Swedish Saga

The story of the Anders Erikson (Holm) Family

Life in Sweden

Anders Erikson (Holm) was born in Eggvena Parish of Herrljunga, Alvsborgs lan, Sweden on February 2, 1829. He was the son on Erik Larson and Maja Andersdotter. They lived in a small village of Herrljunga in the southern portion of Sweden, also known as Götaland.

Ander’s father was the second husband of Maja (Maja is the Swedish version of Mary) Andersdotter. Her first husband was Anders (last name unknown) and they had a son named Andreas Anderson, who was born three years earlier than Anders, in 1826.

The family’s life in Sweden would have been harsh. Property was handed down though the generations and was subdivided between the siblings. Parents remained on the farm and were then supported by the children. Because few children, born prior to 1750, survived into adulthood, the farms remained relatively intact. But, as advances were made in science and mortality decreased, the population doubled between the years of 1750 to 1850. The small farms were divided by larger and larger families.

The famous Swedish bishop and poet Esaias Tegne’r explained the population pressure in three words: “peace, vaccination and potatoes.” He was referring to the fact that Sweden had not been in war since the Russian war of 1809 and the war against the Danes in 1814. Smallpox vaccination had reduced the infant mortality from 21% in 1750 to 15% in 1850. Potatoes became more popular and were a nutritious supplement to the Swedish diet. The combined effects resulted in a growth in population which in turn produced other problems for society. In a country with few industries and cities, the burden had to be carried by the primitive agricultural society.

By the early 1820’s, farms were less that a few non contiguous acres that were spread over the entire village in small fields. Whatever production was achieved was shared with the State’s Swedish Lutheran Church, local government and the Swedish Monarchy through taxes. The combination of a growing population and an inefficient agrarian society pushed the economy of Sweden to its limits. A famine swept the nation, killing 22 out of every 1,000 Swedes.

At the same time that the farm economy was breaking down, Sweden was also forcing more and more people into compulsory military service. By the 1900’s Sweden had drafted almost all it males into compulsorily military service.

The Journey To Amerika

In 1852, the eldest of Maja’s sons, Andreas, left with his wife and children for America.

Anders Erikson followed with Inga Stina Persdotter and a two year old son named Anders in 1855. Both families left well before the wave of emigrants from Sweden in 1865.

In order to leave Sweden they would have had to first obtain permission from the local and federal government to emigrate. Swedish emigration restrictions weren’t eased until about 1865, so the process in the 1850’s probably would have involved a certain amount of harassment, including extra red tape. Once permission was obtained, the families would meet with their church where it was notated in the church records that they had “Gone to Amerika” and their name was crossed off the roles.

It was very hard to get the permissions needed to emigrate, so hard that less the 1 in 2000 people were able to leave Herrljunga area during the period of 1850 to 1860. In fact, according to Swedish emigration records only 586 people total were allowed to leave Sweden in 1855. Anders and Inga were in the vanguard of emigrants to the new land. In contrast, during 1869 32,050 Swedes left for America.

It is difficult to imagine overseas migration without the common people of Sweden being able to read and write. Thanks to the Lutheran Church the rate of illiteracy had always been relatively low in Sweden. The Elementary School Act of 1842 almost erased illiteracy among the younger generation. These young Swedes read about America in newspapers, popular books or pamphlets. The “America-letters” brought news from relatives. Young people learned that success was available for everyone who emigrated. Those letters were circulated from person to person, cottage to cottage and city to city.

sweden map

Location of Herrljunga in Sweden

The route Anders Erikson’s family took probably started with a walk of about 15 miles carrying their immigrant trunk to Lake Vänern followed by a barge trip on the Göta Canal.

The Göta Canal was built by 58,000 billeted soldiers from 16 different regiments. About 60,000 men, including a company of Russian war prisoners, and a number of civilian workers worked a total of about 7 million man-days, (each of 12 hours) during a period of 22 years.

