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Now our story moves to Scandinavia, especially Norway and Sweden, the origin of many Minnesotan ancestors. It's a story not only of pioneer ambition and grit, but of repeated geographic coincidences in which near-neighbors who didn't know each other became intertwined in the same family. These settlers began coming to the region just west of the North American Great Lakes, which resembled their homeland in both climate and geography, as soon as it was opened for settlement. But as time passed and the wooded, lake-bespeckled rolling southern land filled up, later arrivals were forced onto the flat, treeless and drier plains farther north and west.

The village of Valer is on the Glama River some 15 miles west of the Swedish border, about 40 miles northeast of Norway's capital city, Oslo. The region is rolling and dotted with hundreds of small and medium-sized lakes. Enok Morud was born near Valer in 1830. As a young man, he had a farm about 3 miles north of Valer near the present town of Braskereidfoss. There he lived, and also practiced his trade of carpentry, with his wife Anna Maria (Olsdatter, also born in 1830, just a few miles down the river in Asnes).

Enok and Anna Maria Morud had three children:

Embret Enokson Morud, a carpenter born in 1855.
Olea Enoksdatter, born in 1861.
Ole Enokson Morud, born in 1869.

About 35 miles to the northwest, the town of Ringsaker lies along Mjosa Lake, a wide spot in the Lagen River. The area is about 10 miles southeast of the Olympic site of Lillehammer and some 40 miles due north of Oslo. Nearby was the town of North Fyelstadgaard, where Johannes and Kjersti (Larsdatter) Halden lived. The couple had been married in the church at Ringsaker, so when, on November 18, 1842, their son Lars Johannesen Halden was born, it was natural to have him baptized, and later confirmed, there.

Just about one month later and four miles upriver from Enok Morud's farm, in Kverndalen, Anna Marie Kvern was born, in December 1842.

Some time after that, Johannes and Kjersti Halden had another son, Mathias, who was called "Mat".

Mat's older brother Lars Halden studied music intensively, learning to play the organ, violin and guitar, and he became a good singer. That was no way to make a living though, so he also learned the carpentry trade, and during the winters worked as a bread baker. Like all young Norwegian men, he was drafted into the army and served two years there.

Meanwhile, his parents had been hearing wonderful things about America, and particularly about Minnesota, where some of their friends had homesteads. They saved their money and booked passage in the early spring of 1865. They did their homework and were prepared with food and equipment, bringing with them dried beef, dried smoked herring, butter, cheese, dried peas and beans, flour, sugar, vinegar, dried flat bread, a keg of sour milk and even a barrel of water. They loaded chests with clothing and bedding, soap, and a "'fine comb' as they would be sure to get lice on the boat." They brought Lars' carpenter tools, axes, scythe, a muzzle-loading shotgun, pots and pans, dishes, silver, lamps, Bibles, hymnbooks, music books, and a spinning wheel and wool carders.

On board the boat, Lars met Anna Kvern. She was traveling alone, but as she and Lars became friends, she decided to accompany his family to wherever they ended up.

The Haldens and Anna arrived in New York City, and traveled to join their friends in Fillmore County, Minnesota. At the land office in Preston, they learned that there was no more unclaimed land in the area. They resolved to claim land farther north, but first they needed to raise some money. Lars and Anna worked together for the same farmer, for 50 cents a day apiece plus room and board. A temporary stop became a four-year sojourn. Lars and Anna were married on October 8, 1866 in Preston. Their daughter Caroline was born there on July 5, 1867. Preston is ten miles north of the Iowa border and only about 65 miles southeast of Sogn, where at that time Jonathan and Ann Dibble were working their farm and getting to know their new infant daughter, Minnie.

Time passed. Lars' mother Kjersti became ill and died. Lars and Anna worked hard and acquired a plow, wagon, oxen, a cow and other things they would need for their new farm. After the harvest in 1868, Lars and Mat took a trip northwest to look for land, first taking the train to Alexandria and then walking north about 50 miles to where they had heard claims could be had. They found an attractive region of lakes, woods, and rolling hills near where the town of Fergus Falls would later be founded. The brothers walked back to Alexandria, and filed claims for Lars and for their father Johannes (Mat was too young to stake a claim).

The following spring, the Haldens joined several other families from Fillmore County, including Anna's brother Arne and sister Parnille who had come from Norway a few years before, in a wagon train headed north. The trip of about 225 miles took several weeks at the slow pace of the oxen that drew the wagons. The women would hang buckets filled with dirty laundry, water and soap under the wagons as they traveled, and the jouncing motion washed the clothes for them. Then they discovered they could churn cream into butter the same way. The bouncing motion did not seem to bother Anna, even though for at least part of the trip she was in "a family way".

