Velkommen til Westby

Velkommen til Westby

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Evelyn Larson's Placemat

Syttende Mai, a Norwegian holiday heralding the arrival of spring was organized in 1968 with the first Syttende Mai celebration in 1969. The button for this event was furnished by the American Legion Auxiliary. It was a small white button with Westby Syttende Mai printed red. The following year the Syttende Mai Board asked Evelyn Larson and were granted permission to use the nisse on the button. Evelyn has designed the button and made it camera ready for 46 years.

The first placemat featuring the two original nisse and the Norwegian table prayer was printed in 1969. A Federal Copyright was applied for and was granted. Copyrights in 2015, are in effect for the owners lifetime plus 50 years.

Bloomingdale, the early years

Nestled in the beautiful green hills of the west branch of the Kickapoo River is the village of Bloomingdale. This pleasant little community, still home to many people, grew from a frontier trading post to a prosperous village of about one hundred souls. Bloomingdale’s history is one marked by many happy memories, by hardworking, intelligent, friendly people, and by stories of thriving businesses which served not only residents of this community, but also the whole area.

Today, we look back at the history of this community, located in the town of Clinton, in Vernon County, less than four miles from Westby. We look at history not only to remember the past with a nostalgic tear in our eyes, but also to learn of our roots — to know how we happened to be here, in this wonderful part of God’s earth.

When white man first came to Wisconsin, Indians roamed the part of Wisconsin we now live in. Over the centuries men of many tribes walked this land, including the Sauk, the Fox, the Chippewa and the Kickapoo.

By the 1840s, the ever-rolling tide of migration of the white man had entered even western Wisconsin. In 1848, the first white man to settle on Coon Prairie — Even Gullord, arrived in our area.

Gullord could not believe the vast expanse of land which lay before him on the beautiful prairie. Within a couple of years, many settlers arrived in this area to begin farming, making homes and settling the land. The vast majority of these settlers were Norwegians, but there were people from other lands coming to this rich, beautiful area as well.

It is not known who the first white man was to view the dale where the village of Bloomingdale would one day stand. But, by 1851, the first house was constructed where Bloomingdale now thrives, and by 1857, school was held in the little village.

Records tell us that the village of Bloomingdale was laid out in October 1857 by three men: Charles Hunt, Evan Olson and J.E. Palmer. A year later, a post office was opened, and Dr. Amos Carpenter was named as the first postmaster. Within a decade, virgin land had been broken and a village existed where only trees and wild animals had recently lived.

Why the name Bloomingdale? Many versions have been given how and why these early settlers selected this name. No definite answer can be given, but we can make a good guess.

When the first settlers arrived in this valley, they found a vast number of wild flowers growing here. They wrote of wild plum trees literally covering the hills. Because so many of early settlers were Norwegians, it is easy to imagine that the Norwegian word for flower “Blome” might be joined with the word for valley, “Dalen.” So this flowery valley may have been called Blomedalen. Norwegians often pronounced the “Blooming Dahl,” but today Bloomingdale is the common pronunciation.

There isn’t much written about the growth of this tiny village in the earliest years, but by the 1880s, Bloomingdale was thriving. A business and professional directory in 1883 included eight merchants in the community, with two other businesses just outside the village limits.

Morterud Store
The directory includes three general merchants: Christian A. Morterud, who was also a grain dealer, C.W. Dyson, and E.E. Rustad, who was also serving as postmaster. At this time, there were also two blacksmiths: H. Gihle and Peter Hanson; a tanner; Henry A. Hanson, a shoemaker; G.O. Myburg; a grist mill owned by Marion Osborn; and a physician and surgeon, Dr. C.M. Poff. Andrew Bakken, a furniture maker, and Chris Olson who made wagons, lived on the edge of town.

The trials and the history of the businesses in this era can be found in the history of one of the stores. Christian Morterud, a 32 year old Norwegian immigrant, came to Bloomingdale in 1865. The general store then was owned by H. Price, who hired Christian as a clerk.

Within a few years, Christian became a partner in the venture, and then he bought his partner out. Shortly after taking over the store it was recorded that the trade aggregated between $12,000 and $15,000 a year. In 1880, he erected a new store, a 24 by 65 foot building, at the cost of $1500.

The general store was the main trading place. One early settler reported that Morterud “handled everything — shoes, clothes, groceries, hardware, salt, patent medicines, cloth of all kinds and other staple goods and served as the weigh-in spot for farmers to sell their harvests.”

Farmers did not market milk or cream in those early days, but instead churned butter by hand and brought it to Morterud to trade for needed supplies. Storekeepers would put the butter into kegs and then send it to the market in La Crosse. Other products from the farms; wheat, barley, logs and livestock, became the medium of trade at the Bloomingdale store.


Another business was the furniture maker, located about three-fourths of a mile up the valley from Bloomingdale. Andrew Bakken owned a power dam extending almost across the valley, and next to it, a 24 by 36 foot factory. The factory was built in 1881 and completed for operation in 1883.

Mr. Bakken used native lumber for his furniture and cabinet making. He had a “dry-kiln” where a constant fire was kept burning to cure and dry his selected lumber.

Mr. Bakken’s products included, out of economic necessity, coffins. Working through the night on many occasions, Bakken made coffins to correct size, hand-carved, finished, and beautifully upholstered. Bakken also made handles for axes and cant-hooks and in his spare time created wood carvings which won him awards at many fairs, including a blue ribbon at the Chicago World’s Fair.

Another dam in the valley powered the flour and grist mill. Lars and Andreas Morterud built the original mill and dam in the 1850s, using millstones imported from Norway.

The flour mill was one of the busiest businesses in the valley. Early histories record that the mill ran night and day. Many owners ran the dam and mill until it was destroyed by a flood in the early 1900s and never rebuilt.

Another Bloomingdale business in the 1880s was the wagon maker, Chris Olson. His business was located on the east side of the valley on a road about one-half mile up the valley from the village. Here he made wagons and sleighs of all sizes, often custom built according to specifications.

As a tanner, Bloomingdale’s Henry A. Hanson excelled in his craft. People came from as far away as Coon Valley, Cashton, La Farge and Newton to have hides tanned, and among the shoemakers, his product was in high demand.

Hanson used the “cold water process”, using the spring water in the village. Even in cold weather, it was a common sight to see Mr. Hanson in high leather boots wading all day long in the soaking pond where the hides were submerged. This was a slow, wet, cold and difficult process, but Hanson’s product was superb.

The village of Bloomingdale also had a business owned by its patrons. The Bloomingdale Creamery, a cooperative venture, opened about 1905. It enjoyed the patronage of the area until it was merged with the Westby Cooperative Creamery in the mid 1940s.

These early businesses of Bloomingdale were served, in the first days, by oxen and horses. A number of “freighters” were available for hire—men with large wagons and a heavy team of horses.

George Buros was the first freighter before the coming of the railroads to Westby. He was followed in later years by S.W. Mossholder, who hauled for the Minor brothers and Adam Mossholder and William Pierce who hauled mostly for the Rustad and Morterud stores and the creamery.

The freighters hauled most produce to La Crosse, the chief market for sales. There were, however, no real roads at the time, just trails. The route to La Crosse was by way of Coon Valley — a three day trip.

After the railroad came to Westby in 1879, freighters began hauling the much shorter distance to that city. The main highway from the village from Westby, at the time, began a short distance south of the standpipe on State Street, then easterly, zig zagging over the prairie and into the valley and into Bloomingdale, a distance of about four miles.

During the rainy seasons, these freighters literally slid their loads through the mud. The Westby streets, for example, became a “sea of mud,” and it was not uncommon to see heavily loaded wagons axle deep in mud.

