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History of Freeland Township

Lac qui Parle County, Minnesota


HISTORY OF EARLY PIONEERS OF FREELAND TOWNSHIP
JUNE 1952
This history of Freeland township was originally written in the Norwegian language by T. Severson and A. Amundson in the year 1898.
Translated into the English language by Mrs. Laura Hanson in 1951 (up to the year 1898).
The Freeland Old Settler's Union of Lac qui Parle county was organized in November 1897 - it elected as president A. J. Haugen, as vice president, Mathias Hanson, as secretary, Andrew Amundson, and as treasurer, Ludvig Jerpseth. A committee of two was appointed to draw up a history of town of Freeland for the good of the coming generations. This committee was T. Syverson and A. Amundson.
First the history of Lac qui Parle follows:
The people who live in this fruitful county can be justly proud.
History tells us that missionaries first built a mission station near Lac qui Parle lake in 1836 in order to teach the Indians the Word of God. Sept. 15, 1836, a Presbyterian congregation was organized under leadership of T. S. Williams and Joseph Renville - the latter was a half breed Indian who married a full blooded Indian woman to join a Christian congregation. Father Revoux of the Catholic faith began missionary work among the Indians there in 1841 and in that same year the first church building was erected in Lac qui Parle county. It was made of sun-baked brick. The two men responsible for this church building were the Rev. Williams, a Presbyterian, and Rev. S. R. Riggs. This church stood for thirteen years and was the first church in Minnesota to have a church bell to call the worshippers together. The first couple to be married west of the Mississippi were Gideon Pond and Sarah Padge, ceremony being performed by Rev S. R. Riggs in Lac qui Parle.
The first wool factory in the state was in Lac qui Parle, built by Missionary A. S. Huggins, who also taught the Indian girls to spin, weave and knit stockings. Later on Huggins was murdered on his own doorstep by a sneaking Indian after having spent many years in the work of civilizing the Red Men.
The first white man who owned land in Lac qui Parle county was Wm. Mills - he fought against the Indians in 1864, who in those days killed all the whites they could lay hands on, including old and young men and women. This proved to be one of the most bloody of the Indian massacres.
On April 8, 1868, Mr. Mills returned to his land that he had purchased four years before, namely in Section 30, town 118, range 42. His farm is bounded on three sides by the Lac qui Parle river and is a beautiful place. Mr. Mills has taken much interest and active part in the upbuilding of his community and is held in high esteem by all. He still resides on his farm there. In the summer of 1868, the following joined the colony: - David Lister, A. B. Andrews, John Nash, David Webb, S. J. Ferguson and Frank Stay. All of these purchased land near the Lac qui Parle river where there was an abundance of forests, both for fuel and building purposes.
In the spring of 1869, came a large colony of settlers from Fayette county, Ia., under the leadership of Peter F. Jacobson. They numbered forty-two families, bringing their farm possessions and about 500 cattle and as many sheep. These had formerly come from Stavanger and Bergen, Norway. Jacobson bought land first and the others received land side by side, so that they could be neighbors, and helpful to each other. Many of these are still living here while many have passed on. Rev. P. Thompson served as their first pastor and Peter Skoven, the first school teacher. The first Norwegian service was held in Rev. Thompson's house in June, 1869. At the time of this writing (1898) these two men are both active in their community.
Lac qui Parle county was organized January 11, 1872, the first commissioners were Browning Nichols, Fred Ehlers and Colbin Anderson. The County Seat was located in Section 27, town 118, range 41. The first county treasurer was Peter F. Jacobson, H. J. Grant the first auditor, John McGuire the first sheriff and Emelius Brown, register of deeds. From the yea 1872 and the following years many more colonists came and settled to the west of these first colonists. School houses were built and townships established, and in 1876 is recorded in the following treatise the history of the early white settlers in the town of Freeland.
