Of Matias Johannessen Fjellhaugen
This story is a continuation of the
experience of Matias Fjellhaugen as related to his young friend,
T. G. Thomsen of McGrath, Minnesota, and published by Thomsen in
Visergutten, October 21,28, 1937 and June 27, 1938. This article
was translated by Daniel Dvergsdal. Matias was an older brother
of Jens Hougen, the principal character of this memorial booklet.
In a previous chapter incidents from the life of Matias in Norway
were related. This Chapter is devoted to his exploits in America,
beginning with his emigration from Norway in 1856.
In the middle fifties some Norwegian-Americans
returned to Sunnhordaland. The America fever soon started to spread.
Matias saw no future in remaining a crofter, and wished to immigrate
to America. After the death of his first wife, Marta, Matias married
her sister, Valgjerd. With five children to support, it was not
easy for Matias to secure money enough for the journey to America.
But when his brother-in-law, Tørris Tyse, from Stord also
decided to emigrate, the means of travel was found. Tørris,
who was a comparatively rich man and without children, provided
the money. They left in the spring of 1856. On their arrival in
Bergen with provisions and equipment for the long journey they found
out that so many emigrants were leaving that instead of one ship
two were required. Matias and his brother-in-law thought themselves
lucky when they secured passage on the first boat. The second ship,
Hebe, was reported not ready to sail for two weeks.
The journey lasted between five and
six weeks with favourable weather most of the time. Only during
one night did a full storm arise, and that was disagreeable. Women
cried from fear. The air in the ship's hold was indescribably foul
since it was necessary to keep the hatches closed. The hold was
in darkness with only a few flickering lights. The emigrants' chests,
loaded with provisions, rolled over one another, while the ship
was tossed from side to side by the roaring ocean. Matias and a
companion sat on a chest, which they managed to fasten securely
to the deck. They sang hymns during the entire night. This had a
In the morning the weather improved,
and without further difficulties the ship arrived in Quebec. There
lay the other ship, the barque, Hebe, from Stavanger. It had taken
another course, had arrived a week earlier, and the emigrant passengers
were already far on their way into the country. Thus the "first
became the last."
Eventually they reached the big settlement
of Koshkonong in Wisconsin. Here they found work with the harvest.
One bushel of wheat a day was the pay. To secure shelter they did
as others in those days, they dug an earth basement in a dry-sloping
hill. Or as sung in the pioneers' song,
We dug a hole in the hill
It was our house and our home,
And in the evening, when from work we strolled,
That home was sweet indeed.
Matias, who had learned carpentry
in Norway, became a master in handling the American broad-axe and
soon was permanently employed. In the meantime some of his acquaintances
had travelled to a part of Minnesota, which was rather unknown at
that time. This was west of the Twin Cities through "the big
woods" which then stretched a hundred miles west of the Mississippi.
In the spring of 1862 Matias and
his brother-in-law, Tørris Tyse, with oxen, wagons, and cattle
were on their way towards the setting sun again. At the end of June,
after a travel of six weeks, they came to their friend, Anfin Thorsen,
in the present Lake Prairie, Town of Colfax, Kandiyohi County. Here
they found land and started to settle. They had just started haying
one morning when a Swedish woman arrived, scared half out of her
wits. She had escaped from the terrible Indian massacre, which had
taken place the previous day at Norway Lake where almost all in
the Swedish settlement of Broberg were killed. Thirteen defenceless
people who had assembled for a church service were killed.
Bewildered and confused, this woman
had wandered throughout the entire night, and in the morning arrived
in the settlement of Lake Prairie. An alarm was sent out among the
neighbors. Everyone gathered his moveable possessions and prepared
for flight. They decided to move eastwards nearer to St. Cloud where
information about the danger could be had. Matias agreed to this.
The well-known Pettersen brothers from Moster in Sunnhordaland owned
sections on the east and north side of Norway Lake; Matias said
that it was not right to leave without being sure that the Pettersen
brothers were safe. Since this meant travelling in the direction
from which the attack was expected, others did not like this plan.
