Velkommen til Westby

Velkommen til Westby

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Settling of Coon Prairie and Surrounding Area

Written by Peder P. Hektoen

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.

During the sumer of 1848 Evan Gullord arrived on Coon Prairie coming up the valley from Coon Valley through Timber Coulee seeking a suitable place to settle. Two years earlier this single man from Biri, Norway, came to Koshkonong located near Madison. In 1848 he filed claim on land on Coon Prairie. This was not legally right, so when he came back that fall to settle his claim, he discovered that two Americans, LeMars and Smith, had taken his claim. He took a new claim in Township 13, sections three and four.

Accompanying him were Hans Nilson Neprud with wife and four children: Nils Gudbrand (Oium), Helene (who later married Evan Gullord), and Elias; Hans Olson Libakken with his wife and one child, and Evan Pederson with his wife and children. All these were from Biri and settled on Coon Prairie. It is believed there were no settlers on Coon Prairie prior to 1848.

A year or two before 1848 a few American families settled in the Viroqua area.

In 1849 Ole Gullord, father of Evan Gullord, came with his wife and four children, namely Tosten Westby, who was already married and brought his wife and three children; Henrick Gullord and two daughters (later, Mrs. Nils Neprud and Mrs. Lewis); Tjøstul Oium from Fron, his wife and daughter (who married the aforementioned Gudbrand, son of Hans Neprud; Martin Paulhaugen from Gustad, his wife and son Amund; Klemet Berg with wife and children from the Oiers Church area; and a brother Jan Hovde.

Others who came that same year included Syver Galstad and family from Biri. In 1850 more natives of Biri who came included Peder O. Hegge, his wife, stepmother and five sisters of his wife; Tosten Nilson Unseth, a widower, with sons Evan and Peter, with five children; Ole Halvorson Heggestuen with wife and daughter Helene; and Per Gudbranson, who later married Helene Heggestuen and later took her last name.

Many others from Biri came shortly thereafter, either in 1850 or a year or two later. Among these were Tollef Hanson Strandbakken with his family and parents, and Albrect Albrekson, brother-in-law of Tollef Strandbakke. Tollef died in 1861 and just a few years later his parents also died. Later arrivals included Torger Neprud with his family, and in 1851 his brother Nils Skundberg with his family. Lars Onsrud also came with them.

Jan Bergum from Land church area, his wife, daughter Berthe Marie and son Vitus came to Coon Prairie in 1850. During the fifties the daughter married Jeremiah R. Rusk, who was governor of Wisconsin from 1882-1889. Torger Fremstad, his wife, and the half brother of Jon Bergum’s wife came to Coon Prairie in 1850 or 1851. They had arrived in Koshkonong during the summer of 1850 and were married by A.C. Preus. It is interesting to mention here that Bjornstjerne Bjornson is related to Mrs. Jon Begum and Torger Fremstad. Also arriving during these years were Tollef Saugstad and family from Ringsaker, and Jacob Michelet and family from Lillehamer. John Michelet had come about a year prior.

During the early fifties there were many who came from the area of Flekkefjord, incuding Michael Larson (the father of Pastor Christian Larson) Lars Tollakson, Erik Virak with his wife and stepdaughter, Peder Barstad, with his family; Halvor Egeland and family; Enoch Enochsen, Christian Egeness and family; Chris Sigbjørnson, Michael Lindahl, Nils Nilson; Nils Roiland and family, and Andrew Larson and family. Added to these in 1854 were Tonnes Larson and family; also Osten Kjeland and Tobias Regevig with their families.

From Oiers parish were Johannes Berg and family; Ingebret and Erick Tandhaugen and their families.

In the middle 1860s on the corner of the future Main and State streets,
Hans Ramsrud had a blacksmith shop, bottom left, the current location
of Dregne’s Scandinavian Gifts. Ole Westby’s general store is left middle
with his house being just to the north of the house.

Between 1850 and 1855 Torjus Gunderson, or Torjuson came from Telemarken with his family. They accompanied Sven Stevens and John Spellum. Others from Telemarken had arrived at Koshkonong earlier. Included were Ole Ulland, and Even Christenson Ulland and their families. Since they both came from Faaberg parish, it is possible they were related.

