Years in Dakota
by By Barbara Levorsen (Volume 21: Page
The author of the following paper spent her childhood on
a homestead in Wells County, North Dakota. Her parents had
settled there with other Norwegians who had torn up roots
only recently planted in Ottertail and Lyon counties, Minnesota,
and Trail County, North Dakota, to cultivate the fertile land
near Fessenden. Norwegians first appeared in the region in
1886, and three years later a considerable number of them,
including Mrs. Levorsens father, Jens O. Hovland, moved
into the area to convert the frontier community into a substantial
Norwegian settlement. Hovlands wife Barbro followed
him there in 1890.
Mrs. Levorsen was born December 5, 1895, the fourth child
of parents who had known a full measure of pioneer hardship
and who, in a real sense, were part of the human price paid
in the conquest of the Great Plains. Her mother was without
medical attention at the birth of this daughter, and died
thirteen days later. The father, in despair over the loss
of his wife, sold his farm and other belongings shortly afterward.
He placed Barbro (Barbara) with John and Agnette Flotlien,
a childless couple who had arrived in the Wells County settlement
in 1893. They are called "Papa" and "Mama"
in the following account, and in fact they assumed the major
responsibilities of parents to its author.
"Early Years in Dakota" is chapter 3 of a full-length
book titled "The Quiet Conquest," an autobiographical
narrative recently prepared by Mrs. Levorsen for her grandchildren.
In it she  recounts the westward movement from older
immigrant settlements and describes, with rare insight and
charm -- as well as a keen sense of history -- her
native community, its families, her parents and foster parents,
and especially her girlhood in the West. There is joy in her
story, but there is sadness too -- and a wealth of interesting
detail. All in all, it is a unique record of pioneer life
in North Dakota.
MY FOSTER PARENTS were more fortunate than the average settlers.
They had rented land in Minnesota, and during one year had
harvested a bumper crop of wheat which they sold at a good
price. When they prepared to go to Dakota in the spring of
1893, they had a fine team of horses, several head of cattle,
farm machinery, lumber for building, posts and barbed wire
for fencing, and hay and feed for the stock.
Papa, as I always called him, had arranged for an immigrant
car to freight their belongings from Hawley, Minnesota, to
New Rockford, North Dakota. They left on June 12th. Several
friends, among them Lars Nersween, helped haul their goods
and herd the cattle to Hawley. Room was arranged in one end
of the car for the animals, the household goods went in the
other end, and all the other things were piled between. Papa
had to travel with the stock and Mama stayed with him. Mama
often told about that train ride -- how they were almost thrown
off their feet by the sudden jerking of the switch engines,
were shunted off onto sidetracks and left there, and so on.
Papa had to fetch water in pails for the stock, and this left
Mama alone in the car. Once when Papa was gone and the car
door was open, some hobos came along. Two of them had swung
themselves lightly up into the car before they saw Mama. They
leaped out again yelling: "There is a woman in there!"
They probably had planned to help themselves to whatever they
could use if the car had been unguarded.  The familiar
tale of the trip westward from New Rockford is, no doubt,
similar to that of many of the other settlers. Since Mama
could not drive the horses, she had to try to keep the cattle
following along. Water was still standing in every slough,
and every low place was sodden and wet, so she took off her
shoes and went barefoot. She knew it would not be easy to
get new shoes out there. They saw a number of antelope, and
foxes yelped from every hill. They barely stopped to eat some
cold lunch, as they were anxious to get to their friend Helges
They were fortunate that they could move in with Helge, who
was still a bachelor. On the other hand, Helge was no doubt
tired of "batching" and glad to turn the cooking
over to Mama. Helge, Papa, and others to be mentioned in this
story had cut cordwood together in Minnesota, and Mama had
cooked for them there, too.
The next morning Papa had to go back to New Rockford for
more of their goods. After much searching he had found a small
building there in which they could store things, as it would
take several trips to bring them all out to the claim.
The place they chose as a homesite was across the road from
Helges and, as long as they lived there, the path between
the two places remained well worn, even though it led across
a narrow strip of Helges field.
The summer was a busy one. Their home, about 12 by 18 feet,
was built. I think Germund Tweeten built it. I heard much
talk about how well it was done. It was a plain house. Two
windows faced east and two faced west. The door was on the
south side, and beside it there was another window. The north
wall was, as in so many dwellings thereabouts, blank. The
upstairs remained unfinished all the years we lived there.
My foster parents were careful about everything, and I am
sure the house was painted as soon as the siding was put on.
Through these more than sixty years it has always been a white
house. They lathed and plastered one coat  between the
studdings, and when this was dry another coat of lath and
plaster went on over the studs. Above the stove the ceiling
plaster remained very rough because it had dried too fast.
It was so cold by the time it was put on that they had to
have a fire in the stove. A three- to four-foot wainscoting
lined the walls of the main room. This room served as kitchen,
dining room, sitting room, and sometimes as bedroom as well.
Here Mama washed clothes and ironed them, cooked, baked, sewed,
and mended. This house plan was so widely used for buildings
of the 90s that it deserves a special name, such as
those in New England called salt-box and Cape Cod styles had.
A tiny bedroom and "buttery" took up one end of
the house. A narrow stairway led upstairs through the buttery.
A tight trap door at the head of the stairway shut out the
winter cold. Sacks of flour and sugar and boxes of other staples
were stored upstairs, as well as our extra clothing.
Outside the door was a tiny entry, the walls of which were
neatly papered with old Decorah-posten newsprint. This Norwegian-language
paper, printed in Decorah, Iowa, was widely read in our settlement,
and later used for lining dresser drawers or wooden grocery
boxes. Some women, fancier than Mama, cut scalloped edges
in the paper before using it for shelves, and many papered
walls with it.
From my first remembrance of the house until the day I went
away, the furniture always remained in the same place. In
the very beginning Mama must have used grocery boxes for her
dishes. Then one day Uncle Andrew came, pulling a two-piece
cupboard on a sled. This became the only cupboard Mama ever
had. Uncle Andrew, who was handy with tools, had made it out
of shipping boxes and grocery crates. I still have this old
cupboard and think it remarkably well made, especially when
one considers that all the tools he had were a saw, a hammer,
and a knife. There are glass doors above and wooden ones below.
Underneath the glass doors are two small cutlery drawers and
in the lower section two quite  deep drawers. Each drawer
has a nicely curved handle made out of wood. The woodwork
was stained in two shades and varnished. This cupboard stood
in the northwest corner of the room. Next came Mamas
choicest possession -- her sewing machine. This was always
kept covered; to this day it remains unscratched and sews
In the northeast corner stood a large dresser, called kommoden.
Between the east windows there was a clock shelf on the wall
and below it a table. Between the bedroom and buttery doors
stood the cookstove. This they bought in the new little village
of Harvey. A few chairs and a neat little washstand made by
Uncle Ole completed the inventory.
Papa was no carpenter, so he had nothing to do with the house
building. He plowed wide firebreaks around the homesite. He
also broke the amount of acres for field required by law.
(I think it was 15 acres.) He put up a sod stable for the
animals, and cut and stacked hay for their winter feed. When
he and Mama had arrived in the spring every slough stood full
of water, but as these dried up in the summer sun, the problem
of finding water became acute. Papa dug well after well by
hand, without any success. Helge had dug one at the edge of
a ravine half a mile east of the house, and Mama led the cattle
over there for watering every day. She said that the slough
grass was so tall she could see only the backs of the cattle
The summer went quickly, with constant planning, labor, and
preparation for the winter ahead. It must have been lonely
for Mama sometimes, as there were very few women near by and
little visiting was done among the scattered settlers. Mama
used to tell again and again about an adventure that befell
them when they were going to one of the very few gatherings
that were held.
It seems that a bachelor had decided to raffle off a plow.
The person who went around selling numbers on this plow said
that there would be music, dancing, and lunch for all who
came. Papa and Mama talked to Joran and Hans Eidal  and
they all decided it would be fun to hear music and to dance
again, so they would go to the raffle.
The evening came, cold and still. A slight snowfall had whitened
the prairie. Winter was close at hand. At Eidals Mama
and Mrs. Eidal settled themselves in the spring seat and bundled
up in blankets. Papa and Hans sat on a board laid across the
wagon box. They chatted amicably while the horses proceeded
at an easy pace. They stopped to pick up a lonely bachelor
living near by. Kjittil came out with an old violin tucked
under his arm and climbed into the wagon to stand behind the
The snow and darkness obliterated most of the thin wheel
tracks but the men knew the way and the horses plodded along.