The canal stretches all the way from Gothenburg on the Swedish west coast, combined with the river Göta älv and the Trollhätte canal, through the great lakes Vänern and Vättern, in parallel with Motala ström, and to Söderköping on the Baltic Sea.

sweden 2

The Erikson family’s canal trip would have ended at the Gothenburg Seaport.  They would have boarded the two masted sailing brig call the Anna Margaretta. They sailed “on top of the cargo” or “between the decks”, spending months on the sea and finally, more dead than alive, landing in New York. At Castle Garden, in New York, they would have been inspected for disease, with the sickest ones being returned to Sweden at the ship owner’s expense. Many families were broken up at New York, with little prospect of being reunited.

castle garden

Emigrants Disembarking Near Castle Garden

Castle garden interior

Castle Garden Interior

Many of the emigrants landed at Castle Garden with very little funds, just enough to qualify for entry into America. Their first contact with America would have been the Labor Exchange located in Castle Garden. Some would end up as servants other would be recruited for labor. Many were hired to work on the new railroad lines being laid to Chicago and points west.

castle garden labor

Castle Garden Labor Exchange

While we do not know for sure how Anders Erikson and his family got from New York to Minnesota, the normal route was a train to Buffalo, New York and the Great Lakes. From there they were taken by paddle steamer over the lakes to Chicago, Milwaukee or Duluth. The last part of the journey would have been on foot. Although his name was on the ship log as arriving in New York somewhere along the route to Minnesota, Anders first son perished. His name was not listed in the remaining church records, the 1860 US Census or tombstones in Minnesota.

railroad map

Settling Minnesota

Once Anders reached Minnesota the top priority would have been land selection, then shelter. The first home was a simple cabin much like the poor “torpstuga” in Herrljunga, Sweden, but built on Minnesota’s fertile soil. It is apparent that Anders arrived in Minnesota with enough money to buy 180 acres of land. They did not homestead, but instead bought land from Alexander Ramsey. The farm was located on a half mile north of Gotha, MN.

carver county map

Carver County, Minnesota

The area that Anders chose was in Carver County and was known as part of “The Big Woods”. Clearing the ground of stones in Sweden was replaced by the rooting out of stumps in Minnesota. Luckily the Swedes were use to wood as their principal material for the construction of tools, furniture, buildings, and fuel.

wood land

Natural woodland in Wood-Rill Scientific and Natural Area, located near Orono, MN

In order to plant crops in the open meadows, the early settlers would have to break the sod. The sod was extremely thick and would normally need to turned and left to rot till the next crop season. Settlers could plant potatoes under the turned sod to aid in breaking it up and allowing them to get some food from the land.

The first years were tough, as the settlers cleared land and prepared fields. For some the only income received was from the wood they obtained and shipped by riverboat to Minneapolis for sale as firewood. Others foraged for the numerous wild ginger plants found in the woodland forest. The ginger was highly sought after and could be sold in the Orient. Ginger Agents paid handsomely for the prized roots. In fact, ginger harvesting paid so well, that many farmers abandoned their field preparations to work full time searching for the roots.

wild ginger

Wild Ginger- The roots were gathered for sale to oriental markets

Other settlers moved into Benton Township quickly, including the Ranft family to Ander’s north and the Schug family to Anders’s west. Both of these Germanic families had been in America for a number of years, first living in Butler County, Pennsylvania, before moving to Minnesota.

The Swedish Evangelical Church

Religion was still a major part of Anders and Inga’s life and they joined the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church in East Union (Also known as King Oscar’s Settlement) that lay to the East.

It was soon apparent that some regulations were needed by the Church Elders to guard themselves and their congregation against preachers who were not followers of the “true evangelical Lutheran doctrine”. “Some of the settlers apparently experienced emotional of spiritual unrest caused by missionary efforts of the Baptists, Methodists, and various fly-by-night preachers including a Lutheran minister who allegedly had problems with alcohol.” Speakers found it necessary to show church authorities their licenses or letters of recommendation before delivering messages from the pulpit at Oscar’s Settlement church.

