Return to Store Per

All Things Tjernagel

Three Kjersteens  |  Across the Prairies  |  Biography of Endre Christenson

Endre Christenson and Others
Remember Store Per
Nehemias Tjernagel

Endre was born in the year 1834 at Tjernagel, district of Sveen, Norway.  He lived with his parents till he reached the age of confirmation, when he was placed in the home of his uncle, Haldor Tjernagel.  As he was rather awkward and bashful he disliked the change for fear of being called upon to appear in the role of reader at the religious gatherings often held there.  having at this time a chance to earn a whole dollar by joining a fishing excursion, he snapped at the opportunity and left his uncle.

Through with this venture, he collected the dollar, donned his best clothes, packed his kit, and surreptiously left the paternal home of the fishing hamlet, Haugesund, seventeen miles distant.  Arrived there he sought the village store which he found filled to overflowing with fisherman and fellows about town, many of whom were coarse and vulgar.  The establishment was unkempt and uninviting.  He at once grew homesick and, hastily departing, walked into the darkness of night with a lump in his throat and nowhere to go.

As he approached a light near the wharf he found himself peering through the window of a sailor's house.  He knocked with some trepidation, was admitted, and found himself in the home of a relative of the noted evangelist, Hans Nielson Hauge.  He was made welcome for the night, and the next morning was berthed aboard the host's and brother's fishing smack loaded with herring for Stavanger.

Endre was persuaded by a large, muscular youth who was working his passage to lend him his dollar, but when he chanced to come upon him tying his bundle to skip ashore, it occurred to our friend that had seen the last of his money, forsoot, he recovered it there and then.  Upon demanding it he was blithely told that he need not worry as he would soon receive it.  Endre wanted it on the spot.  "Nix", said the other, whereupon Endre grabbed him by the neck, flung him to the floor and sat upon him.  At this juncture the Captain appeared.  Our hero grew unspeakably alarmed, fearing that his action might lead to arrest.  Hearing the reason for the altercation, the Captain sided with Endre, and the rascal received his deserts and Endre his silver.

Wishing to become a sailor, he sought the office of the Sea Commissioner to obtain the papers required for such a vocation.  Unused to office etiquette he did not knock, but unannounced entered by mistake an apartment occupied by a couple of spinsters who set up a lusty screaming at the sight of the rather ungainly looking visitor who had so unexpectedly dropped in on them.  He was ejected from the room without ceremony and heard the door-lock click behind him, whereupon, looking furtively about, he became aware of a pair of keen eyes regarding him fixedly through a slit in the next door.  He blurted out his errand, the door swung open, and he was invited to remove his hat and enter.  He was granted his sea-patent forthwith and he emerged from the office feeling that he was of some importance in the world.

After a few weeks' experience in sailing, which he found to be minus poetry and decidedly prosaic, he abandoned the ship and returned home to finish his work in the confirmation class.   Sad to say, many a lesson went unlearned; and not a few in the large classes those days succeeded in outwitting the overworked minister and slipped through to confirmation mostly on appearances.  Fortunately a considerable number took the work seriously and it became a blessed influence in their subsequent lives.

After confirmation, considering himself quite as grown up as anybody, he determined to cast his fortunes with the sea once more.  He looked for a position commensurate with his new-found dignity, but finally accepted the only post available, that of cook and dishwasher, the meanest job on board.  He experienced the time-honored onus which attaches to this office and became the butt of jokes, spite and ill humor which an unwritten law decreed he must bear uncomplainingly.  Once on a trip to Gothenburg, while the ship was careening madly in a storm, he was flung in a heap while carrying some victuals and received a broadside of blows from the Captain as his portion.  He was nagged and browbeaten, cursed and cuffed as a daily diversion by mischievous shipmates.  Such was the life of the novice at sea in those days.

Our friend relates that while the ship tarried at Gothenburg plenty of thieves infested the wharves, and during his shift he kept in agony of apprehension lest they outwit him and make away with the property he had been set to guard.  Pretty women with beautiful silken head-dresses would hover near with saucy lips and seductive smiles and beg him to take their dainty ‘kerchiefs in exchange for hemp rope-ends, which they unraveled and sold at a good profit to ship-builders.

