Velkommen til Westby

Velkommen til Westby

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Union of Our Savior’s and St. Petri Congregations

St. Petri church was located in the south center area of Saugstad Cemetery  


St. Petri Lutheran Church was organized in the year 1868, twenty years before the founding of Our Savior’s Church. This congregation was a member of the former Norwegian Augustana Synod. It is to be regretted that no records from this congregation can be found, and since all of the members of its congregation have passed away, little is to be found of historical value.

The first pastor of St. Petri Congregation was the Reverend Peter L. Asbjørnsen. Reverend Asbjørnsen was born August 30, 1824, in Stavanger, Norway. He was pastor at several places in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. He served the parish at Westby from his parsonage at Rushford, Minnesota.

The second pastor to serve St. Petri Congregation was the Reverend Andreas Wright. Reverend Wright was born September 13, 1835, at Nærø, Ytre Namdalen, Norway. He came to America in 1860. He worked as a tailor and as a farmer for about ten years and in 1870 was called to the St. Petri Congregation. The following year he moved to Rushford, Minnesota, evidently to succeed Reverend Asbjørnsen in that parish, but continued to serve St. Petri Congregation from there for about ten years, or until 1881. Pastor Wright became quite a figure in the Augustana Synod in later years, becoming its secretary and later the president of same. He was for many years editor of “Luthersk Kirketidende,” the official organ of the Augustana Synod.

The third and last pastor of the St. Petri Congregation was the Reverend H.L. Haakenson, who was called in 1881, and remained the pastor until the dissolution of the congregation in 1889. Reverend Haakenson was born in Stavanger, Norway, on February 16, 1845, and came to American in 1870. He was pastor at Neenah and Manitowoc, Wisconsin, at Newburg, Minnesota, and at Spring Valley, Minnesota before coming to Westby.

Though the congregation as organized in 1868, the church was not built until 1878. The church was located on the ground which is now Our Savior’s cemetery. Lumber for this church was hauled, so it is said, from La Crosse during the winter months. Members of the congregation would drive to La Crosse one day, load, and return the next. Nils Knaien, one of the members of the congregation, was in charge of building the church, assisted by members of the church who donated their labor. Those who remember, state that the pulpit was a beautiful piece of hand work, being made from a great number of small pieces.

The first “klokker” in the congregation was J.P. Flugstad, later precentor and school teacher in Our Savior’s Congregation. Theodore Saugstad was the organist. The first children baptized in the congregation were Clara Saugstad and Even Messenlien. This was in 1868.

As has been noted above, the pastor usually came from quite a distance to serve the congregation. When here he always made his home at the Even Saugstad home.

At the first official meeting of Our Savior’s congregation, on November 9, 1888, a union of Our Savior’s Congregation with the St. Petri Congregation was mentioned. Many of the members, together with their pastor, the Reverend H.L. Haakenson, were present and were made advisory members of the meeting. A resolution urging Pastor Haakenson’s congregations on Coon Prairie and his congregations in La Crosse to join with Our Savior’s in one or more congregations, was passed. At the various meetings of Our Savior’s Congregation in 1888 and during the first part of 1889, many of the members of St. Petri, and at times their pastor, Reverend Haakenson were present. Reverend Haakenson also conducted services for Our Savior’s in the Smith School house. An offering was given Pastor Haakenson for his services. Later pastor Haakenson, at the instigation of Our Savior’s Congregation, conducted worship for both congregations in the Westby Temperance Hall. Members were urged to call on Reverend Haakenson for their pastoral services. It was not, however, until July 1, 1889, that a union between the two congregations was perfected. 

At the meeting of Our Savior’s Congregation on July 1, 1889, both St. Petri and Our Savior’s congregations declared their organizations to be dissolved and a new constitution which had been worked out by the two groups together was adopted. The members of St. Petri Congregation at the time of the union were Johannes Flugstad, Sigbjørn Constalie, E.T. Saugstad, Ole Kilen, Just Olsen, Ole Melby, Johannes Kolbo, Jacob Lovaas, Mathias Messenlien, Christian Skaug, Emert Berg, Morton Rasmussen, Hans Jørn Rasmussen, Nils Gyland, Olaie Kjelland, Tom Swiggum, Hans Messenlien, Nils Knaien, Ole Messenlien, Ole Justin, Iver Lium, Johannes Lium, Klemit Gulbrandson, Christian I. Smerud, Johannes Smerud. This group was not so large in numbers in comparison with the number in Our Savior’s Congregation, but their union with Our Savior’s was of great value, especially because of the deep spiritual life many of these people brought with them. The members of the old St. Petri congregation are all dead, but their works do follow after them, and their influence is still felt in many of the homes in Our Savior’s Congregation.

Already at the first official meeting of Our Savior’s congregation, the organization meeting held on November 9, 1888, a union of Our Savior’s Congregation with the St. Petri Congregation was mentioned. Many of the members, together with their pastor, the Reverend H.L. Haakenson, were present and were made advisory members of the meeting. A resolution urging Pastor Haakenson’s congregations on Coon Prairie and also his congregations in La Crosse to join with Our Savior’s in one or more congregations was passed. At the various meetings of Our Savior’s Congregation in 1888 and during the first part of 1889, many of the members of St. Petri, and at times their pastor, Reverend Haakenson, were present, each time being made advisory members. Reverend Haakenson also conducted services for Our Savior’s in the Smith School house. An offering was given Pastor Haakenson for his services. Later Pastor Haakenson, at the instigation of Our Savior’s Congregation, conducted worship for both congregations in the Westby Temperance Hall. Members were urged to call on Reverend Haakenson for their pastoral services. It was not, however, until July 1, 1889, that a union between the two congregations was perfected. 

Coon Prairie 'Old Town' Wisconsin

Coon Prairie, Wisconsin “Old Town”
Photo taken from the location of today’s Old Towne Inn Supper Club

South of Coon Prairie lies a large and very rough landscape where those from Sogn have their center in America. This settlement is also a direct result of Even Gullord’s leadership. In 1851 Ingebret Ness from Koshkonong came to Coon Prairie to seek land. When he could not find what he wanted, he went 25 miles southwest following the rivers until he came to that prairie which is named West Prairie. Here he settled down and there gathered around him in time about 3,000 from Sogn. Nearly all were from Lyster and Aardal. This large area was also for many years a part of the Coon Prairie pastoral district.

An interesting story is told about Tjøstul Øium, the first together with his brother Iver, from Gudbrandsdal at Coon Prairie. Tjøstul Øium got a piece of land a couple of miles west of where the city of Westby later was built. Here he dug himself a hole on a hillside, put up a door at the front and a chimney on the top. This way he got an inexpensive, fireproof and warm home. He had promised to write home about the advantages in America, but ink and pen are not easily found in an earth shelter and besides he thought he had not yet seen anything to brag about.

