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Alfred Rustad: Early Red River Valley Resident


Jamie Rustad


The Red River Valley can provide bread and butter for itspeople and also for exportation to feed many times more than its inhabitants.To industrialize a valley, there must be farmers to work the land. Suchstatements were heard by many people who decided to come to the Red RiverValley to see if this was true. Descendants of the Pilgrims have come inthe tide of immigration to the Red River Valley. Many of the settlers havecome from Scandinavian countries bringing with them the Scandinavians traditionsand customs. Alfred Rustad came from Norway bringing with him the practicesof the Norwegians.

He was born near Oslo, Norway, where he spent his earliestyears. He attended a large school in Oslo, where the children attended schoolsix days a week.

The Rustad name was not always Rustad. Herman Thorson Rustad,his father, was the oldest son of the Thorson family who lived on the Rustadland. It is the Norwegian custom that when the oldest son leaves his family,he takes the name of the land as his family name and his father's name ashis second or middle name.

Herman Rustad's family immigrated to the United Stateswhen Alfred was twelve. In Norway he had been admitted into the fifth grade.But there was such a change in switching from the Norwegian language toEnglish that he had to begin school in first grade. He learned to speakEnglish fluently without a trace of an accent.

His parents homesteaded forty miles north of Williston,North Dakota in 1905. At that time Williston had only one store and a PortOffice. They were close to the school so he walked.

The first year they lived near Williston, their only shelterwas a tent and their warmth came from a kerosene stove. Alfred's brotherdug a hollow in the side of a hill, and lined the floor with sandstone.This was where his mother baked her bread.

Rabbits and prairie chickens were very plentiful and wereeaten as the main course for their meals. Groceries were brought from Willistonbut not daily because it was too far to walk.

Transportation was equally primitive, for when his familyfirst came to Williston, their only means of transportation were broncosand lumber wagons. Years later, they used horses and buggies. Their firstcar was a Model T which Alfred purchased in 1922.

Herman Rustad was very talented in carving diamond willowfence posts into lamps and canes. These fence posts had been in the groundfor more than fifty years, and were so hard in texture they would rot inthe ground. To gather these posts he went forty five miles up the MissouriRiver, east of Williston. This hobby was passed on in time to Alfred whocarves lamps and canes very uniquely.

Lignite coal, which is a brownish black coal and containsless carbon and more moisture than commercial grades of coal, was minedat Williston by the family and surrounding neighbors. It is a very softcoal, but they burned it in their wood and coal stoves.

During World War I he served our country by joining theArmy. He was stationed in France in the 313 Engineers 91st Regiment. Shortlyafter the war, he was married to Margaret Peterson, a school teacher fromAnoka, Minnesota. She was originally from Sletsvegholston, Denmark.

Margaret and Alfred rented the William Easter farm fivemiles west of Humboldt. This was his first encounter with the Red RiverValley. For nine years they dwelled at the William Easter farm.

Their eldest son Einar started school at the County SchoolHouse No. 2. He rode a horse to school where most of the children stabledtheir horses in the barn behind the school. In later years it burned down,and the school house was moved to Lancaster.

Later Alfred bought the Ambrose Clow farm which he presentlyfarms. After losing the house originally on the farm by fire, he plannedand rebuilt a two story house with the help of one other man who had somecarpentry knowledge.

In order to thresh as we know it, they started out by firstcutting with a binder, pulled by four horses. Then the men shocked the bundlesthat came from the binder. Shocks were six to eight bundles supporting eachother with the heads of the grain elevated. After a drying period of a fewdays, men placed the shocks on a hayrack which was taken to an unloadingsite where they were pitched into a threshing machine. This machine separatedthe grain from the straw. The straw was thrown into a pile and the grainwas hauled away by wagons. The next procedures was to plow the harvestedfield by horses. Five horses pulled a two bottom plow. Every round requireda short rest for the horses.

On Sundays the family visited neighbors and relatives wholived not too far away. Before cars, people did not want to tire the sixday working horse by traveling far. There was also an annual picnic withbaseball and card games.

Playing instruments for a small dance in a home often attractedthe surrounding neighbors. Alfred's sons learned the waltz at the age ofseven.

The children of those days hunted for game and swam intheir farm ponds. In the winter they skied down straw stacks.

The children didn't have much time for recreation for theywere very busy with their chores. Their chores were not as limited as choresfor kids now days. They boys chopped and brought the wood inside. Then theashes were carried out. For water in the winter, the boys brought the snowin to be melted. They also milked, picked eggs, fed the stock, and cleanedthe barn.

Woodland coal stoves were the only warmth the family hadin the winter - the bedrooms were heated very little, if at all. They dressedin front of the stove and make a mad dash for the bed.

At the present Alfred is residing in Humboldt, Minnesota.Margaret passed away in 1964. He still owns and helps on the Alfred the formed Ambrose Clow farm.

Born in Norway and immigrating to America, Alfred Rustadhad endured many hardships in building a new life. He has helped settlethe "Valley", as well as culturizing it. He has taken part inthe building of the Red River Valley of Minnesota.


Rustad, Alfred H., Humboldt, Minnesota. Interview. October8, 1969. November 10, 1969

Rustad, Alfred H. Jr., Farming grain in the Red River Valley.Life of children in early days. Interview

The original essay was reproduced for the Red River ValleyWebsite by
Dennis L. Matthews

Please send additions, corrections or other informationto:

Dennis L. Matthews
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