeves, and take a hand in setting the table, and whipping the meal
into form; yes, and help with the dishes after the meal. And in taking their leave they
would give the kind hostess a pat on the cheek and probably slip her a coin. What a
One incident concerning a visiting clerical family is still vivid to me. True to the
old Norwegian custom, when Christmas approached one year, Mother had cooked and baked
enough delicacies to last us from the day before Christmas until January third. She had
stowed away a large crate of kavringer and many other dainties, including a jar of sylte.
But we had all gone away for the day, and when we came home, there sat a minister and
his family. They had simply marched right in, had devoured the whole crate of kavringer
and most of the other delicacies, and were just finishing the sylte. "What
a lovely winter day it is!" they said blandly.
It may be that these strictures on the visiting clergy for what I consider lack of
chivalry and consideration savor of unmerited criticism. I do not of course condemn the
clergy in general. The ministers whom we have had at Scandinavia, from 1852 to this day,
have been imbued with devout Christian spirit. They possessed the finer sensibilities of
culture, and they strove unceasingly to inculcate the word of God and true religion, for
the uplifting and betterment of mankind. Their labors had a most salutary and wholesome
effect on the community. What would a community of Norwegians be like without a church and
a pastor? Their pay was infinitesimal, yet, regardless of bad weather or weariness, they
never shirked visiting the sick and afflicted. In the last throes it was the pastor who
was summoned and who dried the tears of sorrow and anguish, giving many hours of his
precious time to console and comfort the bereaved. The ministers added prestige and
dignity to the community, and with them came the church buildings and parochial schools.
We owe them unstinted gratitude.
I mentioned our house as a rendezvous for newcomers too, and indeed they came in great
numbers. Like the ducks and geese in fall, they knew where to find lodging and food. Some
came singly, some in pairs, some with whole families. Were they hungry? They were so
famished that they were nearly crazed. After their steerage passage they were tired and
sleepy, but they were quite "lively." Father turned them loose in the larder --
no restraint, no restrictions -- to help themselves. They made forays in reckless abandon,
and they remained with us until they found either relatives or employment.
I have a vivid recollection of one family group that came to our place. A Norwegian
carpenter who had been in this country a few years, a well-mannered, cultured, and
God-fearing man, did some work building a shed for us in anticipation of his family's
coming from Norway to join him. Shortly thereafter his wife and seven children came.
Mother had made some preparations, and as we saw them coming down the road we started to
set the table. I have never seen such dire hunger. Four teen-age girls made a rush for the
huge milk pitcher on the table. They hung on for dear life, and none would yield. It
looked as if the whole table would be upset. The father, poor, sensitive fellow, looked at
his children in abject horror. More milk was brought, and soon their parched throats were
satisfied. They too were "lively," having come steerage.
But only six years later, at a village dance, two of the girls, garbed in silk, tinsel,
and fringe, their clinging raiment accentuating every contour of their comely forms, were
gliding about the waxed dancing floor, partnered by some Waupaca "city dudes."
The girls had become milliners, dress designers, and salesladies, and had acquired
considerable knowledge of the American language.
Mustering up my courage, I approached one of these girls, who had displayed such a
thirst for milk six years before. With much grace and chivalry I asked her in perfect
Norwegian, "May I have the pleasure of dancing with you?"
With a scornful stare she answered me, "Aye don't know you; you must be
introduced. Aye don't speak Norvejan, aye bane American."
For years I beheld the blazing trail of the K------ girls; their performance in grace,
style, and ballroom decorum was worthy of emulation by any American girl. I saw the
K------ girls frequently at Waupaca, arrayed in the height of fashion, dazzling visions
that bewildered the imagination and challenged the understanding.
So far as I remember, the Norwegian immigrants, having gratified their cravings for
America, had no thought of going back -- they came here to stay! My mother's parents and
brothers, who came in 1850, brought with them carpenter's tools, blacksmithing equipment,
and two huge blue-painted chests, ornamented with steel and made, according to the
records, in the seventeenth century. Also they brought with them a beautiful stove bearing
the name Fossum Jernverk. Oh, yes, and eiderdown feather beds!