They said the Pettersen brothers were able hunters and must be in
safety by now. Matias refused to take this for granted. He left
his children in the care of his brother-in-law. His three daughters
were now nearly grown up, and his two sons were big enough to drive
the ox wagon and the cattle. (Matias' second wife, Valgjerd, had
died in Wisconsin). A man whose name I have forgotten volunteered
to go with Matias. They went westward to cover the six miles of
prairie, which separated the farms.
I will now tell about the trip which
Matias made in search of the Pettersen brothers and about the Indian
revolt, as he told it to me. I asked Matias if he was afraid. He
replied, "I never thought of fear; life was at stake. On the
contrary, we did not let grass grow under our feet. We kept well
within the forest along Gjeitaryggen (the goat's back), a low ridge
which extends in a northeast and southwest direction through the
town. When we came to the place where now the Husa farm is located,
we started running for it. We had to cross half a mile of open prairie."
When they came to the cabin of Nils
Pettersen, they found him at home. Nils had hers shouts and shooting
from the other side of the lake, but he had paid no attention to
it since he thought that someone had sold liquor to the Indians
and thus made them unruly. Nils and his brothers had planned to
go to Goodhue County to help with the harvest and threshing and
meanwhile to leave their cattle with Matias. Now they decided to
drive their cattle eastwards. And so they set out, first a few miles
northwards to the farm of another brother and to a man by the name
of Glesne. Here they saw Indians helping themselves to food in the
cornfield. The Indians ran away and hid so they were thought to
be squaws and children. Matias and companions gathered together
what they could take along. It was not until late in the day that
they arrived at Lake Prairie. Here their friends had waited in deadly
fear. The wagons and the cattle were driven slowly eastwards, keeping
some men on the look-out towards the west. Somewhat late in the
day they saw Matias and companions coming. "We were certainly
happy to see them," old uncle Tørris Tyse told me. "We
had almost given them up as lost."
The group moved eastwards to the
present Paynesville, where they stayed for a few days. As more and
more refugees came, and the rumors grew wilder and wilder, they
moved on to St. Cloud, where they stayed for a while. Since it now
was late in the summer, they looked for pastureland and a place
to stay during the winter. They moved 18 miles southeast of St.
Cloud, where they settled. From here the settlers had also fled,
for fear lest the Chippewa Indians would join forces with the Sioux.
Their buildings stood empty. The group from Lake Prairie moved in.
I remember what old Mari, the wife
of Tørris Tyse, told my brother many years afterwards: "We
came there somewhat late in the day; the buildings were empty; nevertheless
we entered and went to bed for the night. All of a sudden the house
was full of Indians with guns and knives. It was a terrible sight,
but they proved to be Chippewa Indians who were friendly with the
whites." That they had not moved eastwards too early was revealed
later. The Indians had visited Lake Prairie and had plundered the
deserted farms. At Anfin Thorsen's farm they had filled the house
with straw and set it afire. But since the house had been but recently
built out of green timber, the fire went out and the walls were
only charred. Many years later the old log house was used as a summer
kitchen, Anfin's sons showed me how the Indians had chopped the
walls to make them burn more readily. The whitewash had fallen of
and the black walls showed through. (Anfin Thorsen was from Hystad
on the island of Stord and had lived on this homestead since 1860.)
After having stored hay for the cattle
and prepared themselves for winter the question arose what they
should do in fighting the Indians. The governor of Minnesota had
issued an appeal for volunteers, and the Pettersen boys responded
eagerly. Here I let Matias have the floor again.
"It was not so easy, for we
had neither sown nor harvested that year and the oxen and the few
cattle we owned could not be sold. But the Indians must be chased
away if we were to live in peace. The Federal government had its
hands full down south. We who could get away had better go. I was
far advanced in years and a widower with dependent children so I
was not compelled to go, but I thought that they needed men so I
must go. My children could stay with Tørris Tyse and Mari,
their mother's sister. I could send them home thirteen dollars a
month. My food and clothing I received from the army. If something
should happen to me our Lord would have a way out."
