My father, Bernt Olmanson, was born in the Norddalen district, Ytterdal Post Office, near Aalesund, Norway, on November 16, 1827.
Father came to America in 1851, when he was twenty-three years old. A New Testament presented to him on his departure from Norway, followed him through all his wanderings and is still in existence. Not only the book, but that eternal truth contained in that book “Saved by grace alone” remained with him.
While still over in Norway he fell in love with a girl, and the only difference was in financial standing, as he was the son of a poor fisherman, and she was the daughter of a wealthy man.
He wrote concerning this that he thought it would be heaven on earth, but when her parents found out about it “da fik bjelden en anden klang” (the bell struck a different note). And they decided the ocean should separate them. Later, after coming to America, he sent her a gold ring, and as the ring was the exact size of a two and a half dollar gold coin he put that in the ring he sent. But she married someone else.
One day as this couple journeyed by water to church, their boat capsized, and her husband held her up for awhile, but when he saw that he too would drown, he let her go, first pulling off the ring from her finger. He was saved and later he married another with it.
My father’s father was a fisherman, and lost his life in a storm at sea while out fishing. He and his crew were never washed ashore. Father was at that time fifteen years old.
Father, in one of him poems, mentions his father with these lines:
Father’s breath was choked among salty waves so bold,
His dust now rests in ocean grave so cold.
My father also spent one winter on the ocean as a fisherman. Later, while still in Norway, he started a small business of his own. He made and sold cards for carding wool.
What prompted father, mostly, in deciding to come to America was reading Rynning’s book, that he borrowed from the minister. That book was published in 1838, by a former emigrant from Norway to America.
After being in America a few years father started a business of his own in Keokuk, Iowa. He bought two heavy wagons, and from Missouri he bought up a bunch of steers. For this new kind of open housing that we hear so much about now, he rented a field of ripe corn, where he let them roam when not in use.
With two teams of oxen on each wagon and with the help of a fourteen-year-old boy they hauled cord-wood daily into Keokuk.
They had to cross a ferry coming and going and the toll was twenty-five cents a team either way. To save on the toll father unhitched the lead team and let them swim across the river. This, to the chagrin of the ferry man, saved a good day’s wages for father every day.
Father delighted to tell us children, when we were small, about a little American five-year-old girl where he stayed. He taught her to sing: “Oh carry water and carry wood.” in the Norwegian language. It tickled him the way she pronounced some of those Norwegian words.
In 1856 he sold his business in Keokuk, Iowa, and bought a team of horses and a buggy, and drove to Minnesota.
At that time a building boom had started in St. Peter, and lots were going up in price because of the rumors, and almost a certainty, that St. Peter was to become the State Capital. So father bought several lots and at that time he also started a brick factory in St. Peter.
In January, 1857, he needed more money to keep his brick factory going; but money was scarce, he could not borrow any money by giving security on his lots because those that he tried to get money from wanted to buy his lots, so there was no other way for him to get the needed cash than to sell his lots to them at a very small profit, which he did.
A few weeks thereafter the boom was over and the lots became practically worthless, when a legislator disappeared, taking the bill that authorized removal of the Capitol from St. Paul to St. Peter. The bill had been passed by the legislature, but had not yet been signed by the governor. It was recovered, but too late to become law.
Because of poor clay the brick factory was a failure, and after all accounts were paid, all he had left was a team of horses.
In the fall of the same year, in company with a man named Narom, they left for Wisconsin. A week later they arrived, with team and wagon, at Narom’s acquaintances in Wisconsin. He sold the horses to Mr. Narom, and went to Cincinnati, Ohio, and stopped at a German hotel. There, after a short while he got room and board for managing the hotel whenever the hotel-keeper was away, which was most of the time. He stayed there all winter so he still had the money he got for the horses when he left in the spring.
He then went to the southern states (slave states) looking for an opportunity to start some business, but no luck. He wandered around mostly on foot. While he was there, a friend that was with him died. A Negro, who was the main help, at the burial, wished for the gold ring that was on the dead man’s finger, so father took that ring off and gave it to the Negro for helping.
In June he came back to the same German hotel in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was then almost without money, but he had a pistol that he had, at one time, paid twenty-five dollars for, so he sold that for sixteen dollars.
In June the same year he left for Iowa. He stayed in Iowa two weeks and then, again almost out of money, he went on a steamboat to Minnesota.
Later he again went to Iowa, and there he got sick and lay in a fever all winter. The couple he stayed with were always quarreling. If nothing else they would say, “Who started the quarreling last night?” And that would start it again. At the end of a long quarrel they ended up trying to establish who had been the cause of the argument. Since they could not decide, they appealed to father, who lay ill with fever, to decide. He decided then and there never to get married if he got well, but there is living evidence that he changed his mind.
Later he came back to Minnesota and bought a farm in company with Andrias Larson.
