Norwegian emigration, part 9
“The new generation lacks both the knowledge and the imagination to grasp the real conditions of life as experienced by the pioneers,” Hjalmar Holand wrote in 1920 of Norwegian pioneers in southeast Minnesota. Hard work was a no-brainer, but these pioneers were at the mercy of time, bugs and more specifically for this time – epidemics.
Grain bugs, for much of the 1870s, completely devastated grain fields. 19th century doctors lacked knowledge of contagious diseases, and the border was marked by epidemics and often multiple deaths from cholera, scarlet fever, diphtheria, smallpox, typhoid fever, tuberculosis. , yellow fever, influenza and measles.
Turning wilderness into productive farms required tireless work. Most trips away from the farm were to the nearest flour mill to get wheat or ground corn. At first it could be long journeys. There was a hand-fed flour mill south of Spring Grove, where it was difficult to feed grain slowly enough into the spout. An entire handle at a time would deactivate the mill. One tale describes Knut Bergo noticing his grain coming in but nothing coming out. Research has revealed a mouse under the mill funnel eating the grain and throwing the pods away. But for Bergo, this painstaking process was better than weeklong hikes to Dorchester or Decorah with a pack on your back. When the pond froze, they had to grind the grain in a coffee grinder or pound it with a mortar.
Ole Oleson Sandness’s first grain harvest in Wilmington Township was about 500 bushels, cut with a cradle and tied into bundles. Most would be transported for two days to be sold in Lansing, Iowa. From Spring Grove, the nearest markets were 50 miles northeast of Winona, 35 miles east of Brownsville, and 50 miles southeast of MacGregor, Iowa. In oxcart, these trips lasted a week or two and were only attempted once or twice a year.
A kubberulle was a Norwegian-American bullock cart built from logs. The wheels were made of discs sawn from the end of an oak log, or kubbe. Despite these arduous journeys, bringing your harvest to the market created a feeling of self-sufficiency. But the business got much easier after a small-gauge railroad first connected Reno to Preston in 1879.
Rasmus Spande recounted a heartbreaking experience when he and his brother-in-law Tore Faae were surprised by a snowstorm on a winter trip to Winona, “the nearest market where you could buy what there was. It was 40 miles from home. Making the trip dressed in fine clothes (all he had) and driving slow oxen in winter on impassable roads was the furthest thing from comfort. I just had my blouse and overalls on and froze something horrible.
They eventually arrived in a slum, where six or seven men refused them shelter and threatened them with violence. Back outside, Spande said, “The snow was getting so deep we had to walk in front of the oxen and walk on a trail.” Two hours later (approximately 23 hours) and only three kilometers further, their lives were surely saved when they stumbled upon the home of a compassionate German pastor.
Winter was perilous outside and even inside. Ole Kolberg froze to death in 1853 in an accident on the road between Caledonia and Spring Grove. During the winter of 1870, the nine members of the Ole Olsgard family, about five miles southwest of Spring Grove, saw their first cabin burnt down with all of their belongings. A son suffered severe burns and Ole broke his back falling from the roof while fighting the blaze.
The winter of 1857 will be remembered for a long time as the worst ever experienced in the region. Almost three feet of snow fell and then, when topped with a hard crust, the deer trapped when their hooves fell through the crust. Hundreds of helpless deer have been attacked by wolves or clubbed to death by humans on skis.
During this winter, it was impossible to use horses. However, Embrik Melbraaten made a snowshoe for horse hooves. After his horse got used to the shoe, it was often called upon, especially for funerals. A light sled carried the coffin and was followed by mourners and the pastor on skis.