NAHA Header


Seven America Letters to Valdres
    by Carlton C. Qualey (Volume 22: Page 144)

America letters are the lifeblood of the emigration story, but despite the efforts of many searchers for over a generation, we still have too few of them. To the invaluable collection published by Theodore C. Blegen in Land of Their Choice: The Immigrants Write Home and the many letters that have been included in the Norwegian-American Studies and Records series can now be added seven more written by emigrants from the Valdres district of Norway, spanning the years 1851—93. {1}

The first letter writer is content with his decision to emigrate; he encourages others of his family to take the same step, and gives useful detailed instructions as to what to bring along. A recipient of such advice might well take courage to make the journey. The second letter, written a year later, reveals intriguing sentiments about economic inequalities in Norway and a roseate conception of the American system, as the writer calls it. The third author gives a good account of his trip inland from Quebec and could have been used by the [145] state of Illinois or the Chicago Chamber of Commerce for promotional purposes; the writer was deeply impressed with the money-making possibilities as well as the beauties of this new country.

Homesickness is clearly evident in the fourth and fifth letters of this series. One indicates a young woman’s concern lest her parents attempt the trip across the ocean; emigration was a young people’s game. These two letters and the sixth were written by sisters who came to America to seek their fortune. All found good husbands and raised families. The second of these documents reveals a waning of the longing for home, while the third demonstrates a mature adjustment to New World life. These three letters from the Samson sisters, written 1869—81, graphically trace the transition from the wrenching separation, the journey overseas, and the trip inland, to jobs as hired girls in farm homes and on to marriage and settled family life as Americans of Norwegian ancestry.

The seventh letter was written in old age by a proud and somewhat garrulous man seeking to re-establish contact with his brother in Norway after a long separation and a lapse of correspondence. In the portions here selected, this man’s satisfaction with having emigrated and with conditions in Wisconsin in the Rusk-Chippewa County area is clearly evident. He also reveals a decline in emigration, and mentions the movement of the frontier to distant areas such as Dakota and Montana. The letter was written in the midst of the Panic of 1893, the effects of which are obvious; but the writer clearly had faith in the future of his region and of the United States.


Anders Anderssen Qvale, from Muskegon, Michigan, January 18, 1851, to parents and other relatives in Norway.

I wish you happiness and peace both here and in the life to come. Your esteemed letter, written April 16, was received August 1, and it was a joy for me to hear that you are well and that everything is fine with you. So, affectionately, I must [146] write you a few lines. I expect that you are eager to hear how things have been with me. I went from Port Washington [Wisconsin] to Milwaukee early in May and then by ship to Michigan. There I worked for two months at $14 per month and was in good health. I returned to Milwaukee and from there went out to Karkeland [Koshkonong?] to see the land there. I thought it would be a fine place for Norwegians. One can earn $1.00 per day cradling wheat while the job lasts, but in winter there is more work to be had in Michigan. Now I am back in Muskegon again and get $14 per month. There is no contractual time limit on a job here and therefore one can ask for one’s wages and leave at will. The master can discharge a man when he does not want him any longer. Here one is served good food, with wheat bread, pork, and butter at each meal. In the morning there is as much coffee as one wants, and in the evening there is tea. We get three meals a day.

Dear brother Torger, you wish to know if it would pay you to come and how to prepare for the trip. If you have the chance, I believe it is more promising for you here than in Valdres. About provisions, I had plenty of them when I came, and I would advise you to take just as much, for things are very expensive if bought along the way. Many bought their flour in Bergen, but it was not good, because the grain was not dry [when it was milled]. The meat was good, but butter melts in weather as hot as that we had going through the [Erie] canal. It is good to have primost [whey cheese]. It is well to carry all kinds of clothing. If you bring homespun, it is wise to have it in the piece, for there are many Norwegian tailors here. American boots and shoes are dear. You must take nightshirts; here they are of red cloth. Shirts are more expensive here. You should have flat-collared jackets or vests.

