Of Matias Johannessen Fjellhaugen
Matias (1812 - 1889) was an older
brother of Jens Johannessen Fjellhaugen (1830 - 1903). These incidents
were related by Matias Johannessen Fjellhaugen to his young friend,
T. G. Thomsen, of McGrath, Minnesota and published by the latter
in Visergutten, October 21, 1937 and January 27, 1938. This article,
including the Hardanger dialect used by Matias, was translated by
Daniel Dvergsdal of Jølster, Norway, during his year of instruction
in Norse at the University of Wisconsin following one year of similar
instruction at Parkland Lutheran College at Parkland, Washington.
High up in the mountains from the
Matrefjord in Sunnhordaland, Norway, lie the two farms, Bjodnabolet
(the bear's den) and Fjellhaugen (the mountain hill). I know not
exact locality, but the distance down to Matre
is one or two Norwegian miles and a bit longer to Omvikdalen
(the Omvik valley) in Kvinnherad.
(One Norwegian mile is equivalent to seven U.S. miles.) The Blue
River (Blå elven) originates at the great glacier of folgefonni
and runs between these two farms, swift and cold. The growing season
is short so that oats often freeze, but barely ripens almost every
year. The mountain grass grows rapidly in the long summer days,
lush and tall. The mountain pastures are extensive. The two farms
form a kingdom unto themselves.
Matias often told me the old legend
of Folgedalen (the Folge valley) of how, because of the ungodliness
of the people, it became covered with snow and ice-bound by a glacier.
According to Matias, furniture was found under the ice, in confirmation
of this legend.
Matias was born on June 24, 1812.
He grew up in the mountains and became an excellent skier. It is
also said that he was a good violinist. I know little about youth,
except that he left home as a youngster. For a time he and another
man owned a small ship with which they carried freight among the
nearest fjords. Once on their way home from Bergen with a cargo
of salt, a mountain cyclone upset the ship. The main hatch was blown
off, permitting the water to pour into the hull. The two men barely
had time to get into the jolly-boat before the ship sank. Thus ended
the seafaring of Matias.
Matias married a daughter of Anders
Søretræ, and became a crofter at the farm, Einstabøvold,
in Valestrand, in the parish of Stord. My grandfather, who at that
time was owner of this farm, was an enlightening and enterprising
man. He operated a stone quarry employing many men. From him Matias
learned carpentry wheel making, which later proved to be most useful.
Matias was unusually skilful with his hands.
Matias A Mail Carrier
In those days before
steamships, the mail was carried over land on back; only at a few
places was it ferried across the fjords. As a postmaster, my grandfather
employed Matias to carry the mail between Eidsvåg and Mølstrevåg,
a distance of four Norwegian miles. As a rule, the mail was heavy
for one man. In the wintertime, during the herring fishing, two
men were required to carry the mail.
Once the well-known Colonel Krogh
from Hogganvik in Ryfylke, grandfather of the late Professor Rasmus
R. Anderson of Madison, Wisconsin, was visiting with my grandfather
when Matias came to pick up the mail. Mr. Krogh noticed that there
were several money orders in the mailbag, which lay open. "Are
you not afraid of being robbed?" he asked. "No, I am not
afraid," answered Matias. "I carry a pistol." "Let's
see," said Krogh. Matias pulled from his pocket an old muzzle-loading
pistol, a property of the postal authorities, neatly wrapped in
cloth. ' Do you think a robber would wait for you to remove those
wrappings? When was it last loaded?" asked Krogh. "Well,
I carry it in my hand without wrappers when I travel through the
forest at Sveio," answered Matias.
That his travels were not always
without risk is shown by the following episode, which took place
one day during the spring floods. The roads passed close by the
farm, Lokna, in Sveio. As customary, Matias entered the kitchen
door, threw the mailbag on the floor, and went over to the water
bucket on a nearby bench for a drink of water. Only children were
at home. When Matias asked where the grown-ups were, the children
replied that no others were home. "But two strangers are waiting
for you." They said. " They have waited for quite awhile."
"Where are they now?" Matias asked. "They went outside
just a little while ago," the children replied. Matias became
suspicious and looked around. The door to the living room was open.
Through the door and window he saw two tramps walking around the
house. Matias seized the mailbag and threw it over his back.
While the two tramps walked around
the house, Matias ran through the opposite door. "The river
ran through and uninviting just below the house. I jumped in with
the tramps behind me," Matias said. "There was no bridge,
just a few big rocks, and these were invisible. I crossed the river.