Soon Kjittil braced himself against the spring seat and began
to play his violin. Through the long silences in his lonely
shack Kjittil had scraped away at his violin until he had
undoubtedly convinced himself that he was a great artist.
Recently he had broken the bow, but he had made another from
a willow stick and the long hair from a horses tail.
Now the violin squeaked and whined, in the semblance of one
tune after another, directly behind Mama and Mrs. Eidals
heads, until they wished it far away.
Then someone said they should soon be there. The raffle was
being held in a large dugout and they could not expect to
see much light from the place. There was nothing but the starlit
heavens and the empty prairie around them. They set their
course by the stars and went on. When they had again driven
a long ways they decided they must be far beyond the dugout
and were lost. So there was nothing to do but try to retrace
They were now chilled to the bone and Kjittil had even given
up his playing. At two oclock in the morning they found
the place. The raffle was over, the dancing had ceased, and
almost everyone had gone home. However, they got some hot
coffee and doughnuts, which took some of the chill out of
their bones before they started home. From men who were 
present earlier in the evening I have heard in detail about
this dance, held in a dugout! The drinking, the cursing, and
the fighting were such that it was a blessing that nice women
like Mrs. Eidal and Mama did not get there in time. One newly
arrived bride wept despairingly as her husband and another
man, both too drunk to stand up, kicked and pummeled each
other on the dirt floor.
Papa was born on his fathers little farm in Hedemarken,
Norway, in 1858. He came to America with his parents when
he was twelve years old. It must have been a sad trip for
the family, for the youngest son was washed overboard and
lost at sea. They lived in Fillmore County, Minnesota, until
the spring of 1877. Then, with fifteen other families, they
prepared to leave by wagon train for Ottertail County, Minnesota,
where there was plenty of homestead land. That May, as the
time for departure drew near, a friend who had experience
with wagon trains suggested to Papas father and another
man that they would be much better off if they remained behind
the others for a week, as they could then follow the trail
of the large wagon train, travel much faster, and catch up
to the main group at Alexandria.
The two families remained in Fillmore for another week and
found the trail left by the large train easy to follow. Their
only difficulty was with the sheep. These animals absolutely
refused to go into the water. Papa and another boy of his
age had to throw them into the river and then go in themselves
to see that the sheep and cattle crossed over. At Alexandria
they found the fourteen families who had left earlier. All
were glad to be together again, and Papas father bought
a small keg of beer to celebrate the event. The saloonkeeper
must have been afraid they would keep his keg, as he wanted
it left there. So the beer was emptied into two big pails,
which were set underneath the wagon. When all the men gathered
to get their glasses of beer, they found the pails empty.
A cow  tied nearby had managed to stretch her neck enough
to empty both pails. Money was scarce and there could be no
buying another keg of beer, so the names the poor cow was
called that night were far from complimentary. Worse yet,
the next morning the cow could not walk, and her owners had
to remain behind for a day while she sobered up. After the
trials of the trek were forgotten, this incident caused much
merriment among the wagon-train families.
Whatever learning Papa received in this country he undoubtedly
acquired in a small country school in Fillmore County. He
wrote a steady, fine hand and spoke English without the usual
"newcomer" accent. He was a nice-looking, mild-mannered
man slightly under six feet in height. He had mild blue eyes
and brown hair. I always thought it strange that his mustache
was so much lighter than his hair. Once, when he shaved it
off, his appearance changed utterly, and I for one was glad
when the mustache had grown back again.
He was slow and deliberate about his work and absolutely
honest in all his dealings. He was truthful and conscientious
and believed well of his fellow men. Being all these things,
he was still a "mans man." He took a drink
or two a few times a year but never went on a "toot,"
as did some of his bachelor friends. He was very fond of company
and loved to play whist. They may have played poker in the
earlier years but I know Mama would have been opposed to this.
Papa chewed tobacco constantly, as did most men in those days.
A wide-brimmed nickel-plated spittoon seemed a natural part
of the furnishings at home. Papas aim could not have
been very good, for he took the trouble of spitting right
in the spittoon, while most men could hit the bulls-eye
from across the room. Of course some figured that if they
missed it, the women would always clean it up -- and so
Papa was easygoing, but when he became angry he expressed
himself freely with a flow of scalding Norwegian oaths. On
lesser provocation a few common American curse words would
do. He was very careful of his horses and I never  saw
him beat one of them. The team he brought from Minnesota made
an odd pair. Prince was a long-legged, beautiful animal, as
black as Jennie, his partner, was white. Jennie was big and
rangy but not handsome at all. She was "skittish"
and got credit for starting several runaways, or attempted
ones, at least.
Papa liked people and was seldom, if ever, too busy to stop
to visit a bit with anyone who came along. It has been said
that he was a very strong man. I dont know about that.
I do know that Mama brought many fears with her to Dakota
but I never heard of Papas being afraid of anything
or anybody. If Papa and Mama had a particularly strong trait,
it was thriftiness. They took remarkably good care of everything
they possessed and tried to make it last and give good service.
Papa came to Wells County too late to take a tree claim.
He would have taken excellent care of one. He planted trees
year after year and eventually we had a fine grove. It is
only recently that I have realized what excellent planning
went into this project. He started by putting in cottonwood
saplings fifty yards north of the house, stretching westward
in long rows. West of the house there was a square of cotton-woods,
and in between the two plantings, in a low place where water
stood in spring, he planted willows. There were English, Russian,
and golden willows. Later he planted many young ashes and
box elders out beyond the cottonwoods. These trees served
as a windbreak as well as a place for the snow to pile up.
There were two rows of trees to the east of our house. They
turned westward just south of it and joined the grove, thus
forming a rectangle. All around the rectangle there was a
three-strand barbed-wire fence. Inside the rectangle there
were a few apple and plum trees, currant and gooseberry bushes,
and garden space. Some special trees were given as premiums
by the "tree agents," as the nurserymen were usually
called. Among these I remember the Bolleana poplar that smelled
so sweet after a rain, and the mountain ash that the rabbits
were so fond of gnawing! 
Our gooseberries were really special. I remember one nurseryman
asking Papa if he could have some of our berries for his sample
vial. He then emptied out the berries in the glass tube and
put some of ours in. The tree agents came regularly for many
years. They walked around and looked at our trees as though
they were wonderful. Then Papa and the agent would sit down
somewhere on the ground to look over the beautifully illustrated
nursery catalogue, while I hung over Papas shoulder
and stared at the colored pictures of flowers, fruit, and
When there was tree planting to do, I was right there to
help. I usually held the slender sapling straight and still
while Papa filled in the first soil and tamped it down around
the roots. There was a lot of work to digging all those holes
by hand, hauling water in barrels to keep them growing, and
keeping the trees free from weeds.
There was a big gate to the south of the house, so Papa could
get in with horses and machinery to mow, rake, and haul away
the hay. No cattle were ever loose inside the grove.
I have mentioned the homesteaders continuous search
for water. I remember how in the early years mounds of clay
about farmyards or near sloughs testified to the laborious
quest for water. Papa dug twenty-two wells by hand without
finding as much water as we needed. Pause a bit here, and
think about digging with spade and pickax, a few inches at
a time, foot by foot, into the hard earth! The hole had to
be quite large to allow a man to stoop and work in it, and
someone had to wait above to pull up the dirt and stones by
hand. I am sure that this was often Mamas job. I dont
remember how deeply he dug usually -- about twenty feet,
more or less, I think. After all that labor and no water he
just had to try somewhere else. He found water down on what
was called the states land, a strong half mile from
home. From there they hauled water in a barrel on the stoneboat
(a flat sled), summer and winter, for many years. They must
have hauled water in the early morning before Papa went to
work in the field,  as I remember waking up and finding
myself locked in the house. I was undoubtedly well accustomed
to being alone while they were out doing chores, but being
locked in was a different matter. I stood by the window, yelling
and screaming. When I saw them coming up the road I yelled
even louder. Whether all this noise was caused by fright at
being locked in or mostly from anger, I dont remember!
