EXCERPT FROM HJALMAR R. HOLAND’S DE NORSKE SETTLEMENTERS HISTORIE (1908), TRANS. BY MALCOLM ROSHOLT
EAST & WEST ST. OLAF
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The year 1854 is one of the most meaningful in the history of Norwegian emigration, for in that year more settlements were actually founded in the U.S. than at any other time before or after. Bold Norwegian pioneers went out that year and occupied the best lands throughout southeastern Minnesota. Here, isolated and distant from one another, they founded small colonies which in a few years became important communities that spread across southern Minnesota. Fillmore county’s hills and Mower county’s plains were settled by Norwegians that year, as well as Freeborn, Steele, Nicollet, Carver and Dakota counties. Goodhue county’s beautiful acres were occupied, at the same time that other Norsemen reached Rock Dell in [Olmsted] county.
Rock Dell settlement covers the southwest of [Olmsted] county and the southeast of Dodge county and is inhabited by some 3000 Norwegians, although considerably mixed in origin. However, there are quite a few from Hallingdal.
Three different emigrant parties reached [Olmsted] county in 1854. The first included Ole and Tollef Golberg and Nils N. Giere from Hallingdal, Thrond Saether and Guttorm Olson Fraagot from Sigdal together with Ole Amundsen from Numedal. In the second party which arrived nearly at the same time were Even Halvorson Holtan and Knut O. Holtan from Kviteseid, Hans Holtan from Sandøkedal, Syvert Nilsen from Land and Nils Feseth from Bamble.
In the third party, which arrived on June 24, 1854, were Kristoffer and Torbjorn Tvedt from Gjerestad, Ole and Abraham Veggar, Kristen Hellikson and Jacob Dahlen from Andebo in the neighborhood of Tønsberg, Johannes A. Aasved and Aron Anderson from Trondheim. This last group settled farthest north in the settlement on what is still called the “Veggar Prairie.” All
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three parties moved up from Koshkonong in Wisconsin.
No one can remember whether anyone arrived in 1855 but the following year several came who played an important role in the affairs of the Rock Dell settlement. Those who arrived in 1856 were Magne Bystølen and Nils Gilderhus, two of the original founders of Koshkonong, in addition to Jacob K. Thoe, an outstanding figure from Voss, Ole S. Saettre, father of Pastor Saettre [probably Thorbjørn Andreas Saettre, -ed.], and Andrew Seeverts (Anders Syverson), his brother, also from Voss. Amund Giere, father of Pastor Nils 0. Giere, is also a pioneer of 1856.
Ole Saettre was “the biggest man in the community as he was seven feet tall. But he was also a prominent man in other respects besides his long body. He was a well-read and cultured person whose advice was sought by many, and as he published the first English newspaper (Norwegian papers had not yet reached this far in the West) his house was often filled with attentive listeners when he read to them about events in the outside world. His parents were among the first settlers on Koshkonong, and his son, Pastor Saettre, recalls a delightful story about his father’s arrival at this distant settlement in the West:
“When Ole and Sjur Satran early in the year of 1840 left Voss to go to America, old grandfather Satran was in good circumstances after he sold his farm. In America Ole and Sjur Satran first worked for a time in Chicago, then a small village. Two of their children who died here were buried in the church cemetery which is now part of Lincoln Park. When the Satran brothers heard about the new settlement in Koshkonong, they decided to move there. They purchased a yoke of oxen, farm tools and implements and started north across the prairies of Illinois. At Koshkonong
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they took land and established themselves as others had already done. As with so many people in those days, the Satrans could read but not write and as a result they had not written anyone in Norway of their present address.
“Not hearing from his boys, old grandfather Satran became impatient and one fine day got enough money together for a ticket to America and left. He followed the stream of emigrants and after a difficult journey reached Milwaukee, a stranger in a strange land. He tried to use both the dialects of Voss and Bergen, but no one understood him when he asked about his sons. Some, who realized he was Norwegian, pointed westward as they knew there was a settlement of Norwegians out that direction somewhere. The old man went off on foot and reached Muskego where he again asked about his sons. Knut Langeland, who was the best informed man in the settlement, knew nothing about them but had heard that a new settlement had been established to the west at a place called Koshkonong. He could only point to the west, and as the old timer was afraid to miss the direction, he took off at once. Neither swamps nor brush could stop him. And then one fine day, while one of the wives of the sons gazed through the window, she caught sight of a lonely figure off in the hills and it was quite a surprise to her when she finally recognized the nearly eighty-year old grandparent, Magnus Satran. He had made a bee-line for his son’s house without any guide than instinct. Yes sir! this was indeed a surprise party in the new settler’s hut.”
[A footnote by Holand quotes Valdemar Ager in Reform as the authority for this statement, -ed.]
In the fall of 1856 St. Olaf congregation was organized by
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C. L. Clausen and A. C. Preus. But as times were hard, things moved slowly towards getting a church built or calling a resident pastor. In 1857 a financial panic struck the nation, the most severe the country has ever experienced. The years previous to 1857 were characterized by great speculation and easy money. Land speculators were everywhere, platting villages on hills and marshes and selling lots in these paper towns at big prices. New railroad lines were surveyed in every valley, widely advertised, and chimerical business enterprises were transacted overall. It was the great American Age af Humbug.
As a result of all this speculation, money men began to tighten up an their credit and refused to loan even on good security. The result was that there were runs on banks which forced them to close and this brought business life to a standstill. Across the entire nation, east, west, north and south, the dark night of despair descended over the people like a pestilence. Thousands of men who were considered rich became beggars, and tens of thousands of working people went about hungry and hopeless. The panic was felt in the distant settlements and made it impossible for the most simple improvements to be made.
The Rock Dell settlement stretches west over a big part of southern Dodge county. But here, at the time, began the big, lonely prairie country where there were no trees and which was left undeveloped for sometime to come.
This Single chapter was extracted from the popular early historian’s account of the Norwegian settlements in the United States.(This text is taken from a typescript/photocopy version available at the Minnesota Genealogical Society library in Golden Valley, Minnesota. This particular version was not copyrighted.)