You could bring bedding with you. Many emigrants have carried feather beds with them. Feathers cost 25 cents per pound here. There are 100 cents in each dollar. Coarse canvas for sacks may be brought. You could take along your [147] hide sacks if you cannot sell them. Try to buy your clothes there. Here they are not as good. Colors used for clothes are black, brown, gray, and blue. Perhaps you can buy a kettle in Christiania. You must bring cloth caps with you. Neckerchiefs are worn here. Blades for a [wood] plane should be brought, iron wedges and saw blades too, both narrow and wide. Axes are unnecessary, but you could bring a double-bladed axe, and smithy equipment of all kinds. If you cannot find any, you can use mine. One or two hoes and spade blades should also be brought.

[Barrel] hoops may be brought if they are good ones. They are more expensive here, but better for use with hardwood. A wagon costs $45 or more. I would advise you to bring one with you, for many here use small wagons. I measured some of them. The width is about 45 inches, the hub is 11 inches; the height of the first wheel is 42 inches and of the other, 52 inches. You could bring your cart and axle. They ship at the cost of small wagons. But big chests are difficult to move. You might take both a travel chest and one for provisions and clothes. You must have tight locks for them. At Bergen you should get herring, fish, and potatoes, which are good food for the sea, and you must buy tea and coffee. You should get ale at Leirdal Island, for it is expensive in Bergen. Milk will keep for awhile. Buy a copper kettle that holds eight cups. If you do not want such a big one, you can trade it off here. A small kettle might also be bought. A copper kettle costs $1.25 here. Bring my bell with you. Brass combs are expensive here. Buy me some tailor’s shears.

Dear sister Gjertrud, in case you come, I want to tell you about the trip and what you should have with you. It will not be helpful to carry along jackets and coats, but do bring dresses. Where Norwegians have settled [in groups] they use their own costumes. Kerchiefs are worn, but not white ones. If you have some you have woven yourself, bring them with you, as many as you have. American women wear clothes like those worn by the upper classes in Norway. You might bring a [148] spinning wheel, a carder, and weaving shears. The Norwegians here raise flax. I think you could bring a loom and some sheep shears and some tailor’s shears. Sheep shears are not available here, only scissors. Bring an iron for ironing.

I want to greet Torger, my father, and Ole Olsen Qvale for Ole Hermandsen Alme of Lyster and say that he is well off. I visited him for about two months last summer. He is well settled. If you come, Torger, you can stay with him, for he has a house with two rooms. From Milwaukee to his place is about 40 English miles. I was to ask you to bring him some wheat from Hadeland to try out and one iron link [chain] of about 4 yards, something he has many uses for when he drives oxen.

I think you know what books you will want. Guldberg’s psalmbook is used, but in New York one can buy a Bible for one dollar. . . . We have a Swedish minister here who travels about among the Norwegians. You want my advice about land. For the land I know best you should go from Milwaukee to Karkeland. You should not go to Manitowoc, which has a lot of woods. This area where I am is said to be the best. I will arrange to meet you in Milwaukee. I know nothing about land near Chicago. I must close my letter with a cordial greeting from me, Anders Anderssen Qvale, to my friends, and say that I am satisfied here.

My parents, I noted in your letter that I was going to get either clothing or money, but so far they are unnecessary. I hesitate to take them, for I have too many clothes. If Even needs money, he can borrow it at fair interest. When you arrive in New York, you must write me about your trip.

As to Aagoth, I doubt that she has considered this trip yet, and there is no hurry about her. You must not lend out your money. I have heard of many who have been swindled by those to whom they have made loans.

To Torger: See to it that you exchange your money for silver and gold only. When I traveled this was well received here in this country. [149]


A fragment of a letter from Paul Anderson, Racine, Wisconsin, November 25, 1851, to his "Dear parents and unforgettable friends in Norway."

My friend Anders Hamre! I notice that in your letter of March 6, 1848, you question my letter in which I remarked about prices of lumber, daily wages, etc. I must point out that costs of goods, etc., give no indication as to how one can pay daily wages but only as to the practice in America. The system in Norway makes it necessary to pay low wages for labor; here, conversely, wages are high. If a man is poor and cannot hire labor, he must do his work himself. If he needs help but does not have the money, let him first go and work for another for daily wages. Thereafter he can carry out his own plans (build a house, etc.). In Norway some shall work and some shall be lords; some have wealth and pay out, and some must beg and take. This country’s constitution, on the contrary, has for its motto, "Freedom, Equality, and Brotherhood," which are this country’s principles. There the system must prevail, and consequently work must be spread out.