In the summer of 1857, the first school was held in a house built in Bloomingdale. For many years thereafter, the school term was August to July, in a log building on a hill east of the village.

In the early years of the community, the Norwegian language was used exclusively. But, as English speaking people came, they persuaded the Norwegians to hire an English speaking teacher. It is recorded that this first English teacher, John Wright, was a farmer who had completed the fourth reader. Students learned through readers, completing each of four along the way. Eventually the school terms were changed to slack months of the year, with three two month terms in fall, winter and spring.

Eventually the log building became too small, so another was built on the same site, but not of logs. When the present school was built, the people in the district converted the old building into a church for all religious denominations.


Written by Mrs. Albin Neprud about 30 years ago.

Avalanche is a village which, “Old Timers” say got its name from a landslide when the point of a high bluff slid down into the valley and formed a nice building spot. It is located on the west branch of the Kickapoo River at the junction of county roads “S” & “Y” At the present time there is very little activity here. At one time it boasted of having a cooperage factory, a feed and flour mill, a wool-carding and knitting mill, a wagon and blacksmith shop, a saw mill, a large general store including a full line of farm machinery, buggies and sleighs, etc., a post office, a creamery, and a one-room school. Some years later this school house became too small so a two room state graded school house was built. This closed its doors in the sixties like most rural schools did. The building now houses a country store. The co-op creamery was located across the river on the east side of the village. The farmers brought their cream here where it was made into butter. This building was swept away by the flood in 1907. The buttermaker and Brown Borreson were in it at the time. They somehow managed to get on the roof and rode it down stream until it hit the bridge at the Tink Caldwell farm, where they managed to escape to safety. A new creamery was built on the west side of town, where butter was made for many years. When cheese became more profitable it became a cheese factory. By the year 1946 the cheese factory was not doing very well. Larger factories were paying higher prices to the farmers for their milk so many started to deliver elsewhere. With this condition prevailing, the farmers voted to file bankruptcy. In 1947 the building and lot were put up for sale.

It was about this time that the government sent notices that church related activities could no longer be held in school houses. After that happened, the Ladies Aid and Sunday School joined and bought the old cheese factory building for $1,500. There was much interest in this so the whole community pitched in to help remodel the building. Those who were unable to help brought lunch for workers and others brought money. This remodeling was finished in time so they were able to hold their first Christmas program there in December 1947.

Today as you drive through Avalanche you will see the nice white little building with its back up against the west bluff. The willow tree shading the front entrance was planted by Stanley Hoilien. The sign over the front door reads, “Avalanche Lutheran Chapel”. Sunday School, Ladies Aid and an occasional service were held there until 1986. Then the Sunday School closed its doors. This was not for lack of willing workers but like the little rural school, for lack of pupils.

Hooverson Bear Chair

By RuthAnn Wilson

This “Bear Chair” has been traveling
for at least 157 years.  
The story begins with Hoover Hooverson (1844-1905), who was born in Norway in 1844. When he emigrated from Norway to Crawford County in 1854 at the age of 20, he carefully brought his treasured hand-carved oak “Bear Chair” with him. A few years later he joined the Wisconsin Volunteer Regiment and fought in the Civil War. Several years after the war ended, in 1868, he married his wife Bertha (1842-1915). They had eight children together, including a daughter Christine and a son Peter.  

When their daughter Christine married Charles Hawkins, they were given the beloved hand-carved oak Bear Chair as a wedding gift. But as it turned out, they had no children of their own.

Christine’s brother Peter Hooverson (1879-1956) married Amanda Golberg (1880-1956). One of Peter and Amanda’s children was Bertha Hooverson. When Bertha was born in 1904, she was given the name Bertha in memory of her grandmother Bertha. They lived in Avalanche and Viroqua when growing up.  Some years later, this Bertha married Tom Navrestad, who was born in Norway in 1894 and who arrived in Westby in 1911. They were the parents of George, Tennes, and Marilyn (Navrestad) Jensen.    

Back detail
Another of Peter and Amanda’s children was Charles Hooverson. Christine and Charles Hawkins had no children, so Christine’s nephew Charles Hooverson was eventually given the Bear Chair when he married Caroline Binder (Feb 13, 1920 – Oct 1, 2010) in 1945. Charles and Caroline Hooverson lived in Chicago, and celebrated many years together. Over the years, many people admired the Bear Chair and heard the story of its travels. Perhaps inspired by their dear Bear Chair, Caroline and Charles also enjoyed many travels together.   

Some years after Charles’ death, Caroline’s memorial service was held August 11, 2011 at Westby Coon Prairie Church, with Rev. Julie Wollman Officiating.  Both Charles and Caroline Hooverson are buried at Coon Prairie Cemetery. Their daughter Gail Hooverson Bieber, George Navrestad’s first cousin, received the chair after her parents died. Following their wishes, Gail brought the chair from Sterling, Colorado to Westby and donated it to the Westby Area Historical Society on August 17, 2011.   

And so the Bear Chair has been on an extensive journey, traveling from Norway in 1854 to Wisconsin, then to Chicago, to Detroit, to Phoenix, Arizona, then to Sterling, Colorado, and now finally, after 157 years, to Westby, where it has found a home where it can be admired by present and future generations for many years to come.   

Temperance Hall and the Temperance Society

By Lillian Leum

The Temperance Society was called “Coon Prairie Afholdsforening” and had a Constitution which was written in Norwegian. The purpose of the Society was to avoid and shun all places where liquor was sold, and its member were not to taste liquor or to give liquor to others. They were to be temperance.

The white building with two windows visible, located between
Our Savior’s and Westby Coon Prairies Lutheran Churches,
was the Temperance Hall in this 1921 photo.
The building itself was about the size of a country school house about 14’ x 18’. It had a kitchen for serving lunch. It had a potbellied stove for heat. For many years there was a pump outdoors for water. A hitching rack was built on the north side where the horses could be tied and covered with blankets when the weather was was cold. 

In 1892 the Society asked Our Savior’s to buy some land on the south side of the church to enlarge the Temperance Hall. In 1893 the church sold them a 10’ strip of land. At this time there was not a street between the two buildings.

The Temperance Hall was used for very many meetings of the Our Savior’s church. When the Ladies Aid was first organized, and the membership was too large to continue meeting in the homes, they met at the Temperance Hall. The Lutheran Brotherhood Society held its meetings there. Since this building had tables and chairs, dishes and a kitchen with a stove for cooking coffee, it was a very special place for meetings.

Although the Hall was built for the Temperance Society, it was used for many other things. At one time it was used for the Westby Library, the public school used it to remedy overcrowding before the new school was built and for Manual Training classes after the new high school was built.

The Temperance Society was a very active group. Delegates from the Westby Society would even walk to Brush Creek, which is between Cashton and Ontario, to attend their meetings. They even sent delegates to Racine to a National Temperance meeting. At their meetings they had elected officers to lead the meetings and had speakers. After the meeting, the tables and chairs would be moved aside for the youth to play games. They especially enjoyed the Grand March. In 1905 there were 52 adults and 9 youth members who met each month. At one meeting there was a basket social in which baskets of lunch were auctioned off o the highest bidder. The youth group was probably called “The Cold Water Society”. In 1907 delegates were sent to a meeting Eau Claire. In 1908 the total value of the building, wood shed, lot, dishes, and such was $1,220.85. In 1909 the building was moved a few feet so that a vestibule could be built onto the building again as it was too small to hold all the people who came there for various functions. A basement was built and by this time the village of Westby had a public water supply so water was put into the basement, and electric lights were installed. There were four lights put in the basement, three lights on each side of the main part of the building, one light in the kitchen and one in the vestibule. They also bought a cook stove for the basement and heater for the main room upstairs. After Our Savior’s church split with the Coon Prairie congregation, their services were held in the Temperance Hall. If they had night meetings, they were held in the Hall because of the electric lights. This was continued until the new church was completed in 1922.