Through with his novitiate, Endre gained employment aboard the sloop Nesha sailing from Bommel Island off the eastern (Nehemias likely meant to say “western”) coast of Norway near Tjernagel.  What he relates of his connection with this vessel is of special interest owing to two characters introduced here and designated as the strong men of western Norway, Rejanes of Stavanger and Store Per (Big Pete) of Tjernagel.  Concerning the latter numerous anecdotes from his subsequent life appear in these reminiscences.

Endre relates that the captain on the above-mentioned sloop and a fellow captain on a companion vessel were rivals and were constantly at odds.  Arrived in Arendal, the second captain saw Rejanes draw up alongside in his own little yacht, whereupon he conceived the idea of challenging his rival to point to a man of equal strength.  The other promptly named Store Per, who was in his employ.  It was then agreed between them that they should try to match the two in a test of strength.  It was proposed that each lift the great drag-anchor lying on deck, a feat considered impossible of performance by the sailors.  A bottle of Burgundy wine was the forfeit to be paid by the captain whose man proved the weaker in the contest.  Rejanes was induced to try first, and to the amazement of the onlookers not only lifted the huge iron but shifted its position.  Per, who was younger and less experienced nevertheless duplicated the feat.  Now rose the question as to what should be done about the wine, the contestants having proven themselves equal.  Whatever the outcome, Endre remained in ignorance and was left without a taste.

In the evening of the same day, having entered a dance hall--the floor was laid on springs--, Rejanes and Per were dubbed "Stril" (fisherman off the coast near Bergen) in derision by the dancing swains present.  Both resented this since they hailed from a section beyond the borders of the designated district.  As the offenders persisted in their taunting, being perhaps jealous of the two handsome strangers, Rejanes asked his companion if they better not throw them out.  Per said "Ja", and out through a window they were flung head foremost in quick succession, big strapping fellows though they were, twelve in all.  What the ladies thought about this extraordinary proceeding we are left to imagine.

The next morning a shipmate spoke some wicked, insulting words to Per concerning the previous night's escapade, and then took to his heels with all speed.  Per was seized with hot resentment at this unwarranted address, but being fearful of the consequences if the wretch should fall into his clutches, he did not give chase, but belabored with his fists a nearby tree until the bark was stripped clean and his wrath appeased.

Speaking further about Per, Endre quotes him as saying that only on one other occasion could he remember having been angered into complete loss of self-control.  It occurred while he was trustee in Scott township, where he lived upon coming to Iowa.  Before taking office he never gave any instructions concerning his mail, but since assuming the trusteeship he let it be clearly understood that all letters addressed to him were to be left unopened. His wishes were respected until a letter came from Norway which a news-loving Norwegian neighbor, hoping to get fresh tidings from home, prevailed on someone in Per's family to open.  When Per learned of this he was sore displeased; and his irritation increased during the day, so much so that at chore-time in the evening he felt ire surging through his veins and vitals and finally into his throat, as he expressed it.  Walking toward the dwelling at dusk he was conscious of relief at meeting no one, being uneasy about himself, for his passion had grown mightily upon him.  Arrived before the threshold, his pent-up fury made him strike out at the hardwood logs by the door.  Entering the house in a frenzy of spirit, it seemed as if a hand guided him to the bookshelf and the Bible, wherein his eye fell upon the Book of Job, which he read throughout the night.  Finally peace came to him and he asked forgiveness for his passion of God and those about him.  He would sometimes recall this occasion before friends, not wishing that anyone should think him perfect in self-control.

Though, as we have seen, Per felt anger when unbearably provoked, his generous feelings toward his fellow-man gave little room for wrath.  To illustrate:  Having bought a patch of timber adjoining a much larger tract owned by another man, the latter, upon seeing the mass of driftwood which had lodged on Per's property during river floods, asked permission to help himself to Per's supply.  Considering the circumstances, Per was much surprised at the unheard-of request, but, ever disliking to refuse a favor answered that he might take it if he needed it.  Need or no need, the other took it, sure enough.  Upon his wife's chiding him for such large-heartedness, he said he felt sure they would have enough wood anyway, so why should he not please the other who took so much satisfaction in large accumulations.