A man’s character is indicated by his learning to carry out his work diligently. A country’s character lies in an industrious population, from which derives the nation’s wealth. But let me remind you now of Norway’s constitution! Its motto is freedom, but equality is left out, and therefore true brotherhood cannot exist. . . . Let us regard the Norwegian character. Is it based on free labor? No! The most respected and coveted situation in Norway is to have acquired historical knowledge at an academy and thereafter not lower one’s status with manual labor. Instead, the man now walks well clad and confidently, with cane in hand, and for pastime goes to balls to show off his refined and elevated station. Such a learned man is easily in a position to command the laborer’s services.

This position is sometimes abused, but such power is also exercised by those of lower social station. For when someone [150] gains wealth by inheritance or otherwise, before long he prefers not to work, especially when he learns that he can get a job done at cheap wages. Why should he do it? The result is that the poor man or worker is a slave so long as he lives, and scarcely can sustain himself. Poor he is born and poor must he die. Is this the purpose of human life? You say that if everyone started to work, the poor would have nothing. I say this is not so. It is natural that the more a man does, the more he will finish, and the better wages a man gets for his work, the greater incentive he has. When has a country or part of it been too much cultivated? That time has never existed and never will.

I have said that the way everything is done here in America comes from its system, but I want to add a little more. I note that you, my friend A. Hamre, believe that to erect a house for family living will cost hundreds and perhaps thousands. This is not far wrong in Norway, but permit me to make a brief remark. Circumstances here and in Norway cannot be compared. Here a house can be built in a week that would require six weeks in Norway. What would be done in a week in Norway can be accomplished here in one day, with the same number of laborers. Furthermore, what in Norway would take a year can be done here in two months. You ask how this can be. We worked both hard and rapidly in Norway. Yes, but what is good and quick enough in Norway is not good and quick enough here. . . .

Do not think that what I have written is to deprecate Norway and its people, but it is that you may understand and believe what America is like. . . . This . . . would be more obvious to you were you to emigrate to our new state of Wisconsin and see what has been accomplished in sixteen years. You would see Milwaukee with its 24,000 inhabitants, a sure sign of the industry and resources of the people there. You would see many well-built churches and would think the people must be religious. You would come upon one schoolhouse after another, full of young people with their [151] industrious and skilled teachers, who give free education supported by public funds. You would look at all these things with wonder when you consider that fifteen years ago this was a wilderness. You would see even more if you took the steamboat that goes daily to and from Racine, where I now live. You would find a small, well-built town, settled fourteen years ago, with 600 or 700 inhabitants, twelve churches, and several schools with able teachers. The churches are filled every Sunday with attentive listeners and the gospel is preached clearly and warmly. If one looks around town, one will find more improvements than could be listed. The town might be fifty years old, but on close examination one finds that the stump of the first tree that was felled is not yet rotten.

Now I want to call your attention to another circumstance, that of the farmer. After harvest you will find him at the market place daily, with his produce for sale. Ask him what he expects to get per bushel and he will answer 60 to 70 cents for wheat, 40 to 50 for rye, 30 to 40 for barley, 25 for potatoes, 25 to 30 for oats. (A bushel is a quarter barrel by Norwegian measure.) Ask, too, how far he must transport it, and he will answer perhaps 80 to 100 English miles. Ask him when he left home; he will answer day before yesterday. Ask another man how far he is from home, and he may answer 40 to 50 miles. Ask him how long he was on the way, and he will answer one day. Ask him how much a traveler must pay for overnight for a man and two horses; he will answer $2.00.

Ask him how profitable it can be to raise wheat and other products to be carried to market and sold for such low prices after such an expensive trip, and he will answer thus: "This year I had 20 acres of wheat. I hired two men for cradling, and gave them $1.50 per acre, or $30 for labor on the 20 acres. I got 500 bushels of wheat, and I paid the threshers 8 cents per bushel, or $40; thus, $70 altogether. I am sowing 30 bushels; I need 100 bushels for the household, and I still have 370 bushels which I can sell. If I go when roads are dry and good, I can haul the wheat in ten wagonloads. Even though I [152] get only 60 cents per bushel, I can sell for $222. After I have paid for cradling and threshing, I still have $152, which can be regarded as the farmer’s earnings. If a man lives near a market, he can drive to it and back in one day; he is fortunate. If one must travel two or three days, the expenses are higher and this makes a real difference in a man’s earnings."