Meanwhile at home in Øium in North Fron, people waited in suspense to hear how it had gone with him who had left for America. When a couple of years had gone by without news, the younger brother, Iver, could not wait longer and decided to leave. He came across the ocean and found his way west as had all others. Since nearly all the Norwegian immigrants then sought Koshkonong, he also came there. Here he asked everyone about his brother, but no one knew anything about him. Tjøstul must have been lost on the journey, he thought.

It was necessary now that he find a piece of inexpensive land, and he heard about the new settlements both to the north and the west. There seemed to be more said about Coon Prairie than any other place, and together with some other immigrants he found the way up to Coon Prairie. This high wide prairie was not in the least like Gudbransdal, and he did not like it here. He went northward a few miles and came upon a deep and sheltered valley which he called Timber Coulee. This was the most beautiful spot he had seen in America, and here he settled, the first white settler in the valley.

A bit later, when he was nearly out of food, he was out with his gun hunting along the streams and side valleys for deer or bear. About 2 to 3 miles from his cabin he saw far to the southwest smoke rising. That meant people surely -- truly his nearest neighbor. I wonder what kind of person that is? He stood for awhile watching the smoke and had a strong desire to go there immediately. But, since it was already late in the day, he hurried home, but, before he left he put two stakes in the ground a bit apart from each other so sighting from the first to the second pointed the way toward the smoke column.

The next day, afternoon, he hurried away to greet his neighbor. This time he did not see any smoke, but he took the direction from his stakes and searched thoroughly and long without finding a dwelling. At last he came down in the upper end of a small valley and found a spring. Here he laid down and drank from the spring, then he got up and looked around for a way back. Then he saw a door in the hillside which seemed to lead right into the hill. He knocked on it, but heard no sound. He knocked again, but without results. Truly there was no one home. He took a look inside to assure himself.

Far back in a dark corner he saw something that looked like a bed. A man lay there sleeping. Iver went over there to see the man. He was dark and bearded, but Iver thought there was something familiar about him. He went nearer and looked more closely. Good gracious, it was his own brother, Tjøstul!

The man seemed to awaken at this steady stare. He raised up in bed, rubbed his eyes and looked at the stranger. He rubbed his eyes again and stared wordless at him. Then he exclaimed: “But, Iver, how in the world did you find your way here?”

Coon Prairie Congregation

Construction was started in 1875 and continued for most of the next 10 years on Coon Prairie’s second church. On Easter Sunday in 1909 this beautiful church was burned to the ground except for the stone walls. Notice the curved balcony.

A pioneer who played an active role in Coon Prairie congregation’s history was Ingebret K. Bjørseth, the church’s first teacher and the township’s first chairman. He was born in Molde in Romsdal, Norway, became a seminary student and then got a teaching position in Biri. Here he married a sister of Syver N. Galstad. When the “American fever” of the early 1850s gripped the Biri area and threatened to depopulate the whole vicinity, he decided also to leave, and arrived summer of 1850 on Coon Prairie. Here he began to gather the settlement’s children and youth at school. He also held devotional meetings the following winter and prepared for the instruction of the congregation. He had a confirmation class of eleven boys and girls who were confirmed by Pastor N. Brandt at his next visit in July 1852.

He was also an expert carpenter, and performed most of the work in building the county’s first mill. This was located in Bloomingdale. For himself he built a house just southeast of the present Westby. The house had two floors, the uppermost was used as a school room. This was the first school in Vernon County.

All the old settlers agree that Bjørseth was an exceptional teacher, but especially strict. He also had a very good voice and conducted singing practice which was popular with the young people. Because of his abilities and careful work, Bjørseth was a highly respected man. But, unfortunately some painful incidents suddenly arose which made it necessary for Bjørseth to quit his teaching and to break his association with the congregation. His powerful voice which had formerly led the hymn singing and had encouraged everyone to join in, was no longer heard and people felt that the devotions had lost half their meaning.

So it was that one Sunday in church the hymn singing seemed especially sluggish. It was not as in the old days, it seemed, when all took part in the best spirit and sang from the heart. Then suddenly there was heard a known and strong voice which filled the church. People looked happily at one another as if to say: “Now you shall see that Bjørseth has straightened out matters and everything will be as before.” But, this was the last time that Bjørseth sang in church for he left immediately after to go north to Dunn County where in the vicinity of Ole Rønning, was one of the first pioneers.

Bjørseth did not stay there, but moved in a few years to Eau Claire. At this time there began a large migration to Dakota Territory and he decided to seek his luck there. He built a large flat-bottomed boat in the middle of which he raised a comfortable cabin. In this he brought his furniture and other necessary things together with his family. Thereupon he departed to travel by water to Dakota. The journey was long – first 100 miles down the Chippewa River, then 700 miles down the Mississippi to St. Louis, and then finally 800 miles up the Missouri River to Yankton in South Dakota – but after a long time he did arrive. Here he got a good farm on the rich Dakota prairie.

But, here too he was not at peace. In a few years he left again, although old and infirm, to become one of the first pioneers in Washington. Here he settled at Paulsbo, out near the Pacific ocean, where he at last died.

Without question he was a descendant of the old, strong-willed Vikings from Romsdal who in earlier days had sailed in every sea.

Another prominent man who came during the first 50 years and who also was a teacher and precentor was Gunder Sørum. He was not grim and aggressive as Bjørseth, but happy and quiet. He had the most thankless task of going around to collect he congregation’s assessments. All members of the congregation were then for many years assessed between three and four percent of their real and personal property for the church’s expenses, and this was a cause for much misunderstanding. The salary would not sustain anyone for he got only a dollar a day for this unpleasant task. But, since this was additional work, he carried it out faithfully as long as this system was in use. And, thanks to his appeasing nature, he was incredibly good at collecting this heavy tax.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Norway to Coon Prairie

Coon Prairie Lutheran Church and parsonage in the late 1800s
On the same ship which brought Ole T. Gullord and his neighbors, there were several from Gudbrandsdal, namely Tjøstul Amundsen Øium and Ole Dalen, the first two to emigrate from South and North Fron: Clemet Clemetsen Berg and his brother Jon Hovde, together with Ingebret C. Berg, all from Musdalen in Øier, together with Martin Paul Haugen and his son Amund from Gausdal. Ole Gullord showed them Even’s orderly letter on ship. They decided therefore to follow those from Biri to Coon Prairie. It followed that Coon Prairie and Coon Valley became the first and largest settlements of people from Gudbrandsdal in America. Ole Syverson Kankerud from Gausdal also came in 1849 but on another ship.

Lars Christophersen was from Feiring in Hurdal. He came over in 1848 on the same ship as Even Gullord. Just after his arrival he enlisted in the army and served in the American war. In 1849 after he was discharged, he came to Coon Prairie to locate Even Gullord. As a veteran he received 160 acres of land and bought another 160 acres in addition. He was the first Norseman in Vernon County to secure a patent on his land, since his deed bears the date of 12 June 1849. He later had many farms, but was such an erratic person that it was said that he never harvested where he sowed. It is probable that he was the reason for the large immigration of people from Hurdal who during the 1850s found the way to North Coon Prairie. It is possible that he was from the Haug farm in Feiring, because he had a son who later became a pastor named Louis C. Hill. Another son, Christian Hill, was an exceptional mechanic, and it is said that he invented “ball bearings.”

