Minnesota Tall Tale

Oles’ White Lutefisk
And The Legend of the Singing Coyotes

A long, long time ago, before the Hudson Bay trappers explored Minnesota’s vast prairie and timber, before all the beaver were driven from the cool valley streams, Minnesota was inhabited by the Dakota Sioux, the Ojibwa, and the Winnebago. For as far as the eagle can see, the grasslands and forest spread across the prairie, providing sustenance for all manner of living creatures. The drums, flutes and rhythmic songs of the ancient tribes echoed in the evening skies, comforting all that wandered through the land, eating and drinking only what was needed from the land of their fathers and their father’s fathers.

On this day walked Ole with his cow and wooden cart, squeaking and squawking, wandering about. Past deer trails and river beds, he sang as he strolled, of his memories, his daydreams, his life on this road.

Ya sure, you betcha
I’ve come a long, long way
Cross the sea I sailed…
Uff-da Norway’s so far, far away!
Sweet land of brown bread
Where lutefisk’s served
A gift for the senses
Homes’ aroma preserved
Here the rivers are deep
The valley’s so wide
Don’tcha know day after day
My song is my guide
Ya sure, you betcha
I’ve come a long, long way
Cross the sea I sailed…
Uff-da Norway’s so far, far away!

To be continued…

©2020 cj holm

It’s A Matter Of History (600 Years Worth)

Earlier this week my wife and I received an early morning Skype from my daughter who is currently attending a Peace Workshop in Oslo, Norway.

This week she had a break, so she joined a student tour that included the city of Bergen, Norway. As she followed the tour along, they came across an old Castle in which was located The Rosenkrantz Tower. As my wife’s maiden name is Rosencrans she was pretty excited. My daughter knew from my family tree research (which goes back to 1270 A.D.) that Rosenkrantz was the original spelling of my wife’s family name. There were other variations too, including Rosenkrans, Rosecrans, Rosencrantz and many others – but all were part of the same family tree.

My daughter said, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we were related to the person who built the castle.”

Rosenkrantz Tower Bergen City Museum Photo

Rosenkrantz Tower
Bergen City Museum Photo

As an amateur genealogist I have researched my wife’s family history and I have documented it through over 20 generations. So when she asked that question, I immediately pulled up a Wikipedia article on the Rosenkrantz Tower and found that it was built for Eric Rosenkrantz in about 1520. I checked my database and found Three Eric Rosenkrantz, one of which lived in Norway at that same time. This Eric Rosenkrantz was also the great great great great grandfather of Harmon Hendrick Rosenkrans, who sailed across the Atlantic in 1650 (30 years after Plymouth Rock) and joined others in establishing New Amsterdam AKA (New York, New York).

So after a little more checking I was able to tell my daughter (with a high degree of certainty) that the Rosenkrantz Tower was indeed built by her 14th great grandfather.

My daughter’s tour group took a break to do some shopping and she took the opportunity to go back to the Castle to see if she could get a tour. When she told the receptionist that she was a descendant of Eric Rosencrantz, the receptionist was thrilled as this was the first time to her knowledge that a real descendant had visited the Tower and arraigned for her to get a tour of the entire building.

In the thousands of hours that I have devoted to the study of my family tree I have come across many interesting things, but being able to verify that a random sighting of a castle during a European tour was connected by blood to my daughter, gave me the ability to allow my daughter the thrill of a lifetime. For her, History came alive and she was able to enjoy a lesson in her heritage.

Shared Throughout The Years

Great Grandma's Peonies

Great Grandma’s Peonies

These peonies were tended by my grandmother,
Brought from her home faraway
They were planted by her mother’s hand
In another yard many years before.

They in turn were passed on to my mother
Who carried them to a new home
Where she coached the buds to blossom
Just as great grandma many years ago.