The town of Freeland is situated in the southwest corner of Lac qui Parle county and is listed as Town 116, Range 45. It is bounded on the south by Yellow Medicine county, on the west by Manfred township, on the north by Garfield township and on the east by Providence. Florida creek runs through the area and empties into the Lac qui Parle river - when the first settlers arrived, the creek was heavily wooded on both banks and so the first settlers had the advantage of both prairie and forest land. Lazarus creek also passed through Freeland in the eastern part. It flows from southwest in the northeast direction and then southwest again into the town of Providence. In Freeland are also the renowned Antelope Hills - many tourists come each year to view these hills. It was once thought that gold and silver could be found in their interior, and other metals. In later years the hills have been leveled off considerably, due to the fact that a large amount of sand has been hauled from them and used to improve and build roads in that part of the county. The town of Freeland was organized April 11, 1879, the first town meeting being held in the home of W. Humphrey in March, 1880. Wm. Paddock was chosen the first president and A. C. Dixon and Eric Rulson as supervisors. Wm. Humphrey was elected Town Clerk, Oscar Dixon as justice of the peace and Charles Whitford as constable. At this meeting a motion was made that a hole be dug on top of Antelope Hills and made habitable to hold future town meetings. However, this plan did not materialize.
The first white settler in Freeland was Andrew Erickson. He was born in 1840 in Eidsvold, Norge, was married there to Olava Nelson, and they sailed for America in 1860. It was the beginning of the Civil War and Erickson at once enlisted to serve his newly acquired country and to give his life if need be. He served to the end of the war. Later he lived with his family in Spring Grove, Minnesota, until 1876 when he came to the S.W. quarter of Section 28, in Freeland township. Later they moved to the S.W. quarter of Section 32, where he spent the rest of his days. Mr. and Mrs. Erickson had nine children - at the time this history is written: three boys and three girls were living, four being married, having homes in the vicinity. Their youngest daughter, Alette, was born December 18, 1877 - she was the first white child born in Freeland. Mr. Erickson tells the following, "We had fifteen miles to our nearest neighbor - south of us lived three families between us and Canby, namely John Huffman, Nub Nubson and Osten Olson. Canby then consisted of John Swenson and wife. Due to wisdom and insight in business matters he (Swenson) has become one of the wealthiest men in these parts. He has helped many both as to money and advice among the settlers. To the west of us lived Cap Herrick and Carlson who were the beginners in Gary, South Dakota. To the north the nearest neighbor was ten miles distant. The Indians were plentiful in those days - as they were fishing along Florida Creek. They would come to the homes and steal and plunder and take anything they could lay their hands on. At one time when my wife and children were alone at home, an Indian chief from the Sisseton reservation came with his tomahawk in his hand and sat down in the middle of the floor, his idea was to frighten the wife and children out of the house, so he could help himself and which he succeeded in doing, as they fled in the greatest of haste. As a whole, though, the Red Men were quite friendly. In 1878 the government decided that the Indians in these parts should make their home on the Sisseton reservation. They smoked their pipes of peace with the whites as a sign of future peace and friendship. When this ceremony was over they withdrew to the reservation and we saw them no more." Erickson also tells of the grasshopper plague in 1876-77. He says, "They came in such big swarms that the sun was almost hidden from view. They settled on the crops and destroyed much of it. In 1877 we had eighteen acres of wheat and in order to stave off their onslaught we carried and hauled hay and straw and other perishable things, alongside these acres of wheat and set it afire, and in that way we saved the crop from the grasshoppers that year. This was, of course, strenuous work, but the lives of our families were at stake. That year we harvested 200 bushels of wheat from the eighteen acres, enough for our living and for seed the next year. On many places the crops were a total loss. Even the leaves on the trees were devoured by these greedy insects. Another hazard of those early days was the prairie fires. The Indians would set the tall grass on fire for the fun of seeing it burn. The wind fanned the flames over large tracts of land destroying everything in its path. In some cases the land was ploughed along the buildings to prevent the spread of the flames, but more often great loss of property and lives resulted." Mr. Erickson concludes, "After I worked against the prairie fires until I was more dead than alive." "In those days," Mr. Erickson says, "there was a great abundance of snakes roaming the prairies - these luckily were not of the dangerous type. They would creep into houses and up into the beds. At one time my wife found one lying cozily beside our little child in the bed. As more and more land came under cultivation this pest disappeared." This is the end of Mr. Erickson's description of his early days in Freeland. His son is now cultivating the farm and he has retired from active duties after his strenuous pioneering days. He is also receiving a small pension from Uncle Sam for his participation in the Civil War.
