ONE OF THE OLD PIONEERS
Originally published in A History of the Norwegians in Illinois, by Strand, A. E., Chicago: John Anderson Publishing Co., date unknown.
Transcribed by Jane Willey-Fey
Wier Sjurson Weeks
Was born in Skaanevig, Bergens stift, Norway, Oct. 24, 1812. His parents were poor, and as his mother died when he was but a young boy, he was compelled to get out and shift for himself at an early age. He chose the carpenter trade, by which he hoped to gain a livelihood. Being very quick to learn and endowed with a mechanical bent of mind, he soon had the trade learned, so that while yet a young man he was known as the best ship builder in his locality. His educational advantages were limited; in fact there were no public schools in Norway at that time, so that his knowledge consisted of what he was able to pick up in the school of life.
On Dec. 27, 1842, he was married to Miss Synneva T. Sunde, who proved to be a true helpmate to him. Early in 1846 they took passage on a sailing ship for America, embarking in Bergen. It took them thirteen weeks up the canal and over the Great Lakes before they were set ashore, with other passengers at Muskegon, Mich. Here in the bright and burning summer sun stood our subject with his wife and two little daughters, "a stranger in a strange land." Like most newcomers from Norway, however, he had an unshaken faith in the Triune God and firmly believed, as the poet expresses it,
"God never will forsake in need
The heart that trusts in him indeed."
His first aim was to get a place where his wife and children could be sheltered and protected. There were no houses to be rented or bought in the little town. The only chance to get any kind of house was to buy forty acres of land with a house. This particular fort, with a log hut 12x14 ft., was held at $10 per acre. Money was scarce, but finally four families cubbed together and managed to make a small payment to bind the bargain and were thus allowed to move in. After providing this temporary home for his family his next step was to find his old friend from the same parts of Norway, Mr. Rasmus Tungisvik, who had arrived here a few years earlier. Rev. Elling Eielsen, one of the pioneer Norwegian missionaries, heard of the newcomers at Muskegon and soon visited them. As he knew Mr. Tungisvik, he offered to take Mr. Weeks to him, and one bright July morning the two started out in Rev. Eielsen's one-horse wagon, driving west by way of Rock, Jefferson and Long Prairie and south over the endless tracts to Lisbon, Kendall county, Ill.
Mr. Weeks relates that this was a great trip, and it certainly was an initiation into the pioneer life of this country. There were no hotels or wayside inns; not even a comfortable farmhouse to get lodging in. When night overtook them the horse was "staked out" and their blankets were spread under the wagon for their bed. In due time, however, they reached Mr. Tungisvik, who most heartily receive his old friend. He insisted that Mr. Weeks return to Muskegon, bring his wife and children, and make his home with him until he could do better elsewhere. This was done. Rev. Eielsen returned to Muskegon with Mr. Weeks. On their return they found the log house to be a hospital, as all but two of the inmates were sick. Mrs. Weeks was one of the two that were well, but her two little girls were very sick, and died within two weeks. Mr. Weeks also took sick after this bereavement, so they could not return to Lisbon for some time. Malarial fever and ague was the prevailing sickness.
Arrangements were then made with a German, who was the proud owner of a yoke of oxen and a lumber wagon, to take them to Lisbon for $40. Having put all their means into the forty acres of land, they had no ready money; but as three of the families who had joined in the purchase of the land were going, they managed to exchange their undivided interest in the land (which by the way had ten acres of promising wheat nearly ready for harvest) for transportation to Lisbon. After many trials and hardships they reached Lisbon and their friend Tungisvik.
Although shaking with the ague every other day, our subject was not only hopeful but also brave in the face of almost insurmountable difficulties. He was finally able, with the co-operation of his friends, to secure lumber to build a house large enough to accommodate his family. He then turned to the carpenter trade, accepting work wherever he could get it; building houses most of the time. In 1848 he built the first header that was used around Lisbon, and in 1849 he built the first reaper that was run there. This machine was drawn by four horses and carried one driver and one man to rake off the grain. This reaper he bought later when he began farming for himself.
For a year or more he worked at Ottawa, Ill., building canal boats, but always made it a rule to be with his family over Sunday, walking the distance, about twenty-five miles. Once when he came home he was hardly able to walk. He was sick when he left Ottawa, but, not knowing the symptoms, he continued his journey, reaching his home at midnight. He then knew that he had cholera, and told his wife so. She got him to bed and gave him what they had been advised to use in such cases. Early Sunday morning a cousin of his came to his door and asked whether he could stay a day or two, as he was sick and the person he had been working for had told him to leave his premises, as he had the cholera. Weeks, having only two rooms in his house and only one bed, told him that if he was sick and could get no better place he could get a few blankets and lie down in the shavings in the room which had been used as a carpenter shop. Amland (that was his name) accepted this; but in two days he died. Mrs. Weeks notified the neighbors, but none came to bury the dead. Mr. Weeks, sick as he was, managed to get up, make a coffin, put the corpse in, and get it out of the house, but was not strong enough to bury it. Word was sent to several neighbors and two men finally took the body away and buried it. Mr. Weeks got well and none of his family got the dreadful disease. In 1848 he bargained for eighty acres of land about five miles north of Lisbon, for which he was to pay $1.25 per acre. The next year he built a house, which was the first house, built on what was called the North Prairie. He moved into it and was the first actual settler in that direction from Big Grove. It was not before the 1850's that he commenced farming, as he rented the land to John Sjurson, who broke it on shares. Of the first crop of wheat he raised Sjurson took a load to Chicago, with his yoke of oxen, hauling what was considered at that time a big load. He was told to bring back a set of knives and forks and the rest in cash. It took him two weeks to make the trip, and after paying his expenses on the way and $2. For the knives and forks there was nothing left of the money received for the load of wheat. The distance is about fifty miles. It happened frequently on such trips that the parties would find themselves in debt, losing both time and money in trying to market what they had raised.
