Lars Davidson Reque: Pioneer
By A. Sophie Bøe (Volume VI: Page 30)
Lars Davidson Reque was born on June 4, 1818, on the gaard Reque in Voss, Norway. This farmstead was beautifully located on the side of a steep mountain rising above a large lake, and on this place five gaardsmaend (farmers) together with several husmænd (cotters) and their families lived. Each farm had its own name -- Opistaavo, Opigaren, Utegaren, Bortegaren, and Nigaren -- according to its location. All five of the farm owners used the name Reque, although few, if any of them, were related.
Lars D. Reque's parents were David Ericksen Reqve
and Karl Larsdatter Schiple (Skiple). He had one brother, Erich, and three sisters, Guri, Johanna, and Gudve. The family was one of moderate means, but its members represented an intelligent type of peasant.
In April, 1839, when Lars Reque was about twenty years old, he and four of his friends decided to emigrate to America to seek their fortune in the new world. Several Vossings had already emigrated, and their letters were read with great interest. A large group had met in the Reque home to hear the reading of Ole Rynning's True Account of America (1838), and this had inspired others, among them Lars Reque, to go.
In Bergen Reque and his companions went on board a little sailboat bound directly for New York -- the first emigrant ship, according to Nils A. Lee, to leave that. harbor. According to K. A. Rene there were about twenty men from Voss sailing on this boat, eleven of them being married men with their families. A salute was given from the fort as they left, and it was answered by those on board who had firearms. After nine weeks and two days of stormy and perilous sailing, during which time the pumps had been constantly in operation, the leaky little schooner reached New York on July 4. Cannons were booming in the forts of the harbor, and shooting and other noises were heard from the shore. The emigrants were frightened, for they thought their boat was being bombarded from the fort. They had anticipated an attack by Indians and had, before leaving, equipped themselves with such firearms as they could muster, but they had not expected to be attacked so soon. They were relieved, however, to see that none of the shots struck the boat, and happy when they learned the significance of the day and the true reason for the shooting.
Reque was much impressed by the steamboats that he saw in the harbor, and still more by all the wonderful things he witnessed after landing. Locomotives and matches overwhelmed him with wonder, although the latter filled him with a superstitious fear. All this magnificence, however, made him feel depressed, for he thought it would be hard for a greenhorn like himself to make any progress in such a wonderful country.
In New York the immigrants met a man from Bergen by the name of Trompsei, who made arrangements for them to travel to Buffalo. Each adult person paid this man four dollars for himself and baggage.
From New York they went up the Hudson River to Albany on a steamboat that had nine other vessels,
probably freight boats, attached to it. Here all their baggage was weighed. From Albany they went to Schenectady by a train which consisted of fifteen ears, including freight cars and engine. This trip capped the climax for them all. Reque said he could never forget how wonderful that ride was. One of his friends wrote back to Norway that this was the swiftest ride he had ever had in his life, for he could scarcely see what kind of trees grew along the way; another said he was hardly able to fix his eyes on any object. At Schenectady the immigrants boarded a canal boat for Buffalo.
The Erie Canal was 360 miles long, and a trip through it could be made in twelve days if all went well, but required as much as three weeks if there were delays. The crude boats engaged in canal traffic were used mainly for transporting grains, furs, cattle, and various farm products to the East. On the return trip they carried immigrants, who were often driven onto the boat like cattle. The deck was merely rinsed off with water before the beginning of the return trip, and usually was anything but dean. Though there were no conveniences for passengers, such as chairs, tables, and beds, all immigrants had their chests, which were very useful. One immigrant wrote that the boat was so crowded that he and his companions stayed on deck night and day. As many of the canal boats did not even have windows, this may have been the most comfortable place.
Slow progress was made, for the boats were drawn by horses or mules that walked on land alongside the canal. The rate of speed was usually two or three miles an hour, and often, for a change, the men would get out and walk until they reached a bridge. From this they would jump down into the boat as it passed underneath. It was not a high jump, for in many places a person could scarcely stand upright on deck when the boat passed under a bridge. The difficulties of sleeping on these canal boats, because
of the wretched accommodations, were increased by constant noise. As H. R. Holand writes,
The whole journey was an incessant and simply maddening racket in getting through the many locks, of which there were no less than eighty-three. To this was added the noise of loading and unloading at the frequent stopping places, the thundering collisions with other canal boats, the wrangling and foul talk between commanders of the different barges, and the awful turmoil and confusion when the whole ark, as often happened, ran aground on a mud-bank.
