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My Scandinavian Roots

Michael Rustad


My grandparents on my father's side were Scandinavian.My family was

part of the large wave of Scandinavian immigrants importedinto this country.

In 1890, 43% percent of N.D. was foreign born with about25% from

Scandinavian countries. North Dakota had a large populationof Germans.

However, there were also Icelandic people who immigratedto Eastern North



I grew up outside of Humboldt which had an entirely differentethnic

composition. Humboldt, Minnesota, now a forlorn littletown, was once a

vibrant community with a civic spirit. When I grew up inHumboldt, we had an

excellent school system and a full range of activities.The families were

large and the ethos was decidedly agricultural. Everyonethat I knew lived

and worked on farms. There were few persons of Scandinavianbackground in

Humboldt. The vast majority of settlers of Humboldt werefrom Prince Edward

Island and others of English/Scottish descent. Humboldtwhich is located 8

miles from the North Dakota border and eight miles fromthe Canadian border

grew up in the Twentieth Century.


My Grandfather Rustad came to the United States in 1903with his parents

Herman and Anne Thoresen. My family name was Thoresen whichwas

apparently a common name for Norwegians. The family name was changed to

Rustad because the family lived on the Rustad farm. I don't think that thiswas an

immigration-motivated decision. My Aunt believes that it was a Norwegian

custom of naming the family from the farm of origin.


My grandfather's father was thus named Herman ThoresenRustad.

Herman was the oldest son so he took the name of Rustadas they lived on the

Rustad family. Herman Thoresen Rustad was born June 26,1850 in Norway and

died on November 7, 1907 in Zahl, North Dakota. Zahl wasa tiny settlement

composed of new immigrants to the possibility of homesteading.The town of

Zahl is located near Williston, the childhood home of LosAngeles Lakers'

coach of Phil Jackson. Despite the stark climate and flatlandscape, people were

drawn to North Dakota. Each of my grandparents brothers and sisters stakeda

claim. The basis rule of the 1870 Homestead Act was "use it or loseit." The

homesteader had to show that they cleared the land or worked it or the stake

would revert back to the government.


The Rustads were born in Oslo and came to the United Statesin 1903. My

Great Uncle Carl was an entrepreneur and an incrediblyhard worker. He was

the first to establish a homestead in Zahl (near Willison,N.D.) He remained

for seven years and managed a store in Kailispell, Montanta.He managed a

store in Bricelyn and heard of the Hill lands opening inN.W. Minnesota.

James J. Hill, the railroad magnate and founder of theGreat Northern

Railway, opened lands which he purchased for the railroadright of way. He

set his dissolute son Walter up with a bonanza farm a fewmiles from my farm

outside of Humboldt. In any case, Carl Rustad looked overthe land in 1917

and in 1918 broke up 700 acres of prairie land northeastof Humboldt. He

earned a $12,000 profit the first year. In 1918, Carl earned$18,000 having

extended his holdings to 1400 acres. Flax was one of hiscash crops which

then earned $6.40 a bushel. He farmed until 1924 and enteredthe mercantile

business in Noyes, Minnesota. Carl had five children: Clarence,Vera,

Fern, Oliver and Irene. Clarence later became Chief ofPolice in Long Beach,

California. Carl sold his mercantile business in 1950 andmoved to



Carl's young brother, Alfred, was my grandfather Rustad.Carl persuaded

young Alfred to move his family to N.W. Minnesota. Alfredwas less of a risk

taker and had less to invest than Carl. He farmed a singlequarter of land

from the 1920s until his death in 1972. He did however,raise three

children: Einar, Alfred Jr. (Rustee, my Dad), and Dorothy.My grandfather

and grandmother did not enjoy prosperity on their farm.During the 1930s,

the rust destroyed the wheat crop. The irony was that thewheat rusted on

the Rustad farm. The depression was extremely difficultbut the family had

adequate food because of the resourcefulness and work ethicof my

grandparents. The family farm was taken over by my Dad,Alfred H. Rustad or

Rustee as he was universally known. By the late 1950s,it was quite obvious

that a quarter of land was too little land to make a living.My Dad was

forced to supplement his meager incomes (years of bad crops,etc) with work

as a laborer, a water hauling business, and even a stintas a pool hall



Dad was appointed as Postmaster in Humboldt in 1961 whenJFK was elected.

He continued to farm the land but it was more of a hobbythan a going

concern. He sold the livestock when I left for college.In those days, kids

had an economic role on the farm. My role was to take careof the animals

and tend the garden as well as other chores. I was a truefarm boy except

that my Mother did not permit me to drive heavy farm equipmentsuch as the

thresher or combine. I did not have an aptitude for thisline of work and

decided early in life to study to escape farm life!


My grandparents were drawn to North Dakota and later toN.W. Minnesota

for the same reasons as other immigrants. It was the possibilityof

developing land. My grandmother was Danish in background.Margaret Marie

Peytersen (Rustad), mother of Einar, Alfred Jr. and Dorothy,was born in

Bronik, Gram Denmark. Her father, Ludwig Petersen, wasalso born in Bronik,

Gram Denmakr. He was born in 1854 and died in 1930 at Anoka,Minnesota.

My grandmother's mother was named Meta Katrine Ewald Petersen. She was

born in 1858 in Gram and died in 1912 in Anoka.

My great grandparents were married in 1884 and came tothe United States in

1893. Great Grandpa Ludwig was a Danish patriot and helpedhis father in the

forestry service.


Ludwig's father was head gardener for the King of Denmark.My great,

great Grandfather was named Knud Bille Petersen and wasa forest overseer in

what was then Schlesvig, Holstein Germany. Grandma Rustad'sfamily served as

overseers of the forest for many generations.


Knud was a forest rider over Gram Woods Estate. The forestrider was in

effect a game warden and carried a gun. When his eyesightfailed, he was

appointed in 1885 to plant trees (oversee the planting)in the Nybhold farm

that belonged to the Gram estate. My great GrandmotherMeta Katrine's

brother Mads was knighted by the King of Denmark. The familywas pro-Danish
which in those days meant that they were anti-German. My great grandfather

Ludwig returned from North Dakota to Denmark for the solepurpose of voting

against German annexation.


My Danish ancestors suffered from economic dislocation.An article

entitled, "They Came Here Searching" by PenelogeDauBach published in several

N.D. papers noted that the wages of Danish farm laborerswas $15 to $60 a

year. American wages were $300 to $600. It was difficultto become a going

concerns since Daubach notes that the "average Danishfarm only had enough

land to support two or three cows and a horse." DauBachreports an account

consistent with my family history. Danes fled Schleswisgbecause the boys

were conscripted to serve three years in "Kings Service"for Germany as

opposed to 11 to 18 months of Danish military service.


North West Minnesota's largest Scandinavian based populationwas the

Swedes of Hallock. We had a large number of Swedish immigrantsand the

dominant religion was the Lutheran church. Names such asJohnson, Soderfeld,

Ingeman, and Mattson were Swedish in roots. I will be teachingat the

University of Lund this summer. It is the first time thatI have had an

opportunity to visit Scandinavian and I shall be interestedin traveling on

the weekends. Lund is located only 45 minutes across fromCopenhagen by

ferry. I am hoping to retrace my Scandinavian roots withmy daughter Erica.


Prof. Michael Rustad, 13 Mar 2000, <>

the weekends. Lund is located only 45 minutes across fromCopenhagen by

ferry. I am hoping to retrace my Scandinavian roots withmy daughter Erica.


Prof. Michael Rustad, 13 Mar 2000, <>