Monday, January 30, 2012

Amanuensis Monday, 2012 January 30th: Centennial History of the Town of Springdale, Dane County, Wisconsin -1848-1948: Pioneer Norwegian Settlement of Springdale.

The following excerpt (pages 108-111) is from the Centennial History of the Township of Springdale, Dane County, Wisconsin, 1848-1948 and by an unknown author.  This section  tells about Springdale's early Norwegian settlers. Many of the families listed below are also mentioned in J.P. McPherson's diary as his neighbors and friends.   From the diary, platt maps, and census reports, it appears that most of the early pioneers of  Springdale were Scots and Norwegian families.  Although this article focuses on the  Norwegian settlement,  the arduous times were common to settlers no matter where they called home and old country.
Page 108, Centennial History of the Township of Springdale

Pioneer Norwegian Settlement of Springdale

A celebrated writer has said that the “The men who make history haven't time to write it,” and a complete story of the sturdy pioneers of Springdale will probably never be known. Many of the struggles, hardships and vicissitudes of the earliest settlers were not recorded, and the available history concerning them has been assembled from other sources.

The first Norwegian settlement of Springdale was established almost concurrently with its earliest history. The first white resident in the town ship was John Harlow, an American, who settled on part of section 1 in 1845, on the farm now known as the Ruben Paulson farm, and who subsequently married a daughter of Jorgen Lee. In the spring of 1846 the following permanent Norwegian settlers arrived from earlier settlements at Shelby, Illinois, in the Fox river Valley, and from Muskego, Wisconsin, namely, Thore (Thoreson) Spaanum, Tosten and John Rue-Thompson, John I Berge, Ole and Knud (Kvistrud) Sorenson and Nils and Halvor (Grasdalen) Nelson, together with their families. All were originally from the Tinndal district in Telemark, Norway, and more or less interrelated.

These pioneers settled on lands in Sections 5, 6, 8, 9, and 17, purchased from the government at $1.25 per acre. This was prior to the Homestead act, and immigrants desiring to buy land invariably walked to Mineral Point where the United States Land Office was located to file their claims and to make payments. However, settlers often selected their land and lived on it a year or more before filing their claims.

Perhaps from their love and yearning for the mountains and valleys of their native Norway, but more likely because of the accessibility to woodland, springs and streams, the early Norwegian settlers generally chose the hills and vales of Springdale for their abode in preference to the prairie lands then available throughout various sections of the township.

In most instances the first settler habitations were rude dugouts in the hillsides to protect them from the elements of the weather until they could erect log cabins similar in size to a present day family garage, consisting of one or two small rooms heated by with a fireplace and a chimney of stone, and often with no floors other than the virgin soil packed hard by the footsteps of the occupants. With the aid of an axe these hardy pioneers were capable woodsmen and cut, transported and fitted logs into substantial structures without the use of nails, spikes or bolts which were not then readily procurable.

People in those days did not have much to do with. The building of a house was accomplished with nothing in the way of tolls except an axe, as saw, a hammer and a draw-shave, and no materiel but the native forest, for there were no saw mills at that time in this section of the country. The roof was made with shakes and fastened to the house with a binder pole. Furniture was home made.

The prairie wolves howled about these humble homes at night and the deer were often seen in the day time, while poisonous snakes gave mothers anxiety for their children. Housed in those days were so small and their families usually so large that the children spent most of the time out of doors in the summer , and the great fireplaces made excellent ventilation in the winter. Friendly Indians roamed through the settlement, but other than being curious and begged for things, they did not greatly molest the settlers. An occasional bear wandered into the settlement and caused excitement, and pigeons, prairie chickens and quail abounded in the early days.

The year 1848 was memorable as the one in which the town organization took place at the home of Morgan I Curtis, and among the town officers elected on the second Tuesday of the year was John I Berge as constable.

From 1848 the influx of Norwegian emigrants increased, and among these settlers were Ole Lee, Aslak Lee, Gulbran Throndrud, Arne Hoff, Erik Skinrud, John Lund, Levor Lien, Ole Stesbolet, Hans Gute, John Sylland, Knud Steenerson, Knud Skredden, Kitil Luraas, Jorgen Lee, Thore Lee, Knudt Herbranson Nees, Ole Anderson, Iver Thorson Aase, Henry Skogen, Engebret Tortun, Erick Solve, and Harold Hoff.

The first Norwegian Lutheran religious service in Springdale and largely attended by Norwegians in the surrounding settlements was held at the home of Thore Spaanum in an outdoor meeting on or about April 1, 1850, with the Rev. J. W. C. Dietrickson from Koskonong conducting the service to an audience that had gathered from great distances. At this meeting eighteen children were baptized, among whom were: Andrew Grinde, Betsy Grassdalen, Halvor Sorenson and Soren Sorenson. Older children were also catechized at this service.

Page 110, Centennial History of the Township of Springdale
~ ~ ~

© Joan Hill, Roots'n'Leaves Publications


  1. Whew, it's hard to imagine how difficult life must have been for the early pioneers in the upper Midwest.

    I love the line, "The men who make history haven't time to write it." I'll have to try to remember it.

  2. With prairie wolves howling and the whole nine yards with all those snakes, etc., if I had to go west in those days, I'd have hugged the east coast and not made it very far from the Atlantic!

  3. This really captures the precariousness and challenges of life for our early pioneers. Thanks for sharing! I think in some ways the Australian pioneers were somewhat luckier...they had fires and droughts and some attacks by Aborigines but less of the strategic attacks on the Native American people (even though we can understand their perspective in some ways). But they also did without so much, and I wonder did they realise they were creating history even if they didn't have time to write it.