This is an excerpt from Nybyggerhistorie fra Spring Grove og omegn Minnesota by O. S. Johnson. According to this site,
When his chores were done, farmer Ole S. Johnson, who lived just east of Spring Grove, traveled around the region in his horse and buggy and talked with those early settlers who were still around in the 1910s. Their generation was on the way out, and Johnson endeavored to interview as many as possible – over 260, in the end.
Over coffee at the kitchen table or out in the barn while the milking was done, Ole asked pioneers to tell their stories.
This is his story of Peder & Kjersti Rask.
(Pages 242 – 249)
Peder O. Rask was born at Næs in Hallingdal the 20th of February, 1842, of parents Ole Kristiansen and wife Ingeborg, born Wermager.
As many other children, whose parents were not the most well to do, at a young age Pder had to go to work, and when the lumber dealers in Drammen had started to buy lumber after the war in 1848, you could make good money fall and winter lumbering, (and) the young boy had to participate with the father to provide for the family’s upkeep. He also worked with his father cutting all the lumber needed for the Flaa Church, which was built at the end of the 1850s. This lumber was cut in Tronderudskog (Tronderud’s forrest) which belong to his uncle (father’s brother). Flaa Church was under construction when the Rask family moved here, and Peder tells that he run through the church when they arrived and he could recognize some of the logs which he had cut down.
The spring of 1857 he was confirmed by pastor Tønnesen and a few days after the confirmation he left Hallingdal and his country along with his parents and siblings to find a home on this side of the great ocean. They sailed from Drammen on the sail ship “Familien” (The Family), with Captain Strenger as the leader and since “Familien” was a speedy sailer, the voyage from Dramment to Quebec took 5 weeks. The ship had 320 emigrants of which almost everyone were from Hallingdal. Among those whose names he remembers are Ole O. Engen and family, Herbrand Braataalien, Asle Grimsgaard, along with grandfather of Laurits Swenson who was a US minister to Norway until recently. The latter was from Aal. From Flaa there was one whose name was Erik and he became the father-in-law of Knut Sagedalen. Halvor Johansen Melen came also in the same company, but died within a short time as he was killed by lightening the year he arrived. He was very talented in mathematics and would maybe have become a famous man had lived longer. Ole Støen, a brother of the deceased Nils Hendriksen Støen, was also in the same company.
From Quebec, the journey continued on canal boats, steam ships, and rail road to Prairie de Chien in Wisconsin and from there on a boat across the Mississippi river to Lansing in Iowa, where they arrived on July 4th, the Independence Day. From Lansing they had to continue on foot to Locust Lane where his uncle (father’s brother) lived and who had settled here 4 years earlier.
Once the temporarily destination was reached, they had to spit in their fists and take the jobs that were available. You could not gripe and complain if the sweat ran and the back ached in the evening after a hard day of work. No, courage in the breast and strength in the arms of these trailblazers, and they did not give up in the face of heat or cold. The daily wages were small and it was costly to clothe during the Civil War, and these simple minded newly arrived emigrants had not learned the modern trick of striking as is the custom now. During the harvest you got 50 cents per day and those who were very good at “svinge krillen” (?) could earn up to 75 cents per day. During trashing it was 50 cents per day; but there were not much money among the farmers so it was customary to pay in kind with bushel wheat per day. This sold for 35 cents after the seller had paid the transport to Lansing.
However, little by little through work and prudence they saved some money, so his father bought a piece of land in Wilmington Township, Houston County, Minn., and later Peder worked at home for his father. The fall of 1862 the people in Houston country, and also the northeastern counties in Iowa, had a scare of a rumor that Indians was on their way eastward to murder the white man. A panic gripped each and every man and woman, so they in a hurry packed the few piece they owned and set off towards the Mississippi river to cross over to Wisconsin. The cattle they let roam wherever they liked; but after a day it turned out to be a false alarm, so everyone returned to their respective homes.
It was the 20th of august 1862 (a few weeks earlier) that the Indian bloodbath began in Kandiyohi county and surrounding counties and had lasted several days, and this bloodbath exceeds all descriptions, in that 1000 white people was murdered, 200 taken captive, 3000 houses burnt down and thousands of horses and cattle taken away, along with a rich and well settled field of 200 miles long, 100 miles wide was laid desolate. Several counties were razed and 30,000 became homeless. These days when the wild Indians could without hindrance ravage (the land) and do their deeds of destruction has been called the blood week. It is thus understandable that people were scared after reading about the terrible ravagings of the Indians in the western part of the state, so the smallest rumor about their arrival here was sufficient for people to leave house and home in order to save their lives.