Another of the early pioneers was Berger Stevenson (or Stephenson or Steffenson). Born in Eidskog, Norway, in 1832. His wife, Christina (Stena) Anderson was born in Sweden in 1838. They sailed for America in 1871 and settled first in Manistee, Michigan, living there for six years, where he worked as a day laborer. In the spring of 1877 the family decided to go west and try their luck on a homestead. They found land in Freeland, settling in the west half of S.E. quarter of Section 32, and where they have since lived. Mr. Stevenson has much of interest to tell of their pioneer days. When he had "filed" on the land he found he have very little money left over, and it was also difficult to get work. Finally he landed a job with the N.W. railroad for $1.00 per day. His expenses were $.50 per day for room and board. He worked two months before receiving any pay. Consequently the cultivation of the farm was done on a small scale, having no team of his own. But his neighbors were always willing to lend a helping hand. When the railroad job was at an end he decided to buy a span of oxen. To acquire these, he had to go to a considerable distance in the east. After many days of travel he bought some oxen northeast of Montevideo - these he purchased on credit, but was pleased to think that he now owned a "team". But to get the oxen back home was another problem, as there were no roads and no bridges over stream. They swam the Minnesota river, and owner hanging onto their tails. After a hazardous trip they finally reached home. In the late fall he went to Appleton, the nearest place, to grind his corn. He was unfamiliar with the county and there were no roads. It began to rain very heavily and soon the going was well nigh impossible. Mr. Stevenson says, "I at last reached my destination and got my corn ground. On my homeward journey the weather changed from rain to a driving snowstorm and bitter cold." He ends up by saying, "what my oxen and myself suffered on that homeward trip can not be described." On the sixth day they reached home. The Stevensons had six children, five of whom are residing in their midst.
Another of the early settlers was Peder Skorseth. He was born in Bruseth, Norway, and was married to Martha Olson Bue of Lillehammer, Norway. They emigrated to America in 1871 and lived first in Manistee, Michigan, where Skorseth was in the mechanic industry. Later they lived in Marshall, Minnesota for a short time. He heard of the excellent land in Lac qui Parle county so he went to Canby by "hand car". They settled in Freeland on S.E. quarter, Section 32. Here the family has since lived and have one of the most beautiful homes with a large grove of trees to the north and west. Of the five children, three are married and reside in the vacinity, while Ole and Bennie are at home assisting their parents on the farm. Skorseth has always taken active part and interest in school and congregational affairs and has held responsible positions in these. Both Mr. and Mrs. Skorseth are respected among their neighbors, being very friendly and hospitable.
Herman Olson was born on February 2, 1835 in Eidskog, Norway, and was married to Martha Hanson Westfield of the same locality in 1863. They sailed for America in 1872 and settled in Jefferson county, Wisconsin, and for a few years was a farm laborer there. In the spring of 1878 they came to Freeland and secured land in the S.W. quarter of Section 32. To get "filing" on the land in those days was no easy matter, as they had to travel over unknown roads to Benson, sixty miles distant. Many sacrifices were made in order to establish homes. The first home the Olsons had was a "dug out" and they were happy to move into this. In his own words, Olson says, "In 1881, the year of the big snow winter the dugout was often buried in snowdrifts eight to ten feet high and our lamps had to burn all day for light. It was warm in the dugout and comfortable." Olson and his wife had four children, three of them living at home.