On the same ship with Ole T. Gullord also was Helge Gulbrandsen Skare from Sigdal. He was the first man who was not at peace with Coon Prairie. He thought the weather was too severe. After having looked around, he went in the fall of 1849 down in Coon Creek Valley where he took up land at the junction of Timber Coulee and Spring Coulee. Since he was the first man to settle in Coon Creek Valley, the valley for a long time was called Helge Valley after him.

Coon Prairie was not only the first center for people from Biri, Gudbrandsdal and Hurdal — it was also the first settlement of people from Flekkefjord. The first to emigrate from Flekkefjord was Trond Konstalie, who came from there to Muskego early in the 1840s. His brother, Bernt Tobias also came in 1845. They found the climate in Muskego unhealthy, and when they heard in 1850 about Coon Prairie, traveled there immediately. Not long after many came from Flekkefjord and Egersund areas to Coon Prairie.

There were also several from Telemark at Coon Prairie. The first was Høie Ouversen Kjørkjebø who came to Coon Prairie in 1849. He was a member of the first group of emigrants who came from Hvideseid in 1843. Many from the same parish came later to Coon Prairie.

The next from Telemark was Ole Aslaksen Rønning, a seminarian from the Mo pastoral district. He had also emigrated from Telemark in 1843, lived for a while at Koshkonong and came to Coon Prairie in 1850. Here he became one of the most respected men. But, in 1862 together with several others he went to Dunn County in Northern Wisconsin where he founded a large Norwegian settlement. He settled in a valley east of Colfax, which was called Running Valley after him. Two Norwegian churches in this valley bear his name. He is remembered by everyone up there with much gratitude, since he was like a father or brother to all of the later immigrants.

Early Coon Prairie — Per and Matthias Evensen

General Store on Coon Prairie owned by Peder Evenson (Gullord)
The settlers on Coon Prairie mostly came from Biri, Gudbransdal (especially from Øiers parish) Flekkefjord, South Land, and Upper Telemark. The greatest part was composed of those from Biri. Accelerated by Even Gullord’s well-written, exhorting letters there soon was a large immigration of people from Biri, so that in a few years there were just as many people from Biri on Coon Prairie and in neighboring settlements as in Biri in Norway. On the 16 June 1849 came Even’s father, Ole Tostensen Gullord with his fine sons, Tosten Olsen Vestbøe (Westby) and Henrik Olsen Gullord, Hans Knudsen Ramsrud together with Per and Matthias G. Evensen. After a journey of 15 weeks they arrived 1 October on Coon Prairie.

After a few years stay on Coon Prairie, Per and Matthias Evensen went to Minnesota and in 1853 came to the spot where later the city of St. Peter was built. At that time it was only an Indian village, but a couple of Americans had recently taken claims there. Soon after the Evensen brothers arrived, one of the Americans was fatally wounded in a dispute concerning his claim. The Indians seized the murderers, tarred and feathered them and otherwise mistreated them and chased them away from the area. Per and Matthias Evensen cared as well as they could for the wounded man until he died. For their kindness he turned over his claim to them. That claim lies where St. Peter’s best homes now are, and here these Biris built the first house in St. Peter. In July 1857 the legislature decided to name St. Peter the state capital. In the boom which followed the Evensens were offered $40,000 for their claim, but they refused it, since they thought they could get much more for it by selling lots. But by an unusual political trick the decision of the legislature was changed and St. Paul became the capital instead of St. Peter. Disappointed in his hopes, Per Evensen returned to Coon Prairie. Matthias Evensen however remained in Minnesota and became an important man. He enlisted when the Indian war began in 1862, became a sergeant, and took part in many bloody battles. He also served during the hanging of 38 leaders of the Indian uprising. Thereafter he took part in the Civil War.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Westby, New South Wales, Australia


Not much is left of what once Westby, Australia
Westby is a rural community in the central east part of the Riverina. It is situated by road, about 9 kilometres south east from Pulletop and 18 kilometres north from Little Billabong.

Westby used to be the site of a railway station that opened on August 5, 1925 as a branch off the Main South line at The Rock to the small community of Westby, a distance of approximately 40 km. 

Westby Rail Station - closed since the mid 1950s is now on privately owned property


Westby, Lincolnshire, United Kingdom

Not many houses in this secluded hamlet.
Telephone box at Westby at the edge
of town. This tiny hamlet has retained its
old style telephone kiosk.
Westby is a hamlet in the civil parish of Bitchfield and Bassingthorpe, in the South Kesteven district of Lincolnshire, England. It is situated approximately 6 miles south-east from the town of Grantham.

Westby Hill near the hamlet
of Westby, Lincolnshire










Westby is considered a shrunken medieval village and at the time of Domes-day Book of 1086 it consisted of eleven households.
One of the residential streets in Westby, Lincolnshire

Westby, Montana, U.S.A.


Entering Westby, Montana
A glance down Main Street in Westby, Montana, the northeastern most community in the state. The town lies adjacent to the border of North Dakota and ten miles south of Canada.

Downtown Westby, Montana

The now-contradictory name of Westby emphasizes the fact that when the town was founded in North Dakota in 1910, it was the westernmost settlement in the state. This changed in 1913 when the town was moved to its present location in Montana in order to be alongside the newly-built Soo Line railroad tracks as well as take advantage of the more liberal liquor laws in Montana at the time.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Snowflake Ski Club

Written by Polly Rude many years ago.

In 1968 Judge Lincoln Neprud
wanted you to attend the Snowflake Ski Club
National Ski Jumping Championship
En Tydelig Historie
The first meetings of the Snowflake Ski Club were held in Norwegian.

Den forste Ski Klubb i Westby var organisert i 1922 av Oscar Villand, Henry Nerison, Nordahl Nelson, Carl Gronland, og August Gorder: Utvalgt officerer var: Forman Oscar Villand, secretær og kasserer var Henry Nerison.

Tilslutte seg senere var J.T. Hage, Earl Jefson, Martin Oium, Adolph Holte, John Stensby, Ivar Engebretson, Carl Stensvold, Gunnar Mikkelson og Magnus Mikkelson.

Den forste ski renn var holte den ottende Februar 1923 pass Martin Holte bakken, tre mile øst av Westby. Nordahl Nelson planlagde og byggde den forste skaffot.

Mrs. Lena Villand forslog at navne skulle vere Sno-Flake Ski Klubb.