It almost carried me away, but I got over all right. As I turned
to look back there stood the men, threatening me from the other
side. They were afraid to ford the river. I travelled quickly to
Mølstrevåg. These two tramps had also been seen there,
but caused no alarm since, so many tramps travelled about during
the fishing season. A search was made for the men but they managed
One year a man named Erik from eastern
Norway came to the farm for employment. He was a good worker but
a suspicious character. The farm people did not like him. My grandfather
regarded him only as a good worker, and discounted the common impression
as nonsense. During the winter my grandfather employed Erik to help
Matias carry the mail, much to Matias' disliking. Where the distance
between farms was as far Matias forced Erik to walk ahead.
After a while Erik left and joined
company with a certain Håkon Gloppen from Fitjar. Håkon
carried quite a sum of money, which Erik had seen. When they came
to Korsfjorden, Håkon lay down to sleep and left the navigation
to Erik and a companion boy. By sitting near Håkon, Erik tried
to steal the billfold from Håkon's breast pocket but Håkon
awoke and grabbed the culprit. A fight for life or death ensued,
but with the help of the boy, Håkon succeeded in throwing
Erik into the sea where he was drowned. Mr. Gloppen informed the
authorities and action was taken. The story became a sensation in
the district, but at the trial Mr. Gloppen was acquitted since it
was evident that he had acted in self-defence. The judge learned
that Erik was a notorious criminal who had been sought for a long
time. Erik received a just reward for his ill doings. (My mother
used to travel as a cook with the circuit judge and his assistants.
She told me that there was a great crowd and much excitement in
the courthouse at Engesund in Fitjar on the day the case was tried.)
Farming At Fjellhaugen
Matias told the following
story about his experiences at Fjellhaugen: Once in my childhood
we had a very late spring. It was long past the proper time for
spring work and sowing. Down by the fjord spring work had started,
but up in the mountains at Fjellhaugen winter still persisted. The
snow lay cold and heavy over the mountain wilds and a cold northeastern
wind blew daily. The harvest of hay would be lost unless a sudden
change in the weather occurred.
One Sunday the owner of Bjodnebole
came over to see us. He and my father sat talking about many things
but mostly about the prospects for spring and the shortage of fodder.
When Bjodnebole was about to leave we accompanied him. Looking up
to the mountains, father said, "It looks as if we shall neither
sow nor reap in the mountains this year." After putting on
his skis and when about to leave, he suddenly exclaimed, "There
are clouds in the sky which I have not seen for a long time, that
means a change in the weather, according to signs." Yes, I
see them too," said father, "the wind has decreased and
the weather seems milder." "Let's hope so," they
both said upon parting. Before nightfall a gust of wind came from
the southwest and in the morning warm rain fell in torrents. Soon
the brooks and rivers were filled with gushing water. Before the
week was over not a single trace of snow remained on the pasture
and fields. The weather suddenly changed to warm sunshine and summer
heat. We started the spring work in a double hurry since it was
far beyond the proper time. Although we had no hope of getting ripened
grain, it could still be used for fodder.
One day as we were working our harvest
a long file of people came walking towards the farm, men and women
with lunch bags and with spades on their shoulders. We recognized
them as people from the community of Matre. They had finished their
own spring work and realizing our plight had come to help. The spring
work was completed in a hurry. That summer was exceptionally warm,
and the crop of grain was extraordinary. Everyone thought the grain
Life at Fjellhaugen
was toilsome, requiring the bearing of heavy packs on the backs
up from the fjord, and long trips to town. Then came the endless
toil of gathering grass from the mountain pastures to store fodder
for the large stock of cattle through the long winter season. Haying
often lasted far into the fall. In the winter we had to lug hay
home on a hand drawn sled. In many places horses could not be used.
In the summer we had to run over mountains and valleys to look after
the great numbers of cattle, sheep and goats which were sent up
there to graze. The strenuous life in the fresh mountain air developed
strong bodies and resilient muscles like unto acrobats.
I knew Matias only as an old man
of seventy, but even then he was as lively in his movements as a
young man. You never saw Old Matias walk. He was always "running,
running," the neighbors used to say. He had the spring, light
movements, and hardiness of a mountain farmer.
Matias said, "The
only kind of trousers which I had until I was over twenty years
old, except when going to town or to church, were a pair of sheepskins
with the wool turned inside. These were good in both summer and
This life was primitive, but still
we must take our hats off to the old, they had steel in their arms
with an endurance and willpower, which is lacking in our days with
all the laborsaving devices.
