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Histories:  Trempealeau Co. Historical Accounts:

"History of Trempealeau County Wisconsin, 1917":

Chapter 10:

Scandinavian Settlers

-As transcribed from pages 152 - 159

The Scandinavian landseekers usually had three things in view, wood, water and hay, as necessary to the establishment of a home.  Where any of these essentials were lacking or the soil too sandy, it was ordinarily considered undesirable.  Therefore we find them among the hills, if they had a choice.

Gulick Olson was one of a company that came up from the Bad Axe country in Vernon County and settled three miles east of what is now Blair, in 1855.  He was the first Scandinavian settler in Trempealeau County.  Ebert Olson, his son, now marshal in Blair, is the first child born in Trempealeau County of Norwegian parents.

About the same time came Bjorgo Olson, Jacob, Peter and Salve Tonneson and Nils Halvorson.  A little later Ole Teppen, Syver and Iver Iverson came from Oleana, Ole Bull's renowned colony.  Teppen Coulee is named in honor of this Ole Teppen.  In 1858 Terjan Thompson, 1859 Tosten Torrison Forkerud and Helge Opland settled in Tromps Coulee.  Settlers continued coming in from older settlements and direct from Scandinavia, mostly from Solor, in Norway, and spread in all directions till this settlement has the distinction of being the largest Solung settlement in America.

The Trempealeau Valley congregation was organized by Rev. H. A. Stub in 1857.  But a church was not built until 1868.

North Branch Beaver Creek received its first Scandinavian settlers in 1857, when Iver Knutson Syse and his son Orias Torblaa settled there, coming from Kosh Konong.  Torblaa, however, located just across the line in Jackson County.  In 1858 many others followed, among them Knut and Paul Hallenger, Amund Olson Haaheim, Knut Rocholson, Thomas and Nels Herreid, Ole Nilson Skaar, Tosten T. Ringven, Nels Henderson, Lars Hanson, Ole Ellingson, Ole Iverson Dale, Erick Grer and Nils Okland.  Rev. Nils Brandt organized a congregation here in 1858, and a church was built in 1861.  The congregation paid Ole Olson, a Swede in South Branch, who had some fine timber, $4.00 for the privilege of cutting the necessary material for their meeting house.  The whole congregation came together, cut and hauled the logs and put up a structure 30 by 24 by 12.  This church was built just across the line in Jackson County, and was the first Scandinavian church in Western Wisconsin.  This old historical structure is now occupied by Baard O. Herried as residence.  Among later arrivals are D. O. Hagestad, the first chairman of the town of Ettrick, Henrick Swendson, Arne Arneson, Torkel Gunderson, Berge Torkelson and his sons, Iver and Haldor, who came in 1859.  K. K. Hagestad came in 1860.  Many of the above came from the vicinity of Lodi, Wisconsin.  This settlement is mostly by people originally from Hardanger, Norway.

Another distinct Norwegian settlement is French Creek Valley, where Peter Anderson Hogden located in 1859.  He came from Halfway Creek to Trempealeau Valley, where he lived a short time before coming to French Creek.  He was the first Scandinavian in this valley.  The same year his two brothers, John and Andrew Hogden, also settled in this valley.  Ole E. Gilbertson, with a large family, arrived in 1860.  Among other early settlers can be mentioned Ole O. Onsrud, James Emerson, Anders Skundberg, Peter Olson, Lars Tolvstad, Iver Engehagen, Peder Ofsdahl, Christian Iverson, Andred Onsrud, Ole Smehaugen, Lars and Martin Larson, Ole Hovre, Fredrick Svern, Andrew Linrud, Peter and Ole Nilsestuen, Gilbert Jacobson, Hans Madson, Lars and Olaus Thompson, Nils Olson, Marcus P. Benrud, Tobias Olson, Ole Engelien, Ole Schie, Hans and Andrew Mustad.  This is a very rich valley and one of the most prosperous settlements in the county.  A good church was built in the early '70s, which was enlarged and remodeled about 20 years later.

The next Norwegian settlement in point of time is a little prosperous valley int he town of Gale that bears the name of that sturdy Scotchman, James Hardie, or Hardie's Creek Valley.  Christian Larson Hoff and Gilbert Emerson Ekern came across the Black River from Lewis Valley and settled here in 1860.  They were the first Norwegians there.  Shortly afterward we hear such names as Andrew Ekern, M. J. Scarseth, Ole J. Hemma, Amund Quisselstuen, Anders Trondson, Amund Bjornstad, Peter Amundson, Andrew Larson (Hovensholm), Michael Michaelson, Lars Syverson, Mathew Larson, Otto O. Rindahl, Ole O. Semb, Nils O. Sagen, Bernt Everson, Anders C. Haugstad, Mikkel Hanson, Hands Anderkvern and Even Fredrickson.  La Crosse County contributed the most of these settlers, and a large majority of them came from Biri, Norway, originally.

