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Every American schoolchild knows tales of Paul Bunyan and Babe, his blue ox– myths that emerged from the lumber camps of the Upper Midwest.In contrast, few people know about Store Per, a flesh and blood strong man who grew up in Norway, and then left for America with little more than his bride, his Bible, and his violin. After a brief encounter with the pinewood forests of Wisconsin, the young couple found their bearings in the New World while living among fellow Norwegians in Illinois, then crossed the Mississippi to wrest a farm from the virgin prairie of central Iowa. Per toiled with his oxen, made music with his violin, and experienced joy as well as excruciating sorrow. At times, his temper flared. He knew that he fell short of God’s standards but he did not despair. Wherever he went his optimism, feats of strength, competence, and good humor raised people’s spirits.
Like the Paul Bunyan tales, the Store Per stories passed through the lens of Scandinavian exaggeration. Therefore, some of the paragraphs that follow present a larger than life man. Nevertheless, at the core of the stories is a real person with aspirations and faults, hopes and dreams, who lived, loved, toiled, believed, and died.
Was he just another frontiersman, or, in the language of his native land, “enestaende,” unique and in a class by himself? (Peter Tjernagel Harstad)
Part of Store Per's story is told in "The Three Kjerstines" by Peter G. Tjernagel
Store Per's farm, and the pioneer cemetery located there is is featured on the
Churches and Cemeteries page of this site
In 1941, L. J. Tjernagel told the Store Per story in a letter (from the
Berven collection) [download pdf]
Additional Store Per lore is found in Nehemias Tjernagel's
Biography of Endre Christenson [download pdf]
An Account of Store Per's death told by Endre Christenson to Bertha Tjernagel
|Store Per's Family
Shortly before leaving Norway, Peder Larson married Malene Christensdatter.
After Per's death, Malene married another cousin, Canute Phillops. (see Phillops page)
Of five children born to Store Per and Malene, three boys died in infancy and the first born, Helga, was killed by a prairie fire at age six. The one surviving child was Bertha Christine Larson who married Samuel Espe.
Front: Sam Espe, Austin, Alfred, Bertha
Rear: Clara, Helen, Peter, Christine, Caroline
Peter Tjernagel Harstad is preparing a short, book-length biography of Store Per. Watch here for publication information.
A prize-winning film edition based on this material has been produced by Nathan Harstad. The DVD is available for $20 plus $3.00 postage.
Order Store Per DVD
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