Now I must remind you that this description is of an average situation, neither high nor low, for an ambitious farmer can often sow 40 to 80 or 100 acres of wheat, but his expenses will be the same as described. A man with two horses can plow 3 or 4 acres a day, depending on whether the soil is heavy or light, and two men can harvest 2 to 3 or even 4 acres a day. A threshing machine with 4 to 6 horsepower can thresh 300 to 400 bushels, even 500 to 600 bushels per day, depending on whether the grain has heavy straw and is dry. A man may buy a threshing machine and go about from farm to farm and thresh, and there are many of these. . . . It is not true that Norwegians or other national groups retain their own ways, believing they are the best. He who hangs on to old ways when they do not pay will lose out. He must learn anew. If he does not he will blame the Americans, and this is true of both farmer and laborer.

I have one more little thing to write about. I see by your letter that you think the wilderness here in America is settled by uncivilized people. I have often thought to reply to this, but I have been unable to understand what you meant by the term "uncivilized."


Jens Tønnesen. to his family, from Chicago, September 1, 1853.

I have long intended to write you how we got here and how we are. The ship "Hermand Rosen" sailed from Kragerø May 17 and arrived at Flekkefjord the 19th of the same month. We sailed from there on the 20th and by four o’clock the land was out of sight. On the 4th [of June] we passed Scotland. Thereafter we saw nothing, except for a few sails, but [153] sky and water for six weeks and two days. One Sunday, with a good wind, we sighted St. Paul [off Cape Breton Island] and several islands, and two days later we landed in America. Everyone was very happy. Up the St. Lawrence we had head winds daily, but in fourteen days, on a Saturday evening, July 16, we anchored at Quebec; all was well, and we were in good health and well satisfied. It is a dreadfully long trip up from the sea to Quebec, with a beautiful landscape, especially on one side, and all the houses white. On the other or northern side of the St. Lawrence River the land seems worthless, with vast forests. It is uninhabited for several hundred miles. All of us said as with one voice, "This is something different from buying expensive land in Norway." This stretch of shore line resembles Norway’s cliffs, although there seem to be vast plains, too. On this river we met over a hundred large ships in a day. It is remarkable to see such a huge export of lumber.

Quebec is a big city with many very large steamships [in the harbor]. On the 18th the captain contracted for transportation for us all via the quickest and best route at $8.00 for each adult, with children under three years free. Sixty poor people were also provided for, regardless of their destination. This our good captain did; he also gave money to the needy ones. We are much indebted to him for his great concern for us all. On the 19th we boarded a steamer, and reached the city of Montreal the morning of the 20th. It was estimated that there were two or three thousand people [at the locks]. After one o’clock we boarded another large steamer and then sailed through 30 locks, each about 12 feet high. Then there was a canal with earth sides, not much wider than the width of the ship, but at some points it was wide enough for ships to pass. This canal is 50 miles long.

On the 21st we changed steamers three times in a city called Kingston. Our boat was big and fine, three decks high, with space for two or three thousand passengers. They were very friendly people, both in first and in second class. We [154] traveled on this steamer to Rochester. We passed many cities, too numerous to mention. The country from Quebec inland is very attractive and remarkably fertile. We traveled 250 miles on a broad lake [Ontario], out of sight of land. In a little town, Hamilton, we left the ship and were met by wagons with four horses, and a two-horse cart for the luggage. We drove 8 English miles and then went 42 miles by railroad to Buffalo. The train made the distance in two hours. In Buffalo, which is a big and mighty city, several people stayed on, but we stopped only three hours. Then we went on board a steamer at four in the morning. In two days we stopped at a city called Detroit. There we transferred to the railroad to Chicago. It is 250 [Norwegian] miles in all from Quebec to Chicago, or in other words 1,800 [1,563 English] miles. In Chicago we were offered $1.25 per day for railroad work, which we and several other Norwegians accepted. We traveled about 100 miles southward in Illinois. All of us who went on this job got free transportation. We worked for a month and received $30 in gold. All of us Norwegians left together when we became dissatisfied there. The houses were poor and the country almost uninhabited.