Now it’s my turn to tend and feed them,
Cultivate and weed them so they will grow.
So the next generation can share the tradition
Of the beauty that we’ve sown

I’ve told my children how they must follow
The examples of the previous generations.
To continue the needed cultivation
Allowing their family to bloom and grow

-Clarence Holm

A Change in Direction For Me?

I have been posting to this blog for over a year now.  I have posted photos, short stories of family memories, various forms of poetry, and some things I would just term as miscellaneous.  The only thing they all have in common is that I have been mainly in the “send mode” and have been broadcasting bits and pieces of me since this blog started.

I’ve been so busy sending when what I would really like to be doing is receiving information.

For over 25 years I have been gathering genealogy data on my family history. I can tell you birthdates, marriage dates, spouse’s names, children’s names, places of birth, battle grounds, cemetery locations and all sorts of information that would amaze you. But what I really wanted to know is the why.

Why did my great, great, grandparents leave their homeland? Did anyone get left behind? Were they driven away or was it a grand adventure.

With the posts that I have already created as a background, I am going to try to ask some questions about specific cities, countries or events that someone else might have some information on.

For instance, one branch of my family is from Sweden. In 1855, my great, great, grandparents (Anders Eriksson) and his wife (Inga Stina Jean Pettersdottor Holm) left Eggvena Parish in Herrljunga, Älvsborg, Sweden with their first child (Anders Petter Andersson) to start a new life in America. Why they chose to come to follow his brother to Carver County in Minnesota is a mystery as this was new territory just opened for settlement.

They were easily among the first group of Swedes to leave and get a new start in the Midwest.

Why did they leave Eggvena? What happened to their parents? Were any brothers and sisters left behind? What happened to their first child? Did he die in the move?

I am looking to share information about what happened to our family if anyone has information on Eggvena and what their life would have been had they stayed.

Information on contacts with historians, genealogists, or historical societies would be welcome. I am interested in what life was like for them before they left and how many followed them.

Now I started the first part of the story, does anyone have something to add?

The Final Remnants

Trains that brought the hunters hauled out the bones.

Trains that brought the hunters hauled out the bones.

The survival of the early homesteaders of the prairie depended on fully unitizing the resources that were easily available; Sod substituted for wood in the earliest dwellings, potatoes planted under furrows to break up the turned sod, providing hardy meals or the gathering of bones of the bison; the final remains of the rotting carcasses left by the contract hunters, who decimated the great herds, while only being interested in the best meat and hides.

The 1880’s brought many settlers to the prairie who found their future farms covered with these buffalo bones. At first these bones were seen as a nuisance, another chore in the task of clearing the fields. But, it didn’t take long for the struggling Minnesota sugar beet industry to take advantage of the bone bonanza. Cleaned and dried, buffalo bones were ground up for fertilizer or transformed into charcoal, which was used to clarify the sugar, giving us the white sugar we are all use to putting on our cornflakes.

Cash starved homesteaders could have the entire family out on the prairie gathering the bones and stockpiling them. The settles hauled the bones to the railroad which bought the bones for about $10.00 a ton, enough money to keep the family going in those early years.

2/1/2015cjh

senseless plain slaughter-
bison bones collected for
homestead salvation

– Clarence Holm

The Prairie Meadow Farm

– Clarence Holm

You may have noticed the new header on my blog. It is another one of the pictures held by the Carver County Historical Society of my Great Grandfather’s Farm in Barnes County, ND.  It’s nice picture of the seven threshing crews cutting grain circa 1900.

John Erickson Holm owned as many of 6 sections of land along with a Mercantile Store in Cuba, ND and farmed a few more for his cousin John Anderson.  A section of land is equal to 640 acres or one square mile. All of this was accomplished with a combination of horse and manpower. His strategy was to plant till harvest began and harvest through fall and winter.

Pictured are the sons and hired help harvesting the land. My great grandmother wrote to one of her cousins “I am so glad we were able to build a bunk house, so those smelly smoking boys are out of the house!” Great Grandpa and his boys were well known for working hard, smoking and drinking a beer or two. He was also proud of the fact that he had made enough money to marry off his girls and give each child a section of land to start their life.