A Hauge Revival
Matias related the following
story from his youth. I regret that I cannot recall the names of
places and persons. This story gives an impression of a period of
struggling religious ideas, which Norway experienced at that time.
After the visit of Hans Nielsen Hauge to Western Norway, religious
revivals followed in many places. Many came to a living faith in
and fellowship with God, among them a young man from the inner fjords.
He was a living witness of his Saviour among his associates and
Matias related, "Once at a big
wedding, I think it was at Matre, this young man was one of the
guests, a relative, if I remember correctly. As usual on such occasions,
after church services and dinner, in the evening the guests sat
chatting about one thing and another while the beer went around.
For a long time the boy sat quite
and silent, but at last he stood up and sang a hymn with the following
stanzas: "Any dog is less objectionable than the person who
lies and slanders his neighbor." When the hymn was finished,
the boy advanced and thanked the host, hostess, and bridal couple
for their hospitality. In spite of all the protests and invitations
to stay, he went home alone over the mountain that same night. But
silence fell on the house after he left. Everyone sat in his own
thoughts. Here was such a serious and kind boy. He died a few years
later. It seems that such persons never grow old," Matias added.
I shall close my memoirs
with an incident, which will amuse sceptics. I heard it from my
mother, and it was often told by my uncle mechanic, Hans Jacob Olsen,
born and raised on the farm, Einstabøvold, in Valestrand,
Sunnhordaland. He later lived in Stavanger. In his later days he
started a factory for making clothespins in Vormestrand, Ryfylke.
He was born in 1832 and died in Stavanger at the age of 92. There
are many Ryfylke emigrants in America who knew him. My uncle was
both a well-informed and thoughtful man who could be accused of
superstition such as we find among ordinary country folks of that
period. He had many strange experiences and believed there was much
between heaven and earth which mortals know nothing about. I possess
a great part of his posthumous paper, and among them the following
How many are there today who believe
in hulders (people living under the ground)? Little belief exists
today in these underground people dwelling in the Norwegian mountains.
I shall record what happened to me in my childhood events, which
still remain clear in my memory.
In Sunnhordaland, high p in the mountain
pastures, there is a farm called Fjellhaugen. This farm was well
known to me through my father's crofter, Matias. He was born and
raised on this farm and could tell many things from his childhood
days when he wandered the mountains and valleys.
His father and mother passed away
early. (Johannes Johannessen Vedvig Fjellhaugen (1778 - ) and Anna
Matiasdatter (1775 - 1816) were his parents.) His sister, Martha,
was left a widow with three children. The eldest of these, Anna,
was an exceptionally pretty girl. One evening in the spring, when
the cattle were turned out to pasture, this girl went in search
of a missing cow. As darkness fell, the girl did not return. A search
was made. She was found lying unconscious on a little hill. Upon
restoring her to consciousness, she was urged to come home, but
this she was unwilling to do. She wished to stay on the hill. Here
she had heard fascinating music. The music had put her into such
a state of ecstasy that it was necessary to use force in bringing
her home. In an unguarded moment she disappeared again. Once again
they went to the hill to bring her home by force.
When asked to explain her strange
behavior, she said that in her search for the cow she came to the
hill and heard wonderful music coming from the inside of the hill.
Next she felt as if something was pressing on her shoulders and
she slumped down. With this explanation it was imagined that she
had been bewitched by the hill-people. Lest she be spellbound by
these hulders, the girl was closely watched. Fjellhaugen is a lonely
farm; at times there were no people here other than the girl, her
mother, and the two younger children. It became necessary to get
someone to watch over the girl. A message was sent to our crofter,
Matias. He went to Fjellhaugen at once, and from him I later learned
the entire story.
Matias was a reliable
and sensible man. He first thought the girl was suffering from hallucinations
following a period of illness. Matias watched her carefully so that
it became impossible for her to return to the hill although she
tried many times.
One day the best cow was missing.
They found it standing on the same hill; apparently bewitched, just
as the girl had been, and just as unwilling to leave. The next day
the cow was there again, pawing the ground. From then on the cow
had to be watched, for it also wanted only to be on the hill.
Early one morning as one of the younger
girls was sitting by the window, she suddenly burst out: "Oh,
mother, I see a big ugly man outside." Matias ran outside and
saw a tall man dressed in grey clothes walking down the slope. There
had been a little snowfall during the night, which often happens
late in the spring so high up in the mountains. Matias followed
the track, which led to the hill mentioned, and here it disappeared.