No doubt young Reque and his friends enjoyed all this commotion, for everything was new to them and they were full of fun and of the love of adventure.
In Rochester, near the western end of the canal, the Norwegian immigrants met Lars Larsen Gjeilene, a shipbuilder who had come from Norway fourteen years before on the sloop "Restaurationen." They engaged his wife, Martha, to accompany them to Buffalo as interpreter. It was well that they did so, for shortly after they arrived there three constables arrested the entire party. Reque said that on the advice of an earlier immigrant they had supplied themselves well with Christian VII two-skilling pieces, which were worth six cents in America. These they had used freely along the way and also in Buffalo, although they received only two cents apiece for them. The constables in Buffalo insisted on examining their money with the above-mentioned result. Mrs. Larsen succeeded in helping them out of their predicament, and they were released on condition that they take back their foreign money.
In Buffalo the immigrants had to pay for their baggage again. They had understood that the four dollars paid in New York included transportation for their baggage too, but this must have been a mistake, for it was not weighed until it arrived in Albany. This Trompsei from Bergen may not have understood matters correctly, or may not have had authority to make any arrangements at all.
From Buffalo Reque and his companions went by steamboat on the Great Lakes to Chicago. The lake boats were larger and faster than the canal boats, but not much more convenient for immigrants. The poor newcomers suffered much insolence, especially from boat officials, but fortunately they did not understand all that was said to them. On July 25 Reque and his friends reached Chicago, their destination. The trip from New York had taken three weeks, and that from Norway ninety-six days. The passage across the ocean had cost Reque $35.50, and from New York to Chicago $12.00 for himself, and $7.50 for his baggage. He told Martin Ulvestad some years later that the entire trip from Norway to Chicago had cost him ninety dollars, not counting food, which evidently he had brought along from his homeland. As it was, Reque reached his destination almost penniless.
In 1839 Chicago had about five thousand inhabitants but was not much of a town. "My heart sank when I looked upon Chicago for the first time," Reque later told Professor Rasmus B. Anderson. "Why, it was the nastiest place you can imagine; nothing but a slimy marsh, with some miserable shanties here and there. How it ever got into the heads of sensible folks to start a city in such a place is beyond my comprehension! Many a time did I sink to my knees where some of the biggest buildings now stand." Malaria and ague were common; the outlook was not promising for strangers arriving there. The poor newcomer regretted much having left his comfortable home in Norway. He had one acquaintance in Chicago, however, Nils Røthe, who was also from Voss, and had come to America three years earlier. Røthe on one occasion invited Reque to his simple little home and gave him a meal of mush and milk --" the only meal I received for nothing during my first five years in America," he once told a reporter.
Reque could not speak a word of English, and there was
practically no work to be had in the town. Not long after his arrival, however, he and six other young unmarried Norwegian newcomers were given work some thirteen miles from Chicago on the Illinois Canal, then being dug. Since they were to receive a dollar a day and board for this work, Reque was elated. He considered the wages splendid and dreamed of the wealth he soon would have. He could not understand how a greenhorn like himself could be paid so much, and the thought of it all fairly took his breath away. It was not long, however, before the work itself took his breath away, for it was very strenuous. Besides digging, the men had to wheel dirt in wheelbarrows over planks zigzagging across the dirty ditch. They were not used to such labor and found it hard work guiding the barrow on the narrow plank. Occasionally one would fall with his wheelbarrow into the slimy mud, to the great amusement of the others. Anders N. Brekke fell twenty feet, wheelbarrow and all, and came near drowning; but what he almost thought was worse was that he spoiled his new leather jacket and knee breeches.
The weather was hot and sultry, and malaria hovered in the mosquito-infested marshes through which the canal was being dug. The ditch in which these men worked was twenty feet deep, and much of the time they had to stand in water while working. One after the other fell sick. One of them died; the others recovered slowly. To make matters worse, none of them were paid for their work. "Ali we got was fever," Reque said.
Reque held out the longest and "was the toughest," as he said; but after two weeks he, too, fell sick. Though almost too weak to walk, he managed to return to Chicago, and through the efforts of one of his countrymen was taken into the home of a kind American. Here he lay ill for five weeks -- much of the time delirious. A doctor visited him almost daily, but pronounced the case hopeless. Reque,
however, did not give up, and by Christmas he was out of danger, although still very weak. The doctor demanded thirty-three dollars for his services -- a large sum at that time. Reque had only eighteen dollars, and this he gave him. Again he was penniless. He could not remain indefinitely at the home of the man who had befriended him, and so he left. Winter was coming on and he was "absolutely penniless, homeless, friendless and without strength." How he regretted having left his native land!