The volunteers went to Fort Snelling
for enlistment. That winter they encamped at Sauk Center where some
fortifications were built. Winter went by quietly. Since none of
the soldiers wanted to cook, Matias took over as cook. He described
his experience as follows:
No one wanted to cook, since this
meant rising so early in the morning. But that did not bother me
and army cooking was not such an art. Food consisted chiefly of
pork and beans, hardtack, and fresh meat whenever a deer was shot.
A barrel of apples in stock was intended for the officers. Some
of us privates declared that we would have those apples. I fastened
a gimblet at the end of a wooden stick. We carefully removed the
bung from the barrel and screwed the apples out with the gimlet.
There was nothing to it. Soon the barrel was empty. Upon discovering
this, the officers questioned the men. Nobody knew anything about
it, and if somebody had said too much it would have been worse for
him. I had taken care that no one would ever find the gimblet.
In the spring Matias joined the cavalry
with Sibley on his Indian campaign west to the Missouri River. Because
this is an historical event, and as such is well known, I will merely
give Matias' account. Many of the soldiers were men who had been
driven from their homes the summer before. Many of their relatives
had been killed, and you may be sure they hated the Indians as the
devil himself, and grumbled when they were not allowed to go along
and fight to a finish. But Sibley knew the Indians thoroughly; he
had traded with them for many years, and personally counted many
of the Indian chief as his friends. Sibley was in no haste. When
we put the Indians to flight, we were allowed to go just fast enough
to allow the Indians to escape in advance. Only twice did we engage
them in fighting. They took up the challenge, but before long they
were in flight again. We seldom saw Indians except those who were
friends with the whites. But the scouts knew well where they were.
Every day we pursued the Indians.
We saw where they had thrown their wigwam poles, their buffalo robes
and everything, which hampered their flight. Many of the cavalrymen
picked up the robes, for they were soft and nice to lie on, but
so full of lice that they were soon thrown away again. We had a
great herd of cattle with us for butchering. On the march out we
were rationed twelve army biscuits a day. Towards the end of our
return the ration was reduced to three biscuits. At all times we
got al the meat we wanted. But not so with water. It was dry that
summer and the water was so full of alkali as to be undrinkable.
Many became sick. We managed to be first in line for coffee and
to pour the first ration of coffee into our field bottle; then we
rejoined the end of the line and got one extra cup of coffee. As
a rule, there was enough coffee so that this scheme worked all right.
Just before we camped at night we
Calvary men were ordered to scatter over the prairie to gather buffalo
chips. We did this by stabbing the chips with the tip of the sabre.
When we had pierced as many chips as the sabre would hold, we held
the sabre straight up and rode in a line past the kitchen wagon.
There we unloaded the chips over the edge of a wagon box. Thus it
did not take long to gather fuel for cooking.
Death Of Christian
On our return trip the youngest of
the Pettersen boys, Christian, became sick and died in Camp Hope
in the present Griggs County of North Dakota. The hardships and
the alkali became too much for him. Matias said. "It hurts
us all to have that good boy taken away from us; both the officers
and the company thought so much of him. For his burial I made a
coffin out of a wagon box, using tools from the pack wagon. We buried
him decently. Many others who died were merely wrapped in a blanket
and covered with soil."
Christian Pettersen's grave was found
some years ago. The government erected a marker on the grave and
thus established the location of Camp Hope. Thanks to the skill
of Matias in making the coffin; both the grave and the camp could
be later identified.
Upon returning to Fort Snelling, the company was discharged. Matias
found his family in the best of health. It was now too late in the
fall for the soldiers to return to their homesteads. Since it was
easier to find work around St. Cloud, the stay here continued for
a second year. At St. Francis the next summer Matias and his brother-in-law
contracted to scythe a great quantity of hay for one of the biggest
businessmen in St. Cloud. In the winter he undertook the job of
feeding a big herd of oxen. The pay during the winter was not big,
but there was not much work either; merely to throw out hay morning
and evening and see that the waterhole did not freeze. Matias said,
"I made a set of wagon wheels during the winter, and in the
spring I sold them for twenty dollars so that helped."