In Waupaca County, which includes Scandinavia, Iola, Helvetia, Hitterdahl, Setersdahl,
and other scattered communities, the Norwegians predominate. By arduous toil, frugality,
and economy, the region has been developed into a wealthy and modern one, with all the
latest farming equipment. Many of its sons have attended the agricultural college of the
University of Wisconsin. The Scandinavia Academy, built in 1893 and later destroyed by
fire, was rebuilt and re-christened as Wisconsin Central College. There is no illiteracy
among the sons of the Norwegian pioneers. Most of the immigrants themselves were quick to
learn; when Ingebret Eriksen had been in America for five years he had sufficient grasp of
his adopted language to serve as a juror and as an interpreter for the court at the county
But to develop wild land into a fruitful farm was no easy task. Before the Eriksen boys
had emerged from childhood they did men's work, usually cutting timber in winter and
wrestling with farming appliances in summer, observing union hours, as it were -- eight
hours in the forenoon and eight in the afternoon. And may I say in the words of the poet:
No man can feel himself alone
The while he bravely stands
Between the best friends ever known,
His two good honest hands.
From dawn to dusk, in shoeless chubby feet, the boys trudged behind oxen and plow,
turning the furrows; they planted and sowed, and they garnered bounteous yields. Without
modern farming equipment, the boys wielded the scythe in marsh and field, aided in filling
the commodious barn, and later, in autumn, the silo. In winter they wore homespun woolens
and moccasins made from hide of the hock of calf and steer. The daily menu was unlike
today's; we had literally no meat in summer, but a goodly supply of barley soup, corn
bread, wheat bread, butter, milk, and potatoes. The menu did not lay on much fat, but it
was a sure preventive of arthritis and high blood pressure. Tall and strong we grew; six
feet four inches was our average height.
No mortgage sharks or creditors lurked about the place. We drew water from the silurian
fount, carved fuel from the tall oaks, filled the cellar with a variety of farm products
to tide us over the winter. The miller exacted an infinitesimal toll for grinding the
wheat and corn; our clothes were made from homespun wool dyed with sumac, shoes from
tanned hides, sorghum from the cane we grew, sugar and syrup from the maple trees, coffee
from roasted corn or peas, candles from mutton tallow, soap from grease and ashes; and we
raised our own hops for yeast and brew. The woods were prolific with berries, apples,
plums, hazelnuts, and what not. We prodded the bear from his lair and slew him for meat,
and we bagged the elusive partridge and the fleet-footed hare. We had really little
occasion for buying anything. Our only valuable implement was our Wood's reaper, which
served the whole of the homogeneous community.
But behold the momentous changes wrought in these last fifty years! Horses, buggies,
wagons are almost completely supplanted by automobiles, trucks, tractors; there are
electrically operated cream separators, electrically lighted houses and barns, yes, there
are even telephones. But in many eases now, everything is mortgaged to the hilt and the
bogey man lurks around, threatening foreclosure.
It did not take long for these intrepid pioneers, always helping each other, to whip
log houses and barns into form, but after the forest was cleared and crops were sown, the
problem arose, where to get fences. Hardwood is not adapted for making rails, and neither
sawmills nor wire producers were at hand. The best tree for fence utility is the cedar --
light, easily split, and not susceptible to decay. It was soon found. Twelve miles
northeast of Scandinavia there was a great area densely covered with cedar and
considerable pine. Near it were some logging camps belonging to wealthy lumbermen of
Oshkosh, Menasha, and Neenah, who saw a great future and enormous profit in the logging
and lumber business. For an infinitesimal sum Ingebret, Søren Kjendalen, Hans Tveitan,
Bernt Simonsen, Christian Nygaard, Knut and Arne Arkosa, and a few others purchased
several "forties" of swampland thick with the cedar. They built a community log
house and barn, and the great rail splitting and hauling got into full swing. One or two
members of a family would stay in the woods cutting and splitting, and another would make
the daily trip with sturdy horses and bobsleds.