Though Per's outstanding attribute was kindness of heart, he possessed many other good qualities, a ready presence of mind being among them.  This was once vividly displayed on the journey from Illinois to Iowa.  Stone Charlson, who was a member of the party of travelers on which Per and his family were included, relates that there were twelve Prairie-schooners in the caravan together with a fair-sized drove of cattle of which Stone was one of the drivers.  When they came to the then small city of Davenport, they crossed the Mississippi on a large ferry-boat, wagons, cattle and all.  When nearly over one of the cows grew restless and unmanageable and suddenly leaped overboard.  They at once started to plan her rescue, some suggesting a rope-and-tackle contrivance, others boats and hooks, and so on.  While they were in deep consideration of these various methods, Store Per accomplished the rescue calmly and effectively by catching the bewildered creature by the horns, then dropping to his knees and drawing her bodily onto the ferry, all without wasting a word.

Another time Per, as related by his neighbor, had need of his wits, was when attempting to ford the Skunk just north of the future Grindheim bridge during high water, the stream having risen while he was away from home.  one of his oxen sank and then came up under the wagon-tongue in mid-stream, which caused this yoke-mate to struggle frantically to free himself.  So far the driver had remained on the wagon-box which he had lashed to the truck to secure it from going afloat.  Seeing, however, the danger to Buck and Pride, the animals he loved,---the pair that had the reputation of being the finest ox-team ever come out of the Fox River settlement in Illinois,--he realized that to save them quick action was necessary.  He plunged without hesitation into the water and with Herculean strength succeeded in freeing Pride, when he grabbed him by the horns, heaved him to the surface and sent him blowing and snorting off downstream.  This left him and Buck to do battle alone with the current which was gradually drawing their outfit away from the landing place.  It was now Per performed the oft-said supreme feat of his remarkable strength and courage.  He took Pride's place in the yoke and with united effort he and Buck managed to struggle ashore with the wagon and its contents intact.  Pride, upon reaching shore, absented himself forthwith, so there was nothing for Per to do but continue on in the yoke, and with Buck at his side he pulled his share of the load home three miles distant.

The following anecdotes taken from some notes of reminiscence by P. G. Tjernagel is not only of interest in itself, but because it throws a vivid side-light on certain aspects of life in the past.  They read as follows:  The sight of a prairie-fire always brought sad recollections to my father's mind.   He would refer to a letter which he had received, while he was still living in the Fox River settlement in Illinois, from his brother Per, who had moved to Iowa and settled on the prairie northeast of Story City six years before father's final coming in 1864.  The letter stated that Per's seven-year-old daughter had been overtaken by a prairie-fire and burnt to death not over eighty rods away from their dwelling.  I can remember as a youngster that the story of the dire tragedy always made us unutterably sad.  Store Per, as he was always called, though powerful and quick of action in emergencies arrived at the scene too late to bring aid to his child.