Pushing across the ridge northward from Hardie's Creek into South Branch Beaver Creek, another Norwegian settlement was formed.  Peter Larson came up from Coon Valley and located there in June, 1861, the first Norwegian in that valley.  In the fall of the same year came Even Swenson and Gilbert Nelson, shortly thereafter Christian Olson Syljuberget, Lars Anderson Osley, Ole O. Brendhaugen, Peder Johnson Bratstiengen, Svend Larson Bergum and others.

In 1862 we find Ole Gutormson locating in Tamarack Valley, the first Norwegian in what shortly became a very extensive Norwegian settlement.  The following year arrived Tollef Egilson, Sigurd and Berger Bergerson, John Gunderson, Knut Leofsen Strand, Egil Mikkelson, Trond Osovsen, John Hanson, John Hendrickson, Hendrick Olson and Hans C. Olson.  Others among early arrivals are Andrew Amundson, John Nilsestuen, Ole Olson, Lars Amundson, Ole Dove, Hans Hagen, Ole Heram, Ole Lindem, Lars Christianson, Christian Brennom, and the list could be continued to a great length.

Hans Herbjornson settled near that natural monument called Chimney Rock in 1865.  Soon after him came H. Kjentvet, Mr. Brynjulson and others, until this whole town, which derives its name from this peculiar rock, is largely Scandinavian.

The large and beautiful valley of the Pigeon Creek, which now no doubt is the finest in the county, was for a long time shunned by the early landseekers on account of its scarcity of wood and hay, and distance from market.  It was not until 1867 that any Scandinavian located there, when Erick Larson from La Crosse County, who, as near as I have been able to learn, was the first Scandinavian to locate in this valley.  Then came P. Pederson, Mikkel Hagen, Mathias Tuv, and the list of prominent Scandinavians who have settled here would be so long that I shall not attempt to mention later arrivals.  These settlers located mostly on land claimed by the Wisconsin Western Railroad Company, but this land had not come into market, and on account of its distance from the tracks it was thought the railway company could not hold it, and that the land would revert to the government and become homestead land.  The settlers selected their claims and sat on them awaiting the outcome.

One Anders Christianson, locally called "Ringerikingen," a man of rather extravagant ideas, claimed a whole section.  His neighbor, Mr. Elsom, who had bought an eighty of State school land just across the road from "Ringerikingen," wanted a forty out of the section claimed by "R" adjoining his own, and conceived the idea to built on that forty, and commenced operations with a view of crowding "Ringerikingen" off.  This happened to be one of the forties that would eventually be "Ringerikingen's" homestead.  He, of course, felt aggrieved, his neighbors viewed such proceedings with alarm, as under such rule no one would be safe from invaders.  Several neighbors got together for the purpose of visiting Mr. Elsom to see if a little moral suasion would not induce him to withdraw from his neighbor's claim.  When they came to the place Mr. Elsom was absent, but Mrs. Elsom, a beautiful young woman of considerable fortitude very much in evidence, was informed of the purpose of their visit - namely, to move what had been done toward a building back to her own side of the road.  Mrs. Elsom objected in very unmistakable terms, and to emphasize her objections brought out a double-barreled shotgun and promised to put a hole through the first one that laid hands on her property.  This did not put any more ambition in the house movers, as no one knew what she might do.

G. F. Steig, always resourceful, was among the company, saw that something had to be done, approached her jokingly and said:  "What do you want of that gun?  You daren't fire it off, and if you did you could not hit the side of that big bluff."  She contended she could hit any mark they would give her.  They wanted the gun discharged and she was anxious to show her marksmanship.  So E. Larson, another member of this company, hung his hat on a bush a fair distance away.  She brought the gun to her face.  Bang!  Lo and behold, the hat was so full of holes it hardly made a shadow.  But there was still one charge in the gun and the gun in the hands of a marksman of proved ability.  It would suit the visitors better if this also was out.  Steig insisted this was an accidental hit.  She vowed she shot like that every time.  Just then a woodpecker lit on a little tree a few rods distant.  Steig said:  "Bring him down and we will admit you have made your claim good."  Thinking that another hit would be still more awe-inspiring, and she had plenty of ammunition, she placed the gun again to cheek, pulled the trigger, and down came the bird fluttering to the ground.  "Now, boys," said Mr. Steig, "to the task, and hurry before the gun is reloaded."  Several men on each corner of the just-commenced building picked it up and carried it across the road and set it on Elsom's own land.  This was done so quickly that she, in her astonishment, did not attempt, nor found time, to reload.  Seeing how she had been outgeneraled, she did not further molest the men, who fixed up the building in the new location with cornerstones and excavations precisely as it was found.  When Mr. Elsom came on the scene, after the first impulse of wrath had subsided, he took it philosophically and admitted the rule was just and the action of these men was as binding as a decision by a jury.  Thus was established the rule no one should molest another on these loose titles.  As is usual, the railway company secured extensions and additional grants, got title to these lands, and the settlers each bought his claim.