For thirty years, every day, beginning in December with the first snowfall and
continuing up to the middle of March, this was our winter's work. Let no one think it was
easy to get up at five o'clock in the morning, drive twelve miles, load up, have dinner,
and drive back home the same day before dark, in deep snow and rigorous cold weather --
zero weather chiefly. We also cut and hauled home great numbers of cedar posts, and sold
most of them at five cents each. They are fifty cents in Chicago at this writing.
Yes, fences are essential. If you want your neighbor to come storming to your home with
clenched fists and violent words, just let your cattle set foot on his land! Just try to
get along without substantial fences, and you will begin a lifelong feud. Such trespass is
seldom condoned. And it takes brawn and arduous toil to encircle 160 acres with a rail
fence, to say nothing of putting in the many cross fences on a farm.
----End of Part 2----
When we hauled the rails we were often roughly used and cursed by the lumber-camp
moguls. Through the dense pine forests they had made beautiful roads, sprayed with water
to make an icy surface. Over these they could haul huge loads to the Wolf River, to be
floated down to the sawmills in the spring. "Get the hell off our roads!" the
drivers would yell -- and if we did not scramble out fast enough they invariably jumped
off their loads and threatened combat. Sometimes when we had to get off the road we could
not get back without unloading our sleds. Dad always pursued the avenue of least
resistance; he never raised a hand for a neighbor's injury, and it was we boys who made
the daily journeys with team and sleigh. Times innumerable we found the road almost
impassable because of snowdrifts.
Every December saw the same program: to the cedar swamp. It interfered with our school
work, but there was no letting up on the cedar-post, rail-splitting job. I spent most of
the winters between my tenth and fifteenth years with Dad in the cedar swamp. In a way,
though, the work was exciting -- about ten o'clock in the morning we could hear the
commingling of sleigh bells as six or seven teams came in for loading, and then again the
bells as they started to go back at one.
In addition to hard work, however, there was much merriment and amusement in our
neighborhood -- dancing, house parties, church and school cantatas, coasting, skiing, and
skating. At Christmas time the holiday celebrations started on Christmas Day and continued
till January third. In later days a huge roller-skating rink was built in the village and
it was well patronized, not only for skating but for dancing -- square dances, cotillions,
Virginia reels, waltzes, and hop waltzes. Then too there were church festivals in summer,
to which everyone brought lunch and refreshments, and these gatherings were usually
attended with songs and religious and patriotic speeches. The community spirit was of the
friendliest, and that spirit has continued to this day.
Until recent years there was no saloon or drinking-place in or near Scandinavia. Some
of the farmers kept small amounts of alcohol on hand, but no one complained about
drunkenness. They were devout churchgoers and supported religious activities. It was rare
to find anyone working on Sunday. Still, when ominous clouds appeared and imminent rain
threatened during haying and harvesting, there would sometimes be a scattered few at work
in the fields.
One particular farmer was prone to do his haying on Sunday. This irritated the parson;
he resented and deplored the performance. So one Sunday the minister went over in the
field to rebuke the farmer. "Hi, Christian!" he said, "Don't you know that
it is wrong and ungodly to work on Sunday, pitching and loading hay, while others attend
church? What have you to say for yourself?"
"Vel," retorted Christian, "it can't be any vorse to stand in de load of
hay tinking of God dan to sit in church tinking of my hay?
I can testify that the ministers among us very persistently protested against the
violation of the Sabbath, likewise against dancing, card playing, and such activities. And
how they detested that abominable habit of rounding up a flock of derelicts for a
charivari at wedding celebrations! -- the most hideous and scandalous performance, with
hoodlums blaring horns, hammering on plowshares, beating drums, and using many other
contrivances to make noise. What an infringement upon peace and dignity! I remember one
occasion when the boisterous shouting and noise seemed unbearable. When the crowd yelled
for the bride and groom to come out, the officiating clergyman, the Reverend Mr. Ellestad,
stepped out and lectured the mob and begged them to depart. His remonstrance served only
to aggravate their persistence; the leader, a Danish rowdy, ordered his motley crew to
make more and louder noise, and demanded that the groom give them a keg of beer or a jug
of alcohol. Happily, that kind of celebration now seems to be a thing of the past.