Because of the scarcity of water, washing clothes was always
difficult in early days. Most well water was hard and unfit
for boiling clothes. All summer long, rain barrels, washtubs,
and wooden water troughs were kept beside buildings to catch
every drop of rain water. In winter they melted snow for clothes
washing -- and what a slow job that was! Mama carried
water from a near-by slough or from the rain barrel to fill
the big copper boiler. It took a long time to heat it, even
on a hot stove. She brought in wooden washtubs and set them
across two kitchen chairs. When the water was heated she had
to put it back in pails to carry it to the tubs. The scrubbing
surface on her washboard was of a bluish, corrugated glass.
Water was kept heating on the stove while the white clothes,
after rubbing, were boiled in soapsuds. The clothes wringer
was a clumsy affair that had to be held just so to get it
screwed onto the side of the tub. As the scrubbing went on,
hot water had to be added to the cooling water in the tub.
After the white clothes had boiled, they were rinsed in two
waters. Liquid bluing was added to the last rinse water. As
we can see, a family wash took several hours of backbreaking
labor. I know, as I washed clothes that way until I was thirty
My foster mother was a remarkable woman. In appearance she
was slight, almost delicately built, but under this deceptive
exterior were sinews of steel and a will of iron. She was
of medium height, slender and small-boned; she had very dark
hair, brown eyes, and an olive complexion. It would 
be interesting to know from what forgotten ancestor she had
this olive skin, so different from the usual pink and white
skin of most Norwegian girls.
She came to America alone in 1886. She was then twenty-six
years old. While en route she had a distressing experience
in Liverpool, England. The ship in which she was to cross
the Atlantic was not ready to sail, hence the travelers spent
several days in a hotel under the guardianship of a passenger
agent. Every day he took them for a walk or down to the quay
to see if the ship was ready. The sidewalks were thronged
with people and suddenly one day Mama realized that there
was no familiar face anywhere. She was lost in a crowd of
She did not understand a word of English and was horribly
frightened. There followed what seemed hours of confusion
and fear, during which the agent evidently did nothing to
find his missing passenger. Finally a man who looked trustworthy
seemed to understand that she was a Scandinavian and gestured
to her to follow him, saying, "Swede, Swede." Outside
of a factory he motioned to her to wait. He went inside the
building and soon came back with a man who spoke Swedish.
When the Swede learned where Mama was staying, they called
a boy and instructed him to take her back to the hotel, and
also gave her money to give the boy when they got there. They
had gone only a little way and turned a corner when Mama knew
where they were, but the boy would not leave her until she
was safely inside the hotel. When she joined the other girls,
one of them was crying, saying she thought something awful
had happened to Mama and was afraid they would never see her
Perhaps it was after Mama came to America that she heard
how bloodthirsty, merciless, and cruel the Indians were to
the white settlers. This fear remained with her for many years.
Still she went out to Dakota to be an early settler herself.
There she did not have long to wait to see Indians, as they
passed near by on their treks to powwows at Fort Totten or
 on Strawberry Lake. I can remember seeing bands of Indians
riding single file along the ridge a mile to the south of
us. Every few minutes one would dismount to pick something
from the ground. Mama said they were either gathering senega
roots or shooting gophers, which she said they ate. They never
came near our house. Out in the middle of our pasture there
was a knoll which we called the "big hill." Here
stones lay in a circle, just as they had undoubtedly been
placed around a teepee. Before settlers groves obscured
the view, one could see far and wide from this knoll.
West of our grove were several big hollows which Papa and
Mama called "buffalo licks." Beside one of the hollows
lay some big bones and a skull. These, I was told, were buffalo
bones. I sometimes stopped to kick at them. They were big
ones, all right. Buffalo bones, buffalo chips, buffalo hides,
buffalo licks, and buffalo wallows -- but what and where
were the buffalo? It was years before I had an answer to that.
One day a ramshackle wagon drawn by two skinny horses stopped
before the gate. Two enormously fat squaws sat on the bottom
of the wagon box while a man sat on a board across the top
of it. Mama excitedly exclaimed that they were Indians! I
dont remember why they came, but I, who had heard so
many hair-raising stories about Indians, forgot caution and
rushed down to the gate to get a good look at them. I stared
at them with open curiosity and they stared impassively back
Mama had little to fear from the Indians, but she was terrified
of the wandering peddlers. They were short, swarthy men who
spoke broken English. Some people said they were Syrians,
others that they were Arabs. Whatever their origin, I know
now that they were immigrants trying to earn a living in a
strange country. The first ones I remember seeing plodded
along the trails stooped under their heavy packs.
If Papa was at home, a peddler could come indoors and display
his wares. Setting the pack upon the floor, he pulled off
the upper half of the double pack and turned it bottom 
down alongside the full part, where it was ready to receive
the goods after he had displayed them. And there beside the
pack was I, all agog with excitement at the new things I would
see. Out came brightly colored suspenders, arm bands, pocket
combs, and strings of beads. Red-and-white or blue-and-white
mens handkerchiefs, mens hose, cards of needles,
pins, and safety pins, buttons, and spools of thread followed.
Next there might be mouth organs. (On one of these he might
play an experimental tune so we could note the fine tone.)
In the bottom of the pack were drab work clothes, colored
tablecloths, a few pieces of yard goods, shoelaces, and other
everyday necessities. Sometimes we bought a few small things
from the peddler. Usually he remained for a meal. Whatever
his business or conveyance, the same problem faced anyone
who followed the trails: where to get meals.
Later the peddlers came by horse and buggy and had a far
larger assortment of goods. They always seemed to arrive at
our place by nightfall, begging to remain overnight. Papa
could not refuse anyone a nights lodging, but Mama felt
different. I dont blame her if she didnt like
to have strangers who moved from place to place sleep in our
clean bed. Besides the extra work, most of all she was very
much afraid they would bring lice or fleas with them in their
seldom-washed clothing. Strangely enough, they never brought
either. Maybe they were wise and used the louse powder they
peddled! Dozens of strangers must have spent the night upstairs
in our spare bed. Doubtless there was a crisscross of "peddler
signs" on the gatepost by the road.
If, when Papa was away, Mama saw a peddlers cart with
its thin, tired horse come crawling along in our direction,
she quickly stopped whatever she was doing and we left the
house. She locked the door and hid the key and I had to promise
that, whatever happened, I would not tell where the key was
hidden. If she thought the peddler was too far away to see
where we went, we hid in the stable, where she watched him
through the small, four-paned windows laced with spider 
webs until he had gone out on the road again. Sometimes we
met him in the yard, Mama holding me tightly by the hand.
They spoke a few words to each other in their broken English.
Doubtless he sensed her fear. I was disappointed not to see
all the things in his packs. I recall the annoyed lift of
the reins and flick of the whip across the poor horses
back, with which a peddler sometimes showed his displeasure
at not being allowed to come in to display his goods.
Once two men came at nightfall. Each had a buggy and a team
of skinny horses. Both wanted to spend the night. Papa said
one could stay but he had no room for two teams. They begged
and pleaded, but Papa said we had two near neighbors and they
could try one of those places. Finally one left. In about
an hours time he was back, and seemed the most surprised
person imaginable to see that he was back at our place again!
Since there were no curtains drawn, he could well know where
he was, long before he got up near the house. Now there was
nothing for it but to let him stay. After the two partners
had gone upstairs to bed Papa and Mama had a little talk.
Mama had been outdoors while the peddler was supposedly driving
around looking for a place to stay; she said she thought she
had heard horses rattling around down by the haystacks, and
doubted that the man had left the place at all. Sure enough,
the next morning we could see where a team had been standing
by the haystack, eating for some time. Mama was up in arms
about these two swarthy men and their deliberate deceitfulness.
Luckily this was about the end of peddler visitations. At
times there could be as many as three rigs coming into the
yard throughout the day.
Next came the beggars, tramping along the wagon trails. Almost
every one of them carried a small book in which there was
a poor photograph of himself with, also, an account of his
disability and the accident that had caused it. Looking back,
it seems to me that some of these men might have been far
more dangerous than the peddlers. I remember one big, hulking
fellow who removed a wide bandage to show us his  injured
wrist. All we could see was that it looked as though he had
smeared it with a liberal amount of axle grease. Papa did
not believe there was a thing wrong with his wrist. Most people
gave them a quarter or fifty cents just to keep them moving
on. Begging his way about, far out on the prairie, would be
one way for a wanted criminal to remain undetected, too.