Lars' claim was crossed by the Ottertail River, near a lake, about 3.5 miles northeast of where Fergus Falls is today. The group of settlers worked together to plow the ground and plant wheat, potatoes, turnips, carrots and cabbage, and build their log cabins and stables for the livestock. The crops grew exceptionally well, and the farmers worked hard to clear and break up more land for the next year's planting. That winter, on January 10, 1870, their daughter Eline was born. She was the first white child born in the township.

Later that year a Minneapolis real estate speculator named Burdick bought land along the Ottertail River near the falls, which had been named for a man who had financed an exploration trip to the region 15 years earlier. Burdick began promoting the area and selling land to settlers. In 1872 the town of Fergus Falls was incorporated. The new town already had two bridges across the river, a flour mill, a bank, two general stores, several churches, one doctor, and eight lawyers. Perhaps the heavy legal presence is what led the town to be designated the county seat that same year.

Time passed and, despite all the lawyers, the little band of Norwegian settlers prospered and grew. Eline's brother Peter Halden was born in 1873. Their sister Inga was born on February 16, 1876, and their brother Martin was born in 1880.

There is another Scandinavian pioneer family in our story: the Johnsons, originally from Sweden. Very little is known about them. While we pursue our research, we will begin their tale here, because the first Johnson we know of, Francis A., was born in 1880, quite possibly on March 2. We don't know where he was born, though it was probably not in Sweden. There are several Swedish Johnson families going back to the 1850s in and around Red Wing, MN and the rest of Goodhue County. Our Johnsons first turn up in Bay City, Wisconsin, about 5 miles from Red Wing. But that comes later; right now, Francis is an infant and that is all we know about him.

Lars and Ann Halden produced two more children in the 1880s: Oscar Halden was born on November 16, 1883, and Alfred Halden was born on February 5, 1887.

Back in Norway, the young Ole Morud, like Lars Halden, had learned carpentry skills, as well as shoemaking. But he was the younger son and did not stand to inherit his father's farm. He was also facing compulsory military service when he turned 21, so he decided that he had a better future in America. In the spring of 1889, he packed up his prized chest of carpenter tools, and with his friend Ben Sonstrud, he took ship for the United States.

At first they joined friends in Reynolds, North Dakota. They worked as carpenters and kept an eye out for available land. They learned that unclaimed ground was available east of Warren, Minnesota, about 15 miles northeast of Grand Forks, and only about 35 miles from the Canadian border. So they journeyed to the nearest US Land Office, at Crookston, to inquire. From there they walked about 30 miles north to check out the area. They met some fellow countrymen on their hike who urged Ole and Ben to settle near them. The land was flat and mostly treeless, and there were fewer lakes in this part of the "Land of 10,000 Lakes" than in the Valer region of Norway. We don't know if this cold, empty place reminded Ole of home.

As so many settlers on the Great Plains did, Ole built a house of big blocks of tough prairie sod. As Ole's daughter later described it, "The walls were quite thick, so it would be fairly warm in winter. It had a small window on each side and a wooden door. There was a vein of white sand nearby, so after he smoothed the walls on the inside, he made a wash of the white sand to make it lighter inside. He pounded pegs into the walls to hang things on, such as the heavy iron kettle and frying pan which was called 'a spider'. He made a carpenter's bench, which he knew he would need later. This he turned upside down and filled it with shavings and hay, which he used for a bed."

Ole worked cooperatively with his neighbors, trading labor for the loan of oxen and a plow; trading firewood for the use of a sleigh to haul it from the nearest woods, eight miles away. Slowly he dug a garden, grain fields, and livestock pasture out of the virgin soil.

During the winter he visited his cousins who lived near Fergus Falls, about 115 miles south southeast of Warren. While there, he did a little carpentry, and met the Halden family. We will return there in due time.

Black and white photo of businesses in Preston, MN in 1865

Black and white photograph of a family standing in front of a sod house in 1880

Black and white photo of a street in Fergus Falls, MN in 1880

Sepia-tint wide-angle photo of the city of Red Wing, MN in 1880, showing Barn Bluff in the background

Black and white photograph of the Fergus Wagon Works, Fergus Falls, MN, 1890

Black and white  photo of men harvesting wheat by hand in a field in northern Minnesota in 1900, surrounded by shocks of wheat and horse-drawn wagons

Black and white wide-angle photo of the town of Fergus Falls, MN in 1900

Black and white photo of Main St., Warren, MN, in 1909

Color postcard painting of the town of Warren, MN in 1911

Color postcard painting of a watertower and windmill along the narrow Snake River at Warren, MN, 1919

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Photo of a dibble, a gardening tool for making holes
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