Now our story moves to Scandinavia, especially Norway and Sweden, the origin of many Minnesotan ancestors. It's a story not only of pioneer ambition and grit, but of repeated geographic coincidences in which near-neighbors who didn't know each other became intertwined in the same family. These settlers began coming to the region just west of the North American Great Lakes, which resembled their homeland in both climate and geography, as soon as it was opened for settlement. But as time passed and the wooded, lake-bespeckled rolling southern land filled up, later arrivals were forced onto the flat, treeless and drier plains farther north and west.
The village of Valer is on the Glama River some 15 miles west of the Swedish border, about 40 miles northeast of Norway's capital city, Oslo. The village name means "tree stumps in clearings". There is a spring nearby that was at one time thought to have healing powers. The region is rolling and dotted with hundreds of small and medium-sized lakes. Enok Embretsen Morud was born near Valer in 1830 or 1831. As a young man, he was a "husman med Jord", a sort of indentured sharecropper, on a farm about 3 miles north of Valer near the present town of Braskereidfoss. There he lived, and also practiced his trade of carpentry, with his wife Anna Maria, who was also born in 1830 just a few miles down the river in Asnes. Anna Maria's father's name was Ole, so she was known as Olsdatter, but her family's surname may have been Stai.
Enok and Anna Maria Morud had at least four children:
Embret Enoksen Morud, a carpenter born in 1855
About 43 miles to the northwest, the town of Moelv lies along Mjosa Lake, a wide spot in the Lagen River. The area is about 10 miles southeast of the Olympic site of Lillehammer and some 40 miles due north of Oslo. About a mile south of Moelv stands the Ringsaker Church, named for the nearby Ringsaker Farm, which is also still there. (It's been suggested that "Ringsaker" refers to the Norse god Ullr and can be translated as "Lord of the Ring Field".) About four miles north of Moelv was the tiny hamlet of Nord Fjelstadgaard (a Norwegian phrase that means "north of the Fjelstad farm fence"; the location appears on modern maps as a tiny unnamed collection of houses and barns just north of the Fjelstad Farm), where Johannes and Kjersti (Larsdatter) Halden lived. Johannes P. Halden was born in October, 1816. His wife Kjersti may have come from a family named Vetten. The couple had been married in the Ringsaker Church, so when, on November 18, 1842, their son Lars Johannesen Halden was born, it was natural to have him baptized, and later confirmed, there. Several years later, in May 1849, Johannes and Kjersti had another son, Mathias, who was called "Mat".
Just about one month later and four miles upriver from Enok Morud's farm, in Kverndalen on the eastern outskirts of the village of Jomna, Anna Marie Kvern was born, on December 16, 1842. "Kvern dalen" means "Millstone valley". Anna's parents were Peder Pedersen Sonsterud-Kvern (born around 1815) and Helene Andersdatter Knappom (born around 1818). They were married on July 19, 1839 in nearby Hof. Anna Marie had several brothers and sisters:
Karen Pedersdatter Kvern, born around 1838
A bit over 200 miles southeast of this part of Norway lies the Swedish county of Jonkoping. There, somewhere just west of Lake Ralangen, between the town of Aneby and the little church crossroads at Lommaryd, Johan Peter Johannesson was born, on March 30, 1833. Although the landscape is an attractive patchwork of forests, fields, and lakes, the farmers who lived here had a hard time of it; the soil is a sandy, rocky mixture that did not produce well before the introduction of modern farming methods and fertilizers.
Sweden, like the rest of Scandinavia, was a Lutheran country, and until the mid-1800s its citizens were forbidden to practice any other religion. Those who did faced severe repression. Even when things began to be liberalized after 1850, Catholic Swedes, a tiny minority, were still forced to remain members of the Lutheran church.
Johan may have married a woman known as "Stina" (short for "Kristina") in February 1860, though they may not have had any children early on. Many of Johan's neighbors, facing lives of grinding poverty, were emigrating to Minnesota, and in 1870 he and his wife joined them. Perhaps, as Catholics, they also hoped to be free of interference with their practice of religion in the new land.