From the time members in the congregation organized at the Union Settlement, the community had been pushing farther west. Some families who were now located four or more miles beyond the church discovered the reality of Minnesota’s unpredictable and often harsh winter weather. Traveling even a few additional miles became a critical factor during an era when most pioneers depended upon a few fortunate sled-owning families to pick them up along the way to Sunday services; otherwise they walked. These factors prompted these distant members to seek support for their effort to build another place of worship.

In 1858, The East Union settlement church board approved a request made by some of its members to build a second church, creating two congregations of the same Lutheran denomination. Thus the East and West Union churches came into being in 1858. Anders Erickson, whose farm was a half mile NW of the new church was a charter member of West Union and served as a Deacon of the Church.

Anders & Maja Holm

Swedish Education

One of the first responsibilities assumed by the newly installed deacons at Union Settlement church was to plan for their school, which became the forerunner to Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter.

Church members were expected to help build the school and furnish the wood needed. Plans were drawn and then the boards and beams needed were divided among the members to bring to the school site. Strict instructions as to thickness and length were given for each board they were expected to bring.

During the 1860’s, an increasing number of Scandinavians were entering Minnesota and the need for Lutheran pastors to serve grew. The residents of Carver County thought it would be beneficial to have somewhere to school these future pastors. After some politicking and fund raising, a school that was located in Red Wing was moved to East Union, near Carver, in order to prepare more students for the seminary. It was named St. Ansgar’s Academy in 1865 in honor of St. Ansgar, the first Christian missionary to Sweden. About half of the students attending were from Carver County. Some students were as young as 10 but many were grown men. In fact, the oldest student entered the academy at age fifty-six!

With hopes of strengthening the school financially and increasing attendance, the Lutheran Synod moved the school program from East Union to St. Peter in 1876. The school was re-organized as Gustavus Adolphus College. The original school building remains at this East Union site.

Minnesota Statehood 

minnesota flag

Until the second half of the 19th century, immigration into Minnesota was slow. But, once the value of the state’s woodlands and fertile prairie was realized, settlers poured into the region with New England lumbermen leading the way. Between 1850 and 1857, the state population skyrocketed from 6,077 to over 150,000.

On May 11, 1858, Minnesota became the 32nd state admitted into the Union. Minnesota’s application for statehood was submitted to President James Buchanan in January, but became entangled with the controversial issue of Kansas statehood, delaying it for several months until it was finally approved by Congress.

1862 Indian Wars

On August 15, 1862, Santee Sioux Chief Little Crow went to the Indian Agency located on the Minnesota River to ask government agent Thomas J. Galbraith to distribute the Indians’ government-stockpiled provisions to his hungry people. “We have no food, but here are these stores filled with food”, he yelled at Galbraith. “So far as I’m concerned, if they are hungry, let them eat grass or their own dung”, retorted trading post operator Andrew J. Myrick. The angry Indians left, but a few days later Myrick’s corpse was found- with grass stuffed in his mouth.

On Sunday, August 17th, four teenage Sioux killed a white family of five in a dispute over farm eggs. Rather than hand the boys over to the army, some of the Sioux chiefs decided the time to fight had come. By dawn the next day, the horrible uprising had begun. At approximately the same hour ironically, a government wagon left St. Paul, carrying $71,000 in gold coins. The long overdue annuity payment was finally on its way.

Little Crow had never wanted to battle the white man. He was highly intelligent and had the bearing of a gentleman. He was considered an expert in dealing with the media of the day. Both on the reservation and in Washington he charmed reporters with his wit and subtle use of sarcasm. He knew the futility of trying to subdue the dominant culture. He gave his most impassioned speech of his life to the young warriors who came to him that morning of August 17th. He had never been more forceful, more passionate, more persuasive, and if he had stopped the council then, there might never have been a war. But another chief who favored war declared Little Crow a coward who was really afraid of the white man. In a resigned, nearly desolate voice, Little Crow responded, “I am not a coward. I will die with you.”