There are wide prairies here, 130 miles in length without a single tree to be seen. These huge areas are as fertile as the finest land in Norway. We have seen many remarkable things here, but this is the most remarkable of all. The grass is over a yard high and growing in it are the most beautiful flowers. These stretches consist partly of rolling land with a few hills, and one can see woodland on both sides, as when one views land from the sea. All this blessed grass stands there and rots, as undoubtedly it has since creation. One could sow or find forage for many hundreds of cattle here, and this is true even in parts of the city of Chicago. Each man cuts the grass he needs for his livestock. Mostly corn and wheat are grown here. Rye and barley are not common, for no one eats rye bread. Both the poor and the rich eat delicious wheat bread. It seems to me that a workingman’s table is as well supplied as that of [155] a rich man, and that everyone lives well. Since we have been here we have not seen any poor people or beggars, and great orderliness prevails among the people.

One does not find noise and brandy drinking as in Norway, even though there is plenty [of liquor] to be had in Chicago. Many Norwegians here, yes, several hundred, all of my acquaintance, are ambitious people and nearly all have beautiful white houses. The city grows in size and well-being. Over fifty houses a day are being built and they increase in price from year to year. In the city itself, one [square] foot of land costs $100, and in the suburbs from $12 to $14. Many of the Norwegians bought land when they first came, and have since sold it for house lots and have earned thousands of dollars. One of them came here with $400, and now has $20,000. There are fine horses everywhere, besides remarkable driving equipment that cannot be compared to anything in Norway. Similarly, one finds large, fine cattle. Around the city there are several thousand, and they are all in as good condition as the fattest in Norway. I think one could make 15 per cent in the cattle business if he could speak the language well.

Living costs are high in the city. A barrel of wheat flour costs $4.00, pork 9 cents per pound, beef 4 cents per pound, butter 12 cents per pound, sugar 7 cents per pound, coffee 12 cents per pound, rice 6 cents per pound. All kinds of root crops are cheap. There are also four big stores here, and some large churches. Everything seems to be available and quite cheap. There are all kinds of factories powered with steam, life and movement in all things, together with good wages. Wages are paid mostly on an hourly basis. A laborer gets from 12 to 20 cents an hour. Otherwise, for steady work it is $1.25 per day.

Now I must tell you, dear parents, that we have rented a house here in town, in a very nice neighborhood. We live with a family from Kongsberg with whom we traveled on the whole journey. We can also report that we were well and sound during the entire trip. [156]


Berit Samsonsdatter Bakken wrote her parents from Decorah, Iowa, August 1, 1869.

Now that there is an opportunity, I will write and send you a few words about our trip after we left you and our dear fatherland. The trip from Leirdal Island to Bergen was a good one. We were in Bergen eight days. We sailed from there on May 5 and arrived at an island near Quebec June 17; we remained until June 20. We sailed late in the evening and arrived at Quebec the morning of the 21st. We stayed there three days. While at sea we were sick, Anne and I for the first three weeks but Siborg for the entire voyage. But God be thanked for all his blessings. We reached our distant destination July 3 in good health, which is one of the greatest gifts we can receive. It is our heartfelt desire to hear you say the same.

We must tell you where we are living now. I am with Ole Ulen and Anne Viig. Sister Anne has hired out for the summer to Tollef Viig, and sister Siborg is with Tosten Olsen Haugenne. We have little news to report except that Ole Nesja’s wife gave birth to twins while we were at sea. One of these children died after we had traveled across the country for awhile. Sigri, Helge Høime’s daughter, gave birth to a child at sea.

Dear parents, as to the rumors I have heard about your making the trip to America, I advise you not to forsake that secure little home to seek the uncertain here. Tosten of Dokken is not very happy about having come, for he did not find what he expected, and older people who have come are not happy about having taken the step. We have nothing else to write about this time except that we are well. We will not say anything about our circumstances now. To conclude these simple lines, this pen is inadequate to convey the affection and love that surround the memory of you.