A few years earlier, back in Norway, Lars Halden studied music intensively, learning to play the organ, violin and guitar, and he became a good singer. That was no way to make a living though, so he also learned the carpentry trade, and during the winters worked as a bread baker. Like all young Norwegian men, he was drafted into the army and served two years there.
Meanwhile, his parents had been hearing wonderful things about America, and particularly about Minnesota, where some of their friends had homesteads. They saved their money and booked passage in the early spring of 1865. They did their homework and were prepared with food and equipment, bringing with them dried beef, dried smoked herring, butter, cheese, dried peas and beans, flour, sugar, vinegar, dried flat bread, a keg of sour milk and even a barrel of water. They loaded chests with clothing and bedding, soap, and a "'fine comb' as they would be sure to get lice on the boat." They brought Lars' carpenter tools, axes, scythe, a muzzle-loading shotgun, pots and pans, dishes, silver, lamps, Bibles, hymnbooks, music books, and a spinning wheel and wool carders.
On board the boat, Lars met Anna Kvern. She was traveling alone, but as she and Lars became friends, she decided to accompany his family to wherever they ended up.
The Haldens and Anna arrived in New York City, and traveled to join their friends in Fillmore County, Minnesota. At the land office in Preston, they learned that there was no more unclaimed land in the area. They resolved to claim land farther north, but first they needed to raise some money. Lars and Anna worked together for the same farmer, for 50 cents a day apiece plus room and board. A temporary stop became a four-year sojourn. Lars and Anna were married on October 8, 1866 in the Union Prarie Lutheran Church. (Actually, the marriage was likely performed in the home of Ole Embretson. The church had just been founded the year before by Norwegian immigrants. The founders bought a two-acre lot about halfway between Preston and what later became Lanesboro, but did not erect a building until 1869.) Lars' and Anna's daughter Caroline was born on July 5, 1867, in or near Preston. That town is ten miles north of the Iowa border and only about 65 miles southeast of Sogn, where at that time Jonathan and Ann Dibble were working their farm and getting to know their new infant daughter, Minnie.
Time passed. Lars' mother Kjersti became ill and died. Lars and Anna worked hard and acquired a plow, wagon, oxen, a cow and other things they would need for their new farm. After the harvest in 1868, Lars and Mat took a trip northwest to look for land, first taking the train to Alexandria and then walking north about 50 miles to where they had heard claims could be had. They found an attractive region of lakes, woods, and rolling hills near where the town of Fergus Falls would later be founded. The brothers walked back to Alexandria, and filed claims for Lars and for their father Johannes (Mat was too young to stake a claim).
The following spring, the Haldens joined several other families from Fillmore County in a wagon train headed north.. The trip of about 225 miles took several weeks at the slow pace of the oxen that drew the wagons. The women would hang buckets filled with dirty laundry, water and soap under the wagons as they traveled, and the jouncing motion washed the clothes for them. Then they discovered they could churn cream into butter the same way. The bouncing motion did not seem to bother Anna, even though for at least part of the trip she was in "a family way".
In the second week of July, Lars and his family arrived on their claim on the eastern edge of Fergus Township, about 3.5 miles northeast of where Fergus Falls is today. His neighbor Ole Jorgens, who settled a few miles southeast of Lars near Wall Lake in Aurdal Township, reported that there were only a handful of white families there at the time.
Lars claimed 160 acres (the south half of the northwest quarter, and the south half of the northeast quarter, of Section 24) just west of Aurdal School No. 80. There was a large pond on the southern boundary of the claim. Today, the Canine Acres dog boarding center (24663 County Hwy. 111, Fergus Falls, MN) occupies part of this land. Lars's brother Mat also claimed 160 acres just southwest of Lars's land. Mat's upside-down-L-shaped parcel included the northwest quarter of the southwest quarter of Section 24 (just south of Lars), the eastern half of the southwest quarter of Section 23, and the northeast quarter of the northeast quarter of Section 26. This area contains numerous springs, creeks, and ponds which have expanded and contracted over time. Lars's pond is still there today, but a larger lake (possibly known as "Webber Lake") that bordered Mat's claim on the northwest corner has shrunken to half its size.