By the end of September, the Sioux uprising in Minnesota was mostly over, though other Sioux tribes in neighboring territories had taken to the warpath. The U.S. troops who were rushed to Minnesota contained the uprising, but not before an estimated 800 white settlers had been murdered and several million dollars’ worth of property had been destroyed. Of 2,000 Indians captured and tried, a military board sentenced 303 to be hanged. President Abraham Lincoln reviewed the list and trimmed it to 38. (With France undecided as to which side it should enter the Civil War on, Lincoln wisely reconsidered the image of hanging over 300 Indians!) The United States’ largest public mass execution was held December 26, 1862, when the 38 Indians were hanged.

indian hanging


“I have the honor to inform you that the thirty-eight Indians and half-breeds ordered by you for execution were hung yesterday at Mankato at 10 a.m. everything went off quietly and the other prisoners are well secured. 


Respectfully, H. H. SIBLEY, Brigadier-General.”

Early Agriculture

cradle scythe

grain planter

Pennock’s Horse Drawn Seed and Grain Planter, circa 1846

In 1859, Wendelin Grimm and his wife Julianna, German immigrant farmers came to Carver County carrying a wooden box full of alfalfa seeds that he soon planted on the Carver County prairie. He gathered the seeds from the alfalfa that survived the first winter and re-planted every year until he had a full crop. Grimm Alfalfa became the most winter-hardy strain of alfalfa available and was an important contributor to the rise of the local dairy industry. Grimm’s Alfalfa was still in use on the Holm’s farm in North Dakota.

Besides Wendelin Grimm, numerous other early pioneers practiced agricultural and horticultural experimentation. Charles Luedloff of Dahlgren Township and Andrew Peterson of Scandia (near Waconia) experimented with apples, plums, and cherries. James Robinson of Dahlgren Township developed the Robinson apple seedling. Louis Suelter of Carver developed several types of grapes including the “Beta.”

Naturalization and a New Name

Surnames were given based on the father’s first name as per Swedish custom. Erik Larson’s son would be “Eriksson” and daughters would be “Eriksdotter”. So Ander’s name was Anders Eriksson. (Later shortened to Erikson) Swedish naming customs were changed by the military beginning in 1820, when the surname stayed with the family. The adoption of surnames made it much easier to track people and information. Many Swedes took that time to adopt a name they liked. Many took names to reflect the area they lived in or a trade association. 

The US Census of 1860 listed Anders last name as Erikson. After his final naturalization papers were completed his surname was changed to Holm. Anders was reported to say “There are too many Erickson’s in Minnesota” so he took the last name of his wife’s father, John Petter Andersson Holm.

Holm is a common Scandinavian name. The name has multiple meanings but the most common one refers to an island or a hill. John Petter probably added the surname Holm (his right as a soldier) based on the geographical features of his farm in Sweden. Because his farm lay miles from the sea, we can surmise his farm was located on a hill. 

Anders Erickson Holm  abt 1901 Hancock Township, Carver County, Minnesota

Anders Erickson Holm
about 1901
Hancock Township, Carver County, Minnesota

The children of Anders and Inga

Anders Peter Erikson 1853-1855?

John Erikson Holm 1857-1926

Ander Peter Holm 1860 – abt 1923 “Outwest”

Emmeli Kristina Holm Pehrson 1861 – 1901

Matilda Holm Noyed 1864 – 1916

John Erickson Holm 

In the 1880 Census John E Holm was listed as the head of household, with Anders E Holm listed as a dependent.

North Dakota Statehood 1889

In 1876, units of the 7th Cavalry commanded by Lt. Col. George A. Custer left Fort Abraham Lincoln near Bismarck to search for the Dakota who had refused confinement on reservations. The resulting annihilation of Custer’s immediate command at the Little Big Horn River in MontanaTerritory made names such as Crazy Horse, Gall, and Sitting Bull familiar throughout the nation. Many Dakota moved to Canada to escape relentless punitive expeditions sent by the army, and remnants finally surrendered at Fort Buford in 1881. Nine years later Sitting Bull, the leading opponent of reservation life, identified with the Ghost Dance religion, one that forecast the return of traditional Plains Indian ways. Standing Rock Reservation Indian police were sent to arrest the elderly leader at his home in 1890, and Sitting Bull was killed.