After the new church was completed they still continued to use the hall for Ladies Aid, Scouts and other group meetings. Many other groups and worthwhile organizations continued to use the building. Then more meeting and entertainment places became available in Westby. As the years went on and travel conditions improved, new events were started so the interest in the use of the Temperance hall deceased and attendance at meetings dropped. After this lack of interest the building was sold to Bennie and Josie Johnson for $1,250 on May 15, 1922. A stipulation of the sale was that the property was never to be used for liquor, dance, pool hall, or for public games. So Bennie tore down the building and used the lumber to build the house that now stands on the corner lot. After the sale the Temperance Society gave $500 to each of the three churches in Westby. They continued their meeting until September 1929. After the society discontinued, the $64.42 in the treasury was given to church and missions.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Letter From Norway During WW II

By RuthAnn Wilson

This article, found in a folder of very old newspaper clippings, has the date “1943”written in pencil, while the heading does not tell which newspaper printed this article. It tells of a letter received from Norway sometime during World War II. It was sent to Bernice Bakke of Westby, soon after Bernice signed up to serve in the WAVES. The WAVES began in August 1942, when Eleanor Roosevelt persuaded Congress to authorize a women's component of the Navy — the WAVES. This was the first time women were able to serve in the military. 

Westby: 1943

If Mrs. Bertine Ruud, native of Westby but now a citizen of Oslo, Norway, wishes she was in America, her letters do not reveal it.

She was one of three daughters born (January 21, 1876) to Mr. And Mrs. Knut Hjelstuen (Bergine Toft) three score years ago near Westby, where she lived with her parents and sisters until she was 30 years old. At that age, having learned to love Norway through her mother’s description of it, she sailed on her first voyage to her mother’s country. Here she met and fell in love with Andreas Ruud, a skillful surgical instrument maker, who had a prosperous business in Oslo. She returned to America, but two years later (1910) went back to Norway to marry Mr. Ruud, with whom she lived happily many years.

When she was widowed (1923) she was left in comfortable means and owned a beautiful home in Oslo (Taasen Terrace). Many and long were the interesting letters she wrote home to her two sisters, Mrs. Anna Bakke and Mrs. Anton Anderson (Pauline), both living near Westby.  

She came here for visits, too, at least twice. Then came the war, changing everything for Mrs. Ruud as well as for everyone else. She is now living in two rooms in her former home since fuel cannot be had for the upkeep of a large dwelling.

Miss Bernice Bakke, a niece who has visited her aunt twice in Norway, first in 1931 as a high school graduation gift of the aunt, and again in 1938 when Miss Bakke “earned her own” by teaching, has just received a letter from Mrs. Ruud. It was sent airmail, reached here a month after it was sent, and was censored at Frankfort-on-the-Main. Nothing, however, had been deleted, due, Miss Bakke thinks, to her aunt’s individualistic handwriting, best understood by those familiar with it and because the letters are very cleverly written. She asks, “How are Martha and the children?” as though it is a family affair, when she is really inquiring about Crown Princess Martha (she and her children were kept safe in USA White House during the war).

She speaks of shortage of food, but not of the absence of it (it was later learned there was much starvation). Each person had a ration card for clothing and food. So many points of it only may be used during the quarter year. She was now saving “points” to get a pair of stockings. She speaks of substitutes for food, and had her afternoon “coffee” of steeped roasted peas and pronounced it “good.” She is glad, she says, that she is an unimportant citizen, since it is dangerous to be important these days.  

They do not mind the actual blackouts half as much as the “darkness” of not knowing the truth. “You may know what is going on,” she says, “but we don’t.”

Expressing thankfulness that they can meet to study and hear God’s word, she speaks of a “USA Christian Friends” group who meet for devotions carried on in English. It is composed of people who have spent part of their time in America.

Carding and spinning has again become a vocation for Mrs. Ruud, who learned it as a child in America. She speaks of it as a bit cumbersome, however. In each of the letters received from time to time by one or another of her relatives she reiterates, “I hope you do not join in the conflict.”  (Of course the USA had entered the conflict in 1941, but citizens in Norway had no news)

Miss. Bakke is in possession of a family heirloom, a ring, handed down to her by Mrs. Ruud, and one which has been in the family for generations. This ring has crossed the Atlantic Ocean 11 times on the finger of one or the other of these generation members.  

Westby High School Orchestra

Reuben Hagen, Cornet; Joel Hendrickson, Clarinet; Harold Stevlingson, Clarinet;
Otis Holmen, Clarinet; Harold Fredrickson, Violin; Chester Olson, Violin;
Jorgen Justin, Flute; Theodore Paulson, Flute; Alda Anderson, Piano.  

Since 1911, attempts were made to start an orchestra at Westby High School; but due to lack of time, the years passed by before the orchestra was organized. In 1914, however, we succeeded in starting one.

If you could only have heard the exquisite strains that floated out on the breeze the first evening the boys met for practice. It really reminded a person of the melodious utterances of a cat, a donkey, and a hog. On their first appearance in public the boys were showered with bouquets, and three vases of beautiful flowers were presented.

The tooting of Reuben Hagen’s cornet can be heard above all other instruments. If he is absent nothing can be accomplished. Harold Fredrickson, our Ole Bull, likes to rush ahead with the melody, but with difficulty is held in check.

Miss. Morris, our second grade teacher, has very ably directed this body. We are fortunate in having someone in our midst who can do the work. Miss. Norris is well qualified for this work, for she had devoted much time to the study of the violin.

The orchestra has furnished music for many school and city programs; and it will, of course, play an important part in our commencement exercises.

The school is very proud of its orchestra, and it has a reason to be; for very few infant high schools can boast of one. We hope that other pupils will step in to take the places of our Senior boys, so that our High School can continue its orchestra work next year.

The following are the members of our orchestra: Reuben Hagen, Cornet; Joel Hendrickson, Clarinet; Harold Stevlingson, Clarinet; Otis Holmen, Clarinet; Harold Fredrickson, Clarinet; Chester Olson, Violin; Jorgen Justin, Flute; Theodore Paulson, Flute; Alda Anderson, Piano.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Westby High School Basketball

Written about 1914

Westby High School 1912 Basketball Team. Ramsland, Coach; Running, Thorson, Captain; Saugstad, Ballsrud, Hagen, Unseth, Weiland, Manager.

Athletics have proven a success in the Westby High School. Basketball has been the game of the school for the last three years. Considering that this sport was new to the village when the high school was in its infancy, we can be proud of the showing made by our team.

When the ninth grade was added to our school athletics received its start. Mr. Godfrey, then the principal of the school, developed and produced a team which was a surprise. This was the introduction of basketball in our village. Through Mr. Godfrey’s diligent coaching, the fellows held down the strong team of Viola high school to a very close score. Very few games were played the first year; but the fellows were kept in training. A game that was played with the Freshmen team of the Viroqua high school resulted in a victory for our team.

When the tenth grade was added to our school the prospect for a winning team was very good. Mr. Godfrey continued as coach and devoted himself to bettering the team. Soon the people of our village began to take great interest in the game; but the prospect of a good season was shattered by a shaking up in the team.

During the third season the team showed its greatest ability. Under the management of Principal L.E. Weiland and the coaching of Sig Ramsland and Sam Neprud, success came to the fellows. Not only was there good individual work, but the team work was very good also the Westby High School was put on the Athletic Association. This made it possible for us to compete with the other schools of the state.