Matias took an exact measure of the footprint. It proved to be much
larger than the footprint of an ordinary human being and broader
in comparison with its length.
Under these circumstances, Matias
found it best to leave and take the girl with him for her safety.
But by no means did she want to go; all her desires were fixed on
the hill. Matias told me that when he finally got her into the boat,
she jumped into the water, so bewitched was she by these underground
When Matias returned to Einstabøvold
all were attracted by this beautiful and innocent girl. It was agreed
that she should stay with my parents. There she remained the whole
summer. My brother and I were very curious to learn from the girl
her experiences. Although we did everything to win her confidence,
we got nowhere. She said, "What I have seen and heard you will
not believe; therefore, it is best to keep it to myself."
She stayed with father the whole
summer. She was hardworking, kind, and loved by all. There was something
dreamy about her. She was not as lively as other girls of her age.
That summer I left home and in the fall the girl returned to her
mother. I had no opportunity to learn more about her.
Matias told me many
years later that the girl improved, but never fully recovered. She
died young. He also told me that the wow had to be butchered; it
was impossible to keep it away from the hill.
While telling hulder-stories, I will
relate what happened in my home. A person who is born in the country
doesn't easily forget the experiences of his childhood. In the spring,
when the cattle are turned out to pasture for the first time, cowbells
can be heard over the hillsides and one really knows that the longed-for
spring has finally come. These impressions do not belong exclusively
to humans, but also to the holders who at this time ventured forth
with much gaiety.
Up in the mountain, above my fathers
farm there lay a wooded ridge called Haugsgjersveten. One morning,
Serina, our neighbor's daughter, was driving cattle to the mountains.
Coming up towards Haugsgjersveten she saw something which both scared
and puzzled her. Up on the hillside she saw a fine herd of cattle,
cows and oxen, running at full speed. On the back of one oxen sat
a hulderman. With one hand he held on to a horn and with the other
he held a "lur". Finally they all disappeared into the
forest. According to old sayings, Haugsgjersveten is supposed to
be a home of the hulders.
As a small boy, one
Sunday, I was with a group of boys in Haugsgjersveten, picking blueberries.
When we all had our vessels filled, we started on our way home.
Walking down the path, we suddenly discovered a man and a girl walking
in the same direction about twenty paces ahead of us. Both were
dressed in grey clother, the man in a "round coat" and
a red stocking cap; the girl in a short skirt and a grey cap fastened
tightly to her head. We all saw them at the same time. After a few
minutes they suddenly disappeared without any noticeable sidewise
movement. We ran in all direction to discover who they were, but
had disappeared into the ground. When we came home we told what
we had seen, but little attention was paid to us kids.
A Wolf Hunt
In the forties, people
all over Norway were much bothered by wolves. They came like a plague.
There were many stories about the wolf-years. In northern Norway
these wolves were thought to have come as an invasion from Siberia.
The wolves were so aggressive as to endanger people traveling on
lonely roads. In Valestrand the wolves ravaged sheep and goats.
In spite of constant vigilance great losses occurred. A big-wolf-chase
was organized. Matias took part in this. He told me that at Tittelsnes
a big crown of men assembled and from there went south with shouting,
crying, and shooting. The entire population was called upon for
guard duty day and night. They ran south toward Eie where the peninsula
is the narrowest and the marksmen were posted. From here the Sveio
people took up the chase and continued into the mountain wilds.
Valestrand got rid of the wolves forever. The state supplied the
gunpowder for the chase. The remainder was stored in the old Valestrand
church, where it lay until the church was torn down in 1875. A nice
Nimrods of today may laugh at chasing
animals instead of hunting them. Today, one is safe hunting wolves
with modern repeater rifle, which kills at a distance of a mile
or so. But to shoot a wolf with an old fashioned muzzle-loaded-flint-gun
with its smooth bore required that the animal be at close range.
When in the decisive moment the gun would fail, the fight had to
be ended with a knife. In such a situation "courage would be
sitting down in the shoeheels." Many a hunter carried scars
from his battles with bears and there are many stories about rescue
from the claws of wolves.
If these stories are of interest
to the emigrants from the fjords at home, my aim is fulfilled. With
the best wishes for the New Year to the editor and readers of the
George Thomsen from "Saga from Western Norway"
Carolyn Thomsen Mutchler
With written permission from Carolyn Thomsen Mutchler
Copyright © 2003 - 2019, Roger
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