Significant immigration commenced when the westbound Northern Pacific Railway built to the Missouri River in 1872 and 1873. A great settlement “boom” in northern Dakota occurred between 1879 and 1886. During those years, over 100,000 people entered the territory. So significant was this foreign immigration that in 1915 over 79% of all North Dakotans were either immigrants or children of immigrants. 

ND flag

journal entries

Around 1885, John E Holm moves to ND for first time, settles in Hobart Township, Barnes County. He rents land from John Anderson. The accompanying ledger page from the John Anderson Collection at the Minnesota Historical Society lists the first purchases John E Holm made at that time.

The purchases demonstrate the necessities needed to began a farming operation at that time. Purchases include a team of horses (named Jack and Jennie) $400, a mule (named Sallie) $150, a wagon $50, 150 bushels of oats $45, one hay stack $16, a cow calf $60 and other miscellaneous items. The total for this for the first few months of purchases was $1,184.49. According to an inflation calculator an 1885 dollar would be worth about 20 dollars in 2005 dollars.  That would mean John E Holm’s purchase would have been nearly $24,000 in today’s (2006) dollars. It was interesting to notice that on the 1887 ledger pages, John E was given a $75 credit for a “Dead Mule”. Obviously, a warrantee clause was invoked.

According to an interview of Kathryn Ranft Holm, kept by the North Dakota Historical Society, John E’s farm is destroyed around 1889 by fire and he returns to Carver County. This seems to be backed up by an 1888 notation in the ledger saying that the account had been balanced and closed by mutual agreement.

barnes county

John E Holm family returns to ND in about 1891 and settles in Cuba Township, Barnes County. He bought a quarter section of land on crop payments from John Anderson. John Holm’s family moves back and forth with the seasons between Cologne and Cuba for four years, using the railroad which has lines located in Cuba and Cologne. The farm was established and a home was finally completed in 1895, so they were finally able to take residence in North Dakota.

John Anderson was the first cousin of John E. Holm, and the son of Andreas (Anders Erickson Holm’s half brother). John Anderson managed over four thousand acres of land in and around Barnes County, ND. He was one of the original owners of the “Cuba Farmers Cooperative Mercantile Co”,

cuba merchantile

along with John E Holm. He also was a major shareholder in stores located in Oriska, ND and Glencoe, MN.

It appears from the ledger books he maintained, that he and John E Holm still had a very close business relationship. The books we examined showed Anderson carried a credit line for John E Holm. Because of this line of credit, John E was able to increase his land holdings, even in the face of multiple years of crop failure in the Dakotas. Evidence of their friendship was found in pictures, found in the files, of John Anderson and John E Holm taken in 1907 in Los Angeles, CA while they were visiting relatives.

masonic award

John & Mollie (Haish) Anderson moved to Valley City in 1882. During the 1880’s John served as the Valley City Justice of the Peace and ran for Mayor of Valley City. In the late 1890’s, John moved Mollie and the children back to Minnesota. John maintained a business presence in Valley City for the remainder of his life. He was one of the original members of the Masons in Valley City and was given a Life Time Membership from the group. The certificate presented to him was signed by Stanley Mythaler and Vernon Gale.  After returning to school to attain his Law Degree in 1891 from the University of Minnesota, he continued to operate out of Valley City.

One of John Anderson’s sons was Leslie Anderson. Leslie, a veteran and a Harvard Graduate, went on to become a District Court Judge of Minneapolis. Leslie was also very active in the National GOP Party. The National GOP gave him the assignment of creating the Young Republicans Group in Minnesota. Leslie was married, but unfortunately his wife died of a brain aneurism within a few months of that marriage.

A daughter of John Anderson, named Ruth, became a Home Economist and found employment with a Minneapolis Flour Co. Her department there was better known as Betty Crocker. Ruth’s job was to answer consumer questions under the pen name of Betty Crocker.

