by Malcolm Rosholt (Volume 26: Page 75)
Rarely did nineteenth-century emigrants to the United State
achieve financial success. Most of them were inhibited from
the start by a lack of working capital and by their inability
to speak English. One of the exceptions to this rule was John
Riber Week, who came from Hardanger, Norway, in 1839 and later
founded the John Week Lumber Company in Stevens Point, a business
that spanned the entire logging era in Wisconsin from the
river-driving days to those of the railroad, and continued
into the fourth decade of the twentieth century.
The Week family story in America also includes Andrew, an
older brother, who sold his interest in a sawmill on the Big
Eau Pleine River to his brother and struck out for California
to dig for gold. In a few years he was in deep trouble— forever
searching for that pot of gold at the bottom of the next shaft,
which he never found. Each brother in his own way possessed
streaks of prudence and imprudence which had run through the
family genes for generations. They were descendants of one
of the most interesting families in Norway since the fifteenth
"Week" is a corruption of the Norwegian Vik (pronounced
"veek"), the form used by their father, Ommund Baardsen
Vik. From a notation in the family Bible, signed by either
Andrew or John in Chicago in March, 1840, we know that they
had changed their name to Wiig. This is the spelling also
used by the brothers when they addressed a letter to Bergens
Stiftstidende on January 11, 1841. But sometime later they
changed to Week, the form found on a document signed by John
at Plover, Wisconsin, in 1849. The name in turn was corrupted
by the Yankees to "Wicks," a spelling which also
appears in early indentures of Portage County. Alex Wallace,
who grew up on the Little Eau Pleine River just a few miles
from the Week mill on the Big Eau Pleine, invariably spoke
to me of the "Wicks" mill and the "Wicks road."
This route ran from John DuBay’s ferry crossing on the Wisconsin
River northwest to the mill in Marathon County. Wallace and
I drove out to find the original site of the mill in 1957;
it was so many years since he had been in the area that he
did not realize that the mill site was now covered with water
from the Big Eau Pleine reservoir, created by a new dam on
the Wisconsin River. In the early days, John Week used to
drive his own lumber cribs from the mill on the Big Eau Pleine
into the Wisconsin and thence all the way down the Mississippi
to Dubuque, Muscatine, and St. Louis.
Sometime before she died in 1951, Cora Alice Week, a daughter
of John and Gunhild Nelson Luraas Week, donated a collection
of family letters and miscellaneous papers to the Marathon
County Historical Society at Wausau, Wisconsin. There are
no company time sheets in this collection that might provide
the names of Norwegian newcomers who worked for the Weeks.
There is, however, considerable information on the origin
of her father’s lumber business, as well as letters written
in Norwegian by Andrew Week from the California gold fields
between 1856 and 1860. The collection also includes a stamtavle
or genealogical table, published by Mandrup D. Hjestness in
Norway in 1885; this traces branches of the family back to
the 1400s and a direct line of descent for seven generations
to Anders Anderson Riber, a Dane who came to Norway and was
consecrated Bishop of Ulvik in 1654.
There is ample evidence in the collection, referred to hereafter
as the Week Papers, to suggest that Cora and her sister Martha
planned to publish a family history, but Martha’s early death
in 1922 interrupted these plans. Cora continued to take an
interest in the project, but she never brought it to completion.
As the children of John Week in their youth were equally at
home on the Big Eau Pleine and in Stevens Point, they associated
mostly with Yankees and none married Americans of Norwegian
descent. Martha even admitted in a letter to relatives in
Norway that she did not speak or write Norwegian. Only in
later life, it seems, did anyone in the family take an interest
in his antecedents and begin an intensive search for remnants
of family history. Cora, Martha, and Andrew had made an earlier
visit to the old family estate in Romsdalen near Eidsvåg.
In 1908 Cora, then an artist in New York City, hired Henry
Guttenstein to translate the Hjestness genealogy into English.
From this genealogy and other documents in the Week Papers,
we learn of a most fascinating family chapter that stems from
the tragic marriage (about 1560) of Anne Throndsen to the
Scots Earl of Bothwell; she was ever after remembered in Norway
as Skottefruen (the Scottish lady). The dashing young earl,
an ambassador of Mary, Queen of Scots, was en route to France
when he stopped in Denmark and met his bride-to-be, a daughter
of the Norwegian Admiral Kristoffer Throndsen Rustung (1500—1570).
The wedding was held at Rosendal in Hardanger and the marriage
was apparently consummated, but as soon as the earl had his
hands on the dowry, allegedly £40,000 sterling, he secretly
boarded his ship and sailed down the fjord. It is a long story
that eventually gave rise to the ballad "Lady Anne Bothwell’s
Magdalena, another daughter of Admiral Throndsen and the
younger sister of Lady Bothwell, married Otto Thomassen Orning.
Their granddaughter, Lisbet, married Lauritz Galtung (1588—1659)
of Thorsnæs, who was bailiff of Halsnø Abbey
and Hardanger fief. They had eight children; the sixth, Katarina
Helvik, married Bishop Anders Anderson Riber. Thus it is mainly
through the Galtung line, which appears to have been ranked
with nobility, that most of the interesting tidbits of family
gossip derive, although descendants included a succession
of parish pastors, bishops, bailiffs, and shipbuilders.
Among the Week Papers is a handwritten story on tablet paper
which gives the origin of the Galtung family of Thorsnæs.
It sounds like something out of Hans Christian Andersen. But
since there is no accompanying documentation, it can only
be treated here as a legend. In summary this is the story.
A poor peasant couple in Hardanger had a son whom they considered
worthless. After he grew up, he left for foreign lands. Somewhere
in his travels he was instrumental in saving a royal prince
from his enemies by hiding him in a sack and rowing away in
a boat. Whenever he was stopped and questioned about the contents
of the sack, he replied that he had in it a galte-ung (young
pig or boar). In this manner the prince escaped his pursuers.
When the prince was restored to power, he rewarded his rescuer
by raising him to noble rank, giving him the name Galtung.