Mathias Hanson (or Mathis Hansen), born in Eidskog, Norway, June 1, 1839, married Karen Paulson Bjornstad of the same locality. On May 17, 1870, they sailed for America. After seven weeks and two days they reached Jefferson county, Wisconsin, where Hanson worked for eight years as a day laborer. As the family grew and the wages were small they decided to go farther west and seek a new home. They left Wisconsin on March 28, 1878 in a covered wagon. He had saved enough money to buy a team and wagon, which came to be their living quarters in the 500 mile trip west. After five weeks of strenuous travel they reached Canby, where the first man they met was the then well known machinist, Gustav Erickson. These two men became fast friends which friendship lasted for twenty years. Hanson acquired land in the S.E. quarter of Section 28, where they have since lived. Hanson has taken an active part in the upbuilding of the county and with hard work and frugality has become well-to-do. Of the seven children living, three are married, sons Herman and Bastian have their own homes in the vicinity and daughter Martha lives in Iowa. The lovely little church which is located on Hanson's land is evidence that he has an active part in the work of the congregation. He has held many positions of trust in town, church and school, and the family has the respect of all. Hanson was named Postmaster by President McKinley in Martonville, the post office being in his own home.
Anton Jensen, born in Berge, Norway, in 1853, came to America in 1873. He first lived in Wisconsin and in 1878 came to Freeland where he homesteaded the N.E. quarter of Section 28, and was married to Caroline (Karolina) Aasgard on November 24, 1878, this being the first wedding in Freeland. Later he sold the farm and they moved to Canby.
Gunder Nygaard was born in Skeberg, Norway, May 20, 1842 - was married to Helene (Helline) Jensen Quam of Berge, Norway, June 6, 1869. They sailed for America in 1871 and landed in Chicago, Illinois June first of that year. Here they resided a year, then moved to Stoughton, Wisconsin, where he secured employment with the renowned T. G. Mandt wagon factory, continuing in this work for seven years. Later he was employed in White Water, Wisconsin for three years and then returned to Stoughton and worked for another year in the same factory. They then went west and secured land in Section 30 in Freeland. Most of the early settlers were in rather poor circumstances. Likewise Nygaard himself says when he left Wisconsin he had $25.00 in his possession, but upon reaching Canby it had dwindled to $1.40. He owned tho, in personal property a wagon and team of horses and a little household goods. In order to get funds for filing on his land he worked for the railroad where he had earned enough and for a sack of corn he left for his home. John Swenson, Canby, loaned him money in order to erect a "dugout". In the fall he sold the team of horses and paid back the loan and also purchased a stove, a bed and two chairs. "My wife was well pleased with the stove," he says, and "we also needed warmth from it during the winter." In due time the Nygaards moved out of the dugout and into a large comfortable home.
Throned (Thrond) Syverson was one of the earliest settlers occupying the southwest quarter of Section 28. As so many of the others, he was also in moderate circumstances but with hard work and frugality he became in time, well to do. He held offices in school and church affairs, being for several years secretary of Florida congregation. He was also treasurer and supervisor of his town.
Andrew (Andreas) Amundson, a stout Gudbrandsdol, was born near Lillehammer, Norway, December 15, 1856, and came to America in the fall of 1873. He took off at Bergen in the ship "Peter Ibsen". On the North Sea a terrific storm came up, almost capsizing the boat. Being badly damaged, it had to be taken back to Bergen for repairs. After a stormy voyage across the Atlantic they landed in New York after 22 1/2 days. For six years Amundson worked in the forests of Wisconsin. In the spring of 1879 he went west, through the Dakotas, seeking land. After some time he landed in Freeland where he discovered good land and settled down in Section 22 of the northwest quarter where he has since lived with the exception of three years, 1886-1889 when he was in Washington state as a sheep herder. In January 1890 he married Petra Skorseth, eldest daughter of Peder Skorseth. He was assessor in Freeland for several years and was active in the church, being secretary of the congregation. He is in a great degree responsible for the building of the town hall. He is a quick, unobtrusive man, thinking much, saying little. He had several accidents in his life. Once his had was badly damaged by a gunshot wound through the had. He was also in a train wreck on a N. Wisconsin railroad, capsized in a boat near Cedar Falls, Wisconsin, fell off a half wild broncho, hanging by the saddle, as the broncho raced over the prairie until he finally was released from his precarious position and found that he was entirely unhurt. Once he was attacked and chased by a raging bear and at another time was nearly hanged by Indians. In the spring of 1897 when on the way home from Minneapolis he fell off a moving train, was rendered unconscious and badly mangled his one good arm. So it seems a kind Providence was his good lot in that his life was spared as many times. In spite of his misfortunes his home life has been most pleasant due to his loving wife and five dutiful children.