When the fourth year was added to the high school a good team was expected, the fellows being experienced and having played together for three years. Under the management of Principal L.E. Weiland and the coaching of Mr. Petersen, the team was developed. Good school spirit was shown throughout the season, and the games were a success financially. “Hard luck,” if there is such a thing, was with the team. Many of the games that went to the opponents were lost only by the smallest of margins. The school stood by its team, and showed excellent spirit and enthusiasm.

The following is adapted from the 1940 American Legion pamphlet

With the City of Westby providing us with a brand new gymnasium in which to play basketball, coach Wandschneider’s basketeers went right out to win ten straight conference games to take the 1940 conference championship. Not satisfied with this alone, they took Onalaska, champions of the Coulee Conference, split even with Sparta, winners of second place in the South Central Conference. Playing as eighteen game schedule including the Sparta tournament, Westby won 73 games and lost but five. In its ten straight conference games Westby gathered 312 points while holding opponents to 189 points. Even though this is the second conference championship this is the first that Westby has won without a single defeat since the league was first organized.

Whether Westby will win the 1941 championship is too early to tell, but Westby has lost only three conference games out of thirty.

Westby High School Football

Adapted from a 1940 American Legion pamphlet

Due to the untiring efforts of Legionnaires Goettel, Nestingen and Bergtold, and of coach Wandschneider, eleven-man football received its start in our local high school. During the fine spring days of 1938, Coach “Bill” Wandschneider could be seen drilling many high school boys in the fundamentals of football, a sport they had never even seen played before. By fall of the same year an eight game schedule had been drawn up and twenty-two complete new football uniforms were ready to be checked out to the players.

During the first year Westby High School won three of its eight games and proved that the game of football was really liked by not only the boys but the city as well.

The 1939 season saw Westby High starting a seven game schedule and finishing the year with two wins, one tie and four losses. During this year we saw the local high school stage the first homecoming football in its history with the snake dance, pep meeting, bonfire, homecoming game with Viroqua, and its gallant homecoming ball the night of the game.

 * * * * * * * * *

Elmo Gulsvig in 1966.
The 1940s schedule proved to be more successful. However, Mr. Wandschneider left at the end of the 1941 season. During WWII Westby sports took a back seat to patriotism. High School boys enlisted in the service, some even leaving before graduation.

In August of 1945, the war ended and life began its return to normalcy. Elmo Gulsvig was hired as a science teacher and coach. Thirteen boys turned out for the first football practice in the fall of ‘45. By 1961 the numbers had grown to 82. Gulsvig also coached baseball, basketball, and in 1954 revived track as a sport which had not survived the war times.

* * * * * * *

Gulsvig’s record as a football coach was 73 wins and 38 losses, with seven conference championships and two undefeated seasons. Recognized by a number of local and state organizations, the ultimate award came in Aril, 1989 when he was inducted into the Wisconsin High School Football Hall of Fame. His picture and record plaque now hang in the University Field House in Madison.

The Westby Kiwanis club honored Gulsvig with a banquet where they presented with the following framed message: “In recognition of Elmo Gulsvig: Enshrinement into the Wisconsin High School football Coaches Association Hall of Fame on April 1, 1989. Your seventeen years of coaching tempered with high ideals have brought tribute and honor to the Westby Area Schools. To win games was always your ambition; good sportsmanship was always your creed. A grateful community salutes you with the words of this familiar verse by Grantland Rice: ‘For when the one great scorer comes…To write against your name, He writes…not that you won or lost…But how you played the game.’ April 13, 1989.

Football has remained a popular sport in Westby with successes which have included being state champions in 1978, coached by Neil Hoven, and again in 1985 and 1986, coached by Art Brunje. Today’s Polly Rude’s colorful Velkommen signs on the entrance to Westby include the record championships — A Norwegian town proud of its athletes of all nationalities.

Westby High School Band

1930 Westby High School Band
Wilbur Hagen, Myron Thoreson, Kermit Flugstad, Carmen Olson, Orin Anderson, Cornets; Gladys Sloan, Drums; Stanley Cohen, Joel Ostrem, Baritones; Howard Ruud, Verna Ronken, Gordon Steenson, Einar Morterud, John Benson, Chester Swiggum, Willard Langhus, Jack Lane, Harlan Barstad, Burton Knutson, Archie Sloan, Clarinets; Ralph Halvorsen, Oboe; Raymond Evenstad, Malcolm Nelson, Le Verne Holman, Leo Ostrem, Trombones; Lauritz Nelson, Lawrence Oium, Burton Bergum, Waldo Christianson, Elton Thoreson, Basses; Russell Johnson, Richard Grimsrud, Saxophones; Lee Mockrud, Leif Mickelson, Myron Skolos, Horns; Otis Mickelson, Henry Hanson, Stanley Constalie, Lorenzo Skundberg, Flutes.

The Westby High School band was organized during the year of 1922, by the Reverend J.O. Holum. In 1924, the late Otto Brown of Viroqua, was engaged as part-time instructor in the school.

Through the help of the Westby Kiwanis Club, several instruments were bought, and later, the Band Mothers Club which was organized in 1928, added more instruments. In 1928, the band made it first appearance in uniforms bought through the efforts of the “Band Mothers.”

Many district and state contest honors were won by the band under Mr. Brown’s directorship which he held until June of 1932. At that time, the present conductor, Mr. Victor Olsen, was engaged as instructor of instrumental music.

The number taking part in instrumental music has grown from 36 in 1932, to 70 in 1940. The band, under Mr. Olsen’s direction, has the amiable record of six consecutive first division ratings in music contest. The director has been able to secure engagements for the band, which net approximately two hundred dollars yearly. This enables the organization to pay all of the running expenses as to music, repairs, transportation, awards, as well as bought some additional needed equipment.

The Band Mother’s Club deserves much credit for the support they have given the organization. They have bought several fine instruments, considerable music and their crowning feature, surely, was the presentation to the band in 1936, of a complete set of 52 uniforms.

Historic Sideboard with Mirror

By RuthAnn Wilson

Marjorie Haugen with her sideboard
Marjorie Haugen’s mother Agnes Bekkum Steenberg was born to Oline Torgerson and Rudolph Bekkum in a log home in Timber Coulee on the Torger Bekkum home farm in 1904, joining her sister Mabel, 3 years old. In 1907, their brother Otis was born.   

In 1908, Rudolph Bekkum met a real estate agent from Montana who encouraged him with promising new opportunities in Montana. The Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad reached the Musselshell River in 1907 when the town of Roundup, Montana, was nothing more than a little cow town. The railroad spurred homestead filings on the newly surveyed land.  

His Viking wanderlust awakened, he and Oline, with their children Mabel age 7, Agnes age 4, and baby Otis, along with the Chris Kjelland family, rented an immigrant car to travel to Montana for a new and better life. They brought along their cows, chickens, machinery, food, and furniture. The men stayed with the animals in the emigrant car, and the women and children traveled in a Pullman car.  

Needless to say, it was a long, arduous journey. Upon arrival, more distress was caused when Oline learned that some of the railroad people had killed and eaten several of their precious chickens.  

Finally, they reached their destination and established a farm on the Musselshell River.  Their first 6 years were quite productive, but then things became very difficult. After 13 years, they decided to come back to Wisconsin. (Today, the Musselshell County Courthouse in Roundup, Montana, reports a current population of nearly 10 percent Norwegian descendants, so that real estate effort must have been successful!) 

Agnes and Mabel decided to stay in La Crosse and find work. Agnes was hired as “kitchen help” in a nice home. When Agnes admitted to her new employer that she didn’t know much about that, the woman replied, “That’s what I like. I can teach you what I want, then.”  