I have been told the first Scandinavian in the town of Sumner was Mrs. Silkworth.  She came up from Richland County to work for Green & Silkworth at Beef River Station in 1855.  She afterward married Mr. Silkworth.  I have been unable to learn her maiden name.  John Christianson located in the vicinity of Eleva, Anders Skei, A. Staa, Gunder Johnson, Anders Tvet, Nils Larson, John Larson, Halyren Torbjen and Ole Knutson.

In 1874 the first Scandinavians came to Plum Creek.  They were Lars Davidson, Ole, Tom and John Jackson.  In 1875 Knut Everson, Oliver A. Hegg, Syver Amundson and Bennet Anderson, and shortly thereafter Ole Thompson, Ole Narveson and Andy Anderson came.

The early Scandinavians, like most other emigrants, were poor, came here to get cheap land and build themselves homes, some at first living in dug-outs with sod for walls, marsh hay for thatch, and kind Mother Earth for floor.  Others, yes, a large majority, had small and hastily-constructed log huts chinked and plastered between the logs with clay.  Their farming implements were wood-beam plow, a drag, Morgan cradle, snath and scythe, hand-rake and two-tined fork, wagon with wooden skein and lynch pin, spring seat of two sapplings, rear ends of which were fastened to a cross piece under the wagon box, resting on a cross piece on top of the wagon box, the front ends extending to which was nailed a board for the seat.  Oxen, their faithful beast of burden, and their beef when too old for work.  They tilled the early settler's soil, marketed his produce and took the family to church.  This condition, however, was not peculiar to the Scandinavians alone, but to all early settlers.

Perhaps these glimpses into pioneer life portray a condition full of poverty, misery, sorrow and hopelessness.  But such was not the case.  True, the early Scandinavians, like most all other new settlers in the county, had little of property and much of poverty, often misery and privations.  But they did have a fund of good cheer and hope, and a hospitality that is unknown at this day prevailed.  If one had little it was freely divided with one less fortunate.  Lodging and board were given the traveler out of such scantiness as the house afforded, style and fashion never mentioned or thought of, the spare bedroom was always in order in the mansion which consisted of one room and perhaps an attic, a sociability and neighborly feeling there prevailed that does not exist today.  Religious meetings, social gatherings and dancing parties were had in these small and simple but happy homes.  There were discussed the political affairs, county and town matters, church and domestic problems, agriculture and markets.

The early Scandinavians of this county were religiously inclined.  Therefore, as soon as so many had located in a locality as to deserve the name of "settlement," the first work of a social nature was usually to perfect a church organization.  Literary societies, debating clubs and singing schools were also common.  The Scandinavians of Trempealeau County have now 27 churches, though nearly all are modest structures, they are all neat, comfortable and sufficient for the needs in their respective localities, and represent considerable money outlay.  They have, to my knowledge, three parochial school houses, possibly more, one college, one Scandinavian insurance company, which was organized in 1877 mainly by the efforts of Jens K. Hagestad, who became its first president, N. L. Tolvstad its first secretary, and Iver P. Enghagen its first treasurer, which office he has held continually and still holds.  At its last annual meeting this company carried $5,058,376.00 in risks and had the neat little sum of $20,445.37 in its treasury.

As before mentioned, the Scandinavians who left their mother country to seek new homes were of the laboring class.  So were the Scandinavian pioneers of this county.  Labor was their only asset.  Strong and willing hands, industrious and frugal habits, honest and cheerful hearts, perseverance and undaunted courage, was all they brought with them.  These are worthy characteristics and made the Scandinavians a powerful factor in the development of this county.  Labor was an absolute necessity in the building of homes and transforming the wild country into productive farms.  Being honest and steady workers, they were sought by the older settlers as farm hands, artisans, salesmen, and so on, and they eagerly availed themselves of the opportunities when not needed on their claims.

Compared with their English, Scotch and Irish fellow pioneers, they were at a decided disadvantage, not being conversant with the language of their adopted country.  Consequently, very few of them held public office or clerical positions - at any rate out of all proportion to their numbers or natural abilities.  They were, however, well equipped in their own language, they could all read, most of them write and cipher, and many enjoyed higher education.  Weekly newspapers were soon found in every home, and they were as well posted on current events as their English-speaking brethren.  Therefore, though not foremost on the public rostrum, they were an intelligent and safe factor in the settlement of all public questions.  Their patriotism and loyalty to the land of their adoption is evidenced by the number of volunteers that went forth from among them to save the Union during the dark days of the Rebellion, and their record for valor is second to none.