Cuba Mercantile and Partners


John E Holm Threshing Crew – Cuba, ND

threshing 2

Threshing Machine – Cuba, ND

john photographer

John Holm photographing John E Holm (in white shirt) and friends

John E Holm’s Children

john holm family

John Holm 1883 – 1951

George Holm 1884 – 1964

Henry Albert Holm 1887 – 1963

Edward Paul Holm 1888 – 1945

Anna Matilda Holm Dill Smith 1891 – 1946

Catherine Mary Holm Kreidlkamp 1894 – 1944

Herman (Fritz) Frederick Holm 1897 – 1976

For many, however, the economic hardships of the Depression could not be overcome. Thousands of North Dakotans lost their farms and either moved into the cities and towns or from the state. One historian estimates that over 70% of the state’s people required one form or another of public assistance. The toll in broken dreams, physical hunger and hardship, and displacement will never be completely measured. Still, most North Dakotans stubbornly held on, husbanding their resources and spending carefully. Even during the hard times, for example, drought-stricken counties and cities rarely missed bond payments, and indeed the public debt in the state was substantially reduced during the Depression years.

Johann Friederick Eggert, My Great Great Grandparent

Born        April 10, 1833 Bernitt, Gustrow, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany

Died        May 27, 1871 Winona, Winona, Minnesota, USA

Married to:              Dorothea Maria Friederike Krohn

June 26, 1863 Moisall, Gustrow, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany

Johann Eggert, his wife Dorothea and their four children Maria, Johann, Wilhemina, and Carolina  arrived on the Steam Ship Thuringia in New York Harbor on November 11th, 1871 from Hamburg, Germany. After clearing immigration they traveled across country to Winona, Minnesota where there were jobs to be had for industrious workers.

1871 SS Thuringia Passenger List


While the family dreamed of prosperity, fate would deliver a hard blow, with the death of the father Johann Eggert after only a few months in his new country.

In May of 1871 the Winona & St. Peter Railroad had opened a railroad crossing across the Mississippi River. Unfortunately the bridge was faulty and collapsed as the first train attempted to cross. The bridge was in the process of being rebuilt in 1872 when Johann was hired and put to work as a laborer. As a railroad worker he would have been on the crew that moved large replacement girders into position. The boats would have been precariously loaded and very top heavy, a contributing factor that would undoubtedly lead to Johann’s accidental death in 1872.

Winona Daily Republican May 27, 1872


“A skiff containing seven railroad laborers, among whom were August Hagadorn, Hans Nielson, and a German, named Egert, was capsized while crossing the slough at the extreme lower end of the city, this Monday, morning. The boat struck the bushes and, being pretty heavily freighted, and in a strong current, at once turned over. All managed to cling to the boat save Egert, who was drowned, he came over from the old country only last Summer, and leaves a wife and family near the Third ward park, to who the blow will be most severe. The deceased was an industrious man and had every prospect of doing well in the new home which he sought. A party of men went down this forenoon to recover the body if possible.”

Winona Daily Republican May 28, 1872


“The body of the unfortunate German, Egert, who was drowned in the river below this city, on Monday, has not yet been recovered. His poor wife was overwhelmed with grief when the news was brought to her, and it was feared for a time that her reason would be impaired, but to-day her grief is more subdued, though none the less deep and poignant. She is left in poor circumstances with a family of four children, the oldest nine years old and the youngest a year and a half. Rev. Phillip Von Rohr has kindly interested himself in her behalf and has already succeeded in raising a liberal contribution for her relief. It is a case which appeals strongly to the sympathies of our citizens, and it is hoped the response will be characterized by that noble generosity which the touching circumstances suggest. Donations left with Mr. Von Rohr will be gratefully received by the afflicted woman, who is left with her little ones without relatives in a strange land.”

Winona Daily Republican June 3, 1872

“The body of John Egert, the German man that was drowned last week, at the lower end of the city, was found, on Saturday night, about a hundred yards from where he was drowned. Mr. Turnqinst, of Homer, who discovered the body, made it fast to the bushes, and, on Sunday morning, notified the officers in this city. Marshall Chappoll and Coroner McGaughey went down, and an inquest was held, the jury returning a verdict of death by accidental drowning. The body was then brought to the city and interred in Woodlawn Cemetery in the afternoon. Rev. Philip Von Rohr performed the funeral services. The wife of the unfortunate man was agitated with uncontrollable grief, and her distress at the grave was heartrending to behold. Even after the ceremonies were concluded the poor woman could hardly be persuaded to leave the spot, but at last she was gently led away by two of her friends and returned to her desolate home.”

