May 11, 1941
The Story of the Buffalo River Settlement
Wagons Roll West to the Buffalo River Country
Beginning, The Story of a Pioneer Settlement
from the Pen of Clay County Artist
"Someone should have written it down."
"We should have taken some pictures."
These are common expressions as prairie pioneers and their descendants recount the dramatic experiences of the first settlers on the prairie.
But the hard-working first arrivals had no cameras. Few had the time and talent necessary for the writing task.
As a result comparatively little was written of the multitude of events that transpired as the courageous and resourceful settlers brought civilization to the frontier.
And as time passes, memory fades.
Miss Orabel Thortvedt, artist-author descendant of one of these groups of pioneers is one who has given this situation serious thought.
The result is a series of vivid pen and ink sketches of events of the prairie years, accompanied by the story of her adventuring forbearers, their ups and downs, their joys and sorrows.
Today and for several Sundays to come, The Fargo Forum is privileged to present these sketches by Miss Thortvedt, accompanied by historic notes.
She is the granddaughter of Olav Thortvedt, leader of a prairie schooner caravan, which came overland from Houston county, Minnesota, in 1870 to found the so called Buffalo river settlement in Clay county. His homestead, located approximately five miles northeast of Glyndon Minn, was the center of the colony, the rest of the entourage settling within a few miles north, south, and east of the Thortvedt place. Miss Thortvedt's father came with the caravan, a boy of 10. Her mother came shortly later.
Much of the material making up the text she heard from her grandparents and other residents of the settlement who came with the original group.
With this information she created pictures to illustrate their story, in many instances studying at first hand the objects and places, and talking with old settlers still surviving.
Thus her pictures reveal the past in authoritative fashion.
Most of her work was done in her little third story garret studio in the old home of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Levi Thortvedt.
She's On The Scene
The home stands on the same spot where her grandparents and father came in 1870, established themselves and continued to reside until their deaths.
From her garret windows she can look out on the winding Buffalo, the same trees, the high prairie ridge and its rich loam, the very features that attracted her forbears years ago. Several of the log cabins in which they lived the first years still stand.
In her mind's eye she can visualize the arrival of the pioneering band of several families, led by her grandfather, eight years after the Great Sioux massacre that started on the upper Sioux agency, August 17, 1862; their search for the best spot to make their homes, the building of cabins, their first "Indian scare," the first birth, the first death, the prairie fires, an early wedding dance and other picturesque events which will ever be remembered as Buffalo river highlights.
These and other intimate episodes in the lives of the settlers will be described in word and pictures in the series starting in The Forum herewith.
Sad parting as home ties are broken...
Norway's Fyresdal parish was the scene in 1866 of this poignant leave-taking for two young people who later were to become members of the frontier Buffalo river settlement near Moorhead and Glyndon. The weeping mother in the background they were never to see again. She was Tobjorn Midgarden, at that time a widow. The weeping girl in the cart was her daughter, Ingebor, who later was to become mother of Orabel Thortvedt, who made these sketches. The young man in the cart was her son, Ola, who was to travel into the land of adventure with his sister. The other girl was their sister, Signe, who was to accompany them to Bandakslien, where she was to bid them goodbye and drive the horse, Swarten, back home. Ola was only 16 then...
A young lad becomes a rugged pioneer...
Later, when Ola Midgarden arrived in southern Minnesota, he rapidly became a man under the rigorous pioneer conditions. This is how he looked in those venturesome days in Houston county when he joined the Olav Thortvedts and others on the trek to the Buffalo river country in 1870. Ola drove Bill and Tom, the oxen of Tarjei Skrei, another member of the party.
At the age of 20, Ola staked out his own homestead. He was well known and well liked among the pioneers. Few of the old residents ever forgot the chilly day in November of 1870 when he found a stray steer browsing along lonely South branch creek, a tributary of the Buffalo. The animal was slaughtered, divided among the settlers and formed a welcome addition to their larders...
Acquiring oxen for prairie schooner trip...
Olav Thortvedt was to take a prominent role as leader of the expedition to the Buffalo river. Here he is shown in Houston county in the act of acquiring a yoke of oxen named Buck and Bright in lieu of wages from a farmer for whom he had labored, after his arrival from Norway in 1861. Nine years later Buck and Bright were to draw a prairie schooner to Buffalo river, carrying Olav, his wife; their daughters, Joraand,16; Thone,13; and Signe, 7; and son Leif Levi, 10, and their personal belongings. Levi later was to become father of Isabel Thortvedt. During his lifetime Levi wrote an account of his experiences as a pioneer boy and man, recalling them with a vividness that came from a boy's impressions of the dramatic events that marked the life of the settlers. In conversations with members of the family he recounted many more details. it was not long after he acquired the oxen that he began dreaming of the fine day when he and his family would venture further westward into a new land. News of the great Sioux massacre of August 17, 1862, held his plans in check. But Norsemen are a courageous race, and thus it was that in 1870, the Houston county band began thinking of the west again...