Another mode of celebration, at Christmas time, was the rather innocent one of
gathering up a crowd of boys and girls, donning masks and other clownish garb, and then
visiting neighbors' homes in disguise. This was called Yule buk. As a rule the
farmers fell in with the humor and treated the visitors to refreshments. That sort of
amusement, too, has long since been banished.
In the early fifties, after the log houses had been built and land had been put under
cultivation, the problem of a village was uppermost. Nels Anderson had built and
established a large flour mill, Knut Pedersen had opened a shoemaking shop, and Nels
Aamodt a smithy. A grocery store was needed, but how could a store be operated with no
transportation -- no railroad? The nearest railroad was at Green Bay. The optimistic
farmers kept discussing plans for a solution to this problem. Then came erstwhile Attorney
Dreutzer, a Swede, and after he had selected a firm name, one Gasmann and one Sorensen
resolved to start a store.
Ingebret Eriksen had just purchased a span of frisky horses, and, to help launch the
store, he agreed to haul commodities from Gill's Landing on the Wolf River, about thirty
miles southeast of Scandinavia. And what a task he undertook! The road to Gill's Landing
was tough, with loose dry sand two-thirds of the distance, and no inhabitants along the
way. Then, too, who was to till his fertile acres during his absence with the team? Erik
and Anders, his two older boys, were hardly out of knee pants, Mother was not well adapted
to such work, and there was little or no farming equipment. But Father was so eager to
promote the community that he seemed to forget his own affairs. The two boys did the best
they could with what little they had to work with. The meager compensation Ingebret earned
for his hauling did not go very far.
Ingebret Eriksen should not have taken up farming for a livelihood. Promoting
enterprises was his avocation. One agent after another came to the farm and pounced on
Father. "You are Ingebret Eriksen! I want you to go around the county with me while I
sell fanning mills -- you can interpret.'' Then off came the denims; Father washed up and
invited the agent to sit down for dinner; and then he was away for a few days. Later other
agents came -- our place was spotted. They sold plows, cultivators, mowers, reapers;
everyone had his own commodity to sell but would not move off the place without his
interpreter. They certainly sold machinery, but the Eriksen farm did not progress as it
should have done. Soon the farmers all had threshers, wood-sawing machinery, herds of
horses, top buggies, yes, and sulky plows. Father competed at county fairs with his big
well-groomed horses. I was not yet born during this period (I was my parents' tenth
child), but my older brothers have often told me all this. Yes, and how Mother, pious,
patient, and shy, deplored the situation -- that our home should be the rendezvous for all
travelers! There is this crumb of comfort: Ingebret's activities built up the community. A
village was whipped into form, machinery was put in circulation, everything went forward
at top speed -- and someone had to be the bellwether.
Soon after the Civil Wax, in the seventies, the older boys in the community became
restless. Out west they wanted to go, like their forebears -- onward, westward, to see
what lay beyond. James, Julius, Torleif, and, later, Joachim Rosholt started off for the
Dakotas. James took land in the Goose River Valley, near Mayville, North Dakota. Julius
started a bank in Mayville, and became interested in other banks throughout the West.
Torleif became a minister, Joachim a real estate operator. Then came the heartbreak for
our dear mother, who had manifested her love all the years during our pioneer life. The
years were fraught with struggle and turmoil, but she had found comfort and blessing in
her children, particularly the older ones, Erik, Anders, Peter, and Johan -- the rest of
us mattered less, as we were still of tender years. The Rosholt boys sent back photographs
of the great wheat fields on the vast and seemingly endless prairies of North Dakota. So
Erik and Anders packed off in 1876 and, traveling mostly afoot, eventually reached
Mayville, where they took up a tract of land. They returned home, but only for a visit.