Shortly before Christmas a Vossing, Sjur Ulvan (Ulvund) took the newcomer into his shanty -- a wretched little shack without a floor. Reque was still so weak that he could not walk without support, and the only place he had to sleep that winter was on the hard, cold ground in Ulvan's hovel. After every snowstorm there was snow in the shack, sometimes several inches deep. Here it was that Lars D. Reque spent his first Christmas in America -- and a dreary Christmas it was. "I was in utter gloom," he said, "-- no one to preach the blessed word of God to me! Such a Christmas I pray none may be compelled to spend."
By spring the young man had regained sufficient strength to begin work again. During the winter he had done some wood-chopping, but the pay for such work was small. Once he was offered a lot in the heart of the town for chopping a cord of wood, but he scorned such poor pay. This decision was not so strange, for the roads were so muddy that a driver with his wagon would get mired in the best of streets, and good sidewalks were almost unknown. Little could he think that before he died that "nasty marsh" would have a population of much over two million. The Merchandise Mart, now the largest building in the world, is located about where Reque lived and worked in his early Chicago years. Chicago did not have a railroad until thirteen years after Reque's arrival. It is amusing to read in the first letter that he wrote to Norway from there that "if
you want to write to me then you can write to Chicago in
Illinois. I will surely get the letters if they are addressed to me."
For five months during the summer of 1840 Reque worked as a fireman on the "George W. Dole," a steamboat sailing between Chicago and ports in Michigan, and for this work he received eighteen dollars for the entire period. Dr. George T. Flom says in his Norwegian Immigration that "Lars Rekve worked for a year on a steamer plying between Chicago and St. Joseph, Mich." Whether this was the same steamer cannot be determined now.
In the fall of 1840 Reque decided to hunt for land. The country west of the Mississippi was practically uninhabited. There were about thirty thousand inhabitants living within the boundaries of Wisconsin Territory, but by far the greater part of it was a wilderness. Nevertheless, Nils Gilderhus, one of the friends who had come over with Reque, had in the spring bought some land in Dane County, in the southern part of the territory, and Reque was interested in seeing this property before purchasing land for himself. Late in the fall he and Gilderhus, with the latter's brother Ole, started out from Chicago on foot. They walked first to the Fox River, in Illinois, where some of the "sloopers" from New York had settled five or six years earlier. Thence they proceeded to Dane County in Wisconsin Territory, a walk of more than two hundred miles in all. "On reaching Albion they stopped over night at the house of Thorstein Olson Bjaadland, who had not yet returned to Illinois for the winter. Thorstein Olson, who was a shoemaker, mended Lars Davidson's shoes for him," Rasmus B. Anderson says in his Norwegian Immigration.
Reque liked the fine, fertile country in Dane County very much and decided to buy half a quarter-section. Ole Gilderhus also selected some land near by. After this was done the three men walked to Milwaukee, a town eighty
miles east, to pay for their land and have it recorded. The records show that this was done on December 8, 1840. Reque was the second Norwegian to buy land in the township of Deerfield, later a part of the well-known Koshkonong settlement -- Nils Gilderhus having bought his a few months before. Reque bought only eighty acres, for which he paid one hundred dollars, but this took all the money he had, and so he had to walk back to Chicago to try to get work. The entire walk, from Chicago to Dane County by way of the Fox River and back by way of Milwaukee, amounted to considerably more than four hundred miles. For much of this distance there were no roads to follow.
The next two years were taken up with various kinds of work. In a sketch that Reque wrote many years ago, he says that (luring his first five years in America he "knocked about among strangers, working as a sailor on the Great Lakes, digging in a canal, and chopping timber in the pine forests of Wisconsin and Michigan." Dr. Flom writes, "Not having the means wherewith to make improvements on his land, Rekve soon after went to Muskegon, Michigan, where he secured employment in a sawmill." K. A. Rene says this was in the summer of 1841, and he also says that for this work Reque received twelve dollars a month, but that four years passed before he received it all. Reque, however, was no longer discouraged over any adversities, for in a letter that he wrote to Norway in December, 1841, he says he does not at all regret having left there. Part of one year he floated logs down the Muskegon River. While doing this work he came in contact with many Indians, which were numerous along the banks of this river. They never molested him and he did not fear them as, before leaving Norway, he thought he would have done.