Early Presidents serving Snowflake:
1923 Oscar Villand
1924 August Gorder
1925 Adolph Holte
1926 Adolph Holte
1927 Martin Oium
1928 Martin Oium
1929 Earl Jefson
1930 Earl Jefson
1930-1939 No Tournaments
1946 Howard Johnson reactivates Ski Club
1947 Howard Johnson

Westby’s major contribution to ski jumping is its outstanding hill. Westby has created the world’s most challenging hill in ski jumping, except for the ski flying hills of Europe. Indeed it is the best jump in North America.

A number of ski enthusiasts founded the Snowflake Ski club, elected Oscar Villand, President, and held it first tournament on February 8, 1923. Lars Haugen took top honors on the slide located 3 miles east of the city. Three meets were held here. In 1926 a large slide with a 72 foot tower was constructed at the present site which was considered a great achievement in those days.

During the 1930s interest was revived and Westby became a member of the Tri-State Ski Association. Tournaments were held annually until World War II. In 1946 the club was reactivated under the direction of Howard Johnson.

In 1947 the Snowflake Ski Club was reorganized and affiliated with the Central Ski Association. The meet was held at Seas Branch with Arne Arneson of Norway taking class A honors. The club moved again and on February 8, 1948, Oscar Severson set a hill record of 160 feet. Peter Haugstad, the 1948 Olympic Champion, skied on the Anderson Hill in 1949. The United State Olympic Team trained on the hill in 1952 and 1960. The official hill record was set in 1957 by Juhani Karkinen of Finland at 223 feet.

The present phase, beginning in 1961, with the creation of the 80 meter hill at the present site, is indeed the most exciting part of the Snowflake Ski Club’s history. Before 20,000 people “Butch” Weden took first place in class A and two Japanese starts, Kiyotaka Sakai and Yukio Kasaya, took second and fourth places respectively. John Balfanz “flew” 292 feet to initiate the new hill.

The FIS trials were the feature in the 1962 tournament at which seven men were selected to train and of which four of those were to compete in the world’s Championship at Zakopane, Poland. John Balfanz set a new North American record of 317 feet. The members selected for the FIS squad were as follows: Willie Erickson, Lyle Swenson, Jon Elliot, Jim Brennen, Steve Reischl, Bob Keck and John Balfanz.

There seemed to be no end to the excitement on this new hill as in 1963 Gene Kotlarek, national champion, skied beautifully on rides of 287 and 297 feet to win. But, the story of the day was John Balfanz’s leap of 356 feet and then a heartbreaking fall. There were eight jumps over 300 feet that day but none could compare with Balfanz’s. Lyle Swenson took second in class A, Dave Norby was fist in class B. Dave Hicks was first in the junior class and John Lyons led all competitors in the veterans class.

The Snowflake Ski Club, has, in the formative stage, plans for developing the present area for downhill skiing, tobogganing, skating and swimming. This has, indeed resulted from the aggressiveness of a club and community cooperating for the general welfare of the region.

Memories of the settler’s life

Memories of the settler’s life from the book titled Coon Prairie by Hjalmer R. Holand. Translated into English by Ovind M. Hovde.

It was this bright, trusting spirit which made it possible for the settler to overcome the numerous hardships which met him in the wilderness. Although they could have bad luck in both in the inner and the outer man, the settlers did commonly possess a tough patience, a persevering desire to work and a hopeful spirit.

Michelet cabin now located at Norskedalen Heritage Site

The first to be done after securing a claim was to build a house. Together with a neighbor, or maybe with his wife, the settler went into the nearest forest and cut timbers enough for the house walls. Since no fir or pine grew on Coon Prairie, one had to use aspen or oak trees, and it was not so easy to get these crooked logs to fit tightly together. But, between each log one had to fill the cracks with moss, wood splinters and clay. The roof was made of cloven pieces of timber covered with clapboards and sod. These clapboards were about a quarter inch thick, cloven from oak with a special ax. The floor was often only dirt, but sometimes there was made a good floor of cloven flat boards. Doors, table, chairs, bedsteads and other household items were also made of cloven and ax-formed oak. Strong hinges and latches were made of branches. One got along without nails and similar pieces of iron.

Each settler was capable of supplying himself a table and planks for household use, but this was viewed as proof of great prosperity and among most as unattainable luxury.

The day he moved into his little house was a great day for the settler, for then he felt himself as lord over the land. Although the house was probably only 12x12 feet square, it was as a palace for him, for now he had in a real sense acquired new land.

A considerable part of the settler’s food in the first year consisted of what he could supply himself by hunting and fishing. There was an abundance of game, especially in the forest-covered, well-watered small coulees which reach up toward Coon Prairie from every angle. Timber Coulee was a hunter’s and fisherman’s paradise. Deer, bears, wildcats, raccoons and other animals were easy to find, and the streams swarmed with trout up to two feet long. They were so numerous that one could often throw them up on the ground with a bucket.

Bears were very curious and often came up to the houses. One day when Thor Sandbakken in Timber Coulee was away, his wife Rønnøg saw that a strange animal had broken into an enclosure and thrown itself on their only pig. The pig represented the greatest part of their winter food so it had to be saved. Without thinking what kind of animal this stranger was, she sprang forward to save the pig. Hastily she went by the wood pile and grabbed an oak root and threw it at the attacker in the pigpen. Remarkable enough she hit the animal right on the backbone so it stood up and dropped the pig. Meanwhile Rønnøg had grabbed the hayfork and jabbed it far into the side of the animal and yelled: “Will you get out of here, you ugly one!” The animal raised up on its hind legs and Rønnøg saw that it was a bear. It opened a great mouth large enough to swallow the whole pig, let out a horrible roar and turned toward the woman. Frightened by this, Rønnøg emitted a howl that resounded from every ridge, and took flight. The bear was also frightened by the sudden attack and decided it was best to seek the woods which it did. Everything had now reached a lucky end if only the pig had been sensible. Instead of thankfully seeking peace in the straw pile and sleeping off the fright, it became so confused that it took off after the bear, and was never seen again.

There was one thing which many had to complain about on Coon Prairie and that was the scarcity of water. The prairie was several hundred feet above the valley floor, and it was impossible for the impecunious settler to dig wells. One soon found it possible to build a dam across a declivity, and soon all over the prairie there were dams which gathered the water from higher ground. But, this stagnant water soon became undrinkable for people because of all kinds of filth, so there was a daily chore to haul, carry or drag water up from the nearest valley for household needs. It was difficult to be parsimonious with drinking water when one worked in the harvest in the hot sun. Many, many years went by before one was relieved of the water burden by drilling a well.

  Although the pioneers attained a remarkable readiness to get along with the means which they possessed on the farm, and although they practiced a sacrificing contentment in doing without what they did not have, it was necessary from time to time to journey to town to make some purchases. Coffee, syrup, salt, meal, some clothes, etc. had to be bought. The nearest town where these things could be bought was Prairie du Chien, 50-60 miles southwest. If there was not too much to be brought home, one often made the journey on foot following Indian trails and at times even traveling with the Native Americans. Most often many people made the journey together in their carriages. They used to have a very merry trip.