The group of settlers worked together to plow the ground and plant wheat, potatoes, turnips, carrots and cabbage, and build their log cabins and stables for the livestock. The crops grew exceptionally well, and the farmers worked hard to clear and break up more land for the next year's planting. That winter, on January 10, 1870, Lars and Anna's daughter Eline was born. She was the first white child born in the township.
Later that year a Minneapolis real estate speculator named Burdick bought land along the Ottertail River near the falls, which had been named for a man who had financed an exploration trip to the region 15 years earlier. Burdick began promoting the area and selling land to settlers. In 1872 the town of Fergus Falls was incorporated. The new town already had two bridges across the river, a flour mill, a bank, two general stores, several churches, one doctor, and eight lawyers. Perhaps the heavy legal presence is what led the town to be designated the county seat that same year.
Time passed and, despite all the lawyers, the little band of Norwegian settlers prospered and grew. Anna's brother Arne P. Kvern arrived in 1871, along with Anna's sister Parnille. We have not discovered a land claim for the Kverns in Fergus Falls Township or neighboring townships. Since Arne was a farmer, he may simply have shared Lars' claim with him.
On March 18, 1872, Lars and Anna Halden's second child, John Georg Halden, was born. He was baptized on May 9 of that year. Sadly, he died just a few months later, on December 12. Lars and Anna buried him on a little rise in the southeast corner of their claim that became the Kongsberg Cemetery. In the following year, their third son, Peter Halden, was born, on November 11. He was followed on February 16, 1876 by Inga; a second son named John (with middle initial L this time), on May 20, 1878; a son Martin born in 1882; a son Oscar born November 16, 1883; and a son Alfred born on February 5, 1887.
Lar's father, Johannes, settled with his younger son, Mathias, on Mathias' farm. Some time before 1875, Johannes remarried to a woman named Inga. Twenty years younger than her husband, Inga was born around 1838 in Norway.
Mathias married Mina Mikkelson Brotten on September 29, 1877. Mina was born on March 4, 1859 in Norway. Not surprisingly considering her patronymic, her father's name was Michael Brotten. Their son John Alfred Halden was born on December 17, 1878 on the farm in Fergus Falls Township. Their second son, Karl Halden, was born in April 1880. A daughter, Ida M. Halden, was born in November 1881. A third son, Leonard Halden, was born in February 1884, and their last child, Emma Louisa (or Louisa Emma) Halden, was born on January 14, 1891.
Arne P. Kvern married Olina Haugen from over in Aurdal Township in around 1884. Olina was born February 22, 1866 in Minnesota. Her parents were Halvor O. Haugen, born around 1832, and his wife Karen, born around 1834, both in Norway. The Haugens claimed 160 acres in Section 21 (the northwest quarter). Arne and Olina's first child was Paul Kvern, born April 26, 1885. They had a son Helmer H. Kvern in March 1887 and a daughter Ella A. Kvern in November 1889.
The settlers were also busy in other ways. They built a log schoolhouse, perhaps just southeast of Lars' claim on the other side of the Aurdal Township line (where School No. 80 appeared on a later plat map). They also established a Lutheran congregation in 1872, known as the Kongsberg Church, which met in Lars' home for many years. They didn't get around to building a church until 1886; it may well have stood next to the cemetery. But it didn't have a steeple because none of the settlers understood the complex geometry and trigonometry required to build one.
Meanwhile, down in Goodhue County, the Swedish immigrant Johan Peter Johannesson (now known as John P. Johnson) and his wife Sarah had settled in what was then Grant Township in around 1870. Its name was changed to Welch in 1872 to honor Major Abraham Edwards (or Edward) Welch, of Red Wing, who died in the Civil War. The township is notable for its many "Indian mounds", the remains of towns, forts, and ceremonial locations built along the Cannon River by a considerable population of Native Americans before the "Great Dying". Coincidentally, its first white inhabitant's name may also have been Johnson--the Methodist Episcopal minister J. C. Johnson, who settled there in 1855. That Johnson reported that there were still many Dakota people in the area at that time.