IN 1864 Peder Rask was married to Kjersti Olsdatter Engen, who had come in the same group from Norway, and right afterwards he was drafted as soldier to go to the southern states to fight against the rebels. The long and bloody civil war constantly required new recruits, and when the government no longer could find volunteers, they had to have forced drafts in order to get men to fill the ranks. He (Peder Rask), Peder Engen, Østen Guberud, Peder Hansen Smestad were ordered to meet in Rochester for examination by the doctors, and here Peder Smestad and Østen Guberud found unsuited for the military service so they went free, while Peder Rask and Peder Engen were found to be sufficiently strong and healthy to serve as soldiers. They were sent down to Nashville in the state of Tennessee, where they served under General George H. Thomas, one of the best generals of the Northern army, and who was called the Cliff from Chickamauga, where he first showed his commander talents. Likewise at the siege of Nashville. He gathered there considerable reinforcements, built up the defenses to their best condition and refused to budge before he was fully ready. The whole country was impatient. Even General Grant sent him an urgent request and sent an order to remove him from his post as general; however, Thomas could not be moved in his plans. When he was thus ready to raise the flag, he did this with the force of a snow avalanche. The rebel army under General Hood suffered a crushing defeat. Thomas took 13,000 prisoners, and no less than 2,000 deserters came over to Thomas. The proud army that the rebels bragged up so much, existed no more. The Cliff from Chickamauga had ground it to dust.
When Peder Rask and his friend came to Nashville, the main army had moved to other areas; while the rebel bandit army was raising havoc in the state, stealing the provisions and did all the mischief they could. Peder was brought into the reserve to keep watch; but was almost always going from place to place and suffered ill. (He) often had to lie on the fields without tent and protection against weather and wind. When they at times had the opportunity and time to put up the tents, the tents were so low they had to creep in and out of them, and in addition the ground was so wet from the plentiful rain that there were often water puddles inside the tents. A dog can choose his bed where he finds the driest spot, but the soldier had to take the place he was designated, no matter what it looked like. The provisions were also extremely poor, since gangs of robbers stole all they could get hold of food. And even if they received rations regularly, it was not very appetizing. The bread was baked of flour and water and hard as a wooden block and the meat was just so, since at this time the farmers butchered their own hogs and brought the hog carcasses unsalted to the market. However, hunger is a good cook, and so the food was eaten without resistance. It was worse when they received nothing and that also happened (at times).
One day as the company received the provisions for three days, they received a sudden marching order, and had to run from the food and managed to only take along the coffee and the sugar. The sudden marching order, along with other reasons caused them to be without food for 9 days. Off and on during these 9 days they would see the excrements of horses who had eaten corn, and then the soldiers would pick these corns, wash and eat them; but never has food tasted as good as these corns, tells Mr. Rask.
One day these soldiers spotted a sugar barrel which was floating in the fjord. This they managed to get ashore, and when the bottom was removed the soldiers threw themselves at this sugar dough and ate so much that some of them died. When the food provision came, the result was the same as when they ate the fished up sugar. Many became seriously ill from eating too much.
War is hell, General Sherman once said. This is the naked truth. While the husband, father, had to go these swampy and unhealthy fields to go through the tortures as the field life provides, the wife (some even with several children to provide for) was left behind in the log cabins and fought the fight for survival, mixed with sorrow and longing for the dear husband and father, who was taken from them, and who they maybe never would see again. Many prayers were sent up to the throne of grace for those who were away, and many a pillow was dampened by the tears of wife and children, parents and siblings during the 4 years the civil war lasted.
After the war was over April 9th 1865 the soldiers could come home, and also Peder Rask; but his health was so broken down from hunger and suffering, that it took several years before he regained sufficient strength again.
In their marriage Peder O. Rask and wife had 10 children, of which 5 are living. Four of their children died within 4 days from scarlet fever, which was a hard blow for both parents and siblings.
These honorable elders, who have had to go through much of the life’s trials, can now enjoy a good old age surrounded by loving children. Peder Rask and his wife are living in prosperity, in that they own quite a bit of valuable land and do not only have enough for themselves, but will also leave a small fortune to their children.
As a trait of (good) character with our fellow compatriots from the mountain areas is the Rask family very hospitable, so it is an enjoyment and pleasure to come to their home.