Johann Eggert was buried in the Potter’s field section of the Winona cemetery…  One month later

Winona Daily Republican July 22, 1872

“ A juvenile imposter, in the shape of a little German girl, about twelve years of age, has been duping our citizens by representing herself to be the daughter of Mrs. Eggert, whose husband was drowned in the river below this city, a few weeks ago. The girl has obtained considerable money, clothing, etc., thought the sympathy excited by her pitiful tale, but none of the things have ever found their way to the place intended by the givers. Mrs. Eggert has never sent her child out to ask alms; more than that, her little girl cannot speak English. If the little imposter continues her business she should be at once reported to the police, as she is unquestionably sent out by unprincipled person, who deserve punishment for thus obtaining aid under false pretenses.”

The next trace of the family was found on a marriage license for Dorothea stating that she had married Karl Frederick Lange (a widower with two daughters) on July 10, 1873, a little more than a year after Johann’s death. The combined family of 6 was soon joined by 5 more children. In 1879, the Lange family moved to Barnes County, North Dakota where they homesteaded. In a tragic turn on December 4, 1894 Charles Lange succumbed to a final crop failure and took his own life. Dorothea Maria Friederika Krohn passed away on October 17, 1903 near Valley City, North Dakota.

The eldest of the Johann’s children married Julius Nicoli (A widower, whose first wife had recently died in child birth of his 5th child). And bore him an additional 11 children. The second child Johann married Augusta Billet and had three children. The third sibling Wihelmena, married Frederick Neustel and had 9 children. The youngest child, Carolina married Frederick’s brother Johann Neustel and had 8 children. These 4 children of Johann along with their step and half siblings spread his descendants, numbering in the thousands, across the USA and Canada.

Privy Memories

Every farm had one, but not all were equal. There were “one holers” and “two holers”. There were wooden ones and tin ones. There were permanent ones and temporary ones. There were simple ones and fancy ones. About the only things they had in common was that outhouses were cold in the winter, stunk in the summer and were darn nice to have when you needed one.

The common outhouse, if there were such a thing, were two hole affairs. The seats were built into the structure with the opening cut with a hand saw and shaped expertly with a rasp to eliminate the sharp edges. A frequent upgrade was a store bought seat that could be lowered into place for the comfort of the ladies.

As a point of pride, the structures were built to last. The floorboards were made from good quality lumber and were attached to strong 2×6 joists that could take the yearly move. White pine was used for the walls and roof. A good sized one was 6 feet wide, 5 feet deep and about 8 feet high. The roof was a simple affair that tilted from front to back to shed the rain. Shingles were optional. Windows were rarely installed and the only source of light was the obligatory crescent moon which was cut high into the door to identify its true purpose. Outhouses, if painted at all, were normally white.

The structure itself was placed over a hole that was dug just for that purpose. The building was moved as needed and the old hole was covered with soil. The new holes were dug down to about a six foot depth, or to the point where the second or third oldest child refused to dig any further. The key to a successful outhouse hole was to locate it on a crown of the higher ground with soil that had good absorption. Nobody wanted to have the run off from a thunderstorm come roaring down a slope and flooding the hole, allowing the water to lift the contents out of the pit.

Another key consideration for location was privacy. A lot of farms placed the outhouse on the edge of tree line. This gave shade in the summer and cut down on the wind in the winter. However, distance from the house to the privy always had to be respected. When nature called, no one wanted it too far from the house.

The last concern that needed to be addressed was ventilation. How much was a matter of much contention and usually came down to the owner’s preference. Obviously the more ventilation used, the cooler (and less smelly) the building was in the summer. However, in winter, a draft cause by the ventilation could be very uncomfortable and with temperatures hovering at minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit, wind chill was a risk that had to be accounted for.

The most important accessory for the building was paper. Years before the environmentalists ever heard of it, farmers practiced recycling. The best source for outhouse paper was the pink wrappers from peaches. But, they were a seasonal item and were normally saved for guests.