Dakota was their destiny. Later Johan, Peter, Julius, and Sister Ida went to Dakota. The
children married and had children of their own; it may not be amiss to say that there are
Ericksons scattered all over the state. Melvin Alfred Erickson, son of Anders, is head of
the North Dakota Peace Officers' Association.
In 1882 my next older brother, Adolph, had been confirmed, and at fifteen he was
employed in a drugstore in Waupaca. He soon learned the trade. He dressed immaculately,
and when he came home for weekends we were literally awe-stricken to see how dudish and
"citified" he looked. Then Johan, aged twenty-two, went to work in a general
store in Waupaca, and he too dressed elegantly and looked prosperous.
Then I was stricken with an insatiable craving for the city. Though a mere boy, I got a
job in a small general store at Amherst Junction, working for a man named Hein. This did
not last long; after a few months Hein mustered up enough courage to tell me that I was
not fitted for his business. A bit later I tried it again in the general store of John
Moses in Ogdensburg, eight miles east of Scandinavia. After two months he had no qualms in
telling me, "Alfred, you are an expert jockey; I know you like to trudge around the
barnyard among the horses, and you are good at breaking colts; but in my store you are not
worth a dime. I can't use you." So back to the farm I went, where, though restless, I
stayed until 1892, when I took a freight train for Chicago. During the summer of 1893 I
worked at the World's Columbian Exposition there, as a Columbian Guard. With the panic of
1893 came an unprecedented depression, with no jobs -- and I went back home.
Here I must relate a harrowing incident of my homecoming. The Green Bay and Western
Rail Road had staked out a small spur line running from Scandinavia north four miles to
Iola and cutting our farm in two. Father was immeasurably disconsolate and depressed. The
businessmen in Scandinavia were depressed, too, at the prospective decrease in their
business; they had profited by the trade of the farmers near Iola, who had had to haul
their farm produce to Scandinavia. Coming back from the city, I discovered Father sitting
over on the tentative right-of-way, arguing with Messrs. Abrams and Seymour, railroad
officials. They were outrageously harsh, insisting that Father should take $150 as full
compensation for the right-of-way. Father fought with all his might, protesting that this
sum would not pay for a single acre. I entered the fray.
"Who is that fresh kid?" asked Abrams.
"He is my youngest boy, just back from Chicago," answered Father.
"Well, let him keep his nose out of this," said Abrams. "Make up your
mind; take it or leave it."
Then I blurted out: "Father, somewhere I have read in the United States
Constitution that property shall not be taken or confiscated 'without due process of law.'
Where is the 'due process' in the present ease?"
With great reluctance, however, Father accepted the trifling sum. He abhorred
litigation. Soon ties and rails were laid, and an engine began to haul two or three
boxcars and a caboose on daily runs to Iola. The line is there to this day.
This episode, however, led Alfred Ole Ericksen to enter law school, and in the
intervening years he has more than evened the old score with the Green Bay and Western
With the conviviality, good will, and sociability in Scandinavia, there was seldom a
lawsuit, and little or no place for a lawyer. There may have been some disagreement and
bickering in some of the families, but not enough to necessitate a lawsuit to solve their
domestic infelicities. Herman J. Severson from Cambridge, Wisconsin, set up a law office
in Iola in the nineties. A very capable, upright practitioner, he took a hand in politics
and served in the state senate for twenty-two years. Some six years ago he was elected
circuit judge in his judicial district, and he is serving the counties of the district
with great credit to himself and his constituency.
And now, in closing these reminiscences, I wish I could portray the rare qualities,
high traits of character, and lofty ideals of my angel mother, just as N. N. Rønning,
Norwegian-American author and scholar, did in his eloquent tribute to his mother.
Both my father and my mother almost daily resorted to the Bible and the psalm book.