Later the young nobleman returned to his fatherland and sailed
into the Hardangerfjord with banners flying and drums beating.
At Thorsnæs he found his aged mother, who did not recognize
him. He asked if she had any children, and she said she once
had a son but that he had gone abroad on a great ship and
had never been heard from again. The stranger then asked whether
she could recall some mark or other identification by which
she could know her son, and she said he had a bent little
finger. The stranger reached out his hand to reveal just such
a finger, and mother and son were happily reunited.
The legend does not even suggest a time period, but it is
said that Gaute Erikson Galtung, who lived about 1400, was
a descendant who served as a member of a government council.
Erik Gauteson Galtung, his son, distinguished himself in a
battle with German pirates who stormed Bergen in 1429.
Here the penciled story leaps across the years to Lauritz
Galtung, who married Lisbet, a great-granddaughter of Admiral
Throndsen. Lars Galtung, an adventurer and wastrel, is known
to have lived at Thorsnæs as late as 1723, but he squandered
most of the family fortune. To cap it off, that branch of
the Galtung family petered out in the male line, but whether
with Lars or with his heirs is not clear.
In 1905 Martha Week wrote to someone she addressed as "Herr
Justitsraad Elvius" in Copenhagen, asking him to search
for records of the family and to ascertain whether there was
a coat of arms for the Ribers. Whether this source supplied
the information or not, we know that another document in the
Week Papers explains that the family device, appropriately
enough, is a rampant boar. In 1917 Andrew Riber Week, a son
of John Week (named after his uncle in California), died;
in his will he left $5,000 to a fund the interest of which
is used to buy books for the public library in Stevens Point.
To commemorate the gift, Martha and her brother John Arthur
ordered an engraving for labels to be inserted in books purchased
with the fund. An inset in the engraving depicts a snowy setting
in the midst of a small clearing surrounded by pines. The
trees tower over three log shanties, a team of horses hitched
to a cutter, and a lumber wagon covered with snow—a symbolic
picture of the pioneer Week lumber camp on the Big Eau Pleine.
The scene is mounted between two Greek columns surmounted
by a lintel. A circled "W," the company log brand,
is located below the inset, and above the lintel there appears
the upspringing boar—the Galtung device.
Ommund Baardsen Vik was a fifth-generation descendant of
Bishop Riber. He married Anna Brynildsdatter Lekve. According
to the Hjestness genealogy, they had six children: Baard,
Brynild, Anders, Marita (who married Ole Garatun), John (born
in 1818), and Ricol (Rikol). A family account in the Week
Papers had John and Ricol entering the United States at Fall
River, Massachusetts, July 10, 1839. Apparently this is an
error. On January 11, 1841, Anders Wiig, Brynild Leqve and
Johannes Wiig wrote a letter from Iowa County, Wisconsin Territory,
to Bergens Stiftstidende (translated by Theodore C. Blegen
in Land of Their Choice). The letter begins: "We weighed
anchor in Gothenburg on May 27, 1839, and landed at Fall River
on August 2."
The use of the word "we" here is important because
it includes Brynild Leqve. Circumstantial evidence suggests
that he was the second son of the Viks who had been named
Brynild for his grandfather on the maternal side. On arriving
in the United States, he had taken the surname Lekve—anglicized
to Leqve—after his mother’s people. It was not uncommon for
brothers coming to America to take different patronymics.
From further clues in letters written later by Andrew Week
from California, there is every reason to believe that Brynild
was his older brother and that they were in the same California
county prospecting for gold.
Ricol, youngest in the family, probably arrived in the United
States after the others. His presence in Wisconsin is made
apparent in a quitclaim deed dated October 30, 1851, at Plover,
then the Portage County seat, when he served as a witness
to a transaction in which his brother John became full owner
of the sawmill on the Big Eau Pleine. But Ricol, who was already
married and father of at least one daughter, died a few years
after witnessing the above transaction. There is no further
clue in the Week Papers to the fate of his family.
The letter to Bergens Stiftstidende, signed by Anders and
Johannes Wiig and Leqve, describes their first year in America.
They lived around Chicago, where they found employment as
sailors on Lake Michigan and as laborers on the Illinois and
Michigan Canal. All three at one time or another contracted
a fever and supported each other during the emergency. Early
in the summer of 1841, Brynild and Andrew bought a team of
horses and drove to Wisconsin, where their first job was cutting
cordwood for a smelting plant, presumably near Dodgeville.
In September John joined them, and the three men living together
continued for a time to work in the lead industry.
Having acquired a small working capital, John, in company
with John Lee, a brother-in-law, opened a shop as a shoemaker
at Dodgeville in 1844—probably the first of its kind west
of Milwaukee. After 1841 there is no further mention of Andrew
until he appears seven years later as a partner of Olaf Dreutzer
in a sash or "up-and-down" sawmill on the Big Eau
Pleine River in Marathon County. It is fairly certain that
it was Dreutzer who interested Andrew in building the mill
with him and that it was also Dreutzer who found the power
site and the timber nearby. This Swedish soldier of fortune
had tried a little of everything before he came to Plover,
where, on October 5, 1846, the Portage County commissioners
approved his bonds "to keep a Grocery." The fact
that the bond was required suggests that this "grocery"
handled more than dried apples.
In writing his Reminiscences fifty years later, Dreutzer
had forgotten that he even had a partner in the sawmill. He
says that he went north from Plover, "bought a timber
claim and built a sawmill which, when completed, I sold."
Actually it was not until March 2, 1850, that he sold his
half interest in the "Upper Saw Mill on the big Oplain
river . . . commonly known as the Dreutzer & Wicks Mill."
The purchasers were John W. Batchelor and Amaziah Hayden of
Plover; they paid $2,456. Not long after, H. H. Young of Plover
acquired the Batchelor-Hayden interest, and it was from Young
that John Week on October 30, 1851, purchased the half interest
not held by his brother.