When Norseman moves, his chest goes too...
here are Olav Thortvedt and his wife, Thone Saangdal Thortvedt in the
act of loading their prairie schooner for the trip, the object he is
hoisting into her hands being a rosmaala chest, a typical piece of the
baggage of the immigrant Norseman. On the ground may be seen
another similar chest, the inevitable spinning wheel, their dog, Major,
and their cat, Dvarius Jillum. Dvarius was missing next morning
when the emigrant party left Mound Prairie in Houston county.
There were three families in all, the others being Aanon Gunderson
Gjeitsta, brother of Olav Thortvedt, his wife, also named Thone, and
their four sons: Gunder, 11; Gustav, 7; John, 5; and Andreas, 3; and
Tarjei Skrei and his wife Gunhild, and their only child, Signe, 4.
Single men in the party were Ola Midgarden, Halvor Fendalsveit Salverson,
Gunnar Veum, Ola Anderson and Tarjei Muhle. In the party were
several covered wagons and some not covered, a team of horses, several
yoke of oxen, cows, colts, heifers, 13 sheep, a mule, and 25 chickens in
lath crates fastened behind the wagons. Many had special ability
for the tasks ahead and together they formed a compact little party
which was ready to meet any situation that might face pioneers.
Soon the command to start came from Olav Thortvedt and the journey was
Comment: It doesn't paint as dramatic a picture, but methinks it much more likely that the men of the party stood around talking and checking to make sure all was ready until someone said (in Norwegian, of course) "Well, we might as well get going, then." That anyone could command a bunch of Norski farmers to do anything, even if it were something they wanted to do, seems highly unlikely.
Buffalo river caravan gets under way ...
|Olav as leader drove ahead in his wagon, drawn by his willing team of horses, Jim and Roudy. Next came Tarjei Skrei's wagon, drawn by his oxen, Bill and Tom, with Ola Midgarden driving. The third wagon was that of Aanon Gjeitsta. it was drawn by his old team of oxen, Dick and Spot. The fourth wagon was one of the two owned by Olav Thortvedt, brawn by the oxen, Buck and Bright, with Halvor Fendalstveidt Salverson driving. The fifth wagon was Tarjei Muhle's, drawn by his yoke of steers and driven by himself. The last vehicle was a "democrat" wagon drawn by the mule, Jerry, and driven by the owner, Gunner Veum. In the sketch may be seen Tarjei Skrei driving the cattle with the help of 16 year old Joraand Thortvedt who was his bare-footed assistant during the entire journey. The cattle were determined to turn homeward to Houston county the first day and it became necessary for the women and children of the party to get out of the wagons and help herd them along. But it was a task in which all joined heartily, forgetful of the rigors of the rough trail, its boulders and brambles. Ahead was a glorious new country filled with promise and the pioneers were willing to share in the hardships to achieve their goal. And aching feet were forgotten and at the end of each day's journey there was food to eat and a place to sleep and dream of the events of the following day. Even after a hard day on the trail, the women had the food to prepare...|
Making camp on the lonely trail...
here is Thone, wife of Olav Thortvedt, with her daughter, Signe, 7,
lugging the mushkettle to the fire. This sketch represents camp
for the night at North Prairie, near Rushford, Minn., the second day of
the expedition. This point was reached after a particularly
arduous day's journey over rocky, hilly country during which an axle on
the lead wagon broke and was repaired by a blacksmith along the
trail. In the background, Olav is unhitching Jim and Roudy, while
Leif Levi comes running into the foreground to join Signe, who tugs at
the skirts of her mother. The other wagons are just pulling
up. Often Tarjei
Skrei[Muhle]* would draw his fiddle out of the case
after the party had eaten, and play familiar tunes, cheering up the
weary party. There was story telling too and poring over such maps
as were available, to determine the course of the next day's
journey. And in the background, although repressed, were the fears
that all early settlers had, of the danger of Indian attacks. And
so guns were kept handy. When night fell the dismal howl of
coyotes, echoed by the dogs in the party, was not disturbing enough to
keep the weary travelers from their sleep. In the day time there
were diversions, such as occasional meetings with other traveling
parties along the trail...
*As corrected in the next installment, the fiddler in the party was Tarjei Muhle.
Next Sunday: The pioneers meet Indians and oxcart trains, have difficulties of various sorts, arrive in the Buffalo river country, pick land and begin to erect cabins.