Agnes enjoyed living in La Crosse, and she became good friends with an elderly couple living next. That couple had been married for over 50 years and it was time for them to move to a smaller place. They had numerous furnishings for sale, and Agnes bought the lovely sideboard and mirror from them in 1922. She had it shipped to Coon Valley and safely stored at her parents’ home.

In July, 1924, Agnes married Melvin Steenberg from Westby. They did as so many others liked to do at the time — they went on the train to Winona to get married. They lived in Westby, where Melvin worked for Bekkedal’s. Later they farmed near Westby, and then moved to Coon Valley in 1944.   

Agnes and Melvin Steenberg’s only child is Marjorie Haugen. She and Elnor Haugen were married 62 years ago. They lived in La Crosse for some years. In 1964 Marjorie and Elnor built their beautiful home in Coon Valley next to her parents’ home. For their housewarming, Marjorie’s parents gave them this sideboard, and they have treasured it ever since.  

Now this sideboard is the focal point in the dining room at the Thoreson House in Westby, where it will be on view for future generations.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Westby High School from 1912-1914

History of the Westby High School from 1912-1914

When school opened in September of the year 1912, we marked many changes. Principal L.E. Weiland had come to take the place of Mr. Godfrey who left us at the end of the preceding school year. Mr. Weiland had visited us in May of the same year, so we felt more or less acquainted with him; and work started off the first day without a hitch. Miss. Hildur Schreiner was added to the teaching force of the high school after two weeks had passed. This divided the work in such a way that we were enabled to devote more time and energy to activities which are as valuable to high school students as are the lessons learned from books.

Built in 1910 the new public school
would stand for another 50 years
The seventh and eighth grades were moved from the assembly room, and each of the fifty-three high school students could proudly say, as he looked about him, “I am monarch of all I survey.” The spirit exhibited by this band of young people would have done justice to persons much older and far wiser than they. “They work like Trojans” was a favorite expression that went around among those who watched them day in and day out. We would not have you think, however, that they were bookworms or grinds as they threw themselves into other activities with as much vigor as they displayed in the class room.

Many things had been done which had resulted in greater possibilities for the boys and girls. I am thinking particularly of  buying the piano. The piano fund was started under the instigation of Miss. Polley and had gradually been increased until with a little financial aid from the board we were enabled to buy the long-hoped-for instrument. The wheezy organ, which had done faithful service for so long, was removed, and the new piano was dedicated on the Monday morning following its arrival. On that occasion we displayed what musical talent we had, and tried to make the stranger understand how much we appreciated its presence.

The piano was not the only improvement which graced our school. It was no more necessary to summon classes from their visitations and violate their privacy by opening their classroom doors and giving a signal that meant, “it is time to call a halt; another class needs this room.” A new electric bell had banished that uncouth method; and trivial as it may seem, the bell was hailed as an object of adoration.

Our library was increased and the number and character of the book added greatly to the efficiency and pleasure of the students. Perhaps I am going into detail when I mention the new clock, new chairs and other pieces of furniture which to some would seem of small value, but to us were so gratifying. 

Principal L.E. Weiland fully appreciated the fact that a school that merely teaches its pupils how to glean knowledge from the printed page is not doing all it ought to do for wide-awake young people who must learn how to live with their fellow men. Hence societies and clubs of literary and athletic natures received their share of attention. A Literary society of more than fifty members was organized, and it was to long before our first program was given. Never have I seen a society of this kind attended and appreciated as ours has been. Sometimes it was almost impossible to seat the crowds which were in attendance. It was before such audiences as these that our students waxed oratorical or argumentative. This work revealed talent which we might never have discovered in any other way.

The boys labored hard and faithfully to clean off a spot large enough for a double tennis court. I do not think they regretted the work, for they realized all kinds of fun out of the court after it was finished. Anyone watching a lively game could not help but feel that it was all worth while; not only because of the fun it afforded, but also because of the exercise.

The tennis season was a short one and basketball soon became the all-engrossing feature of the hour. The boys’ team was coached by Sigurd Ramsland and the girls’ by Arthur Thorson. No one could expect me to express in cold unfeeling words the merits of these basketball teams. I do not think that I am saying too much when I maintain that they did a big work in proving to the people of our neighboring communities that we were no longer their inferior in any respect. Our boys and girls did creditable school work, exhibited good clean morals, and played the game on all occasions at the end of the season letters were given to the boys, and a basketball banquet, which proved to be a fitting close to this most successful year, was held in honor of the teams.

Thus the days flew by. Every one was busy, and time went so fast that we had reached the close of the year almost before we knew it. It had meant close figuring of time and concentration of energy to keep all the work and outside activities in full swing, but we did it, nevertheless, and when the books were handed in on the “last day” we all felt that the work and play had been so well proportioned that we could truly say that we had spent an enjoyable and profitable year.

With expectation we awaited the arrival of September 1913. This year we knew would be different from any other school year that had ever been experienced in Westby. We were a full-fledged high school and cold hold up our heads as proudly as any one. I believe that every pupil thrilled with pride to think that we had at least reached our year of maturity. There was a Senior row, Senior dignity and Senior everything-else which we had never had before.

During vacation the assembly room had been filled with rows of seats which were nearly as long as the room itself. A rostrum from which the “powers that be” could made their influence felt to the most remote corner of the room had been built. Miss. Larkin from Ripon College and Mr. Petersen from the University of Wisconsin had come to swell the ranks of the teachers. A laboratory, with necessary equipment, had been fitted up in the basement. Physics had been an unheard of science in this school, but it was not long before we all began to learn of its mysteries. Fumes, strange musical sounds and explosions from that region below informed us that the Seniors were being lead along the fascinating road of science.

A subscription list had been passed about and a fund was raised for the purchasing of magazines and newspapers. These periodicals have served their purpose and have been valuable sources of knowledge for almost all departments of the school.

Much progress has been made in music this year. The good work received its start last year and has been continued with great success. Chorus singing by the high school has been under the able direction of Mr. Weiland who has taught the pupils to know and appreciate many pieces of good classical music. The orchestra was organized with Miss. Norris as director. The marked progress which it has made can be best appreciated by those who heard it all its first rehearsal last fall. The orchestra made its first appearance at a literary program and those who were there will remember that the first selection was followed by of sower of bouquets.

Besides the literary society which was still in a flourishing conditions. A German society was formed for the benefit of the Seniors. Of its operations and functions I am quite ignorant; but we all know that it must have proved a success because the members of the society always followed any remark incident to the program with a satisfied and equally mystifying grin.

Basketball claimed it usual amount of attention this year also. Mr. Petersen ably coached both teams and insisted upon creditable work and clean habits as requisite qualifications of candidates for the team. Several boys who, before this year, had not been conspicuous in athletics, came out to practice and made good. Although our teams have not made quite as brilliant a showing as they did last year we were not unloyal to them one minute because we felt that they were “stickers” and true sportsmen from the word “go.”

Mathias and Karen Engh Family

Mathias and Karen Engh and family. 
Descendants are hoping for leads to more information
for the extended family tree 
Mathias Johansen (Johnson) Engh was born August 1, 1860 in Vestre, Gausdal, Norway to Johannes Monsen Aulstadengen and Helene Forsensdatter Rustberget. He was baptized and confirmed in Norway. On June 2, 1882 at the age of 21, he left Norway on the boat “Rollo” and came to America. He secured employment at a lumber camp in northern Wisconsin.

Karen was born September 25, 1852 in Faaberg, Gudbransdalen, Norway to Ole and Guri Olson Kjetlien. Apparently Karen and Mathias met at her farmstead where Mathias worked. At the age of 31, on May 31, 1883 Karen left Norway on the boat “Thingralla.” She brought along a son, Hans Mathiason, who was born January 19, 1883. Hans apparently died at sea and it has been said that Karen held him until she reached America and then buried him.