The terms of the bargain struck between the two brothers
are not entirely clear. It seems fairly certain that Andrew,
smitten by the "gold fever," was anxious to "unload"
and made a deal in his brother’s favor—a fact which the latter
was never allowed to forget when he later became a successful
lumberman. In a letter from California on September 28, 1856,
Andrew reveals that he was holding a note against his brother
and that the latter has not paid any interest on it. He writes:
"You will, no doubt, recall what passed between us when
I signed over the mill to you. Instead of the $300 and the
note, I could have gotten $600 in cash, plus 100,000 feet
of lumber. . . but even that would not have covered my outlay,
wear and tear on myself, nor all the troubles I had to suffer."
Later letters show that John had paid the note and was ready
to advance his brother badly needed funds and even bring him
back to Wisconsin if he wished to come.
The quitclaim deed by which John Week took over the share
owned by H. H. Young reveals that in this transaction he managed
to avoid paying out any cash and instead made a complicated
deal to saw and deliver lumber to Young. This original document
in the Week Papers, written in longhand, is interesting both
for style and for the method of payments. It may have been
written by a lawyer in Plover or by Young himself, and it
is probably the earliest document of its kind affecting a
Norwegian immigrant in the United States. It reads as follows:
"Knowen all men by this Preson that I, H. H. Young of
Portage county and state of Wisconsin, do her by Bargan, Sell,
Grant and releas, unto John Week of Iowa county and State
of Wisconsin and quit claim and Posesion, of all my right
and Title and interest, to the Saw Mill and Premisses, knowen
as the Week And Youngs Mill on the Big Oplain in Marathon
county and state for said, together all with all the tools
implement and evey thing in and bought the said Mill and Premisses,
in and for the consederetion of fifty two thousand feet of
Lumber to be paid as soon the said Mill can Saw it, after
it goes into operation this fall. Said fifty two thousand
feet of Lumber is to be delivred at the aforsaid Mill to the
said Young or his agant, and the Said John Week does agree
to saw all at the Said Mill on the Big Oplain and that said
Week is to give said Young one half of all the Lumber that
Logs make, and also to pay the afsaid logs to said Young or
his agants, the above named Logs is to be sawed and delivred
in the spase of time v. from the first of November to the
first of April nist, and that said Young or his agant shall
from time to time give receipt for the amount lumber received,
when said Week or his agant shall call for it . . . and Week
further agree to saw a sirtan lot of logs nowen as Franks
and Haydens Logs and markt F. H. Said logs is now in a slu
two or three Mills from the Mill, and said H. H. Young is
to git them out of Slu and run said logs to said mill when
said John Week is to saw said logs in corse of Nixt coming
summer and to give said Young half of all the lumber Said
logs make, in witnes her of we have her unto afixt our hand
and seal thes day and yaer one thousand eight hundred and
fifty one—October 30th, 1851."
Interestingly, the other witness to this quitclaim deed,
aside from Ricol Week, was Joseph Baker who signed "his
X mark." Years later Baker was elected sheriff of Portage
County, a post he held until he was shot and mortally wounded
in 1875 while attempting to execute a writ of restitution
on the Courtright Brothers. This murder led to the double
lynching of Amos and Isaiah Courtright from a pine tree south
of Stevens Point.
John Week became interested in the mill on the Big Eau Pleine
while traveling as a shoe salesman for his shop in Dodgeville.
After his brother Andrew and Dreutzer got the mill going,
John went north in the spring of 1849, driving a team and
wagon loaded with footwear for the lumberjacks in the Pinery.
He drove only as far as Stevens Point, sold the team and wagon,
and went on by dugout canoe. Indians probably poled him up
the Wisconsin to Wylie’s Tavern the first night, and from
there up the Big Eau Pleine to the mill, arriving about noon
on the second day. That he was in the area in 1849 is confirmed
by the fact that he was a witness to the execution of a deed
on a lot in Plover Township on June 29.
Oral tradition in the family holds that in 1850 John again
went north, presumably with more footwear. On this trip he
purchased a stock of lumber owned by his brother Andrew and,
with a crew of men, drove the lumber cribs down the Wisconsin
River to Boscobel, where he sold them. For a man who had probably
never been on a river drive before, this feat appears rather
incredible and gives an insight into the calculated audacity
of the man. I have heard it said around Stevens Point that
the Weeks always hired "green Norwegians" to work
for them. It is obvious, however, that no one could have been
"greener" than the boss when he started out. When
he later hired Norwegian lads who came to him for work, he
had a pretty good idea what they were capable of.
This first venture in the risky lumber business was no doubt
the determining factor in John Week’s life, for by the time
he returned to the Big Eau Pleine again in 1851, he had already
agreed to take over his brother’s investment in the mill and
was making arrangements to gain control of the Young interest.
After this he returned to Dodgeville, closed out his share
in the shoeshop in favor of his partner, and prepared to move
his family north to the Pinery. He was probably hurrying to
get back before the river froze. He had married Gunhild Luraas
at Koshkonong on February 29, 1848. She was a daughter of
John Nelson Luraas, one of the founders in 1839 of the famed
Muskego colony southwest of Milwaukee. At the time of their
marriage, Gunhild was twenty-two years old and her husband
thirty. To them were born ten children.
Nelson Week has painted a nostalgic picture of his father’s
first years in the Pinery. The story, included in the Week
Papers, is too long for inclusion here. It reads in part:
"After Father took over the mill on the Big Eau Pleine,
he continued the lumber business from year to year, buying
pine lands as fast as his finances would permit, much to Mother’s
protestations. He cleared a small amount of land yearly to
furnish the necessary vegetables for family and crews. Always
much interested in gardening, he saw to it that the plot was
laid out in orderly manner. He separated the vegetables from
a fruit orchard which he immediately started, limited at the
time to Russian crab apples, currant bushes, and plum trees.
It was impossible to get supplies of green things from other
settlers as there were only ‘brushed out’ trails which could
be used in winter for hauling in supplies by ox team.