Thanks be to God that we have this medium, so that by letters and pen we can, so to speak, talk together. God keep [157] you from all evil and grant you a happy and quiet old age. And when evening comes, when the sun no longer will rise for you, then let his holy angel carry you to Abraham’s arms. My sisters’ and my affectionate greetings go to you, dear parents and sisters and brothers. We hope that we are not forgotten but will be remembered by letters from you soon and often. Again — live well.

Postscript: Please greet Tollef Viig and his wife from us, Knud Viig and his honored family, and all our relatives and friends. Tollef Viig and his wife are sent kind greetings from their brother-in-law, Ole Ulen, and his daughter Anne, hoping that they and their children are in good health and living comfortably.


Siborg Samson Bakken wrote her mother, brother, and sister from Decorah, Iowa, June 1, 1876.

Now that time and opportunity are available, I will take up my pen and send a few lines to tell you how I am living and am situated. Thanks be to God, I am well and active, for which I must not forget to thank God, and it would please me to have the same news about you when you have the time, for it is so long since I had a letter from you. It would make me very happy if you would write, for it is such a pleasure to hear from one’s dear fatherland. I have traveled down here [Decorah, Iowa] to visit my sister Berit and to talk with her, for I had not seen her for four years. Now I have been here in Iowa for four weeks, and in fourteen days I will go up into Minnesota again to my sister Anne. I can travel from Decorah to Adams [Minnesota] in three hours, for it is only 60 miles. I talked with the sons of Hans Thommas of Haugenne when they were at church in Decorah on Palm Sunday. They are well and like it here, for it is a good place for free and employable people to come. They said they were well. Greetings from me, Berit, and Gulbrand to you, Samson, for sending what came with Ole of Haugenne. When you write you must tell me how much it cost and I will make it good to you. [158]

Dear brother, I am sorry to trouble you but could you somehow get me and my sister two pairs of [wool] carders and send them by someone who is leaving next spring? We shall do what we can to send back the payment. I have little news to report that could be of interest to anyone. Many are married. Tollef Evenson Neste and Sigri Pidersdatter Hamre and many others you do not know. No one you know has died recently. Therefore I must conclude my brief letter with kind greetings from me, your always faithful sister Siborg Samson, to you, my dear brother and family; and to you, my dear mother also, heartfelt greetings from your dear daughter Siborg. God be with you all.

It would be pleasant if we could see each other in this world, but I guess that will not happen. For now, live comfortably, and see that you write by the first post so that we can learn how you are. Do not forget us, Samson. Please be so kind as to greet our brother Knud and tell us how things go with him. Finally, you might remember us all to all our friends. You must greet Ole Tollefson Viig and his wife for me.

Postscript: My dear brother Samson and family and my dear mother: Excuse my brief letter. Live well and give thanks for each day. When you write me, address the letter to Adams P.O., Mower County, Minnesota.


Ole O. and Anne (Samsonsdatter) Kirkevold wrote Anne’s mother and sister from Adams, Minnesota, November 14, 1881.

Because it is such a long time since we exchanged letters, I [Anne] will send you a few lines to let you know how we live and to bring you greetings from this distant country. Thanks be to God, we can tell you that we are well and thriving, which good report we hope to receive from you as well. This is the best news we could tell each other about physical things. We can then report that we have four children living, three girls and a boy, all of whom are big and [159] good according to their ages, and they are thriving. Siri, our eldest daughter, will be eight years old June 22, 1882. Anne Marie will be seven June 18 next, and Olaus will be four next Christmas Eve. Turi Sofie will be one year old November 20 this year. I wanted to do Mother and Father the honor of naming Turi for them. She is starting to walk now and she will undoubtedly be walking well by the time you get this letter. The two largest girls, Siri and Marie, have begun school and they are making good progress for their age. They also impress our minister, who visits us occasionally. I also can report that my mother-in-law, Astri, lives with us. She is quick and active despite her seventy-six years, and she is very kind and pleasant and helps me much with the children. You may have heard that my father-in-law died. He died about two and a half years ago, and I must say it has been empty and very desolate since he left, for we held him in high regard. This, in truth, he deserved, for he was always helpful and kind.