Mathias and Karen were married in America on September 23, 1883 and settled on Pumpkin Ridge in Jefferson Township, Vernon County, Wisconsin. They changed their name from Johnson to Engh because there were so many Johnsons. They cleared the land, built a home and farmed there until 1920 when they moved to Westby, Wisconsin.

Mathias and Karen were blessed with seven more children (in order); Gunda, Henry, Olaf, Minnie, Engman, Anna. Another son, also named Olaf, died in infancy at 10 days of age.

Grandpa Mathias was one of the first members of the Bethany Lutheran Church congregation in Esofea, Wisconsin. For a while he was a member of Our Saviors Lutheran Church in Westby but he later transferred back to Bethany. He died at the age of 81 on April 20, 1941 after a brief illness at the home of his son Olaf. His obituary reads: “He was a good, honest citizen, reliable in all his dealings. He will be greatly missed.”

Grandma Karen was able to do many things and taught her children well.  She served as a midwife for neighbors.  She farmed and cared for the children alone during many winter months when Mathias was in northern Wisconsin working in the lumber camps.  During her last year of life she suffered continuously from heart trouble.  She died at the age of 75 on Ascension Day and Syttende Mai, May 17, 1928.  Her obituary reads: “With Christian faith and patience she awaited her final summons.”

Children of Mathias and Karen Engh

Hans Mathiason: Born January 19, 1883. Died in infancy on the ship Rollo enroute from Norway to America sometime after May 31, 1883.

Gunda Marie: Born July 28, 1884. Died July 21, 1950 at age 66. Married Olius Role on May 23, 1905. They had seven children: Alida, Herman, Palmer, Obert, Evelyn, Edgar and Inez. Palmer and Edgar were married to Hasley sisters. Their paternal grandmother, Marie (Gilbertson) Hasley was a sister to Lars Gilbertson, Elnore (Engman Engh) Gilbertson’s father-in-law.  

Henry Julius: Born January 16, 1887. Died December 1, 1969 at age 82.  Married Bertha Berger on May 1, 1920. Bertha died on November 10, 1994 at age 102. They had seven children including 2 sets of twins: Ruth, Verna and Verdell (twins), Karen, Harley and Harold (twins) and Richard.

Olaf Theodur: Born June 22, 1890.  Died March 13, 1962 at age 72. Married Julia Geary on December 22, 1914. Julia died December 13, 1969 at age 75. She was the sister of Morris Geary who was married to Minnie Engh. Julia and Olaf had no children.

Minnie C.: Born March 26, 1893. Died September 9, 1973 at the age of 80. She married Morris Geary on October 10, 1916. Morris died on January 21, 1964 at age 78. They had four children: Lawrence, John, Kenneth and Berniece.

Engman Hilmar: Born March 16, 1896. Died October 23, 1987 at age 91. He married Malla Barstad on January 11, 1919. She died August 1, 1973 at age 75.  They had ten children: Carol, Margaret, Elnore, LaVerne, Roland, Dorothy, Duane, Rachel, Esther and Frederick.

Anna M.: Born November 26, 1898. Died September 22, 1982 at age 83. She married Morgan Berg on October 6, 1937. He died February 20, 1962 at age 69. They had one son, Morris Engh.


If you have information about this family contact: Linda De Garmo, (608) 452-3367 or Corky Olson (608) 638- 2992.

Barbara Murphy’s Walnut Dresser

By RuthAnn Wilson

Barbara Murphy’s walnut dresser has been traveling for at least 150 years. It first belonged to Josh and Josie Knight, who came from England to the state of Maine in about the 1850s. It was originally part of a complete bedroom set.  It is not known if they brought this dresser with them from England, or if they acquired it after they settled in Maine. What is known, however, is that after a few years in Maine, Josh and Josie heard about wonderful farm land in Illinois. 

It may have been the Homestead Act, passed in 1862, which lured them to Illinois. That Homestead Act gave title to a property, typically up to 160 acres. The law required the person to file an application, improve the land, and then file for deed of title. The occupant had to be 21 or older, had to live on the land for five years and had to show evidence of having made improvements.

When Josh and Josie decided to move their family to Illinois, there was much to transport. They may have brought only the dresser, and left the other pieces of the bedroom set behind. Many difficult choices needed to be made in preparation for that difficult journey to their new home.  

They took a train from Maine to Chicago, and there they bought a horse and wagon. It took many days to complete the 65 miles to Yorkville. There they settled, with the Fox River on one side and Blueberry Creek on the other. Josh and Josie Knight planted a large productive orchard and settled down to raise their family, by now including their son Fred.  

A few years later, a sister left Maine and came to Illinois. Once there, tragedy struck. After traveling all the way from Maine, one of the children became ill with diphtheria. This disease was so contagious that doctors wouldn’t even come to help, and the child died.  People were frightened of the contagion, so they took the body to the cemetery at midnight in a buggy for burial. 2 or 3 days later, the next child became ill and died, and they had to make another sad trip to the cemetery.  On the tombstone it said, “Little Bethie - 2 years and 16 days”. Again, the third child died, followed by another midnight burial. All in the space of one week, 3 of the 4 children died of diphtheria. This was probably in 1881, when there was a diphtheria epidemic in Illinois.

Josh and Josie’s son Fred Knight grew up, inherited the family farm, married his sweetheart Emily, and by 1900 had a fine little family, including their newborn son David Knight. David grew up and married Helen Beebe, and they continued to use their family heirloom, the beautiful black walnut dresser and mirror. To their joy and delight, their daughter Barbara was born, and their life seemed perfect.

Barbara remembers being small enough for her Daddy, Daniel Knight, to pick her up in his arms, swing her up onto his shoulders, and go look for their cow. They would walk back on the farm to a place called Skunk Hollow, with little Barbara riding on Dad’s shoulders There they would stop to pick wildflowers to bring back to mother. Sometimes mother might put them in a vase on the old walnut dresser.

But once again, tragedy struck. When Barbara was nearly 4 years old, she caught her thumb in the gears of the old crank washing machine on the back porch. It tore the joint of her thumb apart. The doctor cut, sewed and cut, and sewed some more. Even though Barbara lost the joint of her thumb, the doctor saved her thumb and the thumb-nail. For weeks the doctor drove out to the house in his buggy to check her hand as it healed.

Soon after this accident, more tragedy struck. They lost the family farm for lack of $800.00 and moved to Aurora, Ill. They lost so much, but they still had the old walnut dresser. They were so poor that the American Legion paid for coal to heat their little home. The American Legion also took Barbara shopping for a warm winter coat. Then, when Barbara was 11 years old, the worst happened. Dad became sick, then died at the age of 52 (he smoked Lucky Strike cigarettes all his life).  

Mom had to go to work, so Barbara and her older sister and younger brother were separated and sent to live with various family members. Barbara eventually graduated from Downers Grove High School.

After that, she went to work at an airport as a secretary for a couple years, and then started a Practical nursing course. After a brief marriage, she went to work as a practical nurse.  

She married John Murphy in 1960. John already had a little daughter Jean, and soon they had 4 more children. Those happy years together raising their family flew by, with so many wonderful memories. And the children all loved to listen to stories of the old black walnut dresser.  

