Lest We Forget
Lest We Forget
Written by Viola Johnson Behrends
daughter of Martha Skrove Johnson
This, Kristi, is for you. My hope is that you might appreciate the struggle and dreams that went before, and that you might understand what it means when you tell people "My name is Kristi because I'm half Norwegian".
My grandma Skrove told us much of her childhood and I remember how fascinated my sister and I were to dig in the ruins of what was her first home, a log and sod cabin, a mile east of Dalton, Otter Tail County, Minnesota, (the village where I was born).
Grandma, Oline Margaret Dahl, was born January 27, 1868, in Hesper, Iowa. Her parents, Borre C. and Anna B. Dahl, and her grandmother, Olava Wick, were en route to Minnesota from Norway and took time off on the trip for the baby to be born. In May, 1868, they traveled the several hundred miles by ox drawn prairie cart. The new mother assisted in driving the cattle they bought and the grandmother cared for the sixteen weeks old baby. Two other families, one that were uncle, aunt and cousins, accompanied them. My people went to "Dahl Town" where a brother Symond Dahl, provided housing until a log cabin could be built on the land which was to be "homesteaded". Great-grandpa Dahl also built all of the furniture for their home. The chair in my bedroom is the only furniture left from the original cabin.
The big soap kettle was an important household item which had been carried to the farm by two men with the iron pot suspended from their shoulders - after walking a hundred miles or so this must have been heavy! The kettle was used for years for cooking soap, washing clothes, scalding during butchering and other chores that required heating over an outdoor fire. I remember seeing it in the farmyard used as a flowerpot but no one ever thought of caring for it as an "antique"!
Grandma remembered how frightened she was, at eleven years of age, when there was an "Indian scare" and the hundred or more homesteaders banded together at the Amund Larson farm to protect themselves. This was a false alarm after someone had seen Indians skinning a cow and believed they were in danger.
Hunting parties of Indians would camp and hold pow-wows on the shore of the lake a half mile from Grandma's house. They6 could smell, and liked, freshly baked bread, and would trade neatly cleaned ducks or fish for food which they did not have. My folks never had trouble as the Indians were treated kindly, yet all precautions were taken that the fact Great-grandpa Dahl was away was not revealed. When asked in sign language, where the bearded one was, Great-grandma Dahl would go through motions of chopping, to let the Indians think that her husband was nearby in the woods! In fact, he might well have been walking to St. Cloud, Minnesota, to get corn or grain ground. If oxen were not available he'd carry the sack on his shoulder both ways, as well as any other supplies the family might need - over a hundred miles. In my cedar chest is a silk head scarf carried back as a gift to one those waiting.
New copper toed shoes were a highlight of Grandma's younger school days! She would go barefoot across the several miles to the school in St. Olaf Township, put the shoes on while in school and then walk home barefoot! She always accredited her lifelong foot problems to those beautiful shoes which she refused to admit were getting too short.
The railroad came through when Grandma was twelve years old, and "Dahl Town" became Dalton, a village amidst fertile farms serving the rapidly growing area.
Oline was seventeen when she married Nikolai Stuveny, but this marriage lasted only three years. Diphtheria took both her husband and infant daughter, Kaia, within a few weeks of another. The beautiful silver spoon holder with its dozen gold spoons was a wedding present. Grandma gave them to my mother, and every one of us Johnson girls wanted the spoons, so Mom, in an effort to be fair, promised them to the last one of us married and I won! You'll have no such problems as they'll be yours and it's more fun when you know the family history behind these lovely things.
It wasn't apparent that Oline's Grandmother was to be cupid, but that's a story in itself! Mrs. Wick was what the neighbors called a "Witch doctor". She was a midwife in Norway and came with her son-in-law and daughter to America after her husband, Ole Wick, committed suicide in grief over his family leaving Norway. She was interested in herbs and their healing properties and had developed and extraordinary means of healing varicose leg ulcers. She left her salve recipe as a special inheritance for my mother who was ten years old when Mrs. Wick died, but it is difficult now to get ingredients which are not synthetic.