In the spring of 1842 Reque returned to the land he had bought in Wisconsin, intending to begin farming. Farming without implements was impossible, so he bought an ax and
a spade, hoping some day to be able to buy a plow and a team of oxen. In the meantime he grubbed away some hazel brush on his land and spaded up a patch big enough to plant two bushels of potatoes. A few other men had settled in the vicinity by this time, and he hired one of these, the before-mentioned Ole Gilderhus, to take care of his garden. He then went to Mineral Point and Dodgeville in southwestern Wisconsin to work in the lead mines, hoping thereby to make enough money to be able to begin farming. His wages there were thirteen dollars a month.
In the fall Reque returned to his farm to dig up his potatoes. He got a good crop, for the soil was rich. He hired the same farmer to haul them to his cellar for storage during the winter, and again he returned to the mines. The following spring he went back to see about this first farm crop. When settling up with Gilderhus for cultivation, hauling, and storage he had to give him all the potatoes and eighteen cents in addition. This first attempt at farming was not, therefore, very encouraging; nevertheless he would not give up his land. He went to the woods and cut enough logs to build an eight by twelve hut which had no floor but had a roof made of planks that he had chopped from the logs. He then returned to the lead mines, for he was determined to earn enough money to buy a team of oxen and a plow. It is interesting to know that at that time all work in the mines was done by hand power, and also that all the lead from the mines was hauled to Milwaukee or Chicago by oxen, ten to fifteen teams in a train, and thence shipped east.
Life in the mines was miserable and the miners were a rough and very ungodly lot. Many of them were Scandinavians. Reque describes the situation in an interview reported by Mr. Martin Ulvestad:
Once there came two itinerant preachers who held religious services in a rude log schoolhouse, seeking to reform them. The
room was lighted by tallow candles stuck into the walls. Some of the rogues among the miners exchanged these for some that had been filled with powder, and right in the middle of the sermon the flame reached the powder. Pop! Pop! One light after the other went out, leaving the people in darkness and smoke. The poor revivalists took fright and left.
Some time later two other preachers came and conducted services in the same place. One evening they began to tell how terrible would be the fate of those who violate God's commandments. They would be thrown into a dark pit from which sulphurous fumes and smoke ascend. Meantime some of the miners had tied the door from the outside and stuffed the chimney full of rags so that the schoolhouse filled with smoke. It seemed to the frightened people within that they were already in the terrible pit, and there was a wild scene. All tried to escape, including the preachers, but they could not force open the door. At last the rogues let them out, but all services were discontinued in that schoolhouse.
Reque worked in the mines for more than two years, going to his farm for the summers. One summer he made a kubberulle. It was built entirely of logs, the wheels being sawed-off ends of big logs. This was his first wagon; it was a clumsy vehicle, but it served the purpose for which it was made.
By 1844 Reque had made enough money to buy a team of oxen and a plow, so he decided to begin farming in earnest. He had his ax and his spade, and he bought a few other simple farm implements. The country was still wild, the woods were full of wild animals, and snakes were annoyingly numerous. It was not unusual to find a snake under one's bed when one prepared to retire for the night. Once Reque found a large one hanging from a ham that was suspended from the ceiling.
There were still many Indians in Wisconsin. "They were my most common, most numerous neighbors," Reque said. "They prowled around my house every day and hunted for game in the woods on my land. They often demanded food and I always gave them what I could. Thus I kept on friendly terms with them, and they never molested me in any
way." There was a large Indian village, Mud Creek, just east of his farm, and Reque learned to speak and understand a little of their language. Because of this, the Indians often came to him to settle disputes. Sometimes his house was so crowded with them that there was scarcely standing room left.
During the summer of 1844 an interesting event occurred. Nels E. Lee of Deerfield, Wisconsin, says that in the spring of 1844 Ole Bergo came to America with his wife and his daughter Ingebor. On the way to their destination in Koshkonong in Wisconsin Territory they had to cross a small stream. While they were discussing how they were going to get across, a young man came toward them from the opposite direction. When he reached the water he took off his shoes and stockings, rolled up his trousers, and waded across to the side where the newcomers were. A conversation ensued, and soon Lars Reque, for he was the young man, picked up the young lady, Ole Bergo picked up his wife, and both waded safely across the muddy stream.