They were always in accord; I cannot remember a harsh word between them. In the evening,
after supper, Mother would tell us of incidents and anecdotes from her home in Telemarken,
and she would sing the old lyrics from the fatherland -- Kjøre vatten aa kjøre ved,
Paal paa haugen, and many others -- in her sweet and mellow voice. I have never seen a
deeper manifestation of true mother love than hers. She never knowingly slighted anyone,
and she bore her lot with fortitude and forbearance. She died at fifty-seven.
As for my father, I think he never turned down anyone asking for a favor. His
latchstring was always out to all comers. He apparently took for his own the saying:
"Never frown at a wayfarer, nor drive him from thy gate. Be kind to the poor; there
is might in the doorbeam that shall swing for all men's coming." Thus hundreds of
newcomers were fed and sheltered at the Eriksen home. In tribute to my father may I add
what seemed to be a guiding principle of his life: "I shall pass through this world
but once; therefore, any good that I can do or any favor I can extend my fellow men, let
me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again."
Greater heritage hath no man.
Lastly, if I am not too bold, I should like to quote a few excerpts from my address as
guest speaker at the college campus in Scandinavia in 1941.
Standing today in the presence of the best and most exalted citizenship in our beloved
America, I feel that I am treading on hallowed ground. I am within a stone's throw of the
fertile acres and the cherished home from whence I came.
The story of the immigration from Norway reads more like romance than reality. What
hopes and aspirations, anxiety and apprehensions, as they embarked upon the long hazardous
expedition, fraught with untold hardship, privation, and mental and physical suffering!
They were no tenderfeet; the crags, the cataracts, the snow-capped glaciers had
been their playground; lumbering, sailing, and fishing had been their principal
occupations. They had no fear of the tempestuous waves, tossing their frail ships like
feathers in the wind. Said they: "The blast of the tempest aids our sails; the flash
of heaven, the roar of thunder hurt us not; the hurricane is our servant and drives us
whither we wish to go."
We speak of our fathers as the "nation builders," but let us not forget our
dear mothers -- loyal, loving, and true, who showered us with love, sympathy, and tender
care, teaching us obedience to the laws of God and country -- yes, we were taught all this
at our mothers' knees. To them, motherhood was the highest honor that could come to woman.
Faithful to troth and plighted word, they gave full measure of love and devotion as wives
and mothers. Theirs was the sacrificial part of devoted women since the beginning of time:
"Whither thou goest, I will go; where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be
my people, and thy God, my God."
And so, when the curtain fell for these adventurous vikings and they were laid lovingly
to rest in yonder cemetery, the last act in their colorful drama was played. Some of us
here shall soon join them. I seem to behold life's twilight in the offing, the shadow
veering more and more to the east, the leaves beginning to fall. One by one the spokes are
falling out of the wheel, and the caravan is slowing up. And so for these undaunted
pioneers who have taken their leave from earthly care, may I say:
In after years when roses high
Shall overtop the stones where they shall lie,
Their kindly deeds of yesteryears
Will cause the flow of diffusive tears.
In honor of these intrepid vikings there should be chiseled upon the rock on the
loftiest knoll a legend, and every letter should be of gold: They yielded their lives in
sacrifice and toil, they endured without plaint. Out of the wilderness they created
glorified estates -- love, reverence and thanksgiving be everlastingly theirs.
----End of Part 3----
<1> Material in this paper comes from the author's recollections and from
typewritten transcripts of the papers of Ingebret Eriksen, in the library of St. Olaf
College. Northfield. Minnesota.
<2> A group of letters written by Duus in the years just before he went to
Scandinavia have recently been published by the Norwegian-American Historical Association,
under the title of Frontier Parsonage (Northfield, 1947).
<3> Years later one of the Aamodt brothers, the father of Miss Clara Aamodt,
discussed this episode with me at his home in Iola, where he moved after his retirement.
He told me himself that Olaus Duus had put a quietus on his habit of fighting just for
amusement or to show his prowess.
<4> Strange to say, Mikklesen lived to the age of ninety-five.
<5> The pastor at Scandinavia had also under his charge two other congregations,
those of Hitterdahl and Setersdahl.
<6> January, 1945.