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History of The First Swedish Pioneers

By: C. J. Johnson, 1915


First Swedish Settlers in Otter Creek Valley

During the year 1867 the following men came from Swedebend, Webster county, Iowa, in covered wagons and driving ox teams: Charles J. Star, Nels Fredrick Rodin and Carl Peter Frodig. They were headed for Onawa to find a suitable place to locate a Swedish colony and as at Onawa the land did not suit them, it being too flat and low, they returned and, as they came to Denison, they met a man by the name of J. W. Denison, by whom the town had been named, and he was agent for the Providence Western Land company of Rhode Island, who owned large tracts of land north of Deloit in Otter Creek Valley. They looked the land over as he requested them to do, and as it suited them well for a large colony they decided to locate. Charles Star and Nels F. Rodin purchased one hundred and sixty acres each and Carl P. Frodig eighty acres, for three dollars per acre.

During the month of September, the same year, came Anders Andersson, James Anderson, Lena Maria Persdotter Beck, Petter Carlsson, Nils Petter Ericksson, Hans Hallander, John Hoaglund, David Ludwig Johnson, Elias E. Munson, Carolina Charlotta Nilsdotter Engelbrektsson, Petter Nilsson, Petter Petersson, Waldemar Petersson, John (Jöns) Sparfelt, Peter Star, and Peter W. Weberg, Sr. All of these men have passed away with the exception of Elias Monson.

In 1868 there came from Swedebend again John Andersson, Fred Beck, Carl Carlsson,Sr., Carl Fredric Clausson, Hedda Lovisa Andersdotter Duncan, John Alfred Ericksson, J. Hendricksson, Nils Lindberg, Ingemar Michaelsson, Nils August Olsson, and Gustaf Fredric Pettersson. Of these men and families J. A. Erickson, I. Michaelson, C. F. Clauson and Lovisa Duncan are now living, the others all having passed to the Great Beyond.

Charles Star wrote to his friend, Andrew Norelius, in Minnesota that they had located in a new and fine country and where they intended to start a larger Swedish colony and asked Mr. Norelius to come and look over the land and to locate if it suited him. Mr. Norelius came in the spring of 1869 in a covered wagon, accompanied by Hans Buller, Erick Ward and John Nordell. Mr. Norelius purchased eighty acres at five dollars per acre, the farm on which his family is now living, and onto which he moved in the year 1870. During the year 1869 there came from Sweden, John Peter Andersson and family and Carl O. Edling. Charles J. Johnson came from Chicago.

The majority of these settlers purchased eighty acres of prairie land and two and one-half acres of timber land to each eighty acres of prairie. This was the limit of timber land available as it was scarce. Land had advanced now to six dollars per acre and timber land was twelve dollars per acre and it was only sold on cash terms. The reason for buying the timber land was that they wanted it for fuel as one thing and also there was a fence law requiring that all farms must be fenced. Live stock were running at large and would trespass on the crop if not fenced. No fence wire was used in those days and we had to cut and split rails for fences and set posts. The posts were set eight feet apart and it was slow and hard work to build fences that way. Furthermore, the stables and sheds were built with poles and rails and covering for sides and the roofs were made with straw and long slough hay.

Houses to live in were nearly all dug out in a side hill and one end and the two sides were under the ground and one end or gable was the only part of the house that was visible, a stovepipe sticking out of the ground also. The door was generally built in the middle of the end of the house and two windows, one on each side of the door. Some of the houses only had one window. This made a passage from the outside up to the door about three feet wide and six or eight feet in length, according to the slope. As the wall was nearly level the only thing of woodwork was long poles in the middle with a fork in the upper end and a large long log laid up on top to form the peak of the roof. On the sides were posts set in the ground and a pole laid on the top for a wall plate. The houses were about twelve or fourteen feet each way. For rafters there were poles or split rails laid not far apart and long hay laid on it and the finishing touch was dirt. We had plenty of the dirt, but it did not keep the rain out very well, It rained very often some years and it was nothing unusual to get out of bed at night and find a place where it was dry. Our experience was right under the peak of the roof to line up, eight or ten of us, in the night. The clay floor was very soft to walk on while wet. This was not very pleasant, and I wonder how our young generation should like such an experience. But there are many things to learn in pioneer life and some things are quite annoying.