Immigrants In Minnesota
In the spring the soldiers returned
to their homesteads. There was much work to be done in building
and breaking the prairie. A great many new settlers moved in. Most
of these were Norwegians, the remainder Swedes and Danes. This became
a purely Scandinavian settlement. A pioneer story from the early
eighties may give an insight into the conditions among the Scandinavian
immigrants in Minnesota.
In those days there was no compulsory
elementary education in Minnesota. The erection of schools went
slowly. Because of the long way to the school and the suspicion,
which the Scandinavians had of Yankees and Yankee tricks, school
attendance was small, at least from some families. Besides, the
pioneers needed help from their children. Lest they should not grow
up in ignorance, the mothers taught their children to read and write.
It was not uncommon to find youngsters
up to 16 and 18 years of age who could scarcely make themselves
understood in English. Here is an example. My brother and I came
from Norway to Kandiyohi County, Minnesota in the early eighties.
We were fortunate to find work in an American settlement where we
heard not a word of Norwegian for months. Within a year we could
speak English quite well. Two years later, when our father owned
land, we went home to help him. One day my brother was threshing
at a neighboring farm. In the evening there came a Yankee, George
Brown, who had settled among the Norwegians. Brown asked two of
the boys if they would come over and help him with threshing the
next day. Turning towards my brother, these boys asked: "What
does he say and what does he want?" My brother replied, "He
wants you to thresh for him tomorrow." The boys agreed. When
the Yankee had left, my brother asked: "Can't you boys speak
English?" They replied, "No, we cannot speak Yankee."
This was said in a half contemptuous manner, as though English was
unnecessary and of no interest to them. However, Brown himself could
not read well. His father was dead, and his mother who had come
from England could neither read nor write. George could write his
own name, but read with difficulty. (The pattern was quite characteristic
for the generation of immigrants to retain the language and customs
of the old country. The second generation under the taunts of schoolmates
became ashamed of the language of their parents and refused to use
it. The third generation reverted in respect to the accomplishments
of their grandparents, but then it was too late to recover the language).
Once when I worked for Mr. Brown we started to discuss politics.
He said the Norwegians voted for the republican party only as their
leaders directed. I denied that, and told him that the Norwegians
were well informed about current political issues. "How can
that be," he replied, "when there is not a single English
newspaper in the entire settlement except for a few country papers."
That may be so," I answered, "but there are from one to
three Norwegian-American weeklies in every home. These are published
in Chicago, Minneapolis, La Crosse and other cities. The average
Norwegian immigrant is just as well informed as the American. "This
was news to him. It was only in envy that the American referred
to the Norwegians as "voting cattle." As Americans by
birth they considered themselves entitled to a monopoly of all offices,
and looked upon the immigrants as living on a lower level. The opposite
was often the truth. I remember what an old Scotch-American said
to my father many years ago: "In the seventies when I was a
foreman at a big sawmill in Brainerd, many Norwegians were working
there. They were good workers, but we considered them dumb and called
them roundheads. But before long we found them in county, state
and federal offices, which they occupied just as well as others,
and even better."
Building A Rural
When the immigrants had settled on
their land, the usual problem arose of establishing a congregation
and securing a pastor. Then the task of building a church arose.
The pioneers had the will, but little money. After much discussion
it was agreed to build a log-church with an octagonal shape. With
all his experience in building, Matias was appointed to supervise
construction. Matias gave the congregation five acres of his own
farm for the church lot and cemetery. Each member of the congregation
was expected to supply a certain number of logs; Matias was to have
two men every day to help him. Matias also donated his share of
labor but since he was to be on the job the entire time he was to
receive pay for his extra time. Building of the church started in
the fall. During the winter the walls were finished. The church
stood in a well-protected place in the forest. In the spring the
congregation bought a small farm half a mile away for the parsonage.
Some members wanted the church moved to this lot.