Of the manual labor that has gone into the development of this county, no nationality has contributed so much as the Scandinavians.  Go where you will throughout the county and see the fertile, well-fenced farms, with their comfortable homes, spacious and well-painted barns and other farm buildings, good roads and substantial bridges, fine public buildings and parks, business houses and manufacturing establishments, it would be hard to point to that which has not some of the Scandinavian brain or brawn in its make-up, for which the pioneer directly or indirectly deserves credit.

Taken collectively, they had their faults as well as their virtues, but their good traits outweighed their bad ones, leaving the balance in their favor.  This is the heritage they left to the cosmopolitan population of Trempealeau County of today.

(By Peter H. Johnson.)


In the spring of the year 1854, there was a large number of immigrants that left their native home, Hardanger, Norway, for the United States.  Most of them settled temporarily in Dane and Columbia counties, this State.

At that time government lands that seemed to be of any value in these counties were taken up by settlers and speculators.  These sturdy young men and women, without any means to buy the higher-priced lands held by speculators, and desiring to procure a home of their own without running too much in debt, began to look around for cheaper lands.

In 1855 the first immigration of Norwegians began in Trempealeau Valley, and the rumors of the fertile villages of Trempealeau and Jackson counties began to spread.

In 1857, Iver K. Syse, Iver and his son Orjans Torblaa arrived into North Beaver Creek.  Mr. Syse settled in Trempealeau and the two Torblaas across the line in Jackson County.

In 1858 the following arrived:  K. K. Hallanger, Knut Richelson, the two brothers, Thomas and Nels Herreid, the latter the father of C. N. Herreid, once Governor of South Dakota, Ole N. Skaar, Tosten R. Thompson, Nels B. Henderson, Lars Hanson, Ole Ellingson and Ole I. Dale.

In 1859, Simon Nelson, Torkel Gunderson, Arne Arneson, Torkel Haldorson, Haldor and Iver Torkelson and Anve O. Saed and several others arrived.  These settled in the valley east and west of the county line in the vicinity of what was formerly known as Hegg Postoffice.  The largest part of these settlers arrived on the same ship in 1854, including Knut K. Hagestad, Sr., and family.

The first settlers in Bear Creek Valley in 1858 were aforesaid Ole Ellingson, Lars Knutson, from Nummedahl, and Helge Knutson from Hallingdal.  He served in the army and died in a Southern hospital in 1864.  His brother, Anders Knutson, arrived three years later.

In 1860, Knut K. Hagestad, Sr., Lars Grinde, the two brothers Lars B. and Gullick Johnson, D. O. Hagestad, Lasse Olson and several others arrived.

The Brovold and Instenes families, Jens K. Hagestad, Hendrick Svenson, Halvor Skjeie, and five brothers of Thomas and Nels Herreid, with numerous others, arrived and settled in the valley in the '60s.

The first Norwegian Lutheran church organization was perfected in 1858.  In 1859 the congregation decided to build a church, as the primitive farm dwellings were very inconvenient for religious gatherings.  A large part of the dwellings were dug-outs in the side-hills, with Mother Earth for floors and walls, and poles, marsh hay and sod for roofing.  those that were more able built log houses 12 by 12 or 12 by 14, and the more pretentious structures were 16 by 16 by 10 feet high.  The roofing consisted mostly of shakes cut out of oak logs with straight grain in 2-foot lengths and split similar to shingles with a board ax for cleaver, and evened off to proper thickness with a hand ax.

After they had decided to build the church, every male member of the congregation that was able to swing an ax joined together and went south over the hills into South Beaver Creek to cut logs for the building.  They were allowed for the sum of $4.00 to cut the logs that were needed for the structure 24 by 30 by 12 feet high on the lands of Ole Olson, a Swede.  The logs were hewed in the woods and hauled in the winter of 1859-60, and the church was built likewise by the members in 1860-61.  There as no money to spare to hire carpenters to do the work, but most of them were handy with tools, and all were willing to do their share of the work.  This was the first Norwegian Lutheran church built in Western Wisconsin.

The old log church was superseded by a more modern frame structure in the early '70s.  After the new church was completed, the old church was sold to Baard O. Herreid, who moved it onto his farm one and on-half miles north of Hegg, and it is now used for a dwelling house.

The first School District of the North Branch of Beaver Creek was organized in 1861, now known as the Hegg district, and the Bear Creek District was organized in 1862.

The main promoter and organizer of the Ettrick Scandinavian Mutual Insurance Company was Jens K. Hagestad, who came into the valley in 1867 and bought the Iver K. Syse farm in 1868.  The company was incorporated under the laws of the State February 16, 1877, and commenced business April 4, 1877, with the following officers:  Jens K. Hagestad, President; N. L. Tolvstad, Secretary, and Iver P. Engehagen, Treasurer, who has served the company as Treasurer up to the present time.

(By E. J. Brovold.)

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