Tosten Unseth once made such a trip to Prairie du Chien and had an experience which, although it seems funny now, was so unpleasant that he never forgot it.

They were just about out of food in his house and for several days they had had little to eat other than potatoes. The daughter therefore was exceedingly happy when she saw her father drive into the yard after several days’ journey to town. In great haste she climbed into the wagon with a bowl and found the flour barrel. Now surely she and all the others should have pancakes for supper. Lovely wheat flour, how good it will taste! But, when she opened the barrel she was so disappointed that she could not hold back the tears. Astonished Tosten looked at her and said:

“Now what is the matter? You are not standing there forever and crying?”

“Oh — if only you had brought home some flour, father,” sniffed the daughter.

“Flour! You are standing there with a large flour barrel right in front of you!”

“No, that is not flour, but sugar. I cannot make bread of sugar?”

Now Tosten had to get up into the wagon too and his face became long when he looked into the flour barrel. The daughter was right. That stupid shop boy had given him a sugar barrel instead of a flour barrel. Now there was nothing to do but to grind a little wheat in the coffee grinder.

In a few years the town of La Crosse had its beginnings, and since this was much nearer, one hauled his wheat there, when one had something to sell. The road was down Spring Coulee or Timber Coulee to Coon Valley and then up over Ramsrud Hill to Mormon Coulee which led to La Crosse. This was a very laborious journey, for there were many steep hills. Ramsrud Hill was especially bad. It reached 500 feet above the valley floor, and in some places it was so steep that neither oxen or horses could manage the load. When the pioneer came to this point he had to carry sack after sack on his shoulders to get over the worst.  

The Brye homestead remains today just as it has
for more than a hundred years at the bottom
of Ramsrud Hill, today more commonly known
as the West Coon Valley Hill.
This photo says headed towards Coon Valley
but in reality the car has left Coon Valley
and is headed up Ramsrud Hill towards La Crosse.
It was over these notorious hills that most of the settlers came to Coon Prairie and Vernon County. They came to La Crosse by steamboat or railroad; were shown the way over the large ridges to where people they knew were supposed to be living up in the hills. With shoes and stockings in their hands and small children and heavy sacks on their backs, they trudged up over the steep hills into the strange and unknown. What did the future offer them? Were these difficult hills a symbol of the future’s wear and tear? Anxious thoughts began to trouble them.

But it was good that just below Ramsrud Hill in Coon Valley lived a genial kind man from Hallingdal by name of Knut Brye. He had been a boss at a sawmill far north in the woods, had earned good money, and had built what was then considered a large house. His and his wife’s dispositions were as large as their house, for they were always ready to welcome newcomers and give them food, shelter and good advice. And, when the new arrivals heard that all this magnificence at Brye was the fruit of only a few years’ work, they got new spirits and it was with great hopes for the future that they the next day stepped forward on the last part of their journey.

But, there are many hills on life’s way, and it is good that we do not know what the future has in store for us. These pioneers in wilderness ran into many kinds of problems which they had not anticipated and which we cannot imagine because they are outside of our experience and knowledge. These experiences were not recorded and now when the old are dead, nearly all of the story is forgotten.

One of the memoirs which still lives is that of the hard frost which occurred the 22 June 1854. The frost was so strong that not only did all spring plantings freeze but also the leaves on the trees so these stood half naked the whole summer through. Only the deeply planted potatoes developed new growth and these potatoes were the main source of food for the settlers the following winter.

There followed a couple of good years and the pioneers put their energy to work building both church and school. Money was still difficult to raise and the incorporated church once had to pay 20 percent interest. But, with resolute patience they kept on and the church was completed at the established date.

Right after this great achievement there followed hard times which made life difficult for the settlers for many years. That year, 1857, there occurred a great panic and cash money seemed all at once to disappear. Prices of farm produce fell way down and credit was not to be had. 

First County Coon Prairie Lutheran Church
and the cornerstone laying of the second church
Peter H. Stigen was the name of a pioneer who worked for a time for Pastor Stub at the parsonage and had a little money owing him. He had learned that two forties of hilly land in Timber Coulee had not been claimed. These could be bought from the government for $1.25 per acre. The government permitted payment over a long period so cash was not needed, but 75 cents was needed to file the title. He therefore went to Pastor Stub to ask for 75 cents of what was owed him. The pastor asked pardon for his lack of money which he had not paid. “But soon we’ll have Easter,” said he, “and if I get 75 cents in the offering, you shall get it.” But both Easter and Pentecost came and the pastor did not get enough in the offerings of both festivals. The pioneers had to satisfy themselves by bringing him a sack of oats.

These hard times lasted many years and were followed by the straightened circumstances of the Civil War. It was because of these heartbreaking hard times that so many men enlisted voluntarily in military service. They had not been here long enough to feel any pull to offer their lives for their new country, but by going into the service they would earn enough, they thought, to keep body and soul together for those at home. But for those on the battlefields it would go as destiny willed.

Meanwhile the wife and the others struggled with the duties at home on the farm, full of anxiety and in want. It was a life full of hard work, despair, undernourishment, and fear of fateful news from the battlefields. The result was a definite lowering in the health of the settlers, with many deaths. Coon Prairie had always been clear of cholera, ague and other illnesses which raged in other old settlements. The pioneers who had settled here were strong healthy people. Therefore we found there were very few deaths during the years 1848-1855. But in the years of tribulation which followed to the end of the war, we found so many deaths that it seemed as if an epidemic ravaged the settlement. In these 10 years no fewer than 194 persons died. Of these half were under five years and 22 less that a month old.

What a striking circumstance these statistics witness to! The deaths of so many small children tell clearer than any words the sorrowful anxiety, the undernourishment and wear and tear which these  poor mothers lived under during these years of tribulation. And there was no doctor from whom to seek help. These tortured mothers had to watch their helpless children sicken without knowing what to do.

Pioneer life demanded a costly toll.

In spite of all these bitter experiences and difficult circumstances there was something about the pioneer life which moved the old to remember it with a sad longing. In spite of the sorrow free conditions in which they now live, they look back to the pioneer days as something beautiful and lovely which they no longer find. That which they now savor and which remains high in their memories was the intimated associations which then prevailed among the pioneers. It was as if everyone belonged to a large loving family. They worked and struggled; but whether they lost or won they all were participants together in sorrow or joy. Literally they bore one another’s burdens. Now good conditions endanger friendship and they according to the old is an expensive exchange.