When women came selling what they said were handmade linen
lace and insertion and fine pieces of yard goods for a few
cents a yard, people supposed that the goods had been stolen,
and were reluctant to buy from them.
Because I began to wander about the prairie, Mama kept me
in red calico dresses so she could see me at a distance. My
cousin Anne had the same roving habit, so she too wore red
calico most of the time. Sometimes, as when she washed clothes,
Mama tied me to the clothesline post. I remember running in
a crying rage until the rope felled me flat on my face, getting
up and running in another direction until I fell again. But
no amount of tugging and screaming did any good. I stayed
tied. I had a little homemade wagon that I pulled about the
prairie. Into it went all kinds of wild flowers and pretty
stones. Soon I would hear Mamas clear voice calling
me, and reluctantly I would turn homeward again. I put the
flowers in tin cans full of water and set them in the sun
to wilt forgotten while I ambled off again.
Since there was not a twig of wood anywhere, we gathered
"prairie chips" (cattle droppings) for fuel. At
first I merely accompanied Mama, but later I was sent out
alone with a gunny sack to gather the dried dung. When I read
in the National Geographic Magazine or another magazine about
travelers in foreign lands eating food prepared over dung
fires I shudder. Then I remember that all the settlers used
it too, in their stoves. Another thing we gathered on the
prairie was a growth I can liken only to large mushrooms.
When these were ripe they were full of a bright brown powder
which was used to stop the flow of blood when horses or cattle
cut  themselves on the barbed-wire fences. Papa always
tried to keep some of this dried powder in the barn.
Looking back, it seems to me that I spent a lot of time in
a dream world of my own. Only children are truly happy. For
them there is no yesterday or tomorrow, just the lovely present.
Many events that I neither saw nor heard left lasting impressions
on my mind from my hearing the grownups discussing them. In
the vast stillness of the prairie I wondered and wondered
about some of the things I heard. I early knew there was something
different about me, but not what it was. (People talk too
much in front of children.)
The pasture became my real playground. I remember every gently
sloping hillside, every slough, and even the big rocks on
the knoll. Below the hill was a small, deep slough, around
which grew the most brilliant green mosses. Just the thing
for floors in playhouses! I had a nodding acquaintance with
the burrowing owls that Papa and Mama called "cat owls."
They came up out of burrows in the ground and marched stiffly
around on the clay mound. As I drew near they would bow and
bow to me in the most precise and decorous manner. They seemed
to be able to turn their heads far around on their short necks.
They were so tame I could approach within a few feet of them,
and I enjoyed them very much.
The cows grazing near by tolerated my petting but otherwise
ignored me. I suppose I knew about every strawberry plant
on the place, and I picked the berries as they ripened. Years
later we bought a white team, Kate and Nellie. Kate was the
most wonderful being in the world to me. When she was in the
pasture I could get her to stand beside a rock and I would
climb upon her back and she would carry me about the pasture.
Upon urging, she would trot, but never gallop. It was as though
she knew I had nothing to hold on to except her short mane.
I was very sad when I came back to the farm, a few years after
we sold it, to find that the pasture, with its strawberry
patches and many wild flowers, had been plowed under into
But I am getting ahead of the story. We will go back to October
15, 1898. This was a happy day in our neighborhood. On that
day Cousin Anne was born. She was a first child. At our place
Marie was born. She was Papa and Mamas only natural-born
child, and Mama was then past thirty-eight years old. Near
by a third girl, Mathea, had been born a few days before.
I know that I remember Maries birth, though strangely
enough I remember nothing from the following year. I was six
weeks short of three years old when she was born.
One day in November Pastor Nils O. Fjeld came out from Harvey
and baptized the three little girls, in the same water, at
our house. Mathea remembers her mother telling her how she
had made the baptismal dress by hand, with tucks at the shoulders
and a ruffle at the hem.
I suppose the year 1899 was the happiest year of Papa and
Mamas life. Marie was a beautiful child with brown hair
and eyes, very precious to them. One small notation from an
old record book remains for the year 1899, only because one
of the bachelors had gone back to Norway for the year and
Papa rented his land. So the record reads:
|"Wheat 609 bushels
||on rented land
|"Oats 566 bushels
|"Flax 235 bushels
||on rented land
||flax 101 bushels
|"Threshing bill $73.98."
Early in March the following year Marie became ill with a
throat infection. I remember her illness and the pretty pink
pills the doctor left for her. Probably she had something
sulfa or penicillin would easily cure today. But Marie died.
I am sure no one can measure Papa and Mamas grief in
losing this especially lovely child. Not so much as a photograph
remained. It would be expecting too much of human nature to
assume that they never asked themselves why their own daughter
should die and I should live. 
The funeral services were held in our house, there being
no church near by. People tried very hard to keep Mama from
going out in the snow and cold for the long trip to the cemetery,
but she went. When they prepared to go I found out I was not
going, and I suppose I cried and screamed. Some man took me
out to the stairway and showed me pictures in a book which
was given as a premium with Decorah-posten. They were colored
illustrations and they made such an impression on me that
I remember them to this day. They were pictures of Norwegian
women in the colorful peasant dresses worn in different parts
Very soon after this Mama and I went to visit relatives of
hers in Minnesota. Five of us left together, and it was a
sadly bereaved little group, although naturally I did not
understand it at the time. Germund T.s wife had just
died and left him with a tiny baby and a little boy younger
than I. Germund was taking the children to Rothsay, Minnesota,
to relatives there. Mama took care of the baby on the trip.
When we arrived at Germunds brothers home in Rothsay
we found that one of his sons was seriously ill with pneumonia.
Women were making vests from cotton batting for him. Evidently
they had to be changed often. We could not have arrived at
a more inopportune time. It must have been at dusk. Anyway
the whole house appeared very gloomy to me. They pulled together
some dark drapes to shut off part of the rooms and, being
restless, I found my way around the drapes and seemed unwelcome
there. The impression of gloom and depression exuded by the
house, and the houseful of grieving, bereaved, and worried
people, has remained with me all these years.
The next morning someone came for Mama and me with a sleigh
and fast horses. After a long ride we came to Mamas
sisters home in a small town. This was like a different
world. The large rambling house had many, many rooms, with
wall-to-wall carpeting in several of them and stiffly starched
lace curtains at every window.
The plush-covered parlor furniture was most elegant, I 
suppose. There was a green settee, with an armchair in red
and one in orange-brown color to match. Each piece had lovely
ball fringe in matching color. There was a bay window filled
with plants. Oh, how lovely they were -- white primroses,
purple ones, geraniums, ferns, and other kinds! Their crisp
fresh leaves showed the best of care.
The large dining room table was always covered with a white
linen tablecloth. The dishes and silverware were much finer
than we used at home. Layer cakes and other tasty desserts
They had a curly-haired brown dog, named Rex, that could
come right into the house! Unfortunately he did not like strange
little girls. One evening Uncles brother, having returned
from a trip, was sitting beside the coal heater in a rocking
chair when Rex came into the house. Here was someone Rex liked!
With a great bound the heavy dog leaped into the mans
lap, upsetting the rocking chair, which went over backward
with man and dog, to land behind the heater in one confused
heap. Since no dog or cat was ever permitted to set foot in
our house, it was surprising to see that Rex could make such
a disturbance and not even get thrown out afterwards. Uncle,
a quiet, smiling man, went to his own business place every
morning, clean shaven and dressed in better clothing than
Papas Sunday best. This was a different household than
I was used to and I enjoyed it all so much.
I had a keen memory for a child. I remember a tiny foster-grandmother
who limped badly, and other people whom I was never to see
again, and their warm cozy homes.
There were several "cousins," but best of all I
remember Uncle and Aunties adopted daughter. No kinship
existed between us beyond the fact that we were both adopted.
She was a lovely girl with curling dark hair and large gray
eyes. In this hospitable house, where relatives came and went,
she was everyones pet. On the other hand, I, as a photograph
from that period shows, was a solemn-faced, wholly unattractive
child. My cousin was more than twice my age, and girls 
sometimes came in to play with her after school. I, who hardly
knew what a playmate was, wanted desperately to join their
games. Undoubtedly these girls knew there was a vast difference
between them and an orphan from the Dakota prairies. Anyway,
I suffered the fate of most younger brothers, sisters, and
"tag-alongs"; being rudely pushed aside, I turned
to tears and bawling, which did not endear me to the unobservant
There were many things which I was not allowed to touch.