In 1854 Lars Thorsdaard and his brother-in-law Gudbrand Theige and their families left Norway for America. They were from Ringabu. In company with them were Johannes Bjorge and family from Oilers. Towards the latter part of their journey, many became ill with cholera. Gudbrand, father to Ole and Edward Theige, died from complications in Koshkonong. Many years later, when Edward Theige was in Koshkonong for a Synod meeting, he searched for his father’s grave but it is not known if he found it.

Lars Thorsgaard’s wife was Ingeborg, born Himrud. Lars was a well-to-do man and bought land from Halvor Egeland where he settled and where he died in 1884, a year after his wife died.

Most or all of these early settlers made their journey in sailboats and landed in Quebec. This is also where Lars Thorsgaard first set foot in America.

At that time it was customary to travel by boat to Milwaukee. From there thy completed their journeys as best they could. Those who could afford it bought oxen and went here and there, but usually through Koshkonong where they met relatives and friends. Some caught a ride with travelers and others set out walking.  

In 1857 the number of settlers on Coon Prairie increased considerably with the arrival of many from Oiers parish. Johannes L. Hovde, his wife, son Lars and other children, Amund Kolbo and family, Johannes Bershaugen and family and Gunner E. Alstenstad with wife and daughter Annetta (who latter married Simon Mockrud) as well as others were included in this group.

Hans Ramsrud 1858 house located at original
location at State and Davidson streets
Hans Ramsrud, a single man, was one of the early ones to arrive from Biri about 1850. In 1858 his house was said to be the nicest house in what became Westby. Staying with Hans Ramsrud in 1859 was Anders Jenson Eide (Little Anders) and his wife. A card game called “Vist” was often played.

Johannes Hagen and parents came from Lands Parish in 1856, and in the early days Johannes sharecropped part of what was then called the Christenson Farm, where Ole Benson later lived. A couple of years later he bought the land where his son Carl now lives, at the time not cultivated. Shortly after his arrival he married Karen, also from Land Parish, who came over along with the same group. Included in that group was Andrea Vassend, who died in 1922. Also, but not in the same group, was the Andreas Hammersborgand family. He had stayed for a while in Wiota, in LaFayette County, where there were many from Land.

In 1861, Gudbrand Struxness arrived from Land with his family. His brother Halvor stayed in LaFayette County for about a year before following Gudbrand to this area. Gudbrand’s son, Ole Struxness, who lives in Westby, was five or six years old then. That year Andreas Hanson came from Land. Andreas “Snedker” settled on what is today known as Lovaas Ridge.

The first ones to emigrate from Hurdalen came to Muskego when Pastor Stuf was there. Among these were Kristoffer Bratlie and family and brothers Kristen and Joe Tostrud. Erik Bratlie became postmaster in Westby, serving for many years. Mrs. Elias Neprud, Mrs. Evan Unseth and Mrs. Fleisher were children of Kristoffer Bratlie. They resided a year or so in Muskego before moving to Vernon County and Coon Prairie in 1855. The oldest daughter, Berthe, was Mrs. Evan Saugstad.

Michelet Family — letters and stories

Written by Michele Michelet Boyer

Rare old letters and family stories open a valuable window into the past and make real the lives of people living long ago. They can tell the story of a family, and give a rich history to an area. Jacob Post Michelet was a merchant in Lillehammer, Norway in the mid 1800s and it was quite likely that his store was a gathering place and the place where news and information was exchanged. Many people came to Coon Prairie from that area of Norway. Letters crossed the ocean from Coon Prairie to Norway and family responded. So it was that Jacob Post Michelet wrote to his teen aged son Johan who preceded him to Coon Prairie from Lillehammer, Norway in 1850. Jacob Post wrote on April 6, 1851. “I received your precious letter on New Year’s Day at 3:00 in the afternoon and it transformed our day from a dismal one to a happy one. I decided at once to take your advice and follow you to America …. We expect to leave around the middle of May I will write to you from New York and you can expect to meet us in Milwaukee”… Johan at this time was a young man of 18, charged with great responsibility for the family.  Jacob Post continued “your efforts ought to concentrate in every way on gathering information about the most fertile and best place for us to settle … what is most advantageous to us, dear Johan, because your own as well as the entire family’s welfare depends on your thoughtful consideration as well as what kind of fortune we can expect in America.”  

