The Dakota Icelanders Project

Sveinn’s Mustache

This story was most recently told to me by Glen Goodman. I, of course, have no reason to doubt its authenticity, but others may be more skeptical. It could certainly be classified as legend, but I have also heard it from other sources.

Anyways, it seems that even in the winter, farmers would be taking their grain to the mill to be ground. And the nearest mill to the Jónsson farm was in Milton, about 6 miles distant. Or substitute an occasion of your own requiring a trip from the Jónsson homestead up over the hill to the hamlet of Milton. Sveinn Jónsson had occasion to make such a trip in the middle of the winter.

Now Sveinn had a big black drooping mustache, and by the time he got to the hotel to warm up it was fully covered, likely frozen stiff, with frost and icicles. This hotel had only a central heater on the ground floor whose flume went through the upstairs, passing through one of the rooms which at the time was being occupied by a traveling salesman. And, of course, this was the only source of heat for that room. The salesman, being inordinately cool, had come downstairs to warm up about the same time Sveinn had parked himself by the heat, so very little of his mustache's icicles had melted. So it seems only natural that the only remark the stranger, the salesman, made to Sveinn as he approached the heat source was “My, and what room have they got you in then!”

Sveinn was the son of Jón Jónsson who had homesteaded at the lower edge of the Pembina Escarpment southwest of Mountain. Outside of the fact that he married my great-aunt, he is remembered as the one who brought the smallpox to New Iceland. The family, Jón, his wife Thorgerður Jónatansdóttir, and 4 children had emigrated from Brenniborg in Víðimyri Parish, Skagafjarðarsysla, Iceland, in 1876. While making their way to the settlement in New Iceland, they stayed for a while in an immigration shed in Quebec. And it is believed that here young Sveinn contracted the smallpox virus. His father is said to have also contracted the disease in the form of a hand infection. His was a mild case, as was his father's, but his mother was among the many who succumbed to the pestilence in New Iceland, in early December of 1876. To read about the smallpox epidemic, see page 36ff of Icelandic River Saga by Nelson Gerrard.

Although Sveinn died the year I was born so I have no memory of him, I do have vivid memories of my Aunty Jana (Kristjana Ragnheiður Kristjánsdóttir). She stayed on the farm for many years and our family remained close and visited frequently. My mother and she had the same second name, Ragnheiður, coming from the name of the wife of her father, who was not her mother, an anomaly explained elsewhere (see A Settler’s Story). Her home was the only one I ever visited where we could actually play music on a wax cylinder phonograph, which is still retained by the family.

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