In the early days it was the custom of come to measure a man largely on the bodily strength he possessed.  There were several so-called Hoosiers, typical rail-splitters, and a few Irishmen living along the Skunk--stout, wiry fellows they were--who considered it a part of their creed to match strength amongst themselves or any from outside.  Among them was a big, muscular fellow by the name of Walter, who was recognized as champion; and when Per arrived in the neighborhood Walter eyed him with considerable interest and decided he would try and get the feel of him some day to determine what sort of stuff this big Norseman was made of.  All kinds of plans laid by the wily Yankee to engage Per in a bout with him failed.  The latter tried to make the other understand that there were other ways of proving a man's worth and ability than by a mere exhibition of agility and muscular prowess; whatever of physical strength one might possess should be put to better uses than that of purposeless tussling.  But he desired it distinctly understood that if anyone attacked him, be it unawares or otherwise, he would not hesitate to defend himself.  Hearing this Walter told himself to watch his chance to attack him, the sooner the better.  As related to us by an eye witness, the opportunity soon offered.  It occurred at a log-cabin bee where all the neighbors helped erect a house for an Irishman named Reagan.  Walter and Per were there among the rest.  Now or never, thought Walter; today shall decide who is the real champion in this neck of the woods.  As the call came for dinner and the men were leaving work, Walter suddenly jumped from the rear and set his knee right in the small of Per's back, and simultaneously gripped his man about the throat with vice-like grasp to strangle him into submission.  Per, however, took it calmly and deliberately reached a hand behind him, grabbed hold of the seat of his adversary's pants and, catching him by the nape of the neck with the other, tore him loose and flung him several paces ahead of him, where he landed with a great smack on his stomach in the grass.  The vanquished one rose without a word and made a bee-line for home leaving his portion of the excellent meal untouched.  Per walked on unperturbed, never as much as alluding to the short, but decisive, scrap.

One season Per and a number of the other settlers took some loads of wheat to one of the Boone river mills to be ground into flour.  The distance was about twenty-five miles and they reached their destination towards evening.  The mill was supposed to run night and day; but they had disappointment in store for them.  No sooner had they brought in their grist and put their teams away before the proprietor shut off milling operations for the day.  This was unlooked for and meant serious inconvenience for our friends, who were due to start for home early the next day.  As some of the housewives at home scarcely had the wherewithal to make another loaf of bread, the men must needs be off with their meal as promptly as possible.  They begged the miller to grind for them in time for the anticipated early start, but he turned a deaf ear to their entreaties.  Per stood quietly by while this was going on and noted well the outcome.  With calm but determined mien he stepped to the unloading chute and, stooping down, lifted one of the great sacks with his teeth, grasped another under each arm, and carried all three to the hopper, where he set down the enormous burden with a thud that made the mill fairly shake, and the miller also.  When he started to open the sacks preparatory to pouring their contents into the hopper he was accosted by the miller, who demanded to know what he was up to.  Per answered laconically:  "I am going to grind."  The former stood speechless, and upon closer scrutiny of what he was up against grew red and green by turns.  He decided to start the mill.

The following anecdote came to us from Lindsay Sowers, the incident occurring when he and others were delivering logs at the saw-mill by the river east of Story City.  Sowers and three of his neighbors arrived each with a load of logs, but found Store Per there ahead of them waiting for a previous owner to finish unloading.  This accomplished it was Per's turn, but those behind him thought to play him a little trick and in so doing provoke a scrap.  They drove horse-teams and were lightly loaded while Per's load consisted of some extra heavy logs drawn by oxen.  They moved up quickly and slipped in behind the first wagon before Per's easy-going bovines had so much as started.  The jokers expected immediate war, but all Per did was to halt, in no way perturbed.  He waited till the others were through unloading, when he moved his outfit into place and unhurriedly entered upon the task of removing his great timbers.  "But instead of putting them next to ours", said Sowers, "he rolled them up and over our logs into their rightful place by the mill.  The scrapping spirit forthwith left us, because I doubt very much if the four of us working together could have duplicated the feat.  We at once made up our minds that a man who had such self-control, all the while knowing how easily he could have walloped us all had he so wished, was a man whose friendship it would be to our advantage to cultivate."

Another time when Per's great strength and unfailing presence of mind proved opportune was at a barn-raising at Lars Henryson's place.  In those days all large-dimension stuff was hewn out of timber logs, the material being out and made ready for mortising together.  When a barn was built the frame-work was completed in sections to be elevated into place by the combined efforts of the dozen or so of neighbors who took part in the barn-raising; hence the latter designation.  It happened, in this instance, that after raising one of the sections into place it was left insufficiently secured and started to come down.  Noticing it, the men scurried away from the menacing timbers in a panic.  Per, however, kept cool, realizing that if he did not act promptly and effectively it was likely that someone might get caught in the falling timbers and be seriously injured.  He braced himself for what was coming and succeeded in arresting the down-crashing framework; but the terrific pressure of so much dead weight crushed into his very flesh.  Yet he did not seem excited but stood steadfast, saying reassuringly:  "I've got it boys."