Sister Syber [Siborg] has gone west to Dakota. She is now married and the newlyweds plan to settle there. She got a man from Valdres — from Svenesbygden — named Syver Gausaak. Sister Berit and her family live in Decorah, Iowa. The last I heard from them, they were well and thriving.

As to the harvest this year, I [Ole] can report a good one, as to both wheat and other crops, so we have nothing to complain about in that respect, especially now that the prices of farm products are so favorable. We have not had such good times for years. A bushel of wheat brings $1.05, but not long ago it was up to $1.25 per bushel.

As to livestock, we have three horses (two work horses and a foal), twelve cattle, and five swine. In winter all I have to do is take care of the livestock and bring in wood, and my wife helps with the milking. So you will understand that I have it very comfortable at this time of year. Time passes quickly, for in our free hours we have plenty of good books and newspapers, which bring us benefit and satisfaction. We [160] have woods near by on my land, and that is convenient. I can report that Even Ulve worked for us during harvest and that he thought we had it very nice, a good deal better than if we had stayed at Øie. On the whole he thought well of America, and he is thriving. Nils Lillestrand stopped by on his visit here and he promised to greet you from us.

With this I [Anne] will stop these brief and simple lines for this time. Hearty greetings to my brother Knud from us all, and also to my sister Turi, to you, my mother, to brother Samson and family. . . . Live well! Merry Christmas!


Osten T. Holien wrote his brother December 22, 1893, from an unspecified location. A penciled note on the first page reads, "Received January 12, 1894."

It is in my heart to beg forgiveness of you, my dear brother, for my tardiness in replying to your wish to have a few words from your brother in America. . . . Even though it is nearly forty-three years since I left Røine, it remains alive in my memory today, so that if I returned I could go from one landmark to another and distinguish places. . . .

Although it is several years since I received your esteemed and interesting letter, I still have it here by my side, and I see by it that you are an annuitant receiving several hundred dollars. That is very good. God has blessed your careful efforts, and you certainly deserve it. I have no annuity but I have 160 acres of good land which I put out on shares; I pay my part of the threshing and retain half the harvest, and thus live by God’s grace and take one day at a time.

This winter I have only fourteen cattle, for prices are low and labor costs make it unprofitable to raise them. I employed a Danish boy this winter to tend the cattle, and then Osten is at home this winter and helps with this and that. Besides, Osten has three horses and four cattle, which keep him busy. He has rented his farm on the same conditions that I have. He worked the farm himself one year but became weary of it. . . . [161]

Last winter we had little snow, this summer little rain. Nevertheless we had moderately good crops. Prices are very low because of bank failures. Since fall we have had an unprecedented money crisis. Factories are closed because of lack of money, and thousands of workers are hungry and idle. Wheat sells for 44 cents per bushel or $1.76 per barrel, oats $1.00 per barrel, rye $1.25. Prices of groceries are high and all kinds of fruit in the same proportion.

Finally, I see in your letter that America does not attract many of you. I agree with you about Røine, to which you probably refer. You do well to stay at home. As for me and my children, we like it here and look forward to a good future, barring unforeseen circumstances.

Someone or another will probably ask if there is any more land left in America. Yes, there is, but it is far out on the public domain, where one tract after another is purchased from the Indians and is sold at good terms to those who would like to try the pioneer life. It requires much ambition and patience and God’s help.

Dear brother, had you been here fifteen or sixteen years ago, you would have thought that this life was impossible, and you would have left forthwith. If you came here now, you would be astonished, even though there have been several dry years and tree planting has been retarded. . . .

In conclusion, friendly greetings from myself and those with me to my dear brother and my friends at Røine, and to all those I know at Hedalen and Lykken.


<1> These letters were secured by Mrs. Ingrid Semmingsen, formerly of the Norwegian Folk Museum staff, Bygdøy, Norway, and now professor of American history in the University of Oslo, from the curator of the Valdres Museum, Eiliv Odde Hauge, Fagernes, Valdres. The Norwegian-American Historical Association is grateful to Mrs. Semmingsen and Mr. Hauge for this service. Dean Blegen’s book was published in Minneapolis, 1955.


<<   Previous Page   |   Next Page   >>

To the Home Page