Many members disliked this since
it involved so much unnecessary work in dismantling and moving and
because the church could then stand on a bare open hill with no
shelter for the horses. Matias, who had done most in building the
church and who had money coming for his work, strongly opposed the
plan. A meeting of the entire congregation was held in Matias' house,
to arrive at the final decision. However, Matias was not informed
of this meeting. He had left home in the morning without knowing
anything about the meeting. His wife was astonished when the pastor
and congregation entered the house. At the meeting it was decided
to move the church. Matias was expelled from the congregation as
a recalcitrant and an unmanageable person. This was quite an effective
and easy way to get rid of the leader of the opposition. The leader
of the meeting was Pastor Markhus, a man who later became notorious
in a church dissension at Norway Lake, where he was carried bodily
out of the church by members of his congregation and set down outside
Matias came home late in the evening
and found his wife frightened almost to madness by the events of
the day. Matias became angry. What he said to his neighbors who
had previously agreed with him but who lacked the courage to speak
up, I have never heard. Once he said: "It was done, and so
they had better have it as they wanted. By law I could have prevented
the move at least until I had been paid for my work. But there already
had been enough quarrelling so I would have nothing more to do with
One day the congregation assembled
with horses and ox teams and moved the church to its new location.
There it stood until the nineties when it was torn down to make
room for the new church, which now stands on the same lot.
After a long time the congregation
finally paid fifty dollars for his work. "I should have had
much more for my work." Matias said, "but I asked for
nothing and took what I got
" Otherwise, Matias acted
like Terje Viken as Ibsen wrote:
Da taug Teijje Viken nu var det giort.
Nu tok han sin sorg for sig selv.
Men de som han fanget, fandt sert hvor fort
Et noget var likesome veiret bort
Fra hans pandes skyede hvelv.
It was a lifelong sorrow for this
deeply religious and church-loving man to be pushed aside and treated
in such an arbitrary way. Afterwards he scarcely ever set foot in
the old log-church. Being a faithful Lutheran it did not appeal
to him to join another church as other dissatisfied members did.
At about this time Matias had the
great sorrow to lose his oldest son, Johannes. On a hunting trip
the boy was struck by a bullet and died after several days of suffering.
The boy was far from home when Matias received the message. Matias
told my parents later: "It was sad indeed to sit there and
see the boy struggling with death among entirely strange people,
even though they were ever so kind. And the poor fellow who did
the shooting was so remorseful and sad, but the Lord helped us over
Some years later, during a terrible
snowstorm a chimney fire broke out in the home of Matias in the
middle of the night. The family awoke just in time to escape and
save their lives. Matias' wife ran in the snow half naked to the
nearest neighbor with her child, which still was at breast. She
made it, and the child was saved, but the mother received a shock,
which caused her premature death. She was his third wife from Lunde
Matias now was an old and lonely
man. His oldest children were married and had their own homes. His
youngest boy, Arne, went west and homesteaded (in the State of Washington).
Matias then hired an elderly woman for his housekeeper. Since she
also was lonely, the couple soon married. This was Matias' fourth
wife. Her name was Ingeborg, and I think she came from Ringerike
in Norway. Ingeborg was an intelligent and sensitive woman. She
had saved some money and thus brought order to Matias' rather shaky
Old Friends Come
In 1882 I came with my parents from
Norway to Minneapolis. The times were rather bad. We received a
message from Matias urging us by all means to come west to his place.
We decided to go. After a week's stay in Minneapolis we landed in
Willmar on the 20th of June. My father knew two men who lived three
miles north of Willmar. Father and I left mother and my two younger
brothers at the station and set out to find these two men. It was
an early Sunday morning. On the outskirts of the town we saw a man
basking in the sunshine near the fence of a farmyard. My father
went up to him and in his bad seaman's English asked for directions.
The man answered in Norwegian. This man, Thorpe, later became Senator.
He gave us information about the road. I detected from his dialect
that he had come from Hardanger, because I was well acquainted with
Kvinnherad and outer Hardanger well. We had a long conversation
about people and conditions in those localities.