There were the wonderful plush-covered photograph albums.
The intricate clasps which kept them tightly closed, and which
I could not open, protected them, but whenever Auntie and
Mama sat down to look at them and talk about family and friends
pictured there, I was close at hand, too. But it was not the
photographs alone that held my attention. It was also the
frames around the pictures. The cardboard frames were covered
with pastel-colored paper embellished with scrolls or designs
of flowers, leaves, and ferns in delicate traceries of gold,
silver, or pale green. Much to my delight, I received an album
the next Christmas; so the grownups had noticed what I liked.
Mine even had little golden bees and butterflies in among
the ferns and flowers that framed the photographs!
Mama often said that I remembered far more from this visit
with her relatives than she did. Her grief over the passing
of her only child may have accounted for that. Out in Dakota,
spring with its extra load of work was at hand, and we had
to go back home. With our return to the scene of happier times
there no doubt came a long and difficult time of readjustment
for Mama. I have been told that while Marie still lived, someone,
seeing their pride and joy in her, had suggested to Papa that
they would probably get rid of that one (me), now that they
had a child of their own, whereupon Papa had lifted me into
his lap with the words that he "had room for both."
I do not know how Mama felt about having me underfoot, asking
questions and making extra work for her those next weeks and
months. But I do remember that it was a difficult  time.
I had very heavy, dark hair. Seldom did man or woman come
to our place without mentioning how lovely it was. My hair
was one of Mamas trials. The combing and braiding took
time which she felt she could have used for other tasks. She
braided the two front braids so tightly that my skin was pulled
taut along the temples. She then braided these two into the
two back braids and tied them with store cord.
I cannot remember that Mama ever once spoke lovingly to me
or laid a caressing hand on me. But she did not neglect me.
I had good food and warm clothing. I learned to obey without
question, else I was punished on the spot. She laid down the
laws and meted out the punishment.
Papa held some small offices on the town board, the school
board, and in the congregation when church and school were
organized, and as there were no telephones he often drove
around the community on these errands. He began to take me
with him whenever he could. I remember someone remarking to
Mama that I was with Papa a lot of the time, and she answered,
"She does as she pleases around him." Undoubtedly
I behaved much better around Papa because between us there
flowed a current of affection and understanding.
I was no doubt a difficult child to raise. I was full of
curiosity, for one thing, and got into various scrapes, such
as when I went to look at "my" little pigs. When
my natural father left Dakota he gave Papa a sow. She had
a litter of pigs every spring, which were sold by twos and
threes as soon as they were old enough. This had made the
old sow vicious when she had piglets around; so when the little
pigs were taken from her, several men would keep her at bay.
There was much talk about all this around the house.
Everyone had gotten into the habit of calling the piglets
mine. One day Mama, busy about the house, heard the sow begin
to make furious noises. A quick check showed me to be nowhere
in sight and she immediately surmised that I was the cause
of the old sows rage. The pigpen was made of several
boards nailed one above the other with an inch or  more
of space between boards. I could not see the little pigs without
climbing to the top of the boards and from there I had toppled
over into the pen. Fortunately for me, the little pigs dashed
into their house as I fell into the pen. Whether I had been
stunned momentarily by the fall, or whether I was too frightened
by the ferocious beast poised above me to move, no one knows,
but I lay quietly. Mama said she hardly dared reach in to
grab for fear the sow would lunge for her hand. However, she
grabbed me by my clothing and yanked me out. She said that
if I had fallen between the mother pig and the piglets, the
sow would have killed me before Mama could have gotten there.
Another incident concerning animals happened one evening
at milking time. Mama, tired of having me run around amongst
the cattle, told me to go outside the fence and sit still
there. She set down a pan of fresh milk for the cat, so I
could pet and play with this, my constant companion. At this
time we had a young gray mare that jumped fences. To keep
her from getting out of the pasture, Papa kept her front feet
hobbled. Papa, coming from the field with two teams, was driving
them right up to the well beside the fence. The gray mare
saw the other horses and came running. She made a flying leap
over the fence and me. They said her hind feet came down within
inches of my head. The mare was sold very soon thereafter.
If, rarely, we went to the neighbors for an evening, we walked.
Going home Papa often had to carry me "piggy back"
while Mama went ahead with the lantern. Errands between neighbors
were often made with the stoneboat, a horse or even an ox
pulling it, the driver standing with feet widespread on the
sled to keep his balance. Stoneboats had many uses in those
days, besides the original one of hauling rocks and stones
off the fields.
During the early years Papa and Mama were surrounded by bachelor
homesteaders. I remember thirteen of them, eight of whom were
more or less distantly related to Papa or  to me. Papas
relatives were at our house quite often. I loved some of them
dearly. Having no playmates and seldom seeing another child,
especially in winter, I no doubt pestered these young men
intolerably. But then some of them seemed to like it. There
was Herman, who never married, and in later years became somewhat
of a recluse. He would lift me up in his lap and talk to me.
He also brought me little gifts. I remember a chain and locket
with a heavily perfumed heart inside the locket, which he
gave me. This I adored. He brought me a few pieces of candy
in striped paper bags, but most important of all, as long
as he remained around our settlement he always declared that
I was his girl. This gave me a feeling of gladness and importance.
Then there was John. He was a great tease and kept me imprisoned
with his arms and legs while he rubbed my face sore with the
beard stubble on his cheeks. For many years John played with
and teased me whenever he came. He played rough and I would
often retreat in anger, but always went back for more!
At times Mama baked bread and washed clothes for some of
the bachelors. Once she made a quilt for Martin and we drove
up to his claim shanty with it. I was quite excited about
seeing Martins shack, as I had heard so much about it,
probably because he kept it so neat and clean. However, when
we got there Martin was not at home, so all I could do was
to press my nose child-fashion against the windowpane and
stare in. I could see only a spoon holder and a sugar bowl
on the middle of an oilcloth-covered table.
It was no doubt due partly to Mamas good cooking as
well as to Papas genial hospitality that we saw so much
of our bachelor neighbors. They brought laughter, news, excitement,
and music with them. Herman was an outstanding musician. Several
of Papas cousins played musical instruments, and so
they began to assemble on Sunday afternoons in summer and
practice together. Often refreshments were a pony keg of beer
brought up from the cellar. The beer could not have been very
cold by todays standards. The only cooling method 
available was pouring well water over the keg and keeping
it in the cellar. There was not much beer for each one in
the pony keg, either, but they enjoyed it. I was a big girl
before I knew that there were other musical instruments than
the violin, clarinet, cornet, guitar, and the like.
Another Sunday afternoon pastime was target shooting. Soon
I was learning to shoot also, and Papas pride was great,
I know, when I became a fairly good shot with the .22, which
was the only gun we had.
I believe it was the summer after Maries death that
Auntie and her adopted daughter came to visit us. Several
things got the visit off to a bad start. The once-a-day mixed
train brought them to the little station in the night, and
Papa met them with horses and the lumber wagon. They had eight
long miles to drive in the dark. Then a sudden wind and heavy
rainstorm overtook them. They sought shelter near a settlers
small house, but they were drenched, and Auntie was thoroughly
frightened by the terrific lightning and thunder that accompanied
the storm. Proceeding on their way after the storm had passed,
they soon came to the river. There was no bridge and I am
sure Auntie was terrified to feel the horses and wagon plunging
downhill and into the water in the darkness.
Auntie and Mama had one trait in common. Once they had made
up their minds about something, no power on earth could change
them. Auntie made up her mind about Dakota that night and
never changed it to the day of her death. I have described
her home and, in comparison, ours must have seemed Spartan
indeed. The barrenness of our home, without a window shade
or curtain, a rug on the floor, or a picture on the walls,
was not the fault of Dakota, or because of Papas inability
to provide such things. It was due entirely to Mamas
passion for spotless orderliness. Anything that was not in
daily use or would gather dust she banished.
Aunties visit ended and she never came again, but she
did not forget us. She was the kindest of women, and from
time  to time big boxes arrived containing discarded
rugs (lace curtains too, no doubt, although they were never
hung), and clothing that my "cousin" had outgrown.
I still treasure lovely gifts that she sent me while I was
a child, but the dozen quart jars of wild raspberry sauce
that she sent us were the best.