A roaming cow with an exploring bent had once ventured too far into a marsh near Per's place and got herself helplessly stuck.  Her owner and several others worked valiantly to remove her, but to no avail.  They were just planning to put her out of her misery when they espied Store Per in the offing.  He did not happen to pose in the guise of a rescuer, for he wore home-made wooden shoes which were far from suitable in a quagmire.  The men told him of their ill success and that they had given up all hope of saving old Mooley.  Per said he did not know whether he could bring her out or not, but that he had a good notion to try.  ("Eg hadde bere hog te prova.")  he shuffled through the reeds to the entrapped animal, selected the best possible footing, took good hold, and lifted the helpless creature clear of the mire.  But the tremendous pull to extricate her worked his extremities down so far into the mud that the wooden shoes stuck instead of the cow.  Per wriggled out beside the grateful beast in his stocking feet, averring that he preferred making a new pair of shoes to hunting for buried treasure in the mire.

The foregoing and similar anecdotes have been related of this well known character by old friends who were eye-witnesses; and we have no reason to doubt the veracity of these persons.  All are agreed that this man possessed great muscular strength, that he had a fine disposition and a staunch character, and that he was loath to display his exceptional physical powers unless the exigency of the occasion demanded it.

He died at the age of thirty-six in the year 1863 from an intestinal disease while on a trip to Marshalltown.  He was taken home for burial and was interred at the Boe cemetery.  He died as he had lived, a Christian.  Just before his last journey his well had run dry and he had dug in desperation to reach water to supply the immediate needs of his household and livestock.  Pouring with sweat as he was finishing his work, the cold water which rose about him induced a violent reaction and, as his cousin Endre presumed, caused the paroxysms which seized him on the Marshalltown trip.  There was no doctor within ready call except a "has-been" whose license had been taken from him, presumably on account of malpractice; hence no assistance was to be had for him.  What a remarkable contrast between those times and the present when medical aid may be summoned, so to speak, on the instant.

Per was survived by one daughter, and his widow married Canute Phillops, and both of whom passed away quite well advanced in years.  One son survives them.

Reverting to the original subject of this sketch, we find Endre at the age of seventeen, year 1851 (actually 1852), quitting the sea as a sailor and embarking as an immigrant on a sail-ship bound for the United States.  he came in the company of his half-brother, Jokum Christenson and Peder Larson, (Store Per), both newly married.  There were about fifty others in the party from the same district, Sveen, whose destination was this country.  The ocean voyage lasted seven weeks.  Arriving in New York moneyless, Endre considered taking service on a boat bound for South America, but was induced by Per and his wife (the latter was Endre's half-sister and the former his cousin) to accept fare-money from them and come west in their company.

A small steamer brought them from their ship in New York to Albany.  From this place they were taken by canal-boat to Buffalo and hence by steamboat to Green Bay, Wisconsin.  A river steamer carried them a distance up the Winnebago river in the direction of Waupaca.  But their passage was more or less impeded by logs spanning the river.  Finding, finally, that further progress was impossible, the steamer was turned downstream and the passengers had no choice but to unload their belongings on the river-bank and make themselves at home as best they might in the strange surroundings.  With the exception of Jokum, who knew a few words of English, all were unfamiliar with the language of the country.  Not far from the river they discovered a hut on a hill-top where lived a Frenchman and his two squaws, but he knew no more English than they, and no Norwegian at all; hence there was little or nothing to be learned from him.  Three of the party Jokum, Mr. Nygaard and Mr. Leite, were appointed as scouts to hunt for civilization and obtain help.  Peder Christenson, Endre's half-brother, and Michael Lie, whose wife was Endre's cousin, and come to these parts considerably in advance of the others and were supposed to be located somewhere in this section.  The new immigrants hoped to get their aid to transport their families and belongings to a more promising place.  Store Per was left in charge of the camp.