The mosquitoes bothered us awfully after sundown. In the tall grass for miles and miles they had their nests and at sundown there was an awful time. They were so large and their sting was almost as bad as that of a bee. The only relief we had was to cut a lot of grass to dry and take armfuls and lay it outside, close to the door, and start a fire to smoke them away. Another thing to look out for were the rattlesnakes. They were plentiful. There were several of our colony who were bitten by them and some of our first settlers died from the poison of these reptiles.

Three of the early settlers near Kiron were drowned; two daughters of John Hoaglund, Anna Marie Hoaglund(1855-1869) and Kjerstin Kirstie Hoaglund(1857-1869) and one man, C. Ludwig Hamren. Mr. Hamren met his death in Otter Creek on a Sunday while coming home from meeting. He started to cross where the creek was flooded, but the current was too swift and he was carried down the stream. The girls drowned in the Boyer river. Later in years there were five more drowned in a flood; three of them in the Boyer river and the remaining two in the Otter creek.

A few more things I wish to mention about the dugout houses. The only thing visible at a little distance was a stovepipe in the ground and at the end of the house where the door and windows were located. This was the only sign of a habitation of mankind. The tops of the houses were nearly level with the ground, some of them extending a little above the surface and , as there were no roads in the early days except following the ridges and divides, it sometimes happened that someone in a wagon with a yoke of cattle came right over one of those houses without upsetting the wagon. As soon as it became more settled public roads were laid out and bridges built.

This is a brief history of how the humble houses were built by the first Swedish pioneers in the community around Kiron and how they lived in those days. During the summer of 1869 there were a number of dugout houses built which were owned and occupied by the following families as near as the writer can remember, namely: Charles Carlson, J. Hendrickson, Carl Peter Frodig, Nils Peter Erickson, John A. Hagglund, Peter Nelson, David Ludvig Johnson, Peter Star, Carl Fredrick Clauson, Peter Weberg, Sr., Peter Carlson, John Anderson, Peter Peterson, Hans Hallander, Anders Anderson, Charles J. Star, Nels Olson and John A. Erickson. The house of Mr. Erickson was located a short distance north of where the stockyards in Kiron are now located and south of the residence owned by Mr. Tellgren. It was there that it was opened, a hospitable home for us to go into, the writer, his father, mother, brothers and wife. As we had been acquainted in the old country, Mr. Erickson and his young wife opened up the house for a place where we might stay while we were building a home for ourselves. Now we were nine in number, all together in that house, and we were all right and did not have any trouble. If we compare the houses in which we lived at that time with the modern and fashionable houses that stand on the same land, it is such a contrast that we can scarcely imagine how it has all come about; but it is accomplished by God's blessing, hard work and industry.

During the month of May, 1869, I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Andrew Norelius at a conference in Chicago, where I was living at that time. Mr. Norelius was a delegate to the conference and during his stay there, in private conversation which we had together, Mr. Norelius told me that he had recently been to Iowa, north of Deloit, in the Otter Creek valley, and purchased eighty acres of land and that the soil was the best and no obstructions in the way. To plow up the land you just had to hitch the team to the plow and go right along. This sounded good to me as I had just been to Wisconsin to look for a location on which to settle, but it did not suit me on account of there being too much timber there. So I decided to go and look over the land in Otter Creek valley and when I came there it suited me all right. After being there two days I took my satchel in hand and started on foot for Denison, fourteen miles to walk, which place I reached all right and returned home to Chicago. During the month of July, 1869, my father, mother, two brothers and my future wife and I started out again for our future home, my relatives having recently arrived in Chicago from Sweden. As stated before, we arrived at the home of Mr. Erickson and lived there while we were building a house on the eighty acre tract of land which we had selected as the site for our future home.

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