"By degrees the blazed trail was improved, a fact that
made it passable for an ox team and two-wheeled cart. When
the family first moved north, they drove by oxen as far as
Stevens Point, but from there the last lap of the journey
into the wilderness was by canoe. A large dugout was acquired
with two Indians to pole or paddle it up the Wisconsin River
to the mouth of the Big Eau Pleine, and thence up that stream
several miles to the mill and shanties.
"Not until 1863, did Father purchase his first horse,
a black mare having fine, strong limbs and a shiny coat. He
acquired her from a man who had ridden her in the cavalry
during the Civil War. She could only be used as a saddle horse
in making the trip to Stevens Point, a distance of twenty-seven
"The first home of the family was in a log cabin with
one room and a shed roof, and lighted by three small windows.
About the year 1858 Father began the erection of the new house,
still standing in 1928, on the banks of the Big Eau Pleine.
This dwelling was a large, two-story structure which had one
side reserved for the family and the other for certain members
of the crew. Quite a number of relatives who came from Norway
worked for Father.
"About this period, the Chippewa Indians were very numerous
nearby. They lived by hunting and fishing between the Big
and Little Eau Pleine rivers and Rice Lake. They wore buckskin,
both leggings and jackets being nicely fringed, and moccasins,
often beautifully beaded. They carried flintlock guns and
traveled up and down the streams in cleverly-built birch-bark
canoes, portaging from one stream to another.
"The Chippewas also held medicine dances occasionally
at the foot of Rice Lake, and at other times directly across
the river from our home. The lake was fully a mile from our
house, but the steady pulsing of their drums was a fearsome
sound in the dark of night. For a number of years, we boys
had no playmates excepting two Indian boys of about our age.
"About this time, I began to take an interest in the
sawmill which consisted of a single sash up-and-down saw capable
of cutting five or six thousand feet of lumber a day in eleven
hours. All the edging was also done by this saw. After the
mill had cut quite a pile of boards and planks, they were
stacked back on the mill carriage and the bark edge of one
side cut off. Then the pile was stacked again in reverse and
the other side trimmed—a tremendous amount of labor. My sister
Sarah and I considered it the best sport to ride on the carriage,
back and forth.
"Father finally installed an engine boiler from an old
river steamer to help out the water power which proved too
weak to run the new rotary saw and edger. The rotary saw proved
a revolution in lumbering, and with it we cut from 8,000 to
12,000 feet of lumber a day. The new edging saw was also a
valuable tool. The lumber sawed in summer months was piled
on the river bank, and in the spring it was rafted in crib
sections of 16x16 feet each. Quite often preparations for
rafting began the previous autumn.
"Father also bought shaved shingles from different men
who made them by hand during the winter months. They were
loaded on the rafts to be sold with the lumber. In the 1860s
there were many difficulties to overcome in getting the lumber
to market. In the first place, a proper stage of water in
the river was necessary. If the water was too high, there
was danger of breaking the rafts while running dams and rapids.
Loss of life happened quite frequently, although Father never
lost a man running the river all those years—and he usually
employed a crew of 26 for rafting. H. O. Halverson was the
pilot in charge of the 12 rafts in the fleet. He was a powerful
man, six feet two inches tall, a blond Norwegian giant and
very handsome, too. Much to my joy, I became tailsman on the
pilot raft. Another raft, I recall, was in charge of Ole Balstad,
a tall, wild-eyed Norwegian with a voice like a foghorn."
In his account, Nelson Week refers to the first rotary saw
at the mill. A document in the Week Papers dated December
8, 1860, acknowledges receipt of $500 in cash and a note for
$236 from John Week by a manufacturing firm "in full
payment for a double rotary mill we have sold to said Week."
This new machinery was to revolutionize the lumber industry
and to pave the way for the more economical band saw. Alex
Wallace thought that the Week mill was the first to install
a rotary saw in Marathon County, where men had been logging
and sawing along the Wisconsin River since 1840. Week actually
converted to a rotary mill at least as early as 1858. Obviously
he was so proud of his setup that he had to write to his brother
in California and tell him about it. On September 15, 1858,
Andrew replied and questioned "whether your new mill
is double or single." It may be that Week began with
a single rotary and in 1860 went to a double rotary mill.
This addition was necessary to handle the great pines—some
more than four feet in diameter on the stump—one rotary saw
cutting the lower or main part of the log, and a second, suspended
above, picking up the kerf where the lower left off.
But, when Nelson Week recalls Halverson and Balstad here,
he is referring to the period after the Civil War, when he
was old enough to accompany the drives. In the 1850s at least,
John Week was his own pilot. In the Week Papers are several
scraps of faded blue paper on which drivers have acknowledged
receipt of wages. Two were signed at Dubuque on May 3, 1858,
by James B. Grignon and Hugh (his X mark) Burns.
The following spring John Week rafted a lumber fleet that
went as far south as Muscatine, Iowa, where on May 19 he paid
off Andrew (his X mark) Gulickson, Amund Peterson, a man named
Round, James (his X mark) Nickles, Olas Joranessen, J. C.
Clement, and Clemat (his X mark) Thompson. Although incomplete,
the list of names suggests a mixed crew of native Americans
In 1880 the Week sawmill on the Big Eau Pleine burned, and
no effort was made to rebuild it. Instead, logs were cut within
sleighing distance of the river and driven down the Wisconsin
to mills in Stevens Point. By 1880, too, the sons of John
Week were beginning to take over operation of the firm, and
on December 24, 1884, incorporation papers were filed in the
name of the John Week Lumber Company. One of the last great
log drives on the Wisconsin River was made by his company
in 1923. In the winter of that year, a crew of 100 employees
cut 4% million feet of timber, and 32 men conducted the drive
from Knowlton to Stevens Point.
Throughout most of this period, Nelson Week was president
and general manager of the firm, Edmund, vice-president, and
Andrew, secretary-treasurer. John Strand was woods boss both
before and after the turn of the century. On December 30,
1903, two or three officers of the company lost their lives
in the famous fire that destroyed the Iroquois Theater in
Chicago. As a result, there was an opening for a bookkeeper.