I have mentioned the well next to the barn fence. This was
drilled by machinery and has now been supplying the farm with
water for over fifty years. I think that a stranger working
with a divining rod, a forked stick cut from a willow tree,
indicated that water could be found on the ridge near the
stable. He held one of the prongs in each hand, the main stem
pointing upwards. He walked around the yard slowly, leaning
forward, seemingly intent on his work. I think the rod must
have reacted to a water vein far below: the settlers usually
dug near sloughs for water, but here a well was drilled atop
the ridge. There was a lot of talk about the stranger and
his mystic powers, so much that for days afterwards I kept
breaking off willow branches; I would walk about the yard,
holding a forked piece in my hands, hunched over my divining
rod, expecting it to dip and quiver as his did. I was intensely
irritated and disappointed that I could not "find"
water the way he could. It had looked so easy!
Uncle Andrew had bought a well-drilling outfit and had bored
many wells throughout the settlement, and now he was to drill
a well for us. It seems to me they went down 165 feet. I must
have been six or seven years old, and for some forgotten reason
Uncle Andrew had me stand beside the drill pipe and pour water
down it. Suddenly a heavy, sharp-edged pulley broke loose
from the rigging and came hurtling down. Uncle Andrew probably
saved my life by grabbing me by the neck and yanking me backwards
just as the pulley fell. Instead of hitting my head or neck,
it struck a glancing blow along my right thigh that took clothing
and skin with it. The next thing I knew I was standing over
to one side crying about my bloodied leg and torn clothing.
No one was paying any attention to me. Up around the rigging,
heated conversation  bounced back and forth. Uncle Andrew
was angry because the pulley had come down, so was Papa, and
so, seemingly, were the other men. I thought that, considering
what had happened to me, I was getting too little attention,
and bawled a little louder with pain, fright, and frustration.
Then I was sent in to make my peace with Mama about the torn
skin and ruined dress!
The water in this well was good, and free from the rusty
content that coated pails and dippers in so many places. Whenever
there was anything wrong with this well, Papa lost his good
humor until it was in working order again. Only those who
have hauled water by the barrel for years could fully understand
Soon a windmill was put up. When the wind blew this was a
wonderful convenience, and it provided me with another outlet
for my restless energy. I climbed the spindly ladder up to
the platform over and over again. I had been forbidden to
step out on the platform, as they said a sudden shift of wind
might cause the great wheel to change position and sweep me
off. Once from the ladder I saw a coyote chase a fox with
a long plume of tail, as fast they could go. Up they came
from the states land, across the pasture, and into the
field until they were out of view. The coyote was close behind
the fox all the way. One winter day I stuck my tongue on a
rung of the ladder. Immediately it froze fast. Bawling did
no good -- no one could help me; I just had to pull it
loose. Sticking ones tongue on frozen metal seemed to
be something we all had to do once, and one lesson was enough
for always, I think.
I remember people pounding on the door and yelling at Papa
in the night to come out and fight a prairie fire. The fire
was sweeping northeastward, they declared, and might reach
the church. The church had been built in 1902, so we had prairie
fires later than that year. Getting ready to fight fire took
time. Horses had to be harnessed to haul water, sacks for
wetting had to be found, and then the men had to catch up
to the fire. Mama and I stood in the doorway and watched as
 they hurried away. We saw the fire flare up along the
ravine with its long grass and weeds and diminish as it reached
the higher ground where the grass had been mowed.
Once in the daytime Mama and I watched a prairie fire sweep
down from the Viking Hills to the Big Slough. This was a real
blaze, and was an imposing sight as the grass and great weeds
along the slough burst upward in flame and smoke. How thankful
we all were that there was enough water in the slough to keep
the fire on its far side!
Several times peddlers were blamed for setting fires by throwing
cigarettes or matches into the dry grass. The last fire I
saw was one of these -- creeping slowly across the states
land. Helges boys and I went along with the hired man
and thought ourselves real fire fighters as we helped to put
this one out.
In those years the most important day of the summer was the
Fourth of July. Possibly many of these people, not long away
from Europe, with its freedom-restricting practices, really
appreciated Americas Independence Day. The celebrations
held in our immediate neighborhood were tame and sober indeed
compared to those of earlier years. Those wild festivities
possibly explain why our gatherings were small.
It seemed that for many men the big object of the day was
to get drunk. I never heard of a man in our neighborhood who
absolutely refused a drink of liquor, but our nearest neighbors,
or closest friends, rather, were not heavy drinkers.
At this big celebration down near the "Jim" (James)
River there was an oversufficiency of beer and whisky. However,
some had not waited to get to the celebration before they
started drinking. As Mama so often told about it: Two neighbors
and their families came in sight of the crowd, one man holding
the reins and the other man using the whip on the team. The
terrified horses flattened themselves under the whip and ran
as fast as they were able. The wagon careened from side to
side and the back wheels leaped into the air as they struck
rocks and other obstacles. As they swept into  the yard
people held their breath, expecting the wagon to turn over.
The driver used his weight to pull the reins and brought the
horses up on their hind feet in an abrupt stop, and the terrified
children and their mothers quickly tumbled out from the wagon
box. With so much drinking ahead for the day and night, it
seems that these men cheated themselves. Surely they were
lying somewhere in a drunken stupor before the merrymaking
was at its height!
Uncle John was still a bachelor and therefore saw more of
the rowdy parties than the married men. It has often been
said that when Nels (a bear for strength) was not present,
Uncle John was the strongest man; sometimes when he thought
fist fights had gone on long enough, he would step in and
part the combatants. He had made enemies in this way, and
three of them were said to have arranged that when John got
drunk at the celebration two of them would hold him and the
other beat him. This all went as planned, up to a point. The
two men got John down, but as the third was about to strike
him, Papa saw the knife blade glinting in his hand and dived
at him. That was the end of the fight. Fighting with knives
was unknown in the neighborhood, and indignation ran high.
But it was Mama who, for the one and only time in her life,
stepped forward and spoke out in public, and told the man
what a despicable creature he was for attacking a helpless
person with a knife. Several, Papa among them, decided they
would have to remain on the sober side the rest of the day
to avert further trouble. Toward evening Mama and I went home
with Helges family.
After that the Ole Dovre, Helge Anderson, John Bergrud, and
John Flotlien families, and others, met at one home or another
for their Fourth of July celebrations. The women brought dishpans
full of picnic foods. The men chipped in to buy oranges and
candy for us children, lemons for lemonade, and a keg of beer
for themselves. There were firecrackers purchased from this
common fund as well. Each of the girls got one good dress
each summer, which was called our "Fourth  of July
dress." The dresses were usually made of thin white material,
possibly lawn, and how we enjoyed them! At last the day would
come and we would start out in the freshness of a July morning.
Along the roadside wild flowers bloomed and perfumed the air,
and as we jogged along each was busy with his own thoughts.
I, in my wonderful new dress, probably bounced up and down
on the wagon seat as I pictured the delights of the day ahead.
The women immediately set to work getting the big dinner
ready, while the men unhitched and fed the horses. They worked
slowly, as this was a holiday, and they talked and laughed.
Then stakes were put down for several horseshoe games, and
they played a desultory game or two. The real contests would
wait until after the dinner had been enjoyed. The beer waited
too, down in the cellar. Everyone had coffee with his food
except the children. We had lemonade, and there never was
such good lemonade as was made at these gatherings! The lemons
were sliced into a large earthenware milk crock and squeezed
with a wooden potato masher. Sugar was added generously, and
the mixture stood thus until they were ready to use it. Then
cold well water was added. When we were handed the filled
glasses there was usually a slice of lemon floating on top.
Sometimes, during the afternoon, our sedate parents might
play "last couple out" or "widower wants a
widow." Great was our delight if some grownup pulled
us into the game. Sometimes there were gunny-sack races and
such for us children. Toward evening many went home to do
chores and returned to watch the fireworks and have a last
cup of coffee and some of the goodies still left from the
picnic basket or dishpan. Then everyone went home. Tomorrow
was a work day again. We had enjoyed a pleasant day without
drunkenness or fighting to spoil it.