Located on the Black River Indian trail one mile south of the current intersection
of State and Main Streets, Coon Prairie General Store,owned by Peder Evenson Gullord, the first store in the area,also served as postoffice from 1857 to 1880.
A result of this comradely spirit was the great sociability which prevailed among the people. While the cattle had their Sunday rest on the grassy fields, the pioneers with their families went on foot over the hills to visit each other. Although the houses were small and tight, the spirit of festivity was great. All the chairs and benches in the house were soon filled and a row of mothers sat on the edge of the bed to keep an eye on their small ones who played and cried with joy behind them. And, while the coffee boiled, men spoke of their work, their experiences and their future plans. Soon these voices grew and they began to lay plans for securing a pastor and probably building a small church. Sometimes too one or another hopeful dreamer would paint a bright picture of the future and foretell the time when maybe the train would not only come to La Crosse but would also climb the hills and run right over to Coon Prairie. But, then most shook their heads and decided such treat but wild fantasies would never come to reality.

Honor be to the old pioneers. Without show or complaint they gave their lives full of privation, hard work and perseverance that their children and grandchildren might obtain more of the good things in life than they had. May the younger generation show themselves worthy successors.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Christmas in Westby

For a number of years ending with Christmas 1926, Westby had a city Christmas tree located in the center of the Main and State Street intersection. In 1927, State Highway 11 (Main Street), was paved with concrete for the first time. To celebrate, Westby and the other towns along the new highway had street dances to commemorate the occasion. In 1933 this highway became U.S. Highway 14 and was called the Northwest Highway. The house visible in this photo, was moved in the early 40s up Main Street to 218 North Main where it proudly stands today. On the extreme right is the turret of the Dahl building which houses the Uff-Da Shoppe today. On the left is the Bekkedal Bank that today is Organic Valley.

Pioneer Life: The Wilder side

Among other things calculated to annoy and distress the pioneer was the prevalence of wild beasts of prey in Vernon (Bad Ax) County, the most numerous and troublesome of which was the wolf. While it was true, in a figurative sense, that it required the utmost care and exertion to “keep the wolf from the door,” it was almost as true in a literal sense. There were two species of these animals, the large, black, timber wolf, and the smaller gray wolf that usually inhabited the prairie. At first, it was next to impossible for a settler to keep small stock of any kind that would serve as a prey to these ravenous beasts. Sheep were not deemed safe property until years after, when their enemies were supposed to be nearly exterminated. Large numbers of wolves were destroyed during the early years of settlement. When they were hungry, which was not uncommon, particularly during the winter, they were too indiscreet for their own safety, and would often approach within easy shot of the settlers dwellings. At certain seasons their wild, plaintive yelp of bark could be heard in all directions at all hours of the night, creating intense excitement among the dogs, whose howling would add to the dismal melody. 

It has been found by experiment that but one of the canine species, the hound, has both the fleetness and courage to cope with his savage cousin, the wolf. Attempts were often made to capture him with the common cur, but this animal, as a rule, proved himself wholly unreliable for such a service. So long as the wolf would run the cur would follow; but the wolf, being apparently acquainted with the character of his pursuer, would either turn and place himself in a combative attitude, or else act upon the principal that “discretion is the better part of valor,” and throw himself upon his back in token of surrender. This strategic performance would make instant peace between these two scions of the same house; and not infrequently dogs and wolves have been seen playing together like puppies. but the hound was never known to recognize a flag of truce; his baying seemed to signify “no quarters” or, at least, so the terrified wolf understood it.

Smaller animals, such as panthers, lynxes, wildcats, catamounts and polecats, were also sufficiently numerous to be troublesome. An exceeding source of annoyance were the swarms of mosquitoes which aggravated the trials of the settler in the most exasperating degree. Persons have been driven from the labors of the field by their unmerciful assaults.

The trials of the pioneer were innumerable, and the cases of actual suffering might fill a volume of no ordinary size. Timid women became brave through combats with real dangers, and patient mothers grew sick at heart with the sight of beloved children failing in health from lack of commonest necessaries of life. The struggle was not for ease or luxury, but was a constant one for the sustaining means of life itself.

Hans Jørgenson Lium Homestead

One of, if not the first cabin, located on East Ridge. 
Original 1850s log cabin with 1870s kitchen addition on the left.
From the 1884 Illustrated History of Vernon County, Wisconsin

In regard to the furniture of the pioneer’s cabin, it may be said that it varied in proportion to the ingenuity of the occupants, unless it was where settlers brought with them their old household supply, which, owing to the distance most of then had to come, was very seldom. It was easy enough to improvise tables and chairs; the former cold be made of split logs; the latter were designed after the three-legged stool pattern or benches served their purpose. A bedstead was a very important item in the domestic comfort of the family; and the fashion of improvising them as follows:

A forked stake was driven into the ground diagonally from the corner of the room, and at a proper distance, upon which poles reaching from each side of the cabin were laid. The wall ends of the poles were either driven into auger-holes or rested in the openings between the logs. Bark or boards were used as a substitute for cords. Upon this, the wife spread her straw tick; and if she had a homemade feather bed, she piled it up into a luxurious mound and covered it with her sheets and bed-quilts. Sometimes sheets were hung against the wall at the head and side of the bed, which added much to the coziness of this resting place — the pioneer bedroom. The sleeping arrangement was generally called a “a prairie bedstead.”

If the settler arrived in the early part of the season and had not time to plant, or had no fields prepared for that purpose, he could, at least, have a truck-patch, where a little corn was planted, also a few potatoes and turnips, and some other vegetables were put in the ground. Of course this was only to make his small supply, which he had brought with him, reach as far as possible. His meager stores consisted of flour, bacon, tea and coffee, but these supplies would frequently be exhausted before a regular crop of wheat or corn could be raised, and as game was plentiful, it helped to eke them out, but when the corn was raised, it was not easily prepared for the table. The mills for grinding were at such distances away, that every other device was resorted to for making meal.

Some grated it on an implement made by punching small holes through a piece of tin or sheet-iron, and fastening it upon a board in concave shape, with the rough side out. Upon this the ear was rubbed to produce the meal. But, grating could not be done when the corn became so dry as to shell off when rubbed. Some used a coffee mill for grinding it; and a very common substitute for bread was hominy, a palatable and wholesome diet, made by boiling corn in a weak lye till the hull or bran peeled off, after which it was well washed to cleanse it of the lye. It was then boiled again to soften it, when it was ready for use, as occasion required, by frying and seasoning it to the taste. Another mode of preparing hominy was pestling. A mortal was made by burning a bowl-shaped cavity in the end of an upright block of wood. After thoroughly cleaning it of the charcoal, the corn could be put in, hot water turned upon it, when it was subjected to a severe pestling by a club of sufficient length and thickness, in the large end of which was inserted an iron wedge, banded to keep it there. The hot water would soften the corn and loosen the hull, while the pestle would crush it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Coon Prairie from 1927 to 1976

Written by Harold O. Aasen

In 1928 the “Home Circles” purchased a parsonage in Westby for $6,000. A fund for a pipe organ in the country church was started in 1930 and shortly thereafter it was installed at the cost of $13,000.