One day in 1981, Barb accompanied a friend on a trip up to Avalanche to her friend’s cabin and fell in love with the rolling terrain. She went home, described it to her husband John, and they returned. They found their perfect 25 acres at the bottom of Leum Hill near Avalanche, with a little log summer kitchen which they converted to their retirement home. Of course they brought the precious heirloom walnut dresser with them.  
Barbara still loves this area, but now the time has come to downsize, and the walnut dresser has found a new home in the Thoreson House in Westby.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Ole Westby Goes to War

By Bob Tosterud, Professor of Norskonomics
Ole Westby
Living in Virginia for 12 years, Karen and I became very interested in the people, places, and events of this most horrendous event in US history. Evidence of it is everywhere: battle fields, statues, reenactments, museums, and attractions of all varieties. This was the war that pitted American versus American, father versus son, brother versus brother. I found one of the most interesting aspects of the Civil War was the large and important role immigrants played in this North American conflict.

In addition to the critical role immigrants played in the election of Abraham Lincoln (Some historians believe that Lincoln would not have been elected President without the strong support of immigrants. You may want to give that a second thought given today’s circumstances.), over 400,000 served with the Union army predominately Germans, Irish, and Scandinavians. The Confederate army had relatively few immigrants in its ranks. 

Learning that Scandinavians were eager volunteers for the Union, and even though “my people” didn’t arrive until the 1880s, I remember how anxious I was to search for any Tosterud’s in the “Soldiers and Sailors System” of the National Park Service website ( I admit I was disappointed to find none. The closest I could get was an Ole Tostenson in the roster of the 15th Wisconsin Infantry.

Much to my delight, I soon discovered that the 15th Wisconsin was also known as the Scandinavian Regiment and the nationally recognized abolitionist Hans Christian Heg was the Colonel of the 15th.  There were over 2000 soldiers in the 15th almost 90 percent being Norwegian, the rest Danish and Swedish. I must admit that my heritage pride grew as I learned more and more about the 15th.  I had my personal Civil War “connection” I was looking for.

The 15th Wisconsin Volunteer Regiment was organized near Madison, Wisconsin, and mustered into Federal service on February 14, 1862. Passing through Chicago two weeks later, on March 1, the 15th was presented with a beautiful flag by the Scandinavian “Society Nora.” The motto on the flag was “For God and Country.” On one side were the American colors, with gilt stars on a blue field. On the reverse were the American and Norwegian arms, united; the Norwegian arms representing a lion with an axe, on a red field. Colonel Heg officially accepted the flag on behalf of the regiment, thanked the Society, and loaded his regiment on the train headed to St. Louis. The regiment engaged the enemy for the first time at Island No. 10, Mississippi River, on March 15. Here they captured their first rebel flag and sent it as a trophy to the governor of Wisconsin. Much of that summer and fall was spent in pursuit of Confederate General Bragg and Morgan’s gorillas in and around Kentucky.

Along with dozens of skirmishes, some of the more famous battles during which the 15th was engaged in 1863-64 were the Battle of Stone’s River, Tullahoma Campaign, Liberty Gap, Chickamauga Campaign, Chattanooga-Ringgold Campaign, Atlanta  Campaign, Rocky Faced Ridge, Battle of Resaca, New Hope Church, Pickett's Mill, Pine Hill, Peach Tree Creek, and the Battle of Jonesboro. The regiment was mustered out of service by company between December 1, 1864 and February 13, 1865. The 15th Wisconsin Regiment lost during service eight Officers and 86 Enlisted men killed and mortally wounded and one Officer and 241 Enlisted men by disease. Total 336. Included in this total was Colonel Heg, KIA at Chickamauga. Colonel Heg was the highest ranking officer from Wisconsin to die in battle during the Civil War.

My “affiliation” with the Westby Times caused me to look a little further into the roster of the 15th   to see if I could find a Westbian or two. I wouldn’t of course because Westby hadn’t been settled yet. I must admit that I was more than a little tickled however to discover that “my” Ole Tostenson fought along side Ole Tostenson Westby, namesake of Westby, Wisconsin, in Company H. Small world.

For a good history of the 15th Wisconsin see:

Immanuel Lutheran Church - Fiftieth Anniversary - 1890-1940

Written by Ole Aas, George Moen and Martin Leum

Immanuel (Moen) Lutheran Church

To the north of Coon Prairie, along the northern border of Vernon County, Wisconsin, in the town of Christiana, lies a region not vastly different in topography from that of Coon Prairie. Like Coon Prairie this region was already at the time of which we write, the early seventies, largely peopled by Norwegians, and was an important Norwegian community.

Across the line, into Monroe County, in the town of Portland, lies another region, more rolling but nevertheless just as fertile.

When settlement of this region began in earnest is not definitely known, but, from marble slabs erected in an old cemetery, near where the Immanuel church now stands, we learn that many burials were made during the late fifties and through the sixties so this region must have been well settled even at that early date.

Most of the early settlers of this region came from the eastern states, mainly from New York State and from Ohio, and were largely of English descent. We also know that there were some Norwegians who had acquired farms in the town as early as 1858, near Hazen’s Corner, a stopping place on the old Black River Trail, near where the village of Cashton is now situated. In the western part of the town on what was known as Fleischer’s Ridge, were others. In the north central part of the town, a group of German families had also established themselves. These organized the German Lutheran congregation of Portland and built a church a short distance west of where the Portland store now stands.

In the early seventies emigrants from Norway began to arrive in ever increasing numbers, and as these immigrants were mostly farm folks (bondefolk), they adapted themselves most readily to farm conditions as they were here. Many of these immigrants, having brought some means with them from Norway, and, looking forward to self-owned farms and homes, began to look for farms that they could buy; and, as many of the original settlers were anxious to sell, the farms changed ownership rapidly. Thus, in the course of years, this region, also, became largely Norwegian.

During this period of constructive settlement, the churchgoing people had attended services at Coon Prairie. All ministerial service were performed by pastors of the Coon Prairie congregation. But, as time went on it became apparent that a nearer place, where religious service could be held, was necessary, and so in 1872 North Coon Prairie congregation was organized. This congregation became a member of the Norwegian Evangelical Synod of America, and under the guidance of the Reverend H. Halvorson prospered both in membership and in other ways.

No organization, religious or otherwise, can truthfully say that it has been 
entirely free from controversy during its lifetime. The Norwegian Evangelical Synod was no exception. In the middle eighties a controversy arose, doctrinal in nature the discussion of which has no place in this sketch. This controversy in time came to the many congregations of the synod. It came to the North Coon Prairie congregation also, but had, at the time to which this short sketch is leading us, to some extent subsided.

Early in 1890, the Coon Prairie parish with several outlying congregations, was considered too large for one pastor to adequately serve, therefore the question of an assistant pastor to Reverend Halvorsen was brought before the several congregations of the pastorate. In the North Coon Prairie congregation, this matter, coming so soon after the doctrinal friction, became an annoying one. The voting members were about evenly divided, and, at a meeting to settle the matter, those in favor of an assistant pastor won out by a small majority. Being unable to accommodate themselves to conditions as they then existed, with but a remote possibility of a compromise about fifty families withdrew to form a congregation of their own. This became the Immanuel Lutheran Congregation.

Moen Cemetery

Found, Another Branch on the Family Tree 
By Sheri Neprud Ballard 

Oiumsdalen sawmill and pond. The mill shown in this photo was built by Iver Oium in 1891.
An earlier mill on the same site was built by another Mr. Oium in 1855, but was torn down later. At the busiest times the mill was going constantly day and night.

As you know, I love researching my family tree and in doing so, have found many interesting relationships. I’ve found several cousins, nice people with whom I have one or more common ancestors. I’ve also learned that some people I’ve been acquainted with for years, have turned out to be third of fourth cousins. I have read that if your ancestors came from a particular area of Norway, most of the people from that area are anywhere from your fourth to seventh cousins.

