When my grandfather left Norway for the American land of opportunity in 1870 at age 21, he had in his possession a Certificate of Removal, signed by the Minister of Nerstrand, Norway. It stated his name, date of birth, his parents' names and that, "In occasion of his removal to America, I confirm that he has not bound a friend with public promise of marriage, and I do not know anything disadvantageous about the way he has behaved." He boarded a sailboat, which if the winds were favorable, could cross the ocean in five weeks. Unfortunately, this ship encountered many bad storms along the way, and the westerly winds caused them to drift backward many a day. The journey lasted longer than the provisions on board. In time, the food came to an end. Days passed with no land sightings, and the passengers grew desperate. Finally it was decided that they would cast lots to see who would have to sacrifice his life to feed the others. After the lots were drawn, it was customary to wait three days before taking action. Fortunately, land was sighted on the third day!
A group of travel-weary, grateful Norwegians disembarked at Quebec, Canada, after 14 weeks aboard their sailing vessel. Hungry, lonely and unable to understand the strange language, my grandfather set out to find work. He was grateful to secure a position loading wheat on steamboats. With a large bag balanced on each shoulder, he cautiously walked the narrow plank from the land to the boat, knowing that one misstep would throw him in the water.
His destination was Iowa, where friends and relatives had settled. After a few weeks he moved on to Wisconsin, where he found employment in a sawmill. Later he journeyed to Rushford, Minnesota, and worked on the railroad. For a year and a half, he labored long hours and drew only as much of his wages as he needed to live on. When he was certain he had enough money to make it to Iowa, he went to collect his accumulation of wages, only to find that the section boss had skipped out, taking the entire payroll with him.
Discouraged, my grandfather hopped aboard a freight train and got a free ride to Hayfield, Minnesota, where he found work on a farm. When haying time came, they pitched the hay onto a flat rack pulled by a team of horses. Grandfather stood atop the load to stack the hay. The rack rocked back and forth, moving across the rough slough, and since there was nothing to hang onto, Grandfather was thrown from the load and run over by the wheels of the rack. Both of his legs were broken. No doctor was available, so he tied boards on each of his legs and laid with these splints until his bones healed.
After recovering, he moved to New Sharon, Iowa, where he finally reached his relatives. It was now 1873. Folks worked long hours to earn 50 cents a day. The Panic of 1873 had forced the banks to close, and many merchants had to accept eggs and butter as payment for merchandise. Grandfather labored in this area until he had enough money to purchase a wagon and a team of horses.
With his prized possessions, he drove to Hamilton County, Iowa, where he arrived at the home of a good friend from Norway. After four years, he had finally reached his destination! Land adjoining his friend's farm was for sale, so Grandfather purchased 80 acres for $7.50 an acre. He paid $100 down and got a mortgage for $500 at 15-percent interest. Four years later he had to increase that mortgage to $530. That fall he had a good corn crop, so he fattened up his 60 head of hogs and chased them to the nearest railway station, 20 miles away, where he received 2 cents a pound for each hog. That kept him from losing the farm.
There were many struggles ahead, but with his strong body, tireless energy, tenacious courage and strong faith in God, he became a successful pioneer who lived within his means and cared for his obligations, taught himself English by reading the Bible, married, reared nine children and was proud to be an American.
Story City, Iowa
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.