Reque's daughter Kari has said that the ocean trip lasted eighteen weeks. This probably includes the time spent on the canal and on the Great Lakes. She has also said that Ole Bergo and his wife came earlier than 1844, and were not accompanied by any of their children. If this is true, it was Ingebor's brother Claus with his wife who came over with her instead of her parents. Reque lost his heart to the pretty, rosy-cheeked, eighteen-year-old maid, and decided at once to ask her to marry him. It is said that he was so bashful that he had to have someone else do the asking for him. Fortunately Ingebor accepted the proposal. She was taken sick of typhoid fever soon after her arrival, however, and lay at the home of a neighbor for weeks while the anxious lover hoped and prayed for her recovery.
Ingebor did recover, and in November, three months after her arrival in America, she was married to the big,
handsome Vossing who had carried her across the muddy stream. In the Luther College Museum Bulletin, this event is mentioned in connection with the kubberulle now preserved in the Norwegian-American Historical Museum at Decorah:
In a letter to the curator, Rev. N. E. Bøe, father of President L. W. Boe of St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota, states that it [the kubberulle] had belonged to Lars D. Reque, his father-in-law, who came to America in 1839. In 1840  he married Ingebor Bergo who had come to America that year. As there was no clergyman to perform the wedding ceremony according to the church ritual, the bridal couple had to go from Deerfield Township to McFarland, a distance of fourteen miles, to a justice of the peace to be married. The bridegroom hitched his oxen to the kubberulle, placed the bride on a bundle of hay on the rear bolster, and drove to McFarland. They found the justice of the peace, who performed the marriage ceremony. But as the bride did not understand English, she used to say that she did not know whether she was properly married or not. They lived, however, a long and happy wedded life.
After this eventful trip with his first "buggy," Lars Reque brought his bride to his little cabin. Mrs. Reque used to say many years later that the house was so small she had to go outside every time she wanted to turn around. Its only table was a plank laid across a box, and as the box was used for a cupboard, the plank had to be removed every time the housewife needed supplies. The two young people were happy notwithstanding the smallness of their home, and no doubt Ingebor had many a good laugh with her fun-loving husband over their crude utensils and furniture.
Mrs. Styrk Reque tells that in 1845 Sjur S. Reque (no relative of L. D. Reque, but from the same gaard in Norway) came to America, and after buying two span of oxen and two wagons in Chicago, set forth with his wife and five children for Spring Prairie, Wisconsin. Two weeks later he reached Lars D. Reque's home, and was invited to rest his oxen and stay for a few days. Mrs. Lars Reque taught Sjur Reque's wife how to make bread and prepare other
American dishes. The visit was so pleasant that Sjur Reque and his family stayed for a week.
Reque, during the spring and summer preceding his marriage, had plowed up a little field on the open land on his farm, and on this he planted corn. In the fall he harvested a good crop from the rich soil. He was well satisfied with the first returns from his farm -- not counting the luckless potato venture -- and this crop was to be a blessing to him.
Shortly before Christmas -- only a month after his marriage -- Reque had a serious accident. Nels Holman, editor of the Deerfield News, tells the story as the old Viking himself told it to him many years later:
Shortly before Christmas when Reque was in the woods cutting timber, a tree fell on him and struck him unconscious. When he came to his senses he found that his right leg had been broken and he was nearly frozen. A neighbor heard his call and came to him, but couldn't move him. He ran for two other neighbors, and between them they carried him to his house in a blanket. A doctor had to be gotten from Fort Atkinson, the nearest one. This [accident] kept him in bed all winter. Practically the only food they had was the crop of corn. That had to be taken to Lake Mills to be ground. For meat they traded corn meal to the Indians for venison. At that time there was a large Indian village just east of him, near Mud Creek. They [the Indians] visited him frequently, sometimes filling up his little house so long as there was standing room. Before he broke his leg he had felled a lot of good logs intended for fence rails, but they were stealing them away during the winter. So before he was able to dispense with the crutch in the spring, he began to split rails. His wife helped him carry the mall and wedges from place to place.
It took more than these set-backs, however, to discourage Reque.