Forsaken thus in the wildwoods, the little colony suffered both apprehension and loneliness, to which was added alarm when a large band of Indians arriving in canoes after dark landed and surrounded them.  The braves drew nigh quietly and watchfully, seemingly torn between timidity and curiosity concerning these strange pale-paces who had invaded their haunts.  Our friends were greatly dismayed, but agreed they must not show fear.  Per remained calm, even smiled in friendly fashion as the Indians ventured near them.  They were in full war regalia, and it is not to be wondered at if some of the more timid became uneasy at their approach.  Per bethought himself of his violin, drew it forth and played a few simple melodies.  The war-like host regarded the instrument with grave scrutiny, upon which the women importuned the player to hide it from sight as the warriors might think it a cursed thing with which to invoke evil upon them.  But nothing happened except that the Indians set to work to make fires, fetched the carcass of a deer and roasted its meat impaled on the ends of stout sticks.  The delicious odor from the roasted venison was most tempting, but none dared ask for a helping.  The uncommunicative visitors finally left as quickly as they had come, but reappeared the next night.  They continued their silence, but their attitude bespoke a keen alertness; nothing that transpired escaped their attention.  The tense, tiring situation caused the women and children to huddle together on their travelers' chests with wearied hopelessness.  Per, however, continued serene as before, and drew more tune-magic from his stringed talisman, which breathed of brotherly love and bespoke peace to his company and the strange assemblage about them.  Evidently the Redskins were reached by its message, for soon afterward the band departed in their canoes as noiselessly as they had come; and the forest zephyrs breathed a psalm of deliverance and thanksgiving which found devoted echo in the hearts of our little flock.

With nothing to eat save some stale codfish and a few dry crusts of bread, the days seemed long before the scouting party returned.  When after three days they appeared each with an ox-team, Michael Lie accompanying them with his own team, there was a happy reunion and no delay in setting off for Waupaca, their immediate destination.  Here the three ox teams were returned to their owners and the little band was left to make the best of it in an abandoned shack, presumably a lumberman's shanty.  A sack of flour was obtained and dumplings of simple ingredients hurriedly made to still the pangs of hunger.  But the food proved soggy and hard to digest, making the partakers uncomfortable as they were not accustomed to the highly refined flour in use here.  Several fell sick, among them Per, who suffered greatly.  Indeed, they were thoroughly famished for want of suitable food.  Nor could they stomach the rank bacon that they had with difficulty obtained.  That they survived in spite of a lack of the simplest provisions seems strange to us who have ever been blessed with plenty.

According to what Endre remembered there were in the party, besides himself, Filipus Knutson Leo and Kjersti his wife, Johannes Lie and family, Jacob Nygaard and family, Per and his wife, Miss Gondla Slettedne, Carl, a Swede, Jokum Christenson, wife and infant, Steffo Leite, two brothers by the name of Rymgmyr, and their companion, a carpenter.

From Waupaca they were brought a little further on their way by Michael Lie, but as he was unable to transport such a considerable party for any distance, they were obliged to halt indefinitely.  As they had no shelter they secured some fence-rails which they set up in such a fashion that a covering of hay could be placed on top and around them; and into this makeshift abode as many crowded themselves as the space allowed.  An Aakla (blanket) hung across an opening in the wall served as a door.  Jokum and Per set up a lean-to of rails on one side of the structure, roofed it over with quilts, and spread some hay on the ground for beds.  Endre and his young companions remained in the open and caught naps at odd hours.  When it rained they walked briskly to and fro in the wet to keep their joints from stiffening.

