Land of Opportunity: Man First to Immigrate, Serves in the Civil War

Hanson journeyed to land of opportunity and worked with timber in Wisconsin.

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“I was born on the farm of Østerud in Hurdal on February 22, 1831, baptized on March 13, 1831, and confirmed October 21, 1846. I journeyed to America on April 5, 1854.” Thus began the story of Gulbrand Hanson Østerud, later known as Gilbert Hanson, the second son of Hans Gulbrandson Østerud and Kari Gulliksdatter and the first of the Hanson clan to immigrate to America, the land of opportunity. During his first two years in America, 1854-56, Gulbrand lived in Racine County, Wisconsin. He and Ole Oleson Østerud worked together on a farm near Yorkville. It is likely that he went to Green Bay to work in the pineries, chopping timber in the winter months. He is not mentioned by name in the letter of November 20, 1854, which was written by Hans Christian Gullickson, but Ole and Gullickson were to leave for Green Bay on November 24 and would stay there until the first of April. Pay for working in the pineries was $25 per month plus room and board.

In the summer of 1854 there was a cholera epidemic. Many of the newcomers died. The people blamed the American food and the hot weather for the disease, but the swampy Muskego area and the poor sanitation were probably the real reasons for the epidemic. The miserable sickness led to 10 or 12 burials per day. With the coming of cold weather the epidemic slackened, but the summers of 1855 and 1856 were apparently just as bad.

In September 1856 Gulbrand and Ole set out for Minnesota. Ole wrote: "Muskego is the worst pest-hole I have ever been in ..." and they moved to "the healthy place."

They left Racine, Wisconsin, passing through Beloit, Wisconsin; Dunleith (now East Dubuque), Illinois; Lansing, Waukon, Freeport, Decorah and Ridgeway, Iowa, according to Ole's diary. The route suggests that they took the train from Racine to East Dubuque (a railroad follows this route on an 1854 map of Wisconsin) and a boat up the Mississippi River to Lansing. From Lansing they went inland in Iowa to Ridgeway where, the story goes, they met their friends, the Hallings, Hellicksons and Olsons, all of whom traveled together to Minnesota.

Nearing Spring Valley, they stopped at the John Bateman farm and inquired about land with woods and water. Mr. Bateman told them to go southwest about three miles, where they would find good land. They went, one mile east and one-half mile south from Ostrander. Gulbrand and Ole took for themselves adjoining l00-acre farms in Section 33. According to an act of Congress approved March 3, 1855, the land was military bounty, but the man to whom it was originally assigned didn't want it, so it was available for settlement. The two men arrived on their farms October 8, 1856. Gulbrand had his worldly goods shipped from Racine, at a cost of $11.25. On October 16 they went to Chatfield to register their land at the General Land Office. Gulbrand's land was patented on April 10, 1860, by President James Buchanan.

It is a fine piece of land, one of the best in the area: high and gently rolling. The south branch of the Root River flows a short distance north of this farm. The soil is glacial drift loam. Originally the farm had a great deal of timber, which was a source of firewood and building materials. The woodland ran from its present location, next to the house, to the cemetery.

Nothing is known of Gulbrand's first years on the farm except that he had to go to Decorah for supplies and to have his grain ground. Arriving in October, he must have had to build a shelter to live in that first winter. The settlers didn't waste time getting their land under the plow and growing crops such as wheat, barley, rye and corn. They also raised hogs for meat. Later, as they were able to acquire them, they raised cattle and poultry and planted fruit trees.

The first house Gulbrand built on his land was a solid structure that is still standing today. It is a double-walled house, built of upright log studs covered inside and out with broad sawed boards. The spaces between the two walls were filled with sawdust. Later, the outside of the house was covered with clapboard. It is a two-story house, containing two rooms: one downstairs and one up.

A number of the early settlers in the area came from Hurdal, Norway. They founded a little village named Hurdal, which was located at the first crossroads north of the farm. It had a store, two blacksmith shops and a few houses. The village has disappeared, and the corner is now a pasture.

Their post office, which opened in the spring of 1856, was in the village of Etna, two miles east of the homestead, near the Root River.

Gulbrand's brothers, Lars Norgaarden and Andreas (Andrew) Hanson, with their wives and children, came to America in 1857 and settled on farms nearby. There were still Indians in Minnesota at that time, and Andreas’ wife, Maria, had a scare one day when she came into the house from the field and found one standing in the kitchen. He said he wanted some food, which she gave him, and he went on his way.

In 1861 Gulbrand's father, Hans Gulbrandson Østerud, came to America in the company of his daughter Caroline, "Lena," his oldest daughter, Ingeborg, and Ingeborg's husband and four children. Hans' wife, Kari Gullicksdatter Østerud, had died in November 1858. His sons were in this country, and there had been crop failures in Norway, so, 66 years old and blind, Hans came to spend his remaining years here.

Their party arrived by boat at McGregor, Iowa. Hans' son, Lars Norgaarden, met them with a wagon and team of oxen. All the baggage was piled on the wagon, and Hans and some of the others rode on top. Caroline, Lars and the rest of the travelers walked the 125 miles to Bloomfield.

The Civil War had broken out, and on November 6, 1862, Gulbrand was sworn in as a First Regiment private in the Minnesota Mounted Rangers; he had volunteered to serve for 12 months in the United States Army. He enlisted under the name of Gilbert Hanson, which is the first known record of him changing his name. He was mustered in at Fort Snelling, Minnesota. Roll-call vouchers do not show where he served in the army until the summer of 1863, when it was noted that he was absent from roll call because of being "on detached service as escort to a provision train to Locquin Partes." It has been said that he guarded prisoners of war on a troop train. He was mustered out on December 1, 1863. Gilbert's brother, Andreas, "Andrew," was drafted into the army at this time.

Their father and Andrew's wife took care of their farms for them while they were gone. On August 24, 1864, Gilbert voluntarily re-enlisted, this time into Company I of the 11th Regiment of Minnesota Volunteers. He was mustered into the service at Fort Snelling on September 1, 1864, for a period of one year. He was paid a bounty of $100 for this enlistment and $53.12 for clothing. He was mustered out of the army on June 26, 1865, at Gallatin, Tennessee.

Dorothy Collins
San Antonio, Texas

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then CAPPER’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from CAPPER’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.