The winter that I was five, I learned to read. Papa and Mama
both had a hand in this. They had bought a Norwegian ABC book;
first of all I had to learn the letters by heart. Then 
K-A-T was the large gray cat pictured above the letters, and
so it went on to mouse, horse, and dog. They said I learned
very quickly and enjoyed every page of the book. Mama brought
out squares of old material on which I sewed small squares
of bright calico. I still have a few of these old quilt blocks
and it is interesting to see the color and design in these
calico pieces, left over from our dresses of that time. One
day a neighbor boy came to play with me and I tried to make
him sew, too. When he did not get the sewing done to suit
me I remember scolding him in the very words Mama used when
she was dissatisfied with my work!
Because of the ever-harrying winds, the women wore sun-bonnets,
and so did I. They were made from leftover dress materials.
The stiff part of the sunbonnet was made double, with seams
sewed across it about one and a quarter inches apart. Mama
cut cardboard strips from shoe boxes to push into these spaces,
and they worked very well. The bonnets tied under the chin
and had back flaps that kept our necks from getting sunburned.
A little notebook that has somehow escaped the fire all these
years since Papa used it bears proof that he was an excellent
farmer and seedsman. He used this book to (as he would have
put it) "keep track" of his business dealings with
neighbors and friends. I have been surprised to find the names
of all but two or three men in our vicinity, as well as those
of people living over ten miles away. In "lumber-wagon
days," ten miles was quite a distance to go for seed,
when people all along the way also were raising grain. I have
picked some of the entries at random. They give some idea
of prices paid at the time. Unfortunately many of the items
are undated, but the first ones stem from 1898:
|"1902 sold to Andrew H
||--25 bu. seed oats @ 45¢ a bushel
|1903 sold to Nels W
||--2 bu., 38# millet seed
|1904 sold to John C
||-- 123 bu. seed wheat @ 86¢ a bushel
|1904 sold to John S
||--70 bu. seed wheat and 6 bu. 44 pds.
|1904 sold to M. J. S.
||--20 bu. seed wheat @ 83¢ a bushel
|1910 old to Ben W
||--50 bu. seed barley @ 45¢ a bushel
|1910 sold to Nels H
to Jack P
to Jack P
to Jack P
to Nels W
|--5 ton and 200# hay for $27.80
-- 39# beef for $3.34
-- 5# butter for .75
-- 1 sack coal .50
-- potatoes $6.25
|1904 sold to John D
||-- two heifers $27.50
|1910 sold to Hunt
||-- hogs $82.00"
In 1903 (or 1904) Papa sold 69 pounds of pork for $4.83.
In 1904 he paid "T.T." $10.25 for 10¼ days
haying. In 1906 he cleaned (fanned) 38 bushels of bluestem
wheat for seed.
Most surprising to me are the great number of entries concerning
small and large sums of money loaned to people round about.
I do remember that many people had a hard time, having come
out there without machinery and the many other things that
Papa had freighted with him. Credit was extremely hard to
get at the stores, and I notice that several seed sales carry
the notation that the price would be several cents less per
bushel if paid within a certain period of time. Sometimes
the interval was two years, indicating that the buyer had
no hope of being able to pay in the same year for the seed
and other things that were received.
The first building to be put up after the first year, when
the house was built, was a granary. Oddly enough, it stood
near the road and I cannot remember that it was ever locked.
Next came a large machine shed along one side of the granary.
Then in 1904 a kitchen was built onto the south side of the
house. Much discussion preceded the job, whether they should
raise the roof of the present house so there could be nice
bedrooms finished off upstairs. This project was dropped,
 the new part was the same height as the old, and the
upstairs was never finished.
All summer long I slept up there and sometimes I was scared
stiff when it came time to go to bed. That happened when we
had company and Mama got started on her Norwegian stories.
She told about the superstitions that people in Norway had
had in the past, and still had, to some extent, in her youth.
There were the mischievous little nisser (gnomes), who are
often shown in Norwegian illustrations wearing pointed red
caps. Then there were the huldre (enchantresses), who lived
inside the mountains and moved about everywhere unseen, as
they had the power to make themselves invisible. They loved
mingling with people but they had long cowlike tails, which
sometimes escaped from their clothing and gave them away.
When young girls disappeared in the mountains, it was always
assumed that the trolls had taken them inside the mountain,
where they lived in beautiful homes with gold and jewels glittering
everywhere naturally, no one would want to come back from
all this golden luxury. Of course there were men who claimed
they had found an open door in the mountainside and had glimpsed
all the glory within. . . . There were ghosts that moved about
inside and outside the venerable old church near Mamas
old home. Underneath the church and in the old cemetery, bones
rattled and danced about. Sitting near the stove and facing
our three uncurtained windows, I gazed from one dark window
to the other, expecting every moment to see something hideous
peering in at us. Mama told how a big timber wolf had come
one winter day to put its paws on the window ledge of a cabin
where relatives of hers lived, staring at the people within.
Now, when guns are common, one wolf would be quickly disposed
of, but these people had no guns.
Some farms were bothered with nisser far more than others.
They did most of their mischief in the barns. In the morning
the budeier (dairymaids) would find two cows squeezed into
 one stall, while other stalls were empty. Some cows
seemed to get extra feed, and grew sleek and fat, while others
had their feed stolen and became skin and bones. It was wise
to be friends with the nisser; often food was set out for
them, and by morning it was always gone. Some hired men evidently
enjoyed worrying the young dairymaids!
Trolls had a special hatred for churches and would hurl huge
rocks down toward them from up in the mountains. The huldre
girls were exceedingly beautiful and winsome, and longed for
husbands from the people. One such lovely stranger appeared
at a dance. She danced gaily all night, but suddenly her cows
tail peeped out from below her dress, and abruptly she was
gone! Everyone was frightened and ill at ease, and the dance
When Norway first became a Christian country, the power of
huldre over newborn infants was greatly feared. A tollekniv
(sheath knife) with a steel blade was stuck in the wall above
the infants cradle, or a steel brooch was pinned on
the childs dress. When the infant had been baptized,
the danger from huldre and trolls was over. My maternal grandmother
sent me one of these handmade steel brooches that had been
in her family for many generations.
Mama also used to tell about a knoll near her home that was
believed to be an ancient burial mound. In olden times important
people were buried with things that they were believed to
need in Valhalla. It was decided to open the mound. Soon after
the men had gone to work, they saw that all the buildings
at a near-by gaard (farm) were on fire. The workers fished
off to help put out the flames, but when they got to the place
there was no sign of fire. The superstitious people decided
that "the spirits" did not want the mound disturbed,
and gave up digging. Many years later, other men tried to
open the mound. Exactly the same thing occurred and they also
left off digging; and so far as Mama knew, the mound had not
been disturbed since.
These and other similar tales fascinated and frightened me.
 At bedtime I tore off my clothing and dived under the
covers, head and all. I shivered and shook as I held the covers
tightly about me for fear I would feel a ghosts or hulders
touch on my shoulder, or hear the rattle of bleached bones
near by. Fortunately, sleep was close at hand for anyone as
active all day as I. These stories probably accounted for
my fright one evening: I was outdoors alone and heard a piercing
shriek above me. I ran for the house, but was unable to open
the door. Papa, hearing something, opened the door and comforted
me by saying that I had merely heard a screech owl!
On long winter evenings Mama kept her knitting needles flying.
I was growing fast and needed longer stockings continually.
Papa also wore home-knit stockings, except in summer. The
women, Mama included, knitted as they walked along the road
on errands or going visiting. Mama had a queer sort of safety
pin, the back strung with beads and the pin itself well curved,
which she could fasten deep in a ball of woolen yarn. She
then pinned it to the side of her skirt and unwound yarn as
she needed it.
Sometimes I could coax Papa to play hide-and-seek with me
while Mama sat knitting. A button, a thimble, a spool of thread,
or my homemade top might be the thing we hid. To me it was
great fun, but I can sort of sense after this long time that
it was sometimes pretty boring for Papa! As the years passed,
Mama had become less harsh with me as her memories of Marie
faded, and we got on reasonably well, or better.
The year 1906 was an important one for us. Plans had been
made to build a barn. A lot of figuring and dickering with
lumbermen in Manfred and Fessenden went on before Papa decided
to get the lumber. Material for the foundation lay in the
large stone pile near the gate, where Papa and Prince had
deposited rock and stone from all over the place those first
years. Some of the rocks were large and it had taken much
digging, prying, and tugging on Papas part to get them
onto the stoneboat, and some heavy pulling on Princes
part to get  them home. By the time the foundation had
been laid and after a lot of the stone discarded by the mason
had been used inside the barn for fill, there was little left
of the big pile.