Louis Royal Anderson, who had migrated from Norway in his
youth and was later graduated from the University of Wisconsin,
got the job. After Andrew Week’s death in 1917, Anderson became
secretary-treasurer, a post he held until the firm was dissolved
on June 27, 1935.
Because John Week or "Viken" (pronounced Vee-ken—as
he was known by the Norwegians) was made of the fiber that
produces giants willing to win or lose all, many of his words
and deeds live after him in legend and fancy. Quite a number
of immigrants employed at the mill or in the woods were either
newcomers or second-generation Scandinavians who had settled
in Waupaca County; about them Thor Helgeson of Iola records
some remarkable anecdotes in his Fra "Indianernes Lande."
When the big sawmill on the Eau Pleine burned in 1880, Helgeson
writes, the mill hands fought like tigers to smother the flames
and, when their efforts failed, stared in disbelief at the
holocaust. At this moment, Week produced a jug of whisky and
placed it on a log cart and said to the men: "Idag gaar
det godt for Viken! Kom naa Karer aa drikk!" (Today things
are going fine for Mr. Week. Come now, men, and have a drink!)
It is fairly certain that he had no insurance—few mills did—but
luck was still on his side, for the fire forced him to move
to Stevens Point and greater opportunities.
Hans Heisholt of Iola, who worked for Week as early as the
1850s, later became his timber cruiser. Whenever the boss
sent him out to estimate a new timber forty, he advised him
at great length not to be misled by the pines that were firm
on the outside but hollow on the inside. "Sjao no væi
etter da Hans," he would say, "at du inkje fin Kluftefuru—
kløve me, om eg vii ha Kiuftefuru!" (Look sharp
now, Hans, that you don’t find any rotten pines, because I’m
damned if I will have them!)
Perhaps the most widely recalled story about Week was his
penchant for card playing, particularly poker. On Saturday
night, after he had paid the men, he often joined them in
a game that could last all night and into Sunday, sometimes
taking a goodly part of their earnings back. This story has
no precise date, but, in whatever period, it suggests a strong
sense of camaraderie with the crew, practically unheard of
in the woods of Wisconsin.
One of the early boardinghouses in Stevens Point was started
about 1857 by Christian Haagensen (originally Haakonson) from
Kongsberg. This establishment on Franklin Street was a favorite
stopping place for Norwegian lumberjacks. The Haagensens were
pioneers in the city and close friends of the Weeks. The late
Ellida Moen of Stevens Point, a granddaughter of the Haagensens,
remembered a story often repeated by her grandmother. When
Sarah, the oldest daughter of the Weeks, was married, the
wedding was held at the family home on the Big Eau Pleine.
Her sorority sisters from the University of Wisconsin came
up to decorate the house and help make the occasion a gala
affair. Week had been sent to the city for supplies and also
to pick up Mrs. Haagensen, one of the guests. After making
his purchases, he drove to the boardinghouse, bundled Mrs.
Haagensen into a cutter, and started north. A couple of miles
out of the city he remembered he had forgotten oysters, a
favorite treat of the period. "Fan danse mig!" (The
devil dance me), he erupted as he turned the horse around
to go back for the oysters.
John Riber Week, confined to a wheelchair in his last years,
died at his home on Pine Street in Stevens Point on June 4,
1891, not yet seventy-three years old. It had been a hard
While John Week was getting rich in the Wisconsin Pinery,
his older brother Andrew was getting poor in the California
gold fields. In the Week Papers, there are ten letters, dated
1856 to 1860, written by Andrew to his brother in Wisconsin.
They tell a story of woe and misfortune, but also the tale
of a man who, beset by the greatest adversities, refused to
give up hope and continued to look to the future.
Seven of the letters are written in Norwegian, two in English,
and one in both languages. For a man who had been in America
only a decade or so, Andrew’s command of English, even though
imperfect, is rather remarkable. The letters were translated
by Louis Royal Anderson, secretary-treasurer of the John Week
Lumber Company, at the request of Cora Week. Anderson, who
had attended elementary school in Norway, was able to decipher
Andrew’s Norwegian script, one no longer used and made almost
illegible by the chemistry of time.
There is nothing to suggest that Andrew turned over his half
interest in the sawmill on the Big Eau Pleine River to his
brother in 1849 or 1850 nor is there an inkling to his whereabouts
in California in the early 1850s. From various clues, however,
it seems that he had spent most of this time prospecting and
digging for gold in the mountains of Sierra County, north
of Donner Pass. He left Wisconsin a bachelor, never thinking,
he says, that he would ever marry, but someone in California
caught his eye and became his wife. He refers to her as Johanna,
and she apparently was from Dodgeville, Wisconsin, for in
a letter dated September 15, 1858, written from Bangor in
Butte County, he speaks of three brothers-in-law, named Robertson,
who had arrived from Dodgeville. Johanna wrote postscripts
in Norwegian to several of her husband’s letters.
These first years in Sierra County were apparently the best
for Andrew Week. He had made some money, built a house, and
raised some stock, and for a time the outlook appeared favorable
for him. In the first letter, dated September 28, 1856, he
says: "The claim that I sold to Halvor Olesen for $100
the last harvest I bought back from him in the middle of last
July for $400; one share in the same was bought lately by
Ingebret Helgeson for $650. I got my money out in five weeks,
and we have taken out as much as 15 ounces [of gold] in one
day. When I left Goodyears Creek, I hired a man for $3.50
a day to work my claim there, but when it began to pay only
two ounces per week, I sold it to the same man on credit for
$550 and will take the gold as it comes out of the claim until
I am paid. Three weeks ago I bought the claim of Sjur Tollefsen,
as he wanted to go home, gave him $200 in cash and the note
I hold against you [i.e. John Week]. . . . Sjur’s claim brought
me $100 above wages in the two weeks that I held it. I then
sold it for $500. . . . Sjur will tell you that I and partners
instituted proceedings against Niels Arneson Tyke and others
for jumping some grounds on which we held claims. They compromised,
paid us $100 down on $400, and we gave them a bill of rights
and withdrew the suits."