As it turned out Johan Michelet was well up to the responsibility given him by his father. In a Westby Times front page article March 25, 1993, Margaret Gulsvig wrote “Johan Michelet’s name became so prominent in the history of Westby; the town could easily be Michelet today, though Ole T. Westby was given the honor.” In Westby, John Michelet built a grain warehouse, and was Westby’s first grain buyer. He was active in early Westby serving as township chairman, assessor, and treasurer, as well as a member of the county board. He helped start several schools and served on school boards. He also served as postmaster from 1884 to 1888 and operated a general store for about 15 years starting in 1891 at the age of 61.

Jacob Post Michelet brought his wife and 3 young children and a new infant to Coon Prairie in 1851 when he was 55 years old. He built the cabin home for his family, which is now preserved at Skumsrud, the large first cabin on the left as you enter the park. However, in leaving Norway he left family members behind that had been part of his young life, family he knew he would never see again. A word of mouth family story tells of a tragic life changing event in the life of the young Jacob Post Michelet. This story was preserved in oral tradition for over 100 years and finally written down by Marion Grimsrud Nereim granddaughter of John Michelet and great granddaughter of Jacob Post Michelet. 

The Sled Story

I told them! I told them! I told them not to cross the lake. I know it is only the 25th of February, but that lake is seldom safe, even in the coldest weather.” Sophie Amalia rushed around the bedroom, pilling blankets over the body of her husband, lying where the boys had dropped him. Christian Fredrik spoke up “Far wanted to get back in time to conduct church services. He insisted that we cross the lake. It is much shorter than going around.”

I told them! I told them! I told them not to cross the lake. I know it is only the 25th of February, but that lake is seldom safe, even in the coldest weather.” Sophie Amalia rushed around the bedroom, pilling blankets over the body of her husband, lying where the boys had dropped him. Christian Fredrik spoke up “Far wanted to get back in time to conduct church services. He insisted that we cross the lake. It is much shorter than going around.”

A week earlier Johan Wilhelm Michelet had asked his 3 boys to go with him up into the hills. He was the pastor of the small church in Moland area Norway. The time was the early eighteen hundreds. Johann Wilhelm Michelet had broken with family tradition to study for the ministry. All his ancestors in Norway had been military men. It was unthinkable that any member of the family would do anything but serve in the army. When Johan Wilhelm clung stubbornly to his ambition to serve the church, the family rallied to help him. He was sent to Copenhagen to study. He was an excellent student and his teacher expected great things from him.

He had a happy marriage to beautiful Sophie Amalia. Together they often camped in the mountains until the increasing family made it necessary for her to stay home. Then the boys went with him. He was a great teacher. He taught them to appreciate the wilderness and survive in it. He told them and they learned.

On the first Sunday in early February 1805, the father and the boys broke camp early to hurry back to conduct church services. Approaching the lake Christian Fredrik suggested, “Let’s go around. The weather has been mild.”

“No” Far answered safely seated on the big heavy sled pulled by the boys. “We must hurry, Mor will be looking for us and I have a great idea for a sermon. It will keep them in their seats until afternoon.”

The boys reluctantly stepped out on the ice. Jacob Post pushed while the others pulled. When they were half way across the lake the crackling ice became more ominous. The boys walked lightly over the bad ice but the runners of the sled were soon running in shallow water. The boys in terror turned toward the nearest shore but that was a mistake. The ice broke into large chunks and the sled slid into the icy water.Far shouted “come help me I can’t kick out of the blankets” Simon threw himself down on the crackling ice and grabbed this fathers hand. He shouted to his brothers “pull my legs! Hurry! Stay away from the edge of the ice.” Jacob Post the youngest was at the end of the line. All pulled frantically and slowly Far was pulled up on the ice away from the hole. One of the boys has unconsciously kept the sled rope in his hand and the sled was recovered. Far was laid on the sled, shaking with cold, clothes dripping and lips blue, but conscious enough to tell them where to go and what turns to take.

When they reached home around noon, Far had lapsed into unconsciousness. Mor was frantic when she saw them and heard what had happened. After Far had been put into bed, Mor ordered them, “Get stones and put them in the fireplace. Pour a cup of hot water, I’ll try and have him drink it.”

In spite of the frantic nursing care, the hot stones and the hot drinks, Far lay quietly and unconscious in his bed. On the third day life went out of him, Feb 27, 1805 As a widow, Sophie Amalia eventually had to leave the parsonage. By that time Jacob Post Michelet who was my great grandfather was in military training in Copenhagen. He begged to be released from the academy to take care of his widowed mother. –This story 
Written by Marion Grimsrud Nereim from verbal version passed down through the family over years..

