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Pioneers In The Red River Valley


Bryan Zenchyshyn

Senior High Division


"Home is the place where, when you have to go there,they have to take you in!"(1) At the age of eleven months, HarrietDocken went to a house four miles southwest of Hallock. The people in itwere Ole and Betsy Carlson, Mrs. Docken's great-aunt and uncle. They weretwo of the many pioneers that came to help build our nation. They had nowarning that Mrs. Docken was coming to be their foster child and while theyalready had a huge household with the threshing crew for harvest. It seemedimpossible for them to take on yet another member of the family.

Since the Carlson family was in the middle a harvest, Mrs.Carlson had to cook for the threshing crew of twelve to fifteen men becauseshe had no help. Along with this she was taking care of her daughter, shewas recovering from an illness, plus her daughter's children, who were oneand one half and the other was just an infant. In addition to this, BetsyCarlson took on her three year old nephew whose Mother had been institutionalizedwith no hope of recovery. With no hired help it seemed hard to take on yetanother responsibility, but she was told by the people who brought Harrietthat if she wouldn't take her she should find someone who could. Mrs. Carlsonsaid she knew of a person, Mrs. Elina Nelson, who lived in the small squarecottage immediately east of the court house in Hallock, who might take her.Mrs. Nelson agreed to take her for a month, but as it turned out, she didn'tneed to because somehow things got worked out. It was after the work hadeased and the sick daughter had gone home that Betsy sat down to figureout when Mrs. Docken had come and realized that it had been on her birthday.Also, Mrs. Docken began to call Ole and Betsy Carlson, Mother and Dad.

Mother's nephew, Norman Peterson, and Harriet took to eachother and became the best of friends, until the family moved to Hallockwhen Harriet was seven.

Harriet's mother, Betsy, was born in Skane, Sweden on August8, 1878 and was brought to this country when she was three years old alongwith her two younger sisters, Matilda who later became Mrs. Theodore Bengtonof Hallock, and Hannah who later became Mrs. John Halmquist of Red RiverCommunity. This is about ten miles southwest of Hallock. It has a town hall,a school, and small store. After Betsy and the rest of her family arrivedin their new country they settled in the North Red River Township. Thiswas later called Skane Township and this was because of the many peoplewho came here, most were from Skane.

Mrs. Docken's mother always told about how she had to hireout as a hired girl to the various neighbors and got paid $8 a month whichher mother collected at the end of each month.

This sounds very easy but it was not. There were hiredgirls working at every farm because it was such a big job. They had to bethe cooks, house cleaners, and mothers of the house hold.

Betsy Carlson told of how hard it was to get out of workto go to confirmation classes on Saturday. These were helping the peoplevery much. These were held in the Lutheran Church out in the country nearHallock in the Red River Township. She told how Rev. Lundgren was the onewho persuaded her boss to let her go out to the church and how much sheenjoyed them. At the age of twenty years, Betsy Carlson married Ole andmoved to the farm where Ronnie Johnson now lives, southwest of Hallock.

At this time they knew, they were about to move into anew farm where there was just an old shanty so they endeavored to builda new house. First of all, they had to have a foundation and this had tobe built out of rock. The men hauled the rock from Roseau County. "Someof these rocks were as big as desks."(2)

Ole Carlson, her foster father, was born in Ystad, SkaneProvince in Sweden, on November 24, 1865, his father was a cabinetmakerand farmer. This helped him greatly in the new country in the later years.Ole told Harriet how at the age of ten years old he helped in the fieldswith the harvest.

As a child, he had to go out and cut grain with a scytheand cradle and this skill he mastered with perfection. He also masteredthe art of making wooden shoes and then at the age of twenty-one, he broughta few pairs with him when he came to America. Ole was different, he neverate soft foods, whenever his wife baked bread he waited until it was hardand crisp before he ate it. This could take days or even longer, it dependedon the air conditions. He also boasted of how green dust flew off the breadwhen he bit into a piece of dry stale bread when he lived in Sweden. Hesaid this helped make his teeth very strong, also he used a knife to eat,never a fork. Even when he ate peas. He always claimed he had strong teethbecause of these peculiarities. When he died at the age of eighty-one, hepassed on with every one except one-half of one because one day while hewas shoeing a horse it kicked him and knocked his tooth out. Betsy Carlsondidn't believe him about the green dust but she still had to put away breadfor him till it got hard and crisp.

When he came to America, he first went to work on the TwoRiver Farm southeast of Hallock where Clarence Kinske lives now. It appearsto have been quite a large farm at that time and many young men from Swedenlived and worked there as they learned the English language. This practicewas common over most of the U.S.; the girls worked in the kitchen and themen worked in the fields. Ole Carlson had to do some batching and Mrs. Dockensaid she still had a large white plate that Ole used during his batchingyears. This plate is almost ninety years old now.

After Ole and Betsy were married, his mother back in Swedensent him some things. Among them, a shirt came which she had made all theway from spinning the flax from the field into thread, weaving the threadinto cloth and then sewing the shirt by hand into a shirt. Mrs. Docken hadonly a piece of the material but she can still remember the huge bottomtucks and the big blousey sleeves.

Mr. and Mrs. Carlson had eight children, two of which diedyoung. Of the six remaining, only the two youngest who were boys were livingat home when Mrs. Docken came to live with them. The four oldest were girlsand were married and away from home so Harriet did not get to know themvery well.

Ole Carlson did road patrol with horses pulling a grader.His route was the road past the Skating rink and west of Hallock. Mrs. Dockensaid when she was young she would play on it. One winter day, the graderstruck a hard piece of ground and threw Ole against the machine. He hurthis knee and rendered him with a leg so sore that he had to walk with acane.

This injury didn't slow him down, however, because he walkeduptown everyday, raised a big garden, and did considerable amount of workin the wood shed. He even walked in the woods, pulling one of the children'swagons tied around his waist so he could gather diamond willow. He madedifferent things out of them.

With these willows he made table legs, legs for rockingchairs, and a desk for Mrs. Docken and many canes. He would steam the willowso that they would bend easily, then he would splice them and then varnishthem, along with whatever else he was making. He had several pairs of canes.One pair was every day pair and these were very sturdy. These were nicebut not very well crafted. His Sunday ones had fancier curves in the willowand were finer and not as coarse as his work canes. For winter, he had screwsand nails embedded in the bottom of each to dig into ice so he would notslip. He was determined to live as long as his parents, who were in thenineties before they passed away but cancer took him at the age of eighty-one.Even then, he had "fight" and did not give up until Pastor Malmtold him he had cancer. Mrs. Docken's foster Mother, also said that shewould live until Mrs. Docken got off on her own. Her prayers were answeredeven though all through Mrs. Docken's high school years her mother was verysick. She lived until Mrs. Docken began her second year of teaching in Roseau.Then she passed on.

At the time Mrs. Docken lived with Mr. and Mrs. Carlson,they only spoke Swedish. In fact, it seemed put on for them to speak Englishto anybody in the house. Mrs. Docken said she remembers one day she shesaw her foster brother, Arthur, uptown and that when she spoke to him shespoke Swedish. He scolded her for talking this language by saying "Thisis America, We speak English."

Mr. and Mrs. Carlson's home is gone now and so are theother pioneers that helped to build our nation. It was people like thesethat made our country and the area here what it is today.

(1) Frost, Robert, "The Death of a Hired Man,"American Literature, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1965, pp. 688-692

(2) Harriet Docken, Interview


Docken, Harriet, Northcote, MN, Interview, 1975




Docken, Harriet, Northcote, MN, Interview, 1975