So Much To See In a Photo

– Clarence Holm

I posted a picture yesterday of two of my Aunts holding my father as a baby. All three plus their younger siblings have passed away. This picture is such a wonderful reminder of them. That is why sharing this with family and friends brings me such pleasure.

I spend so much time collecting and sharing genealogy, I do it as a way of keeping people I love with me. I look at the picture of my father and his sisters and they speak to me. The older girl seems to be holding her little brother so tightly as to protect him from the world. The other, the second oldest, is close, but is holding back a little bit, perhaps unsure of what this little boy is going to do to her position in the family.

Both girls are beautifully clothed, with their hair up in bows.  What is unseen is the fact that these children live on a farm in North Dakota, miles from the nearest city – No running water, bath water warmed on a stove. Their mother, my grandmother took great care in getting them ready for this picture.

That tenderness my grandmother shows through this picture. It’s could be easy for me to remember only her as working in the garden, pulling weeds or yelling at us for chasing and bothering the cattle in the pasture. She had a tough life, her father along with three sibling died before she was five. Her mother remarried a widower who had 5 children from the previous marriage and then 10 more before dying in childbirth with the 11th. My Grandmother helped raise them all.

She could have been excused for harboring some resentment because of a tough life – but she didn’t.

As the eldest boy, my father worked hard on the farm and I would like to think I have inherited some of his North Dakotan stoicism allowing me to accept that hard work is part of life.

But mainly I would like these people to know that through and because of them I am able to see beauty in so many parts of my life.

The Homesteader’s Cry

“The greatest fine art of the future will be the making of a comfortable living from a small piece of land”

– Abraham Lincoln

In the 1880’s homesteaders were brought by rail to settle Dakota, fed by developers stories of plentiful rains and deep rich topsoil. As the population swelled the topsoil was turned and for a number of years the rain fell. Unfortunately Dakota surrenders it’s bounty on its own timetable and within a few years the reality of the average rainfall allowing for a successful harvest only two thirds of the time hit home with many.

Even on the occasions of a successful harvest the homesteaders had to contend with the rise and fall of the grain markets. The boom/bust cycle of Dakota played havoc on families and the population of the area rose and fell with favorable conditions.

– Clarence Holm

Grey blue skies can suffer all
If the summer rains don’t fall
Hope and dreams come to naught
If the moisture can’t be brought

Too hot for a cloud in the sky
Just another rain deprived sigh
Dust devils dancing on the fallow field
Soil too dry to expect a yield

Patient hawks fly high in circles
Riding on the rising thermals
Gazing at the bleak tableau
Seeking gentle sustenance below

The ministers cast up their voices,
Hoping to guide the lord’s choices.
People pray the drought is easing,
Allowing time for bank appeasing.

Strong men think the farm is done,
Hard men break and seek a gun.
Widow’s lives must carry on
Even though their husbands gone.

Life in Dakota was rarely sweet,
But some it seems grew some wheat.
Of those that failed they simply left
Foregoing returns and dreams bereft.

Once Upon A Farm

pups

-Clarence Holm

Over the years my family had many dogs on the farm. Each in their unique way performed the duties that were expected of a working animal. A farm dog’s responsibilities included fetching the cows, guarding the chickens, killing rats and defending the house. If a dog could not handle those duties it was replaced. There was no forgiveness for mistakes, a dog that attacked chickens or stole their eggs cost money or at the very least stole food off our plates. Life on a small Dakota farm didn’t allow for tolerance.