In this letter Andrew is in such a confident mood that he
even pastes a specimen of gold dust to the last page; that
was meant as a gift from their baby daughter Synneva to her
cousin Sarah, the first-born of John Week. Andrew’s wife,
Johanna, wants to be remembered especially to Gunhild [wife
of John Week] and asks how she liked it in "her forgotten
corner," meaning, of course, the lumber camp on the Big
Eau Pleine. "Here it is not at all lonesome nor dull,"
Andrew goes on, "for the womenfolks visit and receive
each other very cozily. This is a great country for balls.
We also join in and are barbarded [bombarded] with compliments
and tickets. You would no doubt laugh when I, stiff as a stick,
attend one of the glittering Norwegian balls with Johanna
and Anna. Johanna is one of the best dancers around here,
and, as she loves to attend balls, you can imagine that I
am often in a hell of a fix."
The "Anna" mentioned here was the wife of Brynild
Leqve, whom Andrew refers to several times in his letters,
and who I think is his older brother. On the basis of a rather
loosely constructed sentence which appears later, it seems
that Johanna and Anna were sisters and originally from Dodgeville.
Andrew refers to Brynild in this first letter and says that
he "is managing somehow to get through. His claim has
for the last two months almost paid wages; he has a couple
of cows from which he sells milk, and his wife takes in washing."
In a postscript to this first letter, Andrew says that he
had been getting the weekly paper Den Norske Amerikaner (a
Democratic paper published in Madison, Wisconsin, 1855—1857)
and assumes that it was his brother who had subscribed for
him. "Its appearance here pleases me although the paper
is of little interest," he writes, "especially as
I am a black Republican. It is dry reading and runs over with
The next letter from Sierra County, written nearly a year
later on September 2, 1857, reveals that the heavy hand of
misfortune was beginning to bear down on Andrew Week. He says:
"I feel ashamed when I think how long I have put off
writing. But it is in adversity as well as in prosperity we
feel the need most to communicate with our dearest and nearest
of kin. On 17th August, Johanna was stricken with typhoid
fever and inflammation of the lungs. She was expecting childbirth
in two or three weeks, but the medicine and ailment hurried
matters, so that on the 21st she gave birth to a boy. Although
very weak, he is still living. Her condition now has become
aggravated and quite dangerous. The doctor and we had little
or no hope for her recovery. Anna and I have had a very trying
time, and, had it not been for her ability, neither . . .
would have survived. . . .
"I have had poor luck since I last wrote. In the two
last months of 1856, I earned only a little and in the first
seven months of this year absolutely nothing. This is mainly
due to our proximity to the river, which makes it impossible
to work our claim to advantage during the winter. It now pays
"My expenses during Johanna’s illness amounted to almost
$20 per day. My decision, therefore, to abandon mining this
fall shows how futile it is for a man with family to remain
here; for a person in my circumstances, it is impossible to
even dream of making a ‘pile.’"
The next letter, dated May 15, 1858, written from Bangor
in Butte County, acknowledges two letters from his brother:
"My whole family is enjoying good health. . . . We are
now living near Bangor at the foot of the hills, seven miles
from Feather River and 42 miles from Goodyears Bar. . . .
On the first of November last year came a high freshet that
swept flumes, wheels, and everything away, thereby making
the miners on Snake Bar idle for the next seven months. Having
made nothing more than was spent for sickness during the season,
I could not afford to remain idle. Accordingly, I went ahead
in search of a place at the foot of the hills where cattle
could live. There I could stand a chance to ‘make grub’ in
surface digging, having come to this place just when there
was great excitement as the result of a discovery made in
what is supposed to be an old riverbed. Here an unfortunate
temptation presented itself.
"In a shaft of 63 feet just sunk to bedrock, there was
a better ‘show’ than I had ever seen before. In a very hard-blend
cement could be seen spaces glittering with gold. Offers as
high as $3,500 per share had been rejected. For $375 I bought
into [a group operating] the shaft adjoining this; 50 feet
down, work stopped on account of water. I then went back to
Snake Bar after my family, leaving claim, house, stove, etc.,
as well as money due me. After a great deal of trouble and
hard work pumping, bailing, and picking in the water and in
cement as hard as rock, we went down at the rate of eight
or ten inches in 24 hours. At last we struck bedrock, but
no gold except for mere color. After drifting 15 feet, the
company became exhausted in both strength and purse, and with
half of the members flat broke, we suspended operations for
three months. And as Johanna and child were sickly again,
I found myself in an awful fix. . . . I could not remain idle
till my partners could raise more money, and there was nothing
to be made there; only three shafts had struck it, and the
surface operation was not worth working.
In the meantime, the rich claim joining ours began to give
out, but was said to pay small wages. There was a splendid
rigging—overshot wheel and machinery to run the pump and hoist
the dirt. In this company, there was a Swede who knew my claim
on Snake Bar. He had been offered $2,200 for his share six
weeks previous, and with him I now traded claims, giving him
$300 to boot. We worked on for three weeks and then knocked
off; the ground, although good for wages, was otherwise too
hard to make anything out of. We are now trying to sink another
shaft at the upper end of the claim, a job that will take
about two months.
"If we strike there, I may be better off than ever;
if not, I am finished. The prospecting of my other claim will
come at the same time, though we may not do more there than
enough to hold on to it. I have no more money now except $130
which is coming to me on Snake Bar, not counting $70 coming
from Leqve, which he promised to pay me last fall by offering
to settle and then refusing to pay. I have my house on Snake
Bar yet, and two cows, three heifers, and a calf. These cows
are a great help to us, and we have more milk and butter than
we can use. They will probably freshen one after another,
and so we will always have plenty. Heifers here generally
have calves before they are two years old. Cattle are no expense
as they feed themselves the year around. Had I, in accordance
with my plan, invested what little money I had in cattle,
I should now be tolerably well off."
In this letter, Andrew complains bitterly about Brynild,
who was intending to leave the mines the following fall, "but
as I and he are now out-and-out enemies, he will likely not
come where I am—and I would prefer any neighbor to him. .