In 1856 we find Mr. Weeks on his farm, cultivating it himself, having put up the necessary buildings to make home comfortable. He also added several tracts of land to his first purchase, so that when in the '80's he turned the farm over to his youngest son he had about 200 acres, all in one body.
Mr. Weeks was baptized and confirmed in the Lutheran Church, a true and sincere Christian. In 1849, when he moved into his new home on North Prairie, he donated his first house, built on Mr. Tungisvik's land to the Norwegians around Lisbon for a meeting house, as there was no church at the time. When there was talk of starting a congregation he was one of the first on the list of incorporators, both of what is now called South Congregation and what is known as North Congregation, which was started some years later. He was a warm friend of Rev. P. A. Rasmussen, who was the pastor for these congregations for nearly fifty years. Mr. Weeks was always ready to help any project put forward by Rev. Rasmussen; for he knew it was of the best interest of both Christianity and humanity. He was a liberal donor to church and schools and always ready to help where help was needed. He was naturally diffident and retired. He filled many responsible positions in the church. Politically he was always a republican and a friend and admirer of Abraham Lincoln. The writer heard him offer up man a sincere prayer for President Lincoln and the salvation of the country during the Civil War.
After losing at Muskegon the two little girls that were born in Norway, Mr. and Mrs. Weeks raised a family of four. -Alice W. was born march 25, 1847. She was first married to Joe Johnson, who died while they lived at Roland, Iowa. She is now married to Oscar Sampson. They are well to do and live a retired life at Roland, Iowa. -Thomas W. was the first white child born on North Prairie, having been born about a month after his parents moved out on the farm in 1849. He lived to be a successful farmer, owning 160 acres adjoining the old homestead. He was married to Miss Sarah Mathre, Aug. 5, 1885. He was an active republic and filled several township offices. He was a faithful member of the Lutheran Church and served as trustee for many years. He was accidentally killed by being caught in the belt of a thrashing machine. He left behind a wife and five children, who are living at Newark, Ill., in comfortable circumstances. -Sjur W. was born Jan. 12, 1852. At 16 years of age he was sent to Luther College, Decorah, Iowa, where he entered the Normal class in the fall of 1868, but he was obliged to abandon his studies for a time in the fall of 1870 on account of his ill health. In 1871 he attended the Fowler Institute at Newark, Kendall County, Ill., for a term or two; and taught the Norwegian parochial school for several months and also two terms of the English district schools. He then took up his studies at Luther College again, graduating from the Normal course in 1873. That fall he commenced as teacher for the Norwegian congregation at Lee, Ill., teaching both the Norwegian and the English school for six or seven years. In 1878 he was married to Thorbior J. Rogfe, of Lee. In 1879 he engaged in business, first in grain at Steward and later in hardware in Lee. In 1885 his store burned, and having little insurance, he lost everything he had. He then worked as manager for several years with A. H. Johnson & Co., at Lee, in the grain business. After several changes, including the assistant postmastership at Rochelle, Ill., he opened a feed business there, which he conducted until his death, which occurred April 13, 1907. While at Lee he was twice elected justice of the peace, served on the village board, and acted at different times as its president and secretary. He has always been an active worker in the Lutheran Church, having held the position of secretary and treasurer for the Congregation at Rochelle, Ill., since 1893, and has also been leader of the Sunday school. Mr. and Mrs. S. W. Weeks have been blessed with nine children. Elsie S. is a stenographer at Rochelle; Synneva C. is a primary teacher at Lee, Ill.; W. Alfred has opened up a coal business at Sterling, Ill.; and Jacob Marshall has just graduated from the Rochelle High School. The younger children are attending school. -Lewis W., who was born in 1856, and the youngest child of our subject, remained on the old homestead, and when he was of age rented the farm and started in for himself. He was married in 1882 to Miss Caroline B. Thompson, of Slater, Iowa. He has been very successful in his undertaking. He bought several smaller farms adjoining the old homestead, and in 1894 bought the home place, with the understanding that the parents were to live with him in their house during the rest of their natural lives. He is now the owner of 320 acres or more of just as nice and good land as there is in Illinois, and has it better housed and improved than most of the neighboring farms. He is very handy with tools and can build suit himself. He is a republican and takes an active part in township, county, state and national politics. He has a large family. In church matter he is a leader and worker, having served his congregation as trustee for many years. When the question of building a new church at Helmar for the North Prairie Congregation came up he was placed at the head of both the financial and building committees, and many a day's work and many a dollar of which no account was kept went into this undertaking.
Feb. 3, 1900, the main subject of our sketch, Mr. W. S. Weeks, was laid to rest, having passed his 87th birthday-tired, no doubt, from all the strife he had passed through, but glad and ready to be removed to the home from whence there is no moving. His wife, who was two years older, lived until Jan. 14, 1904, reaching the unusual age of over 94 years. She was totally blind for over twelve years, but bore it patiently to the end.
Thus ended the lived of two venerable pioneers, honored and respected by all who knew them. They left one daughter and two sons and twenty-three grandchildren to mourn the loss and cherish the memory of loving mother and father.
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