Peder Olsen Rask was born on February 20, 1842 in Nes, Hallingdal, Norway. He was the second son of Ole & Ingeborg (Wermager) Rask, who were 34 & 33 at the time of his birth (read more on Ole & Ingeborg here.) They later had a daughter and 3 more sons.
Peder’s father worked as a logging contractor and farm worker, and Peder worked alongside him to help support the family beginning at a young age. His biography in Nybyggerhistorie states that he and his father cut all the lumber used in the building of the church at Flaa. (You can read the entire interview here.) Peder told the writer that while the church was being built he ran through it and could recognize some the logs he had cut down.
Photos of the church at Flaa from the Norwegian Genealogy blog.
But both food and work were scarce in Norway, so in the spring of 1857 when Peder was 15 years old, he and his family left their homeland for a new life in America. They took a 5 week voyage on the ship Familien from Drammen, Norway to Quebec, and then continued on canal boats, steam ships, and rail road to Prairie de Chien, Wisconsin, and finally on a boat across the Mississippi River to Lansing, Iowa, where they arrived on the 4th of July. From Lansing they continued on foot to Locust Lane, Iowa where they stayed for a year with relatives who immigrated from Norway several years earlier. The Rasks then bought their own farm in Wilmington township, Houston County, Minnesota.The trunk the Rask family brought from Norway to America.
Kjersti Engen was born on December 18, 1844 to Ole & Margit Engen. She was the 5th of their 10 children. They lived on a place in Rukkedalen called Myhre, which served as the family’s last name as well, but when arriving in Minnesota they found the area to have many Myhre families already, so they took the name Engen.
When Kjersti was 12 years old her family immigrated to America in 1857 on the Familien, on the same voyage as the Rasks and about 20 other families from Hallingdal. They encountered many storms on the voyage, slept in hammocks made of fish nets, and ate preserved foods they had prepared before they left home. Their path to Minnesota in the new land was the same as the Rasks until they reached Prairie de Chien, when the Engens along with one other family took a steam ship to Brownsville. According to Kjersti’s brother’s biography in Nybyggerhistorie “In Brownsville came the order to go ashore, and their cargo was cast onto the shore. There they stood, these two large families, Grimsgaard and Engen, 24 people in all, of whom some were children who were so small they had to be carried in arms, and stood without knowing the difference between north and south or which way they should go. Finally they discovered that there was only one way which led back and forth from Brownsville, again got their luggage that stood on the shore and began their way upward. But with luck and happiness they met two famers who would be going to town without a load of wheat, who they got to freight their luggage to Spring Grove, which was the journey’s end.” A granddaughter of Kjersti’s remembered hearing tale of how the Engens nearly lost their sewing machine off an open raft/barge coming down the Mississippi River.
The Engens became the owners of a farm in Wilmington Township, and the Rasks bought the farm next door. In 1862, all the settlers in Wilmington fled their homes during an “Indian Scare”, but were able to return shortly after.
I don’t know at what point in their lives Peder & Kjersti began a relationship. They may have known each other back in Hallingdal, and I certainly imagine they would have by the end of their 5 week voyage to America. I wonder if they were friends, or if they even had a romantic interest then. Or maybe he was mischievous and teasing and she found him incredibly annoying. I wonder if they were surprised to see their old friends again when after their year in Iowa the Rasks bought the neighboring farm in Wilmington. I’ll never know what exactly happened, but at some point Peder & Kjersti decided to spend their lives together, and on June 4, 1864 they were married.
Just five months after their wedding, Peder was drafted into the Civil War to serve in the Union Army with the 2nd Minnesota Infantry, Company B. Kjersti was about a month or two pregnant with their first child when Peder went to war, which I imagine she came to realize sometime while he was away.
Peder and his fellow soldiers lived through terrible conditions during the war, often going days or even weeks without food, and living on the move in the wilderness without tent or shelter, which left many with lasting illness and killed others, including Kjersti’s brother Peder Engen.
While Peder was away Kjersti gave birth to their first child, Ole Peter Rask, on June 4, 1864.
Peder’s pension file with the National Archives noted that he was 5’6” with blond hair and blue eyes, and prior to the war was a picture of health and strength. Peder was discharged with his company on July 11, 1865, but came home a much sicker and weaker man than he had left. He suffered for the rest of his life with the effects of dysentry and sunstroke, and required several years before he had sufficient strength to work their farm again.
Peder had bought farmland just prior to their marriage, and they had a 2 story farm house built on it in 1865, which is still there. All 4 of Peder’s brothers owned neighboring farms, as did 4 of Kjersti’s siblings.
Two years after their first child Peder & Kjersti had another son, named Peter. In 1868 Peder’s mother Ingeborg died at the age of 60. Several months later they had a daughter they named Ingeborg, but she sadly died at 10 months old of “inflammation of the lungs”.
In 1870 & 1875 had another two daughters, Ingeborg who went by “Belle”, and Margit who went by “Maggie”.
They had four more children in the following years, Sarah, Oliver, Hanna, & Chrestina, and in 1887 their eldest son Ole moved to South Dakota to work as a storekeeper and sell machinery.
Tragically, in November of 1888 the family lost their four youngest children to scarlet fever. On Sunday the 18th Sarah, who was 9 years old, died. That Tuesday 3 year old Hanna passed away, and Oliver, who was just two weeks shy of his 7th birthday, died the day after Hanna. My grandma has told me stories she heard of how they kept baby Chrestina in a basket hung from the ceiling of their home trying to protect her from catching the illness, but sadly it did not, as she died the following Monday, November 26. A first-hand account by Peder & Kjersti’s sister-in-law can be read here.
I can’t imagine how difficult life must have been for Peder & Kjersti then, as well as their other children at home.
Peder, Kjersti, and their children Belle, Maggie, & Peder, on their farm. As Kjersti appears to be pregnant, I believe the photo to be from autumn of 1892. The 2 story farmhouse on the right hand side is still standing, and is owned by a great-grandchild of theirs.
On December 14, 1892 their 10th child was born to Peder & Kjerst, Olaf Selmer Rask.
I believe Kjersti is in this photo of Wilmington’s Ladies Aid, right in the middle (wearing a white blouse with black bow with a white pin on it.)Peder must have been proficient in wood carving as well, as several cousins still have pieces that he made. This photo is of a “spice box” he made for Kjersti, and the owner of it says you can still smell all the spices that it stored. I’ve also heard he made wooden snow skis for Olaf & his siblings, & carved a rocking horse for his granddaughter.
Peder & Kjersti’s eldest son Ole grew to be a prosperous banker, married a girl from Wilmington, and had 7 children. Their son Peder was married and owned a farm in the Wilmington area. Belle remained single and supported herself as a skilled seamstress. Maggie married a neighboring farmer Sever Danielson, had 2 sons, and served the community as a midwife. Olaf bought the family farm and lived there his entire life with his wife Selma, and their 5 children.
In the closing of Peder & Kjersti’s biography in Nybyggerhistorie, written around 1910, the author stated that
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, the Rask family very hospitable, so it is an enjoyment and pleasure to come to their home.
Peder Rask passed away on April 6, 1914 at the age of 72, just weeks before his & Kjersti’s 50th wedding anniversary. After living nearly their entire lives together, Kjersti joined her husband in death on December 26, 1914, at the age of 70 years.