We stayed with father's friends for
several days, waiting for an opportunity to go further. One day
a team of fast horses drove up to the yard. Down from the wagon
jumped a brisk, old man. "Here is Matias," shouted the
wife of the house. My mother ran out to meet him. After a moment's
hesitation they both recognized each other. "That I really
should meet again with folks from Einstabøvold is wonderful.
Yesterday in New London I met a group of newcomers who had been
with folks from Einstabøvold is wonderful. Yesterday in New
London I met a group of newcomers who had been with you when you
crossed the North Sea, but they had crossed the Atlantic on another
boat. I knew you could not be far away, so when I reached Willmar
today I went to the depot. There I found your emigrant chests and
knew where to find you."
There followed a long exchange of
memories between him and my mother. "I have heard that your
brothers have done well. How is Peder what is he doing?" "He
is a teacher at a school in Oslo." "He has done quite
well I see. Who should have thought as much of that scoundrel?"
(The word scoundrel was often used as a compliment rather than as
an invective.) "Do you know if he still uses pig claw on the
toe of his shoe?" "No, I don't think so," Mother
answered. "Your brothers ran back and forth from mountain to
sea. They wore out shoes so fast it was a pity. They brought the
shoes to me for repair both in season and out of season. No one
was worse than Peder. He always had a hole in the toe of his shoe.
One day I scolded him and said that he was worse than a pig digging
in the mud. The next day I went up to the farm and Peder came to
me. 'Now the shoes shall not dig in the mud any more,' he said,
'look here.' And believe me or not, he had put pig claws over the
whole toe of his shoe. Yes, he could be changeable as the fall-brisling
in spring, as the saying goes. He acts the same way still,"
When I said that I was well acquainted
he became interested and started to talk about the old people there.
He asked about Tørris Skaluren, the famous ship builder,
and then he suddenly turned towards me: "Did you know Ola Aao?"
"Oh, yes," I answered.
"So, he is still living. You don't know if he has worn out
the patch, which Bolo had to put in the back of his trousers. "I
laughed, but said that he had worn out several pairs of trousers
since. The story Matias referred to runs like this.
Around 1840, Baron
Rosencrantz of Rosendal placed several salmon traps in the river
below the manor. The salmon trap is a sort of a box in which the
salmon are caught when they come up the river. Then you can catch
them with your hands. The chief farmhand, Thorbjørn, was
in charge of the traps, but there was no catch. The baron disliked
this and asked Thorbjørn for an explanation. "That is
easy to explain," said Thorbjørn, "there are others
who get the salmon." "Then you must watch the traps during
the night," said the baron. "Yes, I guess so," said
Thorbjørn, "but if I lie out during the night, then
I must have a gun so that I can shoot, if necessary." "You
can't do that," said the baron. "Then you must get someone
else to watch the traps," said Thorbjørn. "Well,
then, better shoot, but do no harm," was the reply.
The next morning there laid a big
salmon on the kitchen table. As soon as the baron heard of it, he
set out for the forest to ask Thorbjørn about the events
of the night. "Yes, I gave him a charge of soft peas in his
seat." "Who was it?" the baron asked. "That
I don't need to tell, but I know that Bolo mended his trousers.
"The baron laughed, he knew the name.
In the evening we arrived at Matias'
farm and were well received. My father stayed there and worked for
Matias during the summer. I went to work in an American settlement.
This was lucky for me because among the Americans I learned English
so fast. I stayed there for three years until my father had bought
land, and we boys went home to help him. I always found Matias to
be helpful and a fine neighbor, always jovial, quick in his answers,
and always original.
The Sheep Win
The summer when father was staying
with Matias, there lived a man, H.H. in the old buildings on the
congregation's farm. This H.H. was educated as a teacher in Norway.
Now he was a sexton, teacher of religion, and song leader in the
congregation. In addition, he was a salesman of organs. In one of
his many deals he had become owner of a flock of sheep which pastured
whenever convenient. A wheatfield belonging to Matias was visited
frequently. This situation soon became unbearable, and Matias told
H. that he must keep away from his wheatfield. H.H. excused himself
by saying that he was away from home so much of the time that he
knew nothing about this and that he would now look after his sheep.