Papa bought the lumber in Manfred. I went with him every
trip. Once Mama went along, and that day the lumberman invited
us to go home with him for dinner. This was a special honor;
I think this may have been the only time Mama ever set foot
The prairie along the way had been turned into field or fenced
into pasture, so we had to follow whatever trail there happened
to be along section lines. It was not much of a road for hauling
heavy lumber loads. A little grading had been done over some
of the many small sloughs; frequent rains made these grades
almost impassable. I would sit leaning over the wagon seat
watching the mud ooze up around the wagon wheel and hang there
in big chunks that fell off as the wheel turned, while more
mud arched upwards to cling a bit and fall again. We did not
meet many people on this road.
Three carpenters lived with us that summer. Whenever my little
tasks permitted me to stay around them, I led an adventuresome
life. They were men from the settlement whom we knew well,
so I climbed around on the scaffolds, watching and listening
to them. Repeated warnings about going up where they were
meant nothing to me. They did not know how much practice I
had had climbing the big cottonwoods! But one day when they
were busy I went higher than ever before, where even I knew
it was risky for me to go, when one carpenter, who was working
at the end and very peak of the roof, lost his footing and
I heard his thin cry echoing inside the barn and saw his
body dropping clumsily downward, and for once I was thoroughly
shaken. I held on tightly for a moment before I began to make
my way to the ground and around to the back of the barn, where
the men had gathered around the fallen man. They had propped
him up against the foundation. His face was white as snow.
He fell about forty feet and narrowly  missed a rock
pile. It happened that no bones were broken, but he did not
work again that day.
And then the barn was finished, even to the little cupola
up on the peak of the roof. The haymow seemed huge, with its
immense arching roof high above me, and its smooth, clean
expanse of floor. One day the floor was swept and planks were
put up for benches along the side walls. There was going to
be a big dance in the barn! Ordinarily I would have been wild
with excitement about all the people coming to enjoy themselves,
but I knew that Mama had been very much against having the
dance. I knew who had kept after Papa until he had given his
consent. Mama then requested that no beer or liquor be brought
in for the dance. The promise was given, but early on the
evening of the dance Papas one horrid cousin came, bringing
supplies of both. What was a promise made a woman to him!
Mama was furious. She locked herself in the house and left
Papa and me outside, and that was that. Through a blurred
memory of many lanterns burning up near the roof of the great
room, of music, dancing, and gaiety, runs a thread of disquiet
-- Mama had locked herself in, Mama had locked herself
in the house. Neighbor women who went to find her came back
and asked me what was wrong. I suppose I told the truth, as
I had been taught to do. Then I had to go with some of them
and we stood outside the darkened house talking to her until
they persuaded her to open the door so they could come in
to cook coffee and prepare lunch. Not everyone, they said,
wanted to partake of beer and whisky outside the barn in the
darkness. I am proud of Mama for taking this stand against
drunkenness. After she had unlocked the house door I went
back to the barn with an entirely different feeling and enjoyed
the rest of the party.
Of course people were immediately after Papa to have another
dance there the next Saturday night. He felt that he had owed
the neighbors a chance to ta sig en sving (give themselves
a whirl) and they had had it; so several loads of timothy
hay were put in the haymow immediately, and there could 
be no impromptu repetition -- beer barrel, whisky, or
In winter the barn was a world within itself. Some of the
creatures who wintered there never set foot outdoors until
the snow was gone in the spring. Among these were some small
calves who occupied a big boarded-off section at the back.
The rooster and about twenty hens had no home except for a
few poles nailed across the corner above the calf pen. Being
messy, they were unwelcome, but there was no other place for
them to spend the winter. The roosters of those days were
Purebred animals of any sort were unknown. These people were
glad to have ordinary stock. So also with chickens. In the
spring neighbor women would exchange settings of eggs. A setting
was thirteen eggs. When an old hen became broody she was given
the eggs to sit over, and after three weeks she would usually
have thirteen lively little chicks to raise. Thus new strains
were added to the flock, in all possible colors. The roosters
that did not end up in the soup kettle in their youth were
big, beautiful birds, and they knew it. They rivaled the pheasants
of today in the glory of their feathers. Greens, deep reds,
golds, and purplish blacks shimmered and shone along their
necks, wings, and tail feathers. Some had tail feathers so
long they almost swept the ground. I remember one big white
rooster who had a rich display of colors, even black, on wings
and tail. The roosters strutted proudly about the yard and
were absolutely vain.
Pussy was mostly a prisoner, too. There were always a few
mice lurking near the feedbox, so she had work to do, but
sometimes on nice days, when the big doors were open while
the horses were taken out to the water tank, she might try
a trip along their hard-packed, manure-spotted trail toward
the well. As the great beasts came trotting by, Pussy reluctantly
dived into the snow. When the path was clear again she would
stand there discontentedly for a moment and then go dashing
back toward the barn. She paused for a moment on  the
doorsill, displeasure evident in the set of her tail and her
close-laid ears, while she daintily shook the snow off one
paw after the other before she fled back into the warm, steamy
At precisely one-thirty every winter afternoon it was time
for Mama to water the cows. Not even our infrequent Sunday-dinner
company was allowed to interfere with this chore. On cold
days the cows drank very little, but hurried back to crowd
together near the barn door. By the time the door was opened
for them one dignified old bossy with wide horns had usually
butted and pushed herself into position nearest the door.
I have seen two of them so determined to be first inside that
both became wedged in the doorway and had to be pushed and
prodded out again. Big old "Skaute" who came from
Minnesota was long since gone, but there was always another
A black-and-white cow with a white spot in her forehead was
named "Stjerne" (Star); a red-and-white one might
be "Hjertros" (Heart Rose).
The horses were my favorites. Their big eyes shone with pleasure
when I played with or petted them, and they nuzzled their
velvety lips and noses against my face and hands. If they
all stood dozing I had but to touch the cover of the feed-bin
and every horse would take a step forward and every head was
turned hopefully toward me, waiting for a handout of feed.
As soon as I could lift the harness over their backs I harnessed
some of them. It was easy without the fly nets, but they made
a heavier and more complicated chore. Some of our horses had
fly nets made from long strips of leather. Attached to the
harness, they moved when the horses moved and effectively
kept the flies off. Most fly nets were made of an open mesh
material, orange yellow in color. Teams wearing these gaudy
fly nets could be seen for long distances.
Then suddenly there came a day with warm spring sunshine
and a drying wind. The barn doors were left ajar, and the
hens came one by one to stand cautiously on the doorstep.
Standing  one-legged, they cocked their heads this way
and that, wondering if they dared step outdoors. A few days
later they were scurrying about the yard, the strutting rooster
stopping often to arch his neck in a loud, clear "Cock-a-doodle-doo!"
The hens made an awful din in the otherwise quiet yard with
their shrill cackling about the eggs they had laid.
Then came the day to put the reluctant and contrary calves
outdoors. The bright sunshine, everything, was different from
their dimly lit winter home. Once forced outdoors, they stood
spraddle-legged for awhile. Then, after cautiously moving
their feet a bit and sniffing at the ground, they suddenly
seemed to realize they were free; then their jumping and capering,
waltzing and running about, with their tails held stiffly
erect, were laughable indeed.
The cupola on top of the roof had been painted last of all,
and when the painter finished the white trim and was about
to start down the ladder, he tipped the pail of paint and
a white streak ran down the new shingles. Fortunately the
streak was on the side toward the house and not readily visible
from the road. It was good paint and was visible for, possibly,
twenty-five or thirty years!
Later we found out that the barn was indeed complete --even
to a nisse as real as any of those Mama told about from Norway.
One of my uncles was about to step off the ladder-like steps
from the haymow when he saw it. He saw the puckish, gray-bearded
face and the pointed red cap before the nisse grabbed him
by the ankle and pinched him as if with fiery tongs. Uncle
yelled and kept right on yelling until he roused the household,
and was himself awakened. He said then and years afterwards
that this was the most vivid and the most painful dream he
ever had. At the time Papa gave Mama a cool look, as much
as to say: "Ja, now look what comes of your storytelling!";
but a tiny smile lurked in the corners