Coon Prairie Parsonage
Pastor Holum resigned in 1947 and Pastor H.J. Holm came to serve as the interim pastor shortly thereafter. It was in the fall of that year that the Avalanche Ladies Aid purchased the cheese factory building and remodeled it so it could be used as a chapel and a place for Sunday School, Bible School, and Ladies Aid meetings. Pastor Holm conducted his farewell service on January 11 and Pastor H.O. Aasen was installed on January 19, 1948.

Since it was in 1851 that the first baptisms were recorded, and it was in that year the Reverend Nils Brandt and the Reverend C.L. Clausen conducted services in the Coon Prairie area, the congregations celebrated the 100th anniversary of these activities August 12 to 19 in 1951. In this connection it is also interesting to note that a letter, written by Reverend A.C. Preus in 1872, begins by saying: “The Coon Prairie Congregation was founded by Reverend Brandt in 1851”.

Pastor Einar Unseth, a son of Edward and Ovidia Unseth and a member of the congregation, was commissioned to be a missionary to Japan in 1954. In December of that year a new organ was installed in the Westby church at a cost of $13,000.

In 1956, John Halsten came to be the first of six seminarians to serve their internship in the Westby-Coon Prairie parish. The other five in order were: Myron Fogde, Roger Berdahl, John Anderson, John Seiber and Jimmie Herklotz.

The cornerstone of the parish hall was laid in November of 1957, and the building was completed and dedicated in 1958 at the cost of $55,000.

Harold O. Aasen
In 1962, LeRoy Peterson came to be a lay assistant and served in that capacity until he was ordained in the Westby church in 1963. Then he served as assistant pastor until the last of 1964. Pastor Bruce Buslaff was installed as assistant pastor in 1965 and resigned early in 1969. The Reverend Nybroten began his ministry in 1969 and ended it in August of 1974. Pastor Paul Jordahl was installed as associate pastor in September of 1975.

In 1965 a Carillon Fund was started by memorials given in memory of Gail Aasen, and in 1966 the Schulmerich Arcadian Carillon was installed at the cost of $13,000.

In 1966, a second parsonage was purchased to house the associate pastor, and in 1973 a large modern garage was built next to the parsonage of the senior pastor.

The Reverend H.O. Aasen resigned and retired January 31 of 1975. Pastor LuVerne Nelson was installed as senior pastor in February and Pastor Paul Jordahl was installed as associate pastor in September of the same year. Pastor Nelson and Pastor Jordahl are serving at the time when the English translation of the “Coon Prairie” Book is being published.

Pastor J.O. Holum was born in DeForest, Wisconsin on September 26, 1886. His parents were Peter S. Holum and Ingeborg Nordahl. He was baptized and confirmed in the Norway Grove congregation, attended DeForest High School, and was graduated from Luther College in 1908. The next three years he taught Latin and History of Albion Academy. He was graduated from Luther Seminary, was ordained into the ministry and served at Wheaton, Minnesota from 1914 to 1919. He was assistant pastor in Westby from July 1919 until he was called to be the senior pastor in 1921. He was married to Signe Halvorsen, daughter of Pastor Halvorsen, in 1922. Pastor Holum left Westby in 1947, served in Central Lutheran church in Minneapolis from 1947 to 1958, and other churches in Minneapolis from 1958- to 1964 when he retired. He passed away in La Crosse on January 29, 1976.

Lu Verne Nelson
Pastor H.O. Assen was born in Iola, Wisconsin on October 12, 1908. His parents were Ole J. Aasen and Georgine Bestul. He was baptized in the Zion Congregation and confirmed in Our Savior’s. He was graduated from Iola High School in 1926, from Luther College in 1930, Luther Seminary in 1933, and ordained in that year. He served First Lutheran church of Petersburg, Alaska from 1933 to 1937, First Lutheran and Wabanica congregation of Baudette, Minnesota from 1937 to 1944, a multiple parish (French Creek, South Beaver Creek, Fagerness and Tamarack) at Ettrick, Wisconsin from 1944  to 1948, and Coon Prairie and Vang congregations in Westby from 1948 to 1975 when he retired. He was married to Hulda Wiprud in  1933.

Pastor Lu Verne Nelson was born in Willmar, Minnesota on June 13, 1920. His parents were Martin Nelson and Bertha Sater. He was baptized and confirmed in the Calvary Lutheran congregation, attended Wilmar High School, was graduated from Augsburg college in 1943, and from Augsburg Seminary in 1946. He was ordained in 1946 and served parishes is the Lutheran Free Church at Powers Lake, North Dakota from 1946 to 1952, and the Spring Lake Park (Abiding Savior) congregation in Minneapolis, Minnesota from 1952 to 1975 when he came to Westby. He was married to Grace Carlsen in 1946.

Paul Jordahl
Pastor Paul Jordahl was born in Rugby, North Dakota April 15, 1936. His parents were Oscar A. Jordahl and Hildegarde Moe. He was baptized in First Lutheran church of Granville, North Dakota and confirmed in Finley high school, was graduated from Concordia College in 1958, and from Luther Seminary in 1965. He was ordained in 1965 and was a Missionary in New Guinea from 1965 to 1974. He was a Missionary in Residence in the Southern Wisconsin District (out of Janesville) from 1974 to 1975 and he came to Westby in September 1975. He was married to Jenine Peterson in 1965

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Bakke Farm on East Ridge

Many years ago the Kickapoo Pearls had the following article that is as interesting today as it was when it was written.

Up on East Ridge, between Avalanche and Westby, as the crow flies, there’s a gravel road that comes to a dead rest in what looks to be an ordinary farmyard. To the left there is an old farmhouse, sprawling like an overstuffed chair. To the right—a string of outbuildings; tobacco shed, granary, corn crib, barn. And, there’s a turnaround by the barn for cars that end up here quite by accident. But the Bakke farm is also an interesting place to get lost for an afternoon if you aren’t in a hurry to get back to the main roads of a modern world.

The Bakke farm is a  registered century farm, which means it’s been held by successive generations of the same family for more than 100 years. And Lawrence Bakke, who was born in that big white house on a knoll, 72 years ago, is the third generation to farm this land. Like a lot of people who inherit and maintain intact the property of their ancestors, Lawrence Bakke has never been in a great hurry to discard the implements and artifacts of the past. So the Bakke farm is stored with visible reminders, everywhere, of the people who lived here during these past 115 years.

Henry Leum
“Lots of old things in a farm this old” says Henry Leum,  “...lots of old junk.” Henry was born not far from here—one field over from the Bakke farm. He and his friend Lawrence Bakke were assisted into this world by the same midwife although he was around 16 years earlier than Lawrence. Nowadays Henry who lives in Westby returns to the old neighborhood to help his friend Lawrence Bakke when there’s farm work to do. As Henry put it, the two of them “go back a long ways.” This is true of many things on the Bakke farm.