As Mr. Rask said, about 320 people left from Hallingdal at the same time. A similar emigration has happened in Valdres, Gudbrandsdalen, Numedal, etc. Yes in over a generation large numbers of Norway’s youth has each year left their home valleys to seek a new home in America’s northwestern states, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Dakota’s fruitful planes. And here they have left their marks that when the occasion occurred, showed what kind of material of which they were made. It was not a joy trip to travel to America about 50 to 60 years ago; however, the rumor of a wonderful land in the far west beaconed and drew (them). There were few opportunities back home on the small farm and the cotter’s place. They had worked and worked and struggled in stony land and difficult terrain, from when they were small boys, either for themselves or for others, cut, carried and worked hard and patiently without complaining, but also without the possibility of improving their situation in life. The valley became too narrow and there were more and more in need of the food. When the spring came and the hills started to green up, then they prepared the emigration wagon. One had to have enough food, clothes and other necessary things, for at that time the journey was long and difficult, so it took many weeks where it now takes only days across the ocean. Then the time came to say farewell. It was hard to leave the little home and say farewell, to take the hands of father and mother, siblings and friends, maybe for the last time. But the lot was cast and one had to tear lose. The thought of the far away, promised land, when one could create a good living, get a large, beautiful farm, eat wheat bread and meat instead of herring and “villing” (?), cold porridge and whey beaconed. Then the serious faces lit up at the thought of a better living. The faithful, blue eyes got a glint of joy. Then the company went down the valley. The company grew to more and more as they advanced. There were husky, robust and serious men and women, quick and boastful boys, red skinned girls with a head scarf and large woolen kerchief over the round firm shoulders, little boys and little girls with a wealth of joy, messy hair and a wonderful appetite. The first emigrants did not have much book learning, they may have gone to “omgangsskole” (school taught by travelling teachers/instructors) a few weeks, read for catechism and a little more; but they were faithful in their calling both towards God and fellow beings even if they did not have the nice polished manners of the city dweller.
These simple people from the mountain valleys, who were often looked down upon by people in the cities and called suckers, can be said to have been the core of the Norwegian people here in America. It is the immigrated youth of the cotter boys, the sons from the small farms, the craftsmen and the workers who have cleared the land, built churches and schools, created the thousands of well to do homes who now is spread across the north west large and fruitful planes. The little redhead, the fair haired, blue eyed little boys in homespun trousers and homemade shoes who about 60 years ago sat at the top of the emigration wagon gaping, sits today as lords and owners of their great, well run farms, or they are county officials, legislative representatives, congressmen, senators, well respected doctors, minister, lawyers or professors at the country’s great institutions of learning. Here they have been able to develop their talents which maybe from lack of means would have been impossible for them in Norway. The immigrated Norwegian youth here in America is in truth an honor to their homeland. If the next generation follow in their parents footsteps and do not leave their precious Lutheran teaching, then Norway in America will blossom like a garden.
Wrapping up with a short story told by Guttorm Smed (blacksmith):
It was the year they made their way up Lilan. Because that the road was to go through mountains and big rocky areas, they used quite a bit of this horrible dynamite which is terribly dangerous. That it was from ill will we can easily believe and you can believe we felt it. Listen.
I had that year a pig, a really great pig with such growth and appetite it was fun to watch. It wandered around here as it pleased; when it was hungry it always found something to eat and it was hungry just about always.
One day came Gabriel Lilan who was chairman of the road building and asked to leave a small box, he was to pick it up the next day. But do not let the kids get hold of it because it is dynamite, he said. Yes, I said, you will have to put it in the shed. But don’t you believe, they big eater, the pig, had snuck in there and eaten the whole thing, without us having the smallest knowledge (of it). Now, it had a stomach like an iron pot and would not have been bothered by it at all, unless the unexpected had not happened.
Knut Rove came the same moment to put a couple of new shoes on his horse, a big mare it was, and a big ass for kicking. Before I started this work, we stepped inside for a cup of coffee. We sat at the window so we had a good view of the whole affair. The pig came out of the shed and as we understood fully loaded with dynamite. It wandered over to the horse, and started in all conviviality to rub against its legs. The horse kicked with the one leg and hit the pig right in the belly, at the moment the most dangerous spot. That was the last thing it did here in life; because then something happened. There was a bang so it sounded like cannon fire. The window panes broke, the glass pieces flew around our ears. It was good that we were inside or it would have been worse.
As soon as we had regained our composure, we first thought of the pig and the horse, how it had gone with them. But they were both gone. Where we had last seen them, we found a large hole in the ground and a large piece was torn off the roof of the black smith shop and another just about killed old Hans Moland who stood cutting wood up by Braatebergen about half a mile from here.
But the pig – the beautiful meat, which we so long had been looking forward to taste – do you know how much was left of that? Yes, father, a big piece of bacon in the door of the black smith shop was the only piece we could see and this piece of bacon remained there for 3 years. Of the horse we found small pieces here and there. The head was impaled on a dry evergreen in Braataanesskogen (the Braataanes forest).
My wife fretted and cried over the pig for many days, and every time I thought of the “sylta”, “klubben” and the pork we so shamefully was cheated of, I have to admit something other than weeping wanted to overtake me also.
Translated by Brit O. Eddy 2/4/2015