They tarried here for some time till Michael Lie decided to break the monotony by loading up some shingles which he planned to deliver at the Koshkonong settlement.  As the others couldn’t bear to be left behind, they shouldered what personal effects Michael couldn’t haul and trailed along after him.  Fortunately or unfortunately for Endre, he had abandoned his sea-chest in New York and later his “skrin” (small wooden hand trunk) when landing from the river-boat, so he had but a mere handful to carry.  Per, on the contrary, bore a mammoth burden, and as the distance was some 130 miles it was no pleasure jaunt he entered upon.  Besides he went barefoot to save shoe-leather.  They rested at night on their ankla in favored spots of grass.  They found difficulty in obtaining sufficient food, but luckily milk was generally to be had for the asking from scattered settlers, here and there, whose hearts went out to them in their need.  Only a few showed them the cold shoulder.  One woman threw the milk asked for on the ground when she heard they couldn’t afford to pay her price.  At another place they found a family of professed Christians, who, upon surrendering some of their surplus milk, charged them double price for it.

After a week of travel in this fashion they arrived, footsore and weary at Koshkonong.  Here they found many settlers of their own nationality, this being one of the oldest Norwegian settlements in America.  The pretty hills and dells of this section reminded them of the mountains and valleys in the old country, and with cheer and kindliness shown them on every hand they soon felt themselves at home.

After resting at Koshkonong Jokum and Endre set out afoot for Milwaukee, eighty miles distant.  They had as guide a man who was taking a load of wheat to market, and they followed him a considerable part of the distance.  In one place they halted and worked a whole day for a good meal.  Though they filled themselves to capacity it was not long before they were as hungry as ever.  Temptation to stay their appetites at another’s expense came in the form of an apple orchard, but they had scarcely swallowed the first glorious mouthful of the delicious fruit before some watch-dogs appeared on the scene and took a bite out of them.  They saved most of their skin but continued empty of stomach till they finally reached their destination.  They secured a lodging-place, but it proved uninviting enough, for in the morning they found two dead from cholera in the room where they had slept.  Luckily they escaped this dread disease, which was then raging in the city.  Jokum accepted service at once on a lake vessel as first mate.  Eventually he became a ship-owner himself and one of the influential citizens of Milwaukee.  Endre took hire on the same boat as a common sailor, plied the lakes on various craft later, then drifted to Chicago, and from there finally made his way to the Fox River settlement in Illinois.

In the year 1858 Endre left Illinois for Iowa in the company of his mother, his two sisters, Helen, later Mrs. Haaver Thorson, and Bertha, later Mrs. Knute Nelson, Erick and Knute Egland, and a Mr. Oino.  They used oxen as their motive power and the trip lasted three weeks.  Lars Henryson, Paul Thompson, Tjernan Charlson (Halsnes), Christen Skarhaug and Mons Grove, all with their families, came at the same time.  Endre's party preferred to travel separately and kept themselves a few miles ahead of the others during the whole journey.  It rained much during their period of travel and they had difficulty in fording swollen streams and in crossing poorly built bridges.

As they reached the Indian reservation near Tama, Iowa, they were joined by three grocery-haulers who had four oxen with two bulls in lead on each wagon.  In the evening Endre, the grocerymen and others, crossed the river to explore the Indian domicile there.  As they entered the timber they were met by some ferocious Indian dogs that sent them all scurrying with the exception of the oldest grocery-peddler, who braved the canines and soon whistled for the timid ones to return.  Upon again assembling they met face to face with some Indian braves who showed friendship by escorting them into the deep timber where they were holding a dance and pow-wow.  The visitors were invited to seat themselves on straw mats and witness the performance, but they had no sooner accepted the invitation when one of the dancers snatched away Endre's hat and he saw himself going bareheaded the rest of the journey.  His companions laughed; and he too joined when the circling dancers dexterously gathered up the hats of the rest of the party.  They made a feint as if to conceal them, but suddenly returned them as deftly and unexpectedly as they had been snatched away.

While watching the Indians in their dancing contortions the head grocer suddenly divested himself of his hampering garb, jumped into the swaying circle, and joined in the gaieties.  This gave great glee to the entertainers, the squaws especially.  He took one on each arm, whirled them around, hoisted himself to their shoulders and performed many other antics for their entertainment.  Suddenly a stentorian voice broke through the night, whereupon silence fell; and quietly as a whisper the vast throng faded mist-like into the forest, leaving our party bewildered and alone.  The call of the chief ended the merriment for the night.