I love to walk through the beautiful Coon Prairie Cemetery where my paternal grandparents Theodore Neprud and his wife, my grandmother Pauline Stalsberg Neprud are buried. Nearby are buried my great grandfather Christian Neprud and his wife Marie, my great grandmother. Also close by are the graves of  Tjostel and Frederikke Oium, and Gulbrand, Torline, and Harrison Oium.

In my research, I learned that Marie Neprud, my great grandmother’s, birth name was Marie Amundsdatter Oium. That must mean that Marie was somehow related to these other Oiums who lay in eternal rest near her grave. Further digging proved that yes, they were indeed related, in fact they were Marie’s own siblings. There are a lot of Oiums living in the Westby area. Did this mean that I had found another branch of my ever larger family tree?

Here is what I now know about the Oium family.

Tjostel Oium was one of the three recorded children of Amund and Marit Oium. He emigrated to America in 1849. He was one of the first settlers at Coon Prairie. A story is told of Tjostel. He got a piece of land a couple of miles northwest of where the city of Westby was built. Here he dug a hole into the hillside, put a door at the front and a chimney on top and this is where he lived. Back home in North Fron, Norway, relatives waited for word from America from Tjostel. Unfortunately, writing tools were scarce and there didn’t seem to be much to write about. A couple years went by with no word, so younger brother Iver decided to go to America on his own, thinking poor Tjostel had probably perished on the trip to America. Iver made it to America, then found his way to what is now Coon Prairie. He didn’t really like it there, so went northward a few miles and came upon a deep and sheltered valley which he called Timber Coulee, and here he settled, the first white settler in that valley. 

A while later, being nearly out of food, Iver was out hunting along the streams and valleys. He saw smoke in the distance, and thought that surely he must have a neighbor, possibly even a white person. Next day, he decided to meet this neighbor and when he did, he found it was his long lost brother Tjostel.

Iver was a better correspondent than brother Tjostel, and encouraged people back home in Norway to come to America. Soon there was a large immigration from Gudbrandsdal to Timber Coulee as well as Coon Prairie.

Iver had married Marit Jonsdatter Shinne in Norway in 1850. He emigrated to America in 1852. Iver and Marit had eleven children. Soon after settling in Timber Coulee, Iver Oium decided to build one of the first sawmills in the county, as there was a stream on his property. Iver had great ingenuity and managed to dam up the creek, thereby making a waterfall. He had no money to buy machinery to build the sawmill that he wanted, so with ax and knife he carved the whole contrivance out of oak, except for the saw blade, which had to be made of steel.

What an interesting family and yes, their descendants are all my cousins!

Skogdalen Congregation 1898-1979

by Mrs. Leonard Olstad

Skogdalen in the early years

On March twenty-ninth, eighteen hundred and ninety eight, a group of Norwegian pioneers from Timber Coulee and surrounding ridges, met at what is now the Skogdalen Parish Hall for the purpose of organizing their own neighborhood church. Having previously journeying either to Coon Valley, Westby or Cashton to attend church services in days when roads were mediocre at best and horse and buggy was the only means of travel, they felt the need of a place where they could worship God within their own neighborhood, and so on that day, seventy one years ago, a congregation was born. The church built by these sturdy pioneers, nestled in this peaceful valley, stands an awesome monument to these hardworking men and women with the love of God in their hearts. Many of the present day members are grandsons and granddaughters of the charter members of the congregation.

Pastor Erik Jensen, who had recently resigned his pastorate at Coon Valley agreed to serve the congregation for one year and their first services were held in what is now the parish hall. On October 3 of that same year, a meeting was held to appoint a building committee for the purpose of building a church.

On February 7, 1899, Reverend A.H. Eikarud accepted a call to serve the congregation and served them faithfully for fifteen years, at which time he desired to return to his native Norway.

Land for the church was donated by John Baglein, and by the summer of 1900, the church was completed at the cost of $1,200.00, and much hard work from the members of the small congregation.

Evelyn Larson drawing for a Westby Times Christmas issue
The church, built entirely of stone quarried within a short distance of the church site, measures thirty by fifty feet with an eighty-five foot steeple.

Not to be outdone by the men of the congregation, the women took it upon themselves to collect money with which to buy an organ and baptismal font. Undoubtedly these sturdy women trod many a mile to reach their goal, for money was a scare commodity among the pioneers, as it testified to be the fact that the largest donation they received was twenty-five cents. However, perseverance was plentiful, and we can surely imagine the joy these first women of our church felt when the first organist, Clara Slette, took her place at the organ on dedication day. The organ, of course, has been replaced by a beautiful new electric one, but the baptismal font is the original one.

On September 30, 1900, the church was dedicated. What a joyous day this must have been at Skogdalen! One need only to close ones eyes and imagine the beauty of the hillsides around the church on that fall day, when a crowd of twelve hundred gathered to witness this glorious occasion. Among the pastors attending were the Reverends Carl Scheie, Johannes Aasheim, C.B. Bestul, and H. Halvorsen. The Reverend Halvorsen was then president of the eastern synodical district and preached the dedicatory sermon, based on Jeremiah 17:12. The cornerstone was laid by Pastor Halvorsen, it contains the congregation history and constitution, the current issues of “Kirketidende” and “Barneblad”, the official news organs of the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran church of America. In the afternoon, a combined choir of several hundred voices, made up of young people from as far away as Brush Creek and Fish Creek raised their voices in song.

In 1914, following Reverend Eikaruds resignation, Pastor Sovde, who was then serving the Coon Valley parish agreed to serve the Skogdalen congregation as well. How dedicated in their service to God, these early pastors must have been! Pastor Sovde who had three churches in Coon Valley parish, now added a fourth. True, he did not hold service in every church each Sunday, but he must have traversed many miles from 1914 to 1921, as did Reverend O.J. Hyland who served the same four churches from 1921 to 1931.

Skogdalen Cemetery

In 1921, the women of the church acquired the fist carpeting for the church. On June 12, 1927, the Young People Luther League was organized.

In 1931, following Reverend Hylland’s resignation, Reverend Noriss Olson, who was then serving a pastorate at Cashton, accepted a call to serve Skogdalen.

Until 1937, all services at Skogdalen had been conducted entirely in the Norwegian language, but at their annual meeting that year it was voted to have half of the service in Norwegian and half in English, this custom was continued into the nineteen forties, when the Norwegian services were discontinued.

On June 9, 1943, Pastor Olson tendered his resignation, to accept a call at Menomonie, Wisconsin. Shortly thereafter, a special meeting was held to appoint a call committee, and it was at this meeting that the congregation voted to join with Our Savior’s Congregation at Westby to be served by the same pastor. Dr. Kildahl served as interim pastor during this time. In 1945, Reverend Jacob Andreason accepted the call to Our Savior’s and Skogdalen congregations. During his stay in our congregation, the Sunday School was organized, with Mrs. Willie Overhagen as its first superintendent. Following Reverend Andreason’s resignation in August, 1950, Reverend J. Masted served as interim pastor. In 1951, Reverend J.O. Paulsrud accepted a call to our congregation, he and his devoted wife, Aida, spent eleven years laboring for the Lord in our midst.

Skogdalen today
Following Reverend Paulsrud’s resignation in 1966, Reverend Walter O, Larson accepted the call to our congregation, and we look forward to many years of fellowship with him and Edna Larson.

Though seventy-one years have passed since its beginning, the purpose of Skogdalen is still the same—furthering God’s Kingdom, and the words that Reverend Scheie spoke on that long ago day of the dedication are as true today as they were then, “The greater the sacrifices that we must make for a cause, the more cherished are the fruits that we gather.”

Skogdalen’s membership today (1970) is 122 members, 99 of which are confirmed members.