In the Otter Tail County Historical Museum you may see the small saw which, in 1873, Borre Dahl fashioned for "Gamla Doctor" from a steel corset stay so that she could amputate the toes of a man with frozen feet. She saved his life and he lived for years minus his toes. But can you imagine how this must have been without anesthesia!
I have been told that her name and accounts of the benefit she rendered to the pioneers of western Minnesota has been recorded in the Library of Congress at Washington, D.C.
Out on the prairies of western Minnesota, near Doran, sixteen year old Ida Skrove was suffering from a sore on her leg which would not heal. Somehow, her parents, Martinus and Martha Skrove, heard of the woman in Dalton and their son, Sigurd, was delegated to take his sister by horse and buggy for treatment. Afterwords, they couldn't understand why he was so willing to make the long trip whenever it was needed until they learned of the young widow at the Dahl home! Aunt Ida danced at their wedding!
Sigurd Martinus Skrove was born in Valdalen, Norway, April 22, a867. He was sixteen years old when his parents with their six children left Norway. Life must have been very difficult there as Grandpa Skrove never wanted to return even for a visit. I have heard him say, "Why should I go back to Norway where I was hungry when I've got it so good here in the United States"?
Grandpa assumed the task of running the Dahl farm. I remember my Dad commenting in later years that Grandpa Skrove had nerves of steel to withstand all the "bossing" he had to take with three women in the household, and on March 1, 1894, another one, my mother, Anna Martha. She was followed within twelve years by Berton, Neola, Sanford and Milda.
Grandpa was never able to keep himself from getting involved in community affairs, school board, creamery director, and for almost half a century he shipped cattle to market in South St. Paul, riding the caboose of the stock car both ways, week after week. He retired after shipping for 45 years and was given a dinner in honor oh his faithful service and presented with an engraved watch. A visit with Aunt Milda in Washington was supposes to be a restful vacation, but Grandpa fretted that his replacement might not have the farmers' confidence and in three weeks he was back on the job, engraved watch and all!
In his shipping he was entrusted with thousands of dollars, and such was his mental facilities that he could add columns of weights or dollars faster "in his head" that uncle Sanford could add the same figures on an adding machine.
National politics could rile up Grandpa faster than anything else. He read newspapers avidly and would have statistics to refute what the Republican backed Fergus Falls Journal had to say on most issues. Since Grandpa was a Democrat, Grandma just for the sake of difference, was a Republican, and they'd have many a good rousing argument, each pounding the kitchen table to press their point. When Franklin D. Roosevelt decided to run for the fourth term, my Grandpa reasoned that he was too sick a man to assume the continued responsibilities and declared that he'd not vote for Roosevelt. That really didn't throw Grandma too much she became the avid Democrat in the Skrove home and Grandpa got back all the information he'd been imparting for years!
S. M. Skrove was proud of the United States citizenship, yet had no time for flag waving which was not backed up by action. My mother recalls how he was called "Pro-German" during World War I by those who were offended at Grandpa's refusal to rename sauerkraut "Liberty cabbage" and continued to do business with those of German descent. He bought Liberty Bonds, grew needed farm produce and ate sauerkraut when he waned!
Home town baseball was Grandpa's "thing". He backed the Dalton team 1000%. Your Aunt Helen got a real jolt when he told her that he'd not be coming to her wedding as Dalton met Underwood in the playoffs on August 17. Luckily it rained enough to soak up the infield so Grandpa made it to the wedding!
I'm sorry you can't remember Grandpa as he really was. When you were in first grade he held you on his lap to sing "Sully, Lully, long Skunken" but he thought he was singing for one of his own children, not a great grandchild. You see, Grandpa lived to be over 96 years old in body, but when he was 93, time jumped backwards for him and he believed he was still in the prime of his manhood. You thought it was funny when he hollered for help to chase the steer in his bedroom. I'll admit I was taken aback when he explained very carefully that Bennie Johnson was a fine fellow, a cashier in the Farmer's State Bank in Dalton and had married his daughter Martha. This was all true but forty years too late.