In most cases it was the Sears Roebuck Catalog that made the best impression, as an educational reference used to clean up the farmer’s bottom line. For farmers, the time spent in the outhouse let them keep abreast of new implements for the farm. For the wife, her daytime constitutional gave her a window into the luxuries of the affluent people in town. For the children, their efforts were rewarded with their first introduction into the secrets of the opposite sex. Many a young male was driven to distraction by the lavish description of corsets and braziers displayed in the drawings on the black and white pages of that book.

All of this information was provided by an ingenious marketing idea; that was recycled page by page by page.

Many people thought the worst thing that could happen in an outhouse was to run out of paper. However, it was not paper which caused the near tragedy on a nearby farm. It all came down to ventilation.

The farm was located a half-mile down the road from ours and was only a quick walk across the field. During those last few years there, our family had taken to moving into the cities for the winter. Our mother was employed as a teacher and we had stopped milking, so there was no real need for us to remain on the farm year round. Our neighbor farmed year round, so winter preparation was much higher on their priority.

It was because of this that the two farms subscribed to different theories of outhouse ventilation. Ours was loosely built to eliminate the heat, while theirs was built near the trees and was tightly sealed to stop all but the most persistent drafts. In fact, to help stop cold air penetration, a much stronger foundation was used on theirs which almost sealed the lower chamber of the outhouse.

Now this design has performed flawlessly for years on my neighbor’s farm and when we came out to visit in the preceding winter, their outhouse seemed remarkably warm. But during the summer of 1964 things had changed. It was much hotter than normal and the wind did not seem to blow as much as usual. It made for an uncomfortable June and it appeared that July would be following the same weather pattern.

As bad as that year’s weather was, we youngsters still had one thing to look forward to. It was the holiday second only to Christmas for us. It was the 4th of July! The 4th was a time of county fairs, watermelons, cap guns, potato salad and fireworks.

Now this was the old time Forth of July, when the firecrackers had much more pop. When you set off a Baby Gorilla firecrackers, you knew you needed to get away. The older children played with Cherry Bombs and Silver Salutes. (The Silver Salute was spoken about almost reverently and it was always mentioned that they contained a quarter stick of dynamite.) When my older brother placed a Cherry Bomb under a can and set it off, the can was blown fifty or sixty feet in the air. Cherry Bombs and Baby Gorillas were way too powerful for the smaller children.

Little children were given Lady Fingers, while not as powerful as a Baby Gorilla; they still made a nice bang. If you placed them under a can, they could easily launch it about 5 feet into the air. It didn’t take the those same kids too long to find out that if you set Lady Fingers off in a more confined area, the noise produced was greatly enhanced. So it was common for children to blow up their fireworks between the out buildings, trying to get the loudest bang from the reverberation.

This particular Fourth of July seemed routine until nature called one of my neighbor’s younger daughters. Unlike her brothers, a little girl could not just stop and run to between the lilac bushes; she would have to use the outhouse. So off she went, carrying her lit punk and the package of Lady Fingers with her. It was hot in there, but being the proper lady she was, she closed and latched the door before dropping her trousers and plopping herself down on one of the two seats.

It didn’t take but a few seconds for her to put this spare time to use and imagine what a great sound it would make to drop a Lady Finger down the other hole. The noise would be sure to be deafening in this small of a place! She resolved to try it before telling the other children about her great idea.

Still seated with her pants down, she took her punk and lit a firecracker and threw it in the hole. Nothing! — It had been a dud. Something must have put it out as it descended into the pit. So, she lit another and waited to be sure it caught properly before dropping it down the shaft. Moments after the firecracker went into the outhouse pit, a tremendous explosion was heard across the farm.

It was a combination of the hot heavy air and the sealed foundation that trapped the methane gas down in that hole. When that little firecracker went off, it ignited that sour gas and blew that outhouse and the little girl right off that foundation, twisting it off to the side.

Luckily, she survived her physical injury but still shudders when attending our neighborly gatherings, knowing that someone will have to bring up the story of her launching the outhouse.