That did not mean we didn’t love our dogs and treat them with reverence and respect. A good canine was a companion and friend. They possessed a spirit and seemed to have the ability to read minds and carry out unspoken commands. A good dog took the place of two men in the pasture and could easily maintain control of the herd as we drove them to a meadow for grazing. While the cows fed on the sweet June grass the dog would keep a wary look out as he sat with us on those lazy summer days.

pup 2

Farmers knew each other’s dogs. They recognized which had special skills as herders, hunters or guard dogs and spoke almost reverently of their talents. They were able to identify a dog on sight and recite which farm they worked on.

lassie

When I was young we had a collie named Lassie. She was a smart dog and who did her best to keep me out of trouble. She loved to go with me to the pasture, where she could run and chase the pheasants she’d flush out of the weeds. If she came across a hay bale, she would wait patiently for me to turn it over, exposing the mice nests that were always underneath.

But Lassie lived to round up cattle, as we approached the herd she would quiver with excitement, waiting for the command to “sic-em” whenever a young heifer dared to separate from the herd. The older milk cows would just roll their eyes at the foolishness or the yearlings. They would watch, while lazily chewing their cuds, as Lassie nipped at the hooves of the insolent bovines. However in the back of my mind, I always suspected it was all an act, put on for our family’s consumption. We truly believed when we weren’t around, it was a good bet that the heifers and Lassie were out playing together.

My final year of farming was when I was 10. By that time I had learned to drive the truck and most of the tractors. I could successfully drive a tractor, while towing a wagon to a field to pick rocks. While straw bales were no challenge to throw around, alfalfa bales (at 70-80lbs) were still a little too heavy to throw. (Although I could pick them up by one end and slide them around.) I could sack grain and run the auger; in short I left one year before becoming an official field hand. But by far the hardest thing was saying goodbye to that dog.

We took Lassie over to our Uncle’s farm and left him there. As he had eight children at home, Lassie’s last few years were filled with joy. The last glimpse of her was as she took over her new brood of kids, waiting for one of them to say “Sic-em”.

The Genealogist Cometh

Recently I heard of a cat named Oscar that lives in Providence, Rhode Island. It seems his accuracy to predict the impending death of elderly hospice patients has been documented in the New England Journal of Medicine. Oscar has successfully indicated impending passing’s in over 25 cases by curling up next to them during their patients final hours. What is even more eerie is that Oscars normal disposition to humans is to be aloof at best. It seems that the cat, which had been adopted by the home, patrols the halls sniffing at the doors, stopping only to visit during the patients last few hours of life.

Doctors are at a loss to explain the phenomenon!

Over the years, I have collected the memories of relatives and kin in hopes of preserving a heritage that is quickly slipping away. While I have managed to document thousands of lives, many of the more than 41,000 names in my records are nothing more than letters and numbers on my tree. With each passing day more information is lost.

I recently read a blog entry by thegenealogygirl in which she quotes Guy Black, who states that “family history is a perishable commodity”. Thegenealogygirl posted it because it addresses a question that had been posed in a discussion group she participated in, “What is the one thing you wish you had known when you first started working on your family history?” She goes on to say that this discussion is driving her current line of research.

Now at first glance the cat mentioned above and the genealogy blog may seem unrelated, but in practice I have struggled with the knowledge that the memories I am seeking are fleeting and in many cases my inquiries requesting information are tied with circumstances, most often than not, associated with death and dying. Much like the cat in the story, my letters to relatives end up resting on the laps of individuals during their last days on earth and unlike the cat I am unable to complete my mission of collecting their memories.

The coincidental circumstances of my letters arrival and the occasion of the relatives recent death always brings a pang of remorse at the missed opportunity to share their hopes and dreams that fed their movements through life. Each lost recipe, each fragrant memory of lilacs in the spring and the smell of bread in the oven are tragic.

Sometimes the realization that I need to hurry to visit one of my older relatives holds me back, like an unconscious desire to prolong their life by ignoring the passage of time. But in the end I know that in the majority of instances, my relatives want to share their information and I have been tasked as the “Family Historian” to gather these golden memories.

As one of the doctors in Oscar’s story postulated, perhaps he was only “seeking a warm blanket”. Sometimes I, like Oscar, am looking for memories to keep me warm on my own journey through life.