But after a few days conditions were the same as before.
Old Ingeborg got sultry and nagged
Matias to go and give H. a good scolding. But Matias just turned
her aside saying that it was impossible to straighten H.H.
One morning when they were going
to work, the sheep were there again. This was too much for the woman.
She gave Matias strict orders to put an end to this. When his wife
left, Matias turned to my father and said, "Yes, I guess I
must go, although it is a waste of time, for H. is slippery as an
eel. He slides between my fingers, both when I scold him and when
I talk directly to him."
Matias went. There was about a half
a mile to walk. But the sheep were chased out of the grainfield
before Matias got there. Matias did not return. Ingeborg said to
my father: "I should have gone myself, for now I bet that Matias
is sitting over at H.'s drinking coffee and telling stories, having
forgotten the sheep and work. Yes, I know them, both of them. "It
was dinner time and at last they saw Matias coming home with a sack
on his back.
"Did you get things straightened,"
asked the old woman. Matias replied, "Did you really expect
that? The sheep were out of the field before I got there and I got
just excuses. Then I went in for a cup of coffee. It was impossible
to get away from that. H. H. discovered that he was out of meat
and wanted me to go with him to kill a sheep. And here I have brought
home half a sheep. Now you have fresh meat." With these words
he threw the sack on the floor. Old Ingeborg turned away with something
between grumbling and laughter. "I knew things would be straight
when you and H. made a settlement." The sheep kept the field.
Matias And Shipstead
One spring Matias ran short of hay.
Save Shipstead, the father of Senator Henrik Shipstead, owned a
big hay-field with lots of hay. Matias owned a big forest, so they
traded fence rails and hay. One day Matias brought the rails, and
Save threw the hay from the stack and Matias loaded. The ground
was bare with a little frozen snow around the stack. After awhile
Save said: "Those ponies of yours will never be able to pun
that big load from the stack and out to the road." "Oh,
yes," answered Matias. "These ponies can pull all right."
"If they can pull the load away from the stack then I bet the
hayload against a load of rails." "All right," Matias
said. "It's a deal." Then Matias loaded on still more.
Matias added, "When I had a full load I tied it with the binding
pole. Then I let the horses fumble a little with the sleigh and
I talked sharply to them. They made a sudden pull and the load was
over the bare ground, and over on the road in one pull. Save just
stared at me, but when he came to himself I was on my way home."
" You better come for another load tomorrow," he shouted.
"I did so, he had plenty of hay and for me it was a great help."
As mentioned before, Matias had learned
the art of wheel-making. In Wisconsin he had bought an old wagon
and put it in good shape. It was one with an axle and an iron ring
in the nave. When something was worn out or broken it was repaired
in some conceivable fashion. The wagon was in a constant state of
renewal. "Everlasting as Matias' old wagon," said the
neighbors. "It will never be worn out as long as he lives,
a saying which became true.
Last Days And Vindication
Matias had to carry another sorrow.
His youngest son, Arne, had gone west, married and homesteaded.
One day Matias received a message that Arne died of pneumonia. Now
only his young daughter remained at home and old age was approaching.
But as he said: "God has given me strength to carry it."
During the winter of 1889 Matias became ill and after a painful
sickness died on the 2nd of April, 1889 with a frank confession
of his salvation through Christ and a living hope of glory with
Because Matias did not belong to
the congregation, the sermon was given by one of his old friends
and neighbors, Kristian Sandvig. He delivered a stirring sermon
on Second Kings, I, 20. He dwelt upon the injustice, which Matias
had suffered in the days of church strife and the unscrupulousness
shown him. When harnessing the horses I stood behind two neighbors
of Matias' from pioneer times, Anfin Thorson and Tollak
Johnson. Anfin said: "We heard the truth today, Tollak."