In the fall of 1860 he bought a flat-boat and started out with a cargo of potatoes for New Orleans. The river froze up before he got there, but he stayed and kept them from freezing. He was just on this side of the Mason-Dixon line when the Civil War broke out. He left the flat boat on the river and returned to Minnesota. The only thing he brought back with him from the flat boat is a candle-lantern, which I still have.
Then on September 26, 1861, he enlisted in the army, in Minnesota Regiment number Two, Company E.
Times were hard and to help pay for the farm father sent home whatever he could spare of his twelve dollars a month wages.
The soldiers were paid in paper money, the paper money then had half value, so it took two dollars in paper money to pay one dollar of debt.
When in the army he wrote often to Andrias Larson, his partner on the farm. Some of those letters have been lost, but most of them, now ninety years old, are still kept in very good condition.
Andrias Larson had a brother and a brother-in-law in the same company as father, namely Peder Peterson and Evend, who are mentioned often in letters.
Father had several close calls while in service which are not mentioned in these letters.
Once he noticed that a bullet had gone through his hat and not touching his head.
Another bullet went through and killed a soldier in front of him, and the hot bullet dropped in father’s hand as he was loading his gun. He put it in and sent it back.
Another time a soldier, in a drunken brawl, threw a large hunting knife. It went in the direction towards father, but a tent pole save his life, as the knife was deeply imbedded in the pole.
Another close call was when a bullet went through a blanket that he was carrying under his arm.
When in the Civil War father was a Corporal in Company E, Second Regiment, Minnesota Volunteer Infantry.
Some of the main battles that he was in were, Mill Springs, Chattanooga, Mission Ridge, Lookout Mountain, Dalton, Resaca, Kenesaw Mountain, Atlanta, Savannah, and Chickamauga.
Father has written in the flap of a book, that during the Civil War the Union Army from 1861 to 1865 had two and one half million soldiers. In all 359,496 died, which is one out of seven. Of these 29,498 died in prisons.
After the war he got tired of living alone on his farm, so he wrote to a fellow to check up on a girl living near Lake Crystal, Minnesota, that he had seen. He later wrote to her and proposed, and promised to come in October if she accepted. I have the letter in my possession and it makes interesting reading.
Before the railroad was built out of St. Peter, father walked from St. Paul to his home here, about seventy-five miles.
He started out at sundown and was home twelve o’clock dinner the next day, about eighteen hours. He had learned to march, double quick, when “he marched with Sherman from Atlanta to the sea.”
In St. Paul father took in a concert by Ole Bull, the Norwegian violinist. After the concert father visited with him, when Bull complained that he did not feel his best that evening because the night before he came in to St. Paul late, and could not get a bed in the hotel, but had to sleep in the hall on the floor.
In one of those early days father went in to St. Peter to have a tooth pulled. There was neither doctor nor dentist in town, but over in Traverse De Sioux there was an Indian medicine man.
Arriving there the Indian was not home but the squaw got the forceps and twisted it and yanked it out.
The pioneers went through the grasshopper plague of the seventies, but they are not to be compared with the diphtheria epidemic of the eighties when the community was left almost destitute of children.
Someone has said that we, in this generation, should know those pioneers of long ago, who tasted joy, knew sorrow, worked, played, died. Yes, they all had, to a more or less degree, their share of hardships.
Returning from war father divided the land with his partner, settled on his portion of it, finally married and lived there the rest of his life.
At the age of eighty-six years he put away his walking staff, and the mortal remains of his body are resting in the cemetery of the local church, of which he was a devout member, awaiting the sound of the trumpet, when he will again fall in line, not with the boys in blue; but with that multitude arrayed in white robes. “These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
Some of the stationery that father used when in the Civil War had flags and shields printed on them in colors.
On one piece of stationery was a United States flag printed in red, white and blue, and below the flag was the following command:
“If any man attempts to haul down the American Flag, shoot him on the spot. – John A. Dix, Sec’y.”
Below a shield printed in red, white and blue was:
“Fear not, Abram: I am thy Shield, and thy exceeding great reward.” Gen. XV. i.
On another piece of stationery was the picture of a General leading an army, and flags waving, and below the picture was this poem:
We are coming, Father Abraham,
Six hundred thousand more,
From Mississippi’s winding stream,
And from New England’s shore.
We leave our ploughs and workshops,
Our wives and children dear,
With hearts too full for utterance,
With but a silent tear.
We will not look behind us,
But steadfastly before.
We are coming, Father Abraham.
Six hundred thousand more.
Also, on some of the envelopes there were several things printed.
In the lower left hand corner of one envelope the following was printed:
“Let no man into whose hands my letters may fall, believe for a moment I will ever desert the Stars and Stripes. They may hand me, rob and burn my possessions, be you assured. Let not their lying, treacherous tongues rob me of my good name.” W. G. BROWNLOW.
Below another United States flag that was printed in colors on the outside of the envelope was this command printed in red ink:
“If any man attempts to haul down the American Flag, shoot him on the spot. – John A. Dix, Sec’y”
On some of the other envelopes were United States flags printed in colors, and below the flags was printed:
“Our Flag Forever.”