The small note pad just inside the door of the 100 year old granary contains the jottings Lawrence Bakke’s father made to himself, right there with the pencil hanging on a string, maybe 50-60 years ago. Upstairs sits an old wooden trunk — the kind hauled across the Atlantic from the 1850s on by Norwegian pioneers. Like a suitcase in a closet, the people who left their traveling here, unpacked to stay. And, in the haymow is the grain cradle that belonged to Lawrence’s grandfather, along with other tools of early farming.

There’s one particularly important relic of the farm that is kept as a prized commemorative. It’s a letter written in 1864 by a Civil War officer. Its purpose was to inform the next of kin that one Civil War enlistee from Wisconsin had died in an army hospital. Ultimately, it would launch a family odyssey from Norway to America that would end with the establishment of a successful family farm on East Ridge.

Peder Olson Hjelstuen — 1864
Back in the very beginning it was an adventurous great uncle named Peder Olson who, at the age of 21, first set out from Gudbransdalen, north of Oslo, for America. Peder found his way to Coon Prairie which was then a growing Norwegian settlement, in 1857. As with many new arrivals from Norway, Peder had relatives already established here, the Berghs. they lived on East Ridge and were to figure prominently in the lives of other members of Peder’s family who came later.

There was already a family living on what would become the Bakke farm when Peder Olson arrived. The pioneer Melvin family had built a small cabin over the hill by a spring, and had cleared just a little land nearest the cabin. In 1864 the Melvins sold the farm, 80 acres in all, to Peder Olson for $650. Peder was perhaps trying to find a way of gathering capital for his new investment when he enlisted in the army in the war between the states. That very year he purchased the farm and went off to fight soon afterwards. Some veterans made it back to enjoy their pensions and the gratuities of a grateful republic but Peder Olson didn’t. He died in an army hospital, and with ‘pen in hand’ his commanding officer wrote a kind letter to his family back home. Two years later Peder’s parents, sisters and brother arrived at Coon Prairie to take on his farm.

They spent the first winter with the Berghs in their small cabin and then moved to the farm which was a mile south of the Berghs. A new house was built near the cabin by the spring. They also built a stable for the oxen, using the oxen to grub out the heavily wooded land. And a sheep shed and a corncrib was made. Later, there would be a granary, a tobacco shed which was one of the earliest on the ridge and a barn.

Although the family and their neighbors were growing in number and making great changes, the land was basically wilderness even when they had succeeded in dragging out stumps and converting wooded ridgeland into farmland. There were still Indians around this part of the valley and it was common for them to come to the cabins and trade venison for bread. They camped not far from the Bakke farm, down in the valley where they looked for ginseng each year.

By the 1890s the Bakke farm stood in the middle of a large Norwegian neighborhood. Although there had been a lot of speculation buying at the beginning, as evidence in deeds, titles with many early short-term owners Norwegians succeeded in making Coon Prairie and its eastern territory on East Ridge thoroughly their own. The Bakkes, like many of their fellow farmers had the same neighbors here they had back in Norway.

And around this time and across the century mark East Ridge farmers had two thriving town centers within easy distance to which they could go for trade, milling, blacksmith services and visiting. Avalanche to the south was just over the hill and down from East Ridge. Westby was a stone’s throw to the north and west. And by then, the second generation was working the family farm.

Lawrence Bakke was born at home, 1907. He would eventually become the heir to the farm but his earliest memories of growing up there cover many years of firsthand history.

“I remember,” Lawrence Bakke says, “in 1915 I had diphtheria. My sister got it first. she’d been to a party in the neighborhood, then I got it. And we were then quarantined. And I remember than, tramps used to come knocking at the door for a meal...that was common in those days for tramps to walk down to Avalanche and our farm was directly on the route they took. Well, when they showed up when we were quarantined, they were shown the quarantine sign and they started off just as soon as they could.

We had a doctor then. And a health officer from Viroqua came out. Dr. Proctor came and we all had to fumigate the whole house. They burned sulphur inside the rooms and, oh, it was an awful odor. Clothes and linens, everything had to be washed. The furniture all had to be moved outside to sun, That lasted for three weeks.

Lawrence Bakke remembers: An interview with Kickapoo Pearls writer Dail Murray in the early 1970s.

Lawrence Bakke — 1986
I remember in 1918 when the war came along. My father had made a provision that in the case my eldest brother were to go to war, my other brother would return home to take over some of the work. He was working elsewhere at the time. And that was how it happened. He did come back when my eldest brother enlisted in the army.

1918, that was also the year we saw the first airplane. We heard it, heard the noise long before we could see it and then it flew over us and we were quite impressed at the time.

In 1922, I remember, we had an ice storm. In February I believe it was, and all of the telephone lines went down. They were nearly all of them down everywhere. Every once in awhile we’d hear a tree crash and snap in the woods. We’ve had ice storms since, but nothing as bad as that one.

The old-timers used to predict the weather by the old (Kickapoo Valley and Northern) train whistle. When it could be heard all the way up here, they said, the weather would change soon. And you know, there’s some truth to that. An east wind brings a change in weather.

Has life here changed? “Yes, I would say. some changes were for the better. Some were slower to come. In 1921 the first silo was built on the farm. I think two other neighbors already had silos. Not everyone was quick to have one. I know a few would laugh at them.

Not everyone accepted the tractor. I know an old harness maker. I told him I was thinking of buying a tractor and he disapproved. I told him tractors didn’t get sleeping sickness. He said “oh, yes, tractors get sleeping sickness, too.”

One of the best changes was contour farming and alfalfa. Before, after they plowed a hillside, a hard rain would wash it out. As a little boy I’d have to run ahead and throw bundles in the ditches so they could cross with the binder. There were many ditches and gullies in the fields. After contour farming we never had ditches like we did before.

Century farms are dying out you know. One could at least say half—maybe even more—of the old farms in the neighborhood are gone. It was once mostly Norwegian here, now I have Mills, Laskies, Slamas for neighbors. It started 20-30 years ago. Many people are moving out, dying out.

Am I an optimist about the future? Well, I would say yes, I think I am. Have you heard the difference between an optimist and a pessimist? A pessimist complains about all the high taxes, an optimist says, ‘They aren’t high...compared to what they’ll be next year.’ “Have you ever seen an old lawnmower?” Lawrence asks.

“Lots of old junk...” Former neighbor Henry Leum says, smiling and shaking his head while the mystery thing is retrieved from the haymow. It’s small compared to the monsters that mow on wheels today, and by appearance looks to be as effective as a pair of manicure scissors. But, lo and behold, it works. With a little muscle and exertion the grass on Lawrence Bakke’s lawn can be made to fly.

Lots of things have changed, you betcha,” says Henry Leum. Lawrence Bakke agrees, but change is less apparent on the Bakke farm and other farms like it, where the old has been discarded only for practical purpose and the rest is tucked away for family value, which makes this farm, at the end of a dead-end road on East Ridge an interesting place to get lost if you’re in no hurry to get back to main roads.