"Yes," answered Tollak, "and if it had not been for
the stubbornness of those East Prairie people and the pastor taking
their side, this would never have happened." "Were the
words of Kristian Sandvig true?" I asked. "Yes, every
word of it," both answered. "If we had behaved properly
if would not have been necessary to exclude Matias from the congregation;
that was a shameful thing, but thus it goes in the world."
Last year I visited the old places
after an absence of many years. Matias, youngest daughter, who is
a widow, lives at the old homestead. The state road passes by the
little clearing in the forest where the first old log church was
built. The old oak trees bend over the clearing as if to hide part
of a pioneer's tragedy. A new generation equipped with tractors
was now turning the furrows, which the pioneers plowed with their
ox teams when they first turned over the virgin prairie. Automobiles
whiz by the well-tilled fields. Impressive modern farmhouses can
be seen in all directions. Is the younger generation happier? Were
not the earth basement and the log cabin the cradle where our nation's
greatness and wealth was fostered? Will the coming generations retain
It is written that a new king came
who knew not Joseph (Exodus I, 8) and this resulted in his destruction
and defeat. We emigrants have an inheritance to preserve. It is
up to each individual to search and find inheritance. The Norwegian
people have always brought constructive forces to places where they
settled. As Ivar Aasen sings:
Let us not our forefathers forget,
Despite the changes each day;
For they gave us a treasurer to cherish,
Which is greater than we can repay.
This brings my story of Matias Fjellhaugen
to a close. I have tried to give a brief glimpse of conditions in
the early Norwegian settlements. Progress towards Americanism went
slowly from the Civil War to the World War. Recently a hysterical
propaganda for Americanization has been conducted, a propaganda
which, I think, has caused damage to the country, because it has
created suspicion among different groups and erased much culture
which should have been allowed to pass slowly in the American consciousness.
Letter of Gabriel Stene to Mr.
T. G. Thomsen (1932)
It might be of interest to read the
following open letter, which Gabriel Stene sent to T. G. Thomsen
concerning his saga of Matias Johannessen, published in MINNEAPOLIS
I learned to know Matias more than
sixty years ago in the mill of New London, where both of us picked
up our flour. What a splendid and fine man! I asked him to stop
with us once he came from Willmar. This he did. What a memory he
had, and what fine speeches he could make, especially when he discussed
the field of religion, and the lives of the pioneer pastors, Dietrichson,
Clausen, Fredrichsen, Stub, Muus, and Eielsen. It seemed as though
he respected Eielsen the most. He was a widower the third time.
Once he asked my father if he would find a housekeeper for him.
"Yes," my father said, "an old maid, Ingeborg Olsen,
is living with us. She had planned to go to Fillmore County, but
perhaps you can hire her for awhile." Ingeborg later became
his fourth wife.
In spite of knowing Matias so well,
I did not know that he had taken part in Sibley's expedition, and
that he had been with the Moster and Grindheim boys and had built
Christian Pettersen's coffin out of an old wagon box. I knew that
Nils and Petter had married daughters of Matias. I also knew Torrison
and Anfin Thorsen well. I was with them when they lost their horses
in the prairie fire. All were good Norwegians.
Ingeborg was a good woman. She took
good care of everything and was a good mother to Matias' daughter,
Matias had a brother (Jens) who came
to America about the same time. Jens went to Iowa. His son, J.O.
Hougen, was a pastor, living until recently on the West Coast. A
son of J.O. Hougen, attorney John Hougen of Crookston, Minnesota,
was a candidate for the office of lieutenant governor a couple of
The Fjellhaugen family was held in
high regard in Kvinnherad and elsewhere. I was well acquainted with
people in New London at the close of the eighties. I knew Petter
Broberg well. As a boy, he miraculously escaped from the Indians
during a massacre, along with Svendsen, and Johnny Pettersen, and
others. I often visited the mill. I was interested to learn that
it was still customary to wait several hours for flour during an
afternoon snowstorm, and with twelve miles to go home with a team
of oxen. Those were the days!"
George Thomsen from "Saga from Western Norway"
Carolyn Thomsen Mutchler
With written permission from Carolyn Thomsen Mutchler
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