My Grandma was not called upon to age in just this way. She suffered two fractures which resulted in stiff knees that hindered her in doing the terrific amount of work she was accustomed to, but her mental faculties remained keen until she suffered a stroke from which she died five days later, February 7, 1951. She came from a long lived family, her mother lived to age 84, her grandmother, the witch doctor lived to 97, spry and active to the very end.
Maybe you can be glad we didn't name you after your great, great grandma on my father's side of the family. Her name was Brythuva Skuttle, she lived for a time in La Salle County, Illinois, before she married your great great grandfather Johnson, about whom I know nothing except that in generations before there was a John Seadahl whose son became the Johnson of my family. The practice of assuming the given name of the father as a surname makes tracing a Scandinavian family tree a difficult task.
My grandfather, Nels J. Johnson, was born in southern Minnesota, Feb. 16, 1867. I can't recall having heard anything of his childhood, but I'll never forget my amazement when he translated my high school Latin book, first into Norwegian and that into English. His classes at Luther College, Decorah, Iowa, were all taught in Norwegian, and English which he spoke and wrote very well was actually his second language. He taught school in northern Iowa. The Grannie Johnson you know, by step-grandmother was a first grade pupil when "Mr. Johnson" taught her in Emmons, Iowa!
My father's mother was Hannah Aasness, born August 22, 1857. My Dad, Bennie Johann Johnson, was born in Reynolds, North Dakota May 21, 1889 and came to Dalton a year later. By this time, Grandpa may have been traveling for the Anti-Saloon League. He went through Minnesota, the Dakotas and even into Montana showing lantern slides of the evils of alcohol to church, school and civic groups. My first "movie" was seen on a sheet over Grandpa's kitchen door. That lantern slide equipment which had been packed away until it deteriorated would be priceless today.
My Dad told of the night that his mother and three children, Bennie, Ida and Henry were awakened by a pounding on their door.. Ring, their dog, was very excited and leaped in friendly fashion upon the men swathed in face bandages who stood at the door. The stranger tried to come in, but Grandma Johnson refused him admittance until he indicated in sign language that he wished to write - it was Grandpa Johnson home from a horrifying experience of being kicked in the face by a frightened horse leaving him with a broken and scarred jaw which was wired together to heal properly. From that time, Nels Johnson was the man with the beard, which he kept snowy white with washday bluing. His Christmas shopping was an ordeal as the kids thought he was Santa Claus.
Grandpa was always a scholar and gradually the farmers near Dalton realized that he was willing to help them solve problems with their livestock. If he didn't know what ailed a cow he'd keep studying 'til he did. This was before the days of licensed Veterinarians and many a night he spent with sick animals in chilly Minnesota barns. I remember Grandpa as always smelling of clean antiseptics.
He was our official baby sitter when we were very young and would sit in Mama's rocker with all four of us draped around him in some manner singing "Little Brown Jug, How I Love Thee". We were loud, but tuneless because Grandpa had lost a good deal of his hearing and all of his sense taste from Scarlet fever.
We have only one picture of my Grandma Johnson and I can see the resemblance of myself to her. She was bedridden for the last seven years of her life and died while I was still too young to remember her at all. This doesn't detract from my enjoyment of the silver teapot and other things she treasured, the tread tray, fruit compote, jelly dish and the brown woven rug for which she prepared the rags.
I was four or five years old when Grandpa returned from a vacation to southern Minnesota with a surprise bride. We kids were terribly excited but our joy knew no bounds when, two days after my seventh birthday, by Uncle Cecil arrived. Through the years he's been more like the brother we never had and Grandma Anna fulfilled all our hopes for a "real grandma".
When we bade farewell, with his blessing, to Grandpa Johnson in the fall of 1936 to leave for Florida we prayed that we'd not meet again until we meet in Heaven, as Grandpa was dying of cancer, and when in January of 1937 we received the telegram that he was gone, my Dad gathered us about him for a prayer of praise and thanksgiving for a life spent to the glory of his family, his country and his God.