Larger crops of potatoes, corn, and other products were harvested each succeeding year, and soon the settlers had more than they needed for their own use; but it was difficult to dispose of the surplus. Milwaukee, eighty miles away, was the nearest market, but as good roads and bridges were
lacking, traveling was very difficult. A trip to that town and back lasted from nine days to two weeks, depending on the weather and the condition of the roads. Usually several neighbors would go together, each with his team of oxen. They would take food along with them and would sleep under their wagons no matter how bad the weather was. In Milwaukee they sometimes had to wait several days at the mill for their turn to have their supply of wheat unloaded and disposed of. "It was not till the railroad reached Whitewater and Madison in 1854," Reque said to Rasmus B. Anderson, "that I was able to sell my grain to advantage. After that I made headway year by year."
The Koshkonong community was growing rapidly, and Scandinavians, especially Vossings, were settling everywhere in that region. In 1844 a congregation -- West Koshkonong -- was organized by Pastor J. W. C. Dietrichson, and a little log church was built nine miles from Reque's farm. Dietrichson continued to serve it for six years, but was then succeeded by Pastor A. C. Preus, and later by Pastor J. A. Ottesen -- all pioneers themselves, although university graduates. According to the "Church Register" in Dr. Flom's Norwegian Immigration, L. D. Reque was a member of this congregation from its beginning.
The Scandinavians in this community were fast becoming prosperous, for the country was a veritable paradise; but before they thought of building big homes for themselves, they wanted a place of worship that was worthy of its purpose. The little log church was rather far away, and they felt that it was too simple. In 1851, only ten years after the first settler had built a home, a large, fine, stone church (the "Liberty") was built for the community in which Reque lived. Its cost was only four thousand dollars, because much of the work and material were furnished by the farmers, among whom was Reque.
The year 1851 saw the coming to Koshkonong of an
immigrant family that was later to mean much to the Reques. This was the Eidsvaag (later called Bøe) family from Søndhordland in Norway. When the ox team and wagon with these immigrants packed into it, consisting of the driver, father, mother, and six children, arrived at the Reque place, they stopped for a drink of water. Mrs. Reque gave them all the milk they wanted. While the five boys in the immigrant van were enjoying their milk, the two Reque girls -- Karl, age five, and Anna, age two -- hung on the fence looking at these newcomer boys. The Eidsvaags settled on an adjoining farm, and within twenty years Anna was married to Nils (the Reverend N. E. Bøe) and Kari to his brother Endre.
In the middle fifties the community was visited by the now extinct passenger pigeon. The birds were a pest to the farmers, for they came in huge flocks in the spring, stayed two or three weeks during the planting season, and devoured all the newly-planted grain. After their visit the fields had to be replanted. One morning Reque went out and planted by hand a forty-acre field with oats. When he came back he told his hired man to go out and harrow it. The latter took the oxen and went out, but soon came back, saying, "I can't find the field." "Can't find the field?" said Reque, irritated because the man was so stupid. "Well, I'll have to go and show it to you then." He went out and found not a single kernel left in the field; the pigeons had eaten up everything in that short time. He had to sow the whole field over again, and this time there was no delay in harrowing it. There was nothing anyone could do to frighten the birds away; there were too many of them.
In the summer of 1858 the passenger pigeons came in such unbelievably big flocks that they literally hid the sun from view; it was dark at midday. They completely covered the ground when they settled down to eat, and occasionally when a flock of them settled on a dead tree the branches
would break off. When all flew off at once the sound of their wings was like thunder; the sudden jar might cause the tree from which they alighted to fall.
There was a large forest west of the Reque farm, and here thousands of pigeons would come for the night. Early in the morning they would fly eastward in a huge, steady, black stream that required hours to pass a given point, and toward evening they would return. People came in large numbers to kill the birds for food. Farmers arrived with wagons and bushel baskets, which were quickly filled. Anyone who had a rifle needed only to shoot into the woods at random; birds would be sure to fall. If a man had no gun he could throw stones aimlessly up into the trees and be sure of killing something. The meat from these birds was delicious, but people soon tired of pigeon steak.
One summer the birds remained long enough in the woods -- both day and night -- to build their nests there. Then farmers came to pick the eggs; many bushels of them could be picked in a short time. The pigeons apparently resented having their nests robbed, for they left suddenly, never to return. Small flocks have been seen occasionally -- the last one, according to government records, in 1888 -- but no large flocks have been observed again anywhere. These almost unbelievable stories that have been told about the pigeons can be verified in any modern encyclopedia.