After buying a farm five and a half miles northeast of Story City, Endre went back to Illinois, ostensibly for the purpose of annexing a wife, and, sure enough, he found a most estimable help-meet in the person of Julia Nelson Solbjor.  They were married in 1860 and made their home permanently on the place he had chosen in Iowa, remaining there till their death, Julia passing away in 1912 and Endre ten years later in his 88th year.  They were church people and died in the realization of God's mercies and in the hope of a better life to come.  Endre was survived by three of his children; eight had preceded him in death.

With an abundance of material blessings, thanks to their thrift and economy, Endre and Julia had been enabled to establish a comfortable home where hospitality abounded.  Mother Julia was widely known for her excellent home-making qualities and for her kind concern for all who came and went at her house.  Especially did the many hired hands they had throughout the years testify to this.  We would make particular mention of the large weddings celebrated at this hospitable homestead; the several daughters were given their final send-off therefrom in elegant style.  The whole countryside came upon invitation and enjoyed a grand holiday; the bride was in ecstasy and the bridegroom in clover.  There was enough of the best to eat, and to spare, and the visiting and feasting continued all day and into the wee small hours of the night.  Such was the old fashioned wedding.  The bridal couple did not slip away from their friends immediately after the ceremony--invariably performed in church--, but shed their luster on the assemblage to the very end.  There was no hurried departure on a wedding-trip, hence no waste of rice, nor of old shoes, which latter were either taken to the shoe-surgeon to be patched or saved for fuel.  Almost invariably the happy couple settled down promptly in a nest of their own and began at once to plan, work and save for days to come.  Often on the marriage night the newly-weds were serenaded by a charivari crowd made up of acquaintances who had not been included at the nuptial feast.  Their advent was heralded by a prodigious racket and a demand for smokes and for toothsome left-over morsels, the more the better.  They were out for a lark and as a rule were tractable, though noisy.

Endre was good at word-pictures and could relate graphically his many and varied experiences.  Often have we listened with keenest interest to his narratives, but they have mostly, to our regret, escaped from memory.  We will, however, in closing, submit an added sketch from his life touching the Indian uprisings in connection with the Spirit Lake Massacre.

On a Sunday afternoon in the long ago, as our friend was reading a religious discourse before his assembled household, his aged mother suddenly interrupted him with the explanation:  "Look at all the cattle!"  But her vision was at fault and instead of cattle three files of Redskins advancing in regulation Indian fashion were approaching, the center file heading straight for the house.  A few braves mounted on ponies rode back and forth between the lines to communicate orders.  Our friends grew alarmed and, hoping to escape the oncoming hordes, hurriedly left in the direction of Store Per's place to the south, Endre grabbing one child and his wife's brother, a soldier, the other.  Mr. Keefe, who occupied the place later owned by Rasmus Eie, met them on the way and bade them be of good cheer as he did not think the warriors would molest them while on the march.  They kept filing by at intervals till sundown, when we may presume they made camp.  The narrator said it was an unforgettable sight as he viewed the multi-colored pageant of the prairie winding in and out among the hills as far as the eye could reach.  He judged there were thousands of the paint-bedaubed, feather-bedecked braves in the vast company.  A few belated youthful stragglers brought up the rear and were crying.  It seemed strange to Mr. Keefe that an Indian warrior should so forget himself as to shed tears, and so sought to learn the reason.  But no word was vouchsafed him.  Evidently the rigors of the warpath had been too much for them and they were downcast because they were likely to miss the anticipated fray.

A friend of Endre was one of the unfortunate victims of the Spirit Lake tragedy.  The family had been warned of the impending danger, but had tarried on in their home, disliking to leave.  The consequences were that when the warring hordes came upon them there was bloodshed, the husband was killed near their dwelling, while the wife was seized and stripped and forced to witness the slaughter of her baby.  She expected to meet a similar fate, but fortunately found an opportunity to hide in the tall grass and thus escaped.

(Transcribed July 2007 by Phil Rhodes with minor editing.  Original title “Endre Christenson, and Others”.)

Download pdf
return to top of page