A. J. Haugen, born in Indre Sogn, Norway, November 25, 1848, came to America in 1867. For a short time he worked on a farm then as an assistant with the Mississippi railroad building in 1871-1872. In 1872 he enrolled as a student at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa in December and graduated as a teacher in 1878. He taught school a year in Iowa and was married in 1879 to Anna Thompson. In 1880 they came to Lac qui Parle county and secured land in Section 22 in Freeland, where they resided until 1890, when they moved to Section 2 in the same township which is now their home. Haugen has done much for Lac qui Parle county and especially for Freeland Township - has held office of clerk for twelve years, assessor and census taker for six years and county commissioner for District One for eight years. For three years he has been chairman of County Commissioners. In all of these duties he has been found to be most capable and trustworthy. He owns one of the most beautiful farms in Freeland. In the year this is written, 1898, a store is being erected on his place, also another building of industry which will become of much importance to the town. There are other settlers that should be mentioned. Martin Thorson lived in Freeland many years and was active in the interest of school, church, and town. He sold his farm on Section 22 and moved to Iowa. H. S. Haakenson is also one of the first settlers and still resides here (1898).
Of those, not of Norwegian descent can be mentioned: Wm. Shaffer, Sam Tilbury, J. P. Free, and Wm. Humphrey. The first two mentioned still reside here (1898) and there's a feeling of good will between them and their Norwegian neighbors.
COMPARISON FROM 1876 TO 1898
In 1876 town of Freeland was a wild, unsettled county, except inhabited by Indians, where they hunted and fished - now there are sixty well cultivated farms and homes with groves of trees, instead of the "dugouts" of the earlier days.
Each year about 100,000 bushels of wheat are raised besides corn, oats, and other farm products which can be raised in this part of the state. No more oxen can be seen here, but instead fine horses, also about 300 cattle, hogs and sheep can be seen on the farms and all kinds of farm machinery.
The early settlers did not leave behind their childhood faith, but they brought the Bible along with them wherein they read, "Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." Florida congregation was organized on October 18, 1879, at the home of Peter Skorseth. There were few members to begin with, but the saying, "In unity is strength" was one of the features of this early congregation. The first membership consisted of Peter Skorseth, Mathias Hanson, Herman Olson, Berger Stevenson, Herman Peterson (Pederson) and Borne (Bore) Fredrickson, all with families. The first pastor was Rev. J. H. Hinderaker - for 13 years services were held in homes and school houses. As the congregation grew they decided they must have a church. With the help of members the building went on rapidly so that on December 16, 1892, the cornerstone was laid. The church is situated on the Mathias Hanson farm and with its spire pointing toward heaven is a pride of the community. The following served as building committee: Mathias Hanson, P. Skorseth, and Herman Olson. Carl O. Skorseth was the carpenter. Rev. Hinderaker who was a true and faithful minister of the gospel served the congregation for 16 1/2 years. The present pastor in Rev. K. C. Hinderlie.
Freeland township has five school houses, where the children receive a secular education. There is also an excellent band, a substantial town hall has been erected, where the town business meetings are held, also social functions. That building committee consisted of: Mathias Hanson, A Amundson and P. Skorseth. A general store and a creamery have been built and have filled a long-felt want. Two post offices are there, one of the postmasters being Mathias Hanson.
A direct mail route is planned between Madison and Canby. Freeland had good roads and bridges and is in good financial condition, being free of debt and with money in the treasury. As an evidence that here is some of the best farming land within the state is the fact that several of Madison's businessmen own land here. Of these can be mentioned K. O. Jerde, who owns several hundred acres, T. A. Thompson, 160 acres, K. S Nordgaarder, 320 acres, John Uglem, 240 acres, G. A. Kjosness, 150 acres and the Haslerud and Dale firm 560 acres.
In closing, a word to the future generations who are to take up the work your forefathers have laid down. Protect and honor the heritage of the word of God which they brought along from overseas. Continue in it for the good of the future generations and remember also the sacrifices of the forefathers!

Contributed by Diane Hanson on 2/12/2001. Thanks, Diane!
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