. . Three years ago we owned two claims in partnership; I
had the opportunity to sell the best one, but as I would have
nothing to do with B, I proposed that we make a deal whereby
one of us could buy the other out. B upbraided me for trying
to take advantage of him on account of his lack of money.
I replied that I would give him time if he chose to buy and
that I would pay cash if I bought. He eventually sold it for
"The following spring, when I went to get a cow for
myself, I bought a cow and calf for him, also for $90, and,
when I delivered these to him, I loaned him $80 for seed for
his ranch. I said they could milk the cow as long as they
wished. I did not calculate ever getting anything out of him,
as in late years he has steadily been hundreds of dollars
worse off than nothing. When Synneva was born, I presented
Anna with a half claim that later netted him $125. Nothing
was said about the accounting due me until I was ready to
leave Snake Bar. Then he refused to pay me the $60 owing since
the claim trade, but offered me a balance of the other debt
saying that this would be the last and final settlement. I
let him keep it all. I retrieved the cow though and let him
keep the heifer, and now lately he was offered $75 for it.
He passed by here lately; Johanna saw him and I was busy a
couple of hundred yards away, but he did not come over to
me. The summer when Johanna was sick and hovered between life
and death, he came over one day and said that Anna could no
longer help at our house, and he scolded her unmercifully
for being away from her own home. Anna broke down and wept
bitterly. He never refers to you except in a sneering way
and seems to take delight in running you down. He shows his
malice to us and this is born of envy."
Finally, Andrew thanks his brother for offers of assistance
to return to Wisconsin. "[I] feel almost as if I were
ungrateful to reject them, but I dread the climate and can
hardly bear the thought of going back to make a new start."
On September 15, 1858, from Bangor, Andrew says that he had
returned to Snake Bar that year in the latter part of May.
He continues: "As far as I am concerned, I am and have
been very unfortunate; all alone since I last wrote, I have
been occupied with prospecting on one of my claims, the one
that at one time was very rich, [here switching to English]
by running a drift across the channel. The distance is too
great, the air bad, and as there are big boulders to contend
with we shall soon be compelled to give it up. We may perhaps
go on two or three weeks longer tho I have almost given up
hope of striking anything. My money is gone—I have not $50
left. Here in this place, there is no chance of making anything
at all, and now to go or take a tramp to strange places is
only to lay out money and come back discouraged. To buy into
a claim for a stranger is to get cheated and to take up a
claim or hire out is no chance.
"My situation therefore looks gloomy. Still I thank
God that my health and spirit is good and my children healthy.
Johanna writes that everybody on Snake Bar was astonished
to see little Amund how he had grown; he is now beginning
to be good-natured. [Here back to Norwegian.] Perhaps I should
not write as I do this time, for I know that my situation
is unwelcome news, but it is uncertain when it will show improvement.
I can therefore let you know this now, just as well first
"A despondent moment comes to me now and then, but it
seldom lasts long. I do not write to Norway, though I could
heartily wish to write to Romsdalen, but the truth of my circumstances
would be unpleasant news and anything else I can not write.
. . . Let me know about how much you are worth, also how long
you intend to remain in the Pinery.
I hope your next letter will, as usual, tell of your success,
but it seems to me that it is time for you to discontinue
lumbering, as it is too hard for you. If you convert your
assets into money and are careful about entering upon risky
speculations, you will be well enough off now to spend the
rest of your days as you please."
On December 27, 1858, Andrew acknowledges a letter from his
brother, dated November 1, which had reached him on December
18. He is happy to hear that his brother’s family is well
and adds that he too is enjoying good health. He continues:
"As for mining operations and prospecting, I must say
that conditions are utterly miserable. We had hopes until
Christmas Eve, when we finally had to give up without having
found anything. Johanna brought $100 from the mountains after
I wrote my last letter; otherwise I could not have continued
so long. Now my money is all gone—$1,100. One claim worth
$400—it cost me just $400, together with 13 months of hard
labor—all is lost. Anyhow, we have begun to pump out the water
from the old shaft, where the machinery stands, to try further.
But I have sold my interest in shares, because I intend to
pull out day after tomorrow and work a surface claim located
50 miles away. Poor Johanna must consequently try for the
first time what it is to be alone with the children. . . .
Leqve has now left the mountains. He and his family pulled
out on the 2nd instant after staying with us a couple of weeks.
They are going to the coast 40 miles north of San Francisco.
He has saved up nearly $500, which is more than he ever had
before. He has also three cows, two calves, and a mule in
this neighborhood, for which he will return later. . . .
"Now to answer your magnanimous and brotherly offer.
It is only too true that my situation is such that I need
assistance, yet this is hardly enough to convince me that
I should leave California and return to Wisconsin. . . . Your
goodness goes so far that you even offer me help here, which
would be more acceptable. But when I reflect on your noble
and unselfish intention concerning me and the sensitive manner
in which you express yourself—for example, ‘to reap the benefit
of my earlier efforts, etc.’—then I can not do otherwise than
honor your wish and consider going back to Wisconsin. . .
. A year ago you mentioned a third share in a flour mill.
This appeals to me better than anything, only that I have
an aversion to partnerships.
"Your itemized list of assets shows a quite considerable
fortune. This will make you a target for speculators and politicians,
and now that you are well-to-do, you must avoid dangerous
speculations—and do not endorse any lumberman’s note or go
surety for anyone."
In this letter, Johanna adds a postscript in which she hopes
it will be possible to accept the offer of her brother-in-law
and "let this mining go to the deuce." She also
boasts about her "Little Synneva" who "has
begun to read and is very quick at learning and [has] mastered
the letters in two days and now spells." As for "Little
Amund," he "can walk alone now, and is strong, robust
and shows good understanding."
Writing from Bangor on May 2, 1859, Andrew says that he has
been away for two months and has brought home $50. He had
been vasking (washing) for gold and had earned $3 per day
for five weeks. "We have now five milk cows, and Johanna
has sold a good deal of butter at 62½ cents per pound.