This tragic accident and resultant death of Parish minister Johan Wilhelm left his children without a father. Records tell that Jacob Post Michelet was educated at the military academy in Copenhagen, Denmark and studied law in Christiana (Oslo) for a time then later became a successful merchant in Lillehammer.      

But, what of those Michelet family members left behind? Christian Fredrik, the oldest brother of Jacob Post Michelet and the one to suggest “let’s go around” the lake, in the previous sled story, remained in Norway. The leadership and responsibility he exhibited as a boy on that cold February day long ago, was characteristic in later years as he became a general in the Norwegian army. 

General Major Christian Fredrik Michelet was born in Fredrikshald, Norway on Dec. 7, 1792 the son of parish minister Johan Wilhelm Michelet and his wife Sophie Amalie Tuchsen. He started his military career with the Danish Land Cadet Academy in 1805 (immediately after the death of his father) at the age of 13. and he was a second lieutenant with the Slesvig Infantry Regiment in September of 1809 at the age of 17. By 1811 Michelet was with the Akershus Sherpshooter Regiment and in 1812, he was Premier Lieutenant. In 1814 he first participated in a raid in Sweden, and was later the Adjutant for Colonel Lieutenant Huitfeldt who was commanding officer of a battalion of sharpshooters and light infantry soldiers stationed along the border south of Orje and Michelet was a part of this battalion as the commanding officer for the Bergen Company during the skirmishes by Degernes Church, Rakkestad, and by Trogstad Church.  He held many positions and received many promotions until 1851 when he was appointed Colonel and commanding officer, first of the 2nd Akershus Infantry Brigade and three years later for the 1st Brigade and at the same time, commanding officer at Fredriksten. Immediately afterwards he was promoted to General Major. He remained in that position until he resigned in 1868 at the age of 78. 

He died a few years later on May 13, 1874, at the age of 82. With these assignments in mind it is not necessary to emphasize the position held by Michelt as an officer and the trust coming from the highest authorities. General Christian Fredrik was married to Edie Michaline Rasch. They had 11 children three of whom became military officers.

It is likely that Jacob Post Michelet kept in touch with his family back in Norway, by letters after settling on Coon Prairie in 1851...and it is quite possible that he might have received a letter from his brother Christian Fredrik telling that he had been promoted to General of the Norwegian army. A few years after settling on Coon Prairie, Jacob and Gregeine had a 6th child. This baby boy born April of 1855 was named after his brother Christian Fredrik. Sadly baby Christian Fredrik only survived for a year dying July 1856. Marion Grimsrud Nereim wrote “ no one seems to know for certain but long years ago I heard from an elderly woman that when this boy died (Christian Fredrik) another man had also lost a child and the men walked out on a field and decided where to dig and that was the start of the Coon Prairie cemetery. The minister lived in the area and I think it was before the church was built.”  

The Coon Prairie book says “Coon Prairie cemetery was dedicated when the infant daughter of the first pastor was laid to rest there September 11, 1855. The congregation was incorporated July 29, 1854.”

If baby Christian Fredrik was not the first baby boy buried in Coon Prairie Cemetery he was certainly one of the first. Today that grave is marked with a large headstone under three trees in a peaceful part of Coon Prairie Cemetery. It is the resting place of pioneer Jacob Post Michelet, his wife Gregine and their infant son Christian Fredrik. From the very beginning, the Michelet family was a part of many “firsts” in the development of the area through the years, as Coon Prairie, Bad Axe Co. became Westby, Vernon Co. and always remembering their heritage and strong connection to Norway.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Westby Area Historical Society

Old and new WAHS lamp logos.

Sept. 29, 1989 was the first appearance of the Historical Society lamp logo. This logo was used for some time but after a few years it was difficult to get a good copy of it. The new logo made its introduction, April 2000. Both drawn and copyrighted by Evelyn Larson.

The design is based on the Tiffany Lamps that were popular in the 1800s and would have been used in many Victorian homes.

The original drawing had two closed books with the lamp. In the newer sketch, one of the books was opened and included a pair of wire frame glasses. To quote Evelyn “History is an open book, not a closed one.”