Thursday, January 15, 2009

Minnesota Norwegians

The Norwegian journalist Paul Hjelm-Hansen was appointed by the governor of Minnesota as a special agent of the newly established Board of Immigration on June 5, 1869, recommended by Senator Aaker. Helm-Hansen was mostly concerned with promoting Norwegian settlement. His name has to a special degree become associated with the Red River Valley, and he is regarded as the one who opened up this area, in both North Dakota and Minnesota, to Norwegian settlement.

He emigrated from Norway a mature and experienced man of fifty-seven in 1867. He became concerned with the increasing number of his compatriots who for one reason or another settled in a city, such as Chicago, where, as he warned in Norwegian-American newspapers, they would become a part of a workers' proletariat, re-create the conditions they had left by emigrating, and be "doomed to poverty and annihilation." He made himself a spokesman for the healthy life as a farmer on the fertile soil of Minnesota.

In the summer of 1869, Hjelm-Hanson went by ox-drawn wagon from Alexandria in Douglas County all the way to the Red River district [the region around the Red River of the North in what became Manitoba...] When he returned to Alexandria after three weeks, he wrote his travel accounts, sixteen in all. These were printed in the newspapers Nordisk Folkeblad (Nordic People's Paper) and Fadrelandet og Emigranten (The Fatherland and the Emigrant). Hjelm-Hansen underscores how advantageous the new regions would be for "Scandinavian farmers" and how healthy "the clean air" is. For potential farmers, it was perhaps more important to know that the land was "to the highest degree fertile and extraordinarily easy to cultivate, for there was not as much as a stone or a stump to block the plow."

From The Promise of America by O.S. Lovoll
My own family, on my father's side, was part of that wave of Norwegian emigration. They settled in Polk County near McIntosh, Angus, and Tabor. Later his uncle opened a cafe in St. Vincent, and while working there, my father met a local girl he eventually married, my mother...