At one time I had my animals ‘half-way’ sold, thinking that
I would go home to Wisconsin this spring, but gave it up as
I could not sell my claim. . . . Leqve’s family are well.
He was here recently, and we shall now begin work in the old
shaft again and shall possibly earn $3 per day with a chance
of striking something better—but the work is almost unbearable."
When last heard of, Leqve was departing for the Pacific coast
with $500 in his pocket, but apparently had not found the
"Way to the Golden Gate" and was now back ready
to work the "old shaft again." The family quarrel
apparently had been smoothed over.
Andrew ends this letter by saying he has "just written
L. Aaker." This is no doubt Lars K. Aaker, an immigrant
from Telemark, whom Andrew probably had known in Wisconsin
before Aaker moved to Goodhue County, Minnesota. In 1859 he
was elected a state senator.
In the next letter, dated July 31, 1859, Andrew is pleased
to learn that his brother’s family is well and that "you
with good luck have floated your great lumber fleets to their
destination. . . . I have sold my blue lead claim (the rock
that wrecked me) for $400 and prospected a claim on a stream
two miles off. It has not paid expenses yet. We are three
in the company, and the last five days took out in all $42.
We have been occupied in this [project] since the first of
June. It has been very hot and such hard work as we have done
you neither could nor would have done for $20 per day, but
I am out of cash and have no choice."
In this letter, he again thanks his brother "for your
offer to send me money to come home. But this is not necessary
as my cattle will bring enough for that expense, but miserable
as are my circumstances, I find it difficult to make a decision
to leave. . . . I spent 12 years of the best years of my life
in Wisconsin without acquiring a single piece of property.
On the other hand I have here several head of stock which
time will, without much effort on my part, increase steadily.
If I had a small cash capital to invest in hogs or sheep,
then I could within a few years be not only independent but
even well-to-do. Now what is there in Wisconsin that can balance
these advantages? . . . But do not draw the conclusion from
the above that I am dispirited or despondent, for I have in
truth learned to take each day as it comes."
The next message written from Bangor under date of November
29, 1859, is in English. In this letter, Andrew repeats his
usual health report on the family and adds, "thank God
I am not growing old. A few days ago me and a young chap was
out on a tramp and on return home he pronounced me the spriest
man he ever traveled with. The raise of water drove us out
of the claim I was at work in a month ago with only money
enough to lay in 4 months provision and some clothes. I am
now idle and flat brook [broke], but I can perhaps scratch
a little in the surface and must pitch in as soon as I can.
. . . I have not had the heart to write to any of our folks
at home [in Norway] knowing that our adversities would affict
them but of course you have mentioned us. It is true I wrote
a letter last spring but never sent it. . . .
"And now as to my return to Wisconsin and your advice
about it—you is guarded, and in being so probably correct.
I can see at once, however, that there is no inducement for
me to come. I had rather take my chances here. . . . The money
you promise to send will give me a lift. I shall invest it
all in stock. But $500 is not enough for invest in the kind
of stock I prefer, namely sheep, unless I should be able next
summer to add $500 more to it which would put me on an independent
footing. Sheep can be bought at $5 a head . . . the wool market
is no limits to. I fear you would think me rather forward
if I should ask you to add $500 more as a loan . . . I ought
to be able to repay it in two years.
"Take the draught on Wells Fargo & Co. payable at
Marysville. . . . I intend next spring to go up in the mountains
to Goodyears Bar with my cows and sell milk. I don’t want
to mine next summer. . . . Ingebret Helgeson had $2,000 three
years ago. He is flat brook. I know of no Norwegians that
has any money."
On February 15, 1860, Andrew Week was still in Bangor. "By
working in the mines here," he writes, "I can earn
only $1 per day and have therefore given this up." He
is still undecided on the next step he is going to take in
the spring, "partly because I do not know when I can
get the money you have promised me and partly because three
of my cows and two heifers have run away. Now I have only
three milking cows left, and it will not pay to move to the
mountains with just these three. I have no time to go and
hunt for the lost cattle, but I am not without hope that they
will turn up sometime.
"I and two others are now engaged in fencing a pasture
for our stock. Up to this time, grass has been poor and a
lot of cattle have perished, but now the weather is pleasant
and mild and grass and flowers are sprouting everywhere.
"At this time, I presume you have excellent sleighing
and frostbite in your fingers and ears, ugh! ugh! . . . The
new gold and silver mines in Washoe [County, Nevada], are
rich; greater piles are in store for a few there than has
often been the case in California. Yet it is hardly possible
that I shall go there—I have had enough of mining."
The last letter in the collection, dated September 3, 1860,
is from Goodyears Bar and is written in English. It begins:
"I received your letter on the 26th July about two oures
ago stating that you early in May last send me a letter from
Dubuque in which you enclosed a draft for $500 drawn on N.
Coeworth [?] & Co., Galena, [Illinois], on a house in
New York. Such a letter & draft have not come to hand;
but have probably been lost when the mail was robed or demolished
by the Indians as I suppose it come with the overland mail.
A draft not drawn on a banking house in Caleforna I think—and
in fact know—is hard to get cashed here. Wells Fargo &
Co. is the best company to deal with. It is strange you did
not send the second in doublycat [duplicate]. . . . I left
Banjor last spring and brought my family up to Snake Bar,
our old residence, taking my cattle with me with a view to
sell milk. But here is tow [two] other milk men and I have
only sold two dollars worth per day, but I have earned $3
per day by hard work at mining."
In the last paragraph of this letter, Andrew Week says his
wife was expecting an increase in the family, and that Mrs.
Kiste Arnesen from Dodgeville had arrived at their place in
search of her husband. "No one here knows where he is
and the poor woman is better off if she never finds him."
Andrew urges his brother in the Pinery not to overdo and to
"operate very lightly in this dull times."
The rest is silence, but somewhere, high up in the Sierra
Mountains of California, a sixth-generation descendant of
Bishop Anders Anderson Riber had apparently found a home.