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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 quieting effect.
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
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 Pettersen
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.
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 Church
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 the churchyard.
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 it."
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.
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 that too."
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 in Stord.
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 finances.
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 with Rosendal in Kvinnherad, 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." Matias said.
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 God.
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 these memories?
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,
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 TIDENDE:
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, Anna.
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 years ago.
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!"