Welch Township is at the northern tip of the county, between Cannon Falls and Red Wing. It contains the little hamlet of Welch, on the Cannon River on its southern border. We don't know if John owned or rented his farm in the township, but in 1870 he and his family would have lived perhaps 15 miles, as the crow flies, northeast of Jonathan Dibble's prosperous Warsaw Township spread.
John and Sarah Johnson had at least four children:
Mary Johnson, born in 1873 or 1874
Back in Norway, the young Ole Morud, like Lars Halden, had learned carpentry skills, as well as shoemaking. But he was the younger son and did not stand to inherit his father's farm. He was also facing compulsory military service when he turned 21, so he decided that he had a better future in America. On a spring day in the early 1890s, he packed up his prized chest of carpenter tools, and with his friend Ben Sonstrud, he took ship for the United States.
At first they joined friends in Reynolds, North Dakota. Reynolds is about 12 miles south of Grand Forks, ND, and some 35 miles south-southwest of Warren, MN. Perhaps Ole's friend Ben was related to Olaf Sonsterud, who owned the land on which the town of Reynolds was established. Olaf sold it to the St. Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba Railroad in 1880. The town was named for Dr. Henry A. Reynolds, a Civil War surgeon from Maine. He and others filed claims in the area, and we assume the railroad donated some of the land for the town, since having towns to which passengers and freight would travel was in their interest. Dr. Reynolds laid out the original town plat, and in 1881 he was appointed its Postmaster.
Many of the earliest settlers of Reynolds were Germans and Norwegians; they had to communicate with each other by means of gestures and sketches. The first edition of the local paper, the Reynolds Enterprise, published October 2, 1891, contained this plea: "NORWEGIAN SPEAKING CITIZENS: If you cannot read an American paper yourselves, don't keep your children in ignorance of what is going on around them, but let them have the Enterprise and read the news in their own American language ... taught them in the public schools..." We may wonder how the non-English-reading Norwegians got this message, but the editor seems to have understood marketing.
Ole and Ben worked as carpenters and kept an eye out for available land. They learned that unclaimed ground was available east of Warren, Minnesota, about 15 miles northeast of Grand Forks, and only about 35 miles from the Canadian border. So they journeyed to the nearest US Land Office, at Crookston, to inquire. From there they walked about 30 miles north to check out the area. They met some fellow countrymen on their hike who urged Ole and Ben to settle near them. The land was flat and mostly treeless, and there were fewer lakes in this part of the "Land of 10,000 Lakes" than in the Valer region of Norway. We don't know if this cold, empty place reminded Ole of home.
Ole claimed the southeast quarter of Section 14, 160 acres. As so many settlers on the Great Plains did, he built a house of big blocks of tough prairie sod. The house was probably pretty close to the farmhouse and barn that today stand at 22052 190th. St. NW in Helgeland Township. As Ole's daughter later described it, "The walls were quite thick, so it would be fairly warm in winter. It had a small window on each side and a wooden door. There was a vein of white sand nearby, so after he smoothed the walls on the inside, he made a wash of the white sand to make it lighter inside. He pounded pegs into the walls to hang things on, such as the heavy iron kettle and frying pan which was called 'a spider'. He made a carpenter's bench, which he knew he would need later. This he turned upside down and filled it with shavings and hay, which he used for a bed."
Ole worked cooperatively with his neighbors, trading labor for the loan of oxen and a plow; trading firewood for the use of a sleigh to haul it from the nearest woods, eight miles away. Slowly he dug a garden, grain fields, and livestock pasture out of the virgin soil.
During the winter he visited his cousins who lived near Fergus Falls, about 115 miles south southeast of Warren. While there, he did a little carpentry, and met the Halden family. We will return there in due time.