Another visitation some years later was that of the cinch bugs, which ate up practically the entire wheat and corn crops. They were so numerous that they could literally be scraped up in big heaps. It was impossible to stay their onward march. In some years, owing to the depredations of these insects, very few farmers received more than chicken feed. After they began to raise other crops, however, the cinch bugs disappeared.
Reque lived in his small log cabin for about four years; his first daughter was born there. He then built a larger
log house some distance farther north; there two more daughters were born. It was not long before this home became too small for him, and in the early fifties he built a fine frame house just in front of the other. Here the fourth and last child, also a daughter, was born. The log cabin was then used for the head hired man and his family. Reque had by this time enlarged his farm so that he had about three hundred acres in all, and employed considerable assistance. He improved all his buildings until he had one of the finest places in the community. Unquestionably he had the largest orchard and the finest and choicest apples in the neighborhood; his place was known far and wide for these. The orchard contained more than seven hundred trees, and many people besides the Reque family were well supplied with apples from it.
For all this prosperity as much credit must be given to Reque's exceptionally capable wife as to him. Her house was always a model of neatness. Mrs. Nels A. Lee, one of the pioneer mothers of the Koshkonong community, said of her, "She was a handsome woman, very hospitable and a good housekeeper," and Peter Grinde, one of the pioneer fathers, says, "She was a good housekeeper and a very sensible woman; and her husband, Lars Reque, gave heed to her advice."
Nels Holman says of these pioneers:
Mr. Reque was unusually energetic and industrious, and his wife a woman of unusual intelligence, and together they made their home one of the most attractive in the settlement. Good buildings went up and they were always tidy and well-kept. There was much shrubbery, and the yard in front of their home was so brilliant with flowers that passers-by would stop to admire it. Their vegetable garden was always well stocked.
Mr. Reque was the first in the vicinity, if not in the township, to get a covered carriage. It was a two-seater purchased in Milwaukee, rather clumsy as to style, but when he drove to church with it, people would flock around it as they did later when the first automobile came around. It was years after that
before the neighbors ventured as far as to get even a democrat wagon.
Reque seems to have been the leading man in the community, partly because he had been one of the very first settlers, but also, no doubt, because of his imposing appearance and his natural abilities. He was never discouraged and never complained, no matter what reverses or difficulties he met. K. A. Rene says in his recent history of the Vossings in America, "Lars Reque was an orderly, capable and highly respected man who kept well abreast of the times." He was also a very witty and humorous man, with a jest for everyone.
In the spring of 1877 Reque's wife died. She had always been strong and healthy, and her death was, therefore, unexpected. Her loss was a great blow to Reque, who had always depended so much on her wise judgment, and had never entered upon any important undertaking without asking her advice.
Three of Reque's daughters were already married and had left home. Johanna, the one remaining, kept house for her father for two and one-half years, but soon she also married. Reque then sold his homestead to one of his sons-in-law, I. O. Brictson. He continued to live there for a few years more, however.
A village called Deerfield had begun its existence two years before Reque came to America. It was about two and one-half miles from the land that he later took. For many years it had several saloons and among its inhabitants there were many Irishmen. The latter were usually looking for a good fight, and the Norwegians were not slow in giving them one whenever the occasion demanded. It was a lively place, and many a Norwegian left his hard-earned money there.
In 1882 a railroad came through the country from Madison, and a station was built one mile from Reque's farm.
A new town -- the present Deerfield -- sprang up around it, and Reque, who just forty years before had built his home in the wilderness, now found himself near the outskirts of a thriving village, with a market place almost at his door. This advantageous location was of no use to him now, for his farming days were over.
Reque was very fond of traveling, and now that he had no home duties, he often indulged this fondness. His traveling had begun before this, however, for we have a record of a trip of two hundred and fifty miles that he and his sister Gudve made in 1851 to Leland, Illinois, to visit another sister, Johanna. They drove from Koshkonong via Milwaukee with an ox team, and no doubt they had more time to observe the surrounding country than those have who motor along the same road now.
Reque's love for his native land was very strong, and in the spring of 1879, a year and a half after his wife's death, he decided to visit Norway. He wanted to teach the Norwegians how to raise American crops -- corn, tobacco, and the like. He himself had done well with these, and he wanted his friends and relatives to learn to better their conditions too. He remained in Norway about a year and a half in order to see that the planting and harvesting were done properly on the lands where his ideas were being applied, but, to his disappointment, he found that Norway's climate was not suited for the cultivation of these crops.
During his stay in Norway Reque traversed the country lengthwise and crosswise, much of the time on foot. He visited the land of the Finns and of the Lapps, viewed the midnight sun, and observed the living conditions of most of Norway's people. In an interesting letter which he wrote for Skandinaven after his return, he tells about his trip in detail. When he returned to America, he brought several immigrants back with him.
The following year or two Reque continued his traveling,
visiting first one state and then another. He soon decided to make a second journey to Norway. While there he attended a wedding that lasted a whole week. There was much drinking, as was the custom at that time, and when the marriage ceremony was to be performed, the bridegroom was so drunk that it had to be delayed several hours until he was sober enough to stand on his feet. When Reque returned to America he was again accompanied by several newcomers whom he wanted to help get well settled in this country.
In 1886 Reque was again married, this time to his sister-in-law, Synneva Arhelderen, who had come with him from Norway as one of the newcomers. He was sixty-eight years old at this time, but save in years was by no means an old man. He built a new home for himself and his bride within the limits of the town of Deerfield. In this home he and his wife kept open house for all newcomers from Voss. Reque was anxious to have his friends and relatives enjoy the same prosperity as he had enjoyed, and so gave them all the assistance he could. In his home they were welcome to remain without charge until they had learned a little English and had secured employment -- or rather until he had secured it for them. He was very kind to all these newcomers and his place was fairly overrun with them much of the time. Every year, for many years, he paid the passage for some man or woman, boy or girl, from Voss. In his home they stayed until they secured profitable work, and could begin to pay back their passage, which was again used to bring someone across the ocean. An amusing story is told about an immigrant from Norway who got into some difficulty in New York City over his railroad ticket. "Oh, if only I could get in touch with Lars Davidson Reque!" said the worried new arrival. "Who is he?" asked the official. "Why, don't you know Lars Davidson Reque -- the Reque who lives in Deerfield, Wisconsin?" answered the surprised immigrant.
Picture of Lars Davidson Reque
The following paragraph is from an article by Rasmus B. Anderson about Reque:
He has done a great deal for newcomers' from Norway. His house in Deerfield has been a sort of objective point for them. He has taken them into his home, fed them free of charge, taught them valuable things regarding American affairs, and sent them forth with hope and cheer to begin life in the "new world," as they call our country. Sometimes also he has sent money to Norway for young men too poor to buy transportation. There are many Norwegians throughout the Northwest who have been thus helped by the good old man, and they will mourn him as a father when his end comes.
Reque retained his love of traveling long after he had passed his three score years and ten. In 1891 he visited Norway again; this was his third trip to that country within a dozen years.
In the summer of 1903 Reque, then eighty-five years old, made a seven-week tour with his wife through several states. Wherever he went he was welcome. At some of the places that he visited harvesting was going on, and he insisted on going into the fields with the other men, on some occasions putting to shame men much younger than he.
Martin Ulvestad wrote in 1906, "Reque is over 88, but is still young and strong and active, his body being erect and solid as a pillar of stone." Professor Rasmus B. Anderson wrote the next year, "He is 89 years old, but just as strong and active as most men of 50 and 60. He enjoys a happy old age." Mr. Carl G. O. Hanson, editor of the Minneapolis Tidende, wrote, "Reque was a gigantic fellow, just as kindhearted as he was strong." In an interesting letter that Reque wrote to Vosselaget in 1911, he says, "Now I am over 93 years old and am beginning to walk slower. When I look back over my long life and at all the big changes that I have lived to see, then I want to say and affirm that that
which is of value to me now when I stand ready to leave this life is what my mother taught me, and what others since have reminded me of and made clearer to me, namely: Grace in Christ my Savior. Without this my life would have been wasted and of no benefit to me."
On Monday, March 4, 1912, Reque, three months under the age of ninety-four, died. As he had lived, so he died -- a true Viking to the very end.
<1> The present article, written by a granddaughter of Lars Davidson Reque, is based both upon family traditions and upon written records. Since the quotations drawn from the latter can in most cases be readily traced to their sources, no attempt has been made by the editor to supply formal annotations.
<2> In the old family Bible, in Lars Reque's certificate of baptism, and on old family chests brought to this country from Norway, the name is spelled Reqve. Reque himself wrote it this way, but in his later years adopted the use of k instead of q. The form Reque, however, as followed in these pages, is sanctioned by general usage.