In 1840, there were already two sizable Norwegian communities in Wisconsin, Rock Prairie and Jefferson Prairie, both in Rock County. 40 Norwegian families from Upper Telemark settled near Lake Muskego in Waukesha County at about the same time. The first immigrants from the Graver farm in Telemark, Sondre Sondreson and his wife Ingileiv, came to Dane County Wisconsin in 1840. In 1841, what would become the largest Norwegian-American community in America was founded at Koshkonong in eastern Dane and Western Jefferson County. The settlement took its name from a nearby lake. It was started by settlers from the Jefferson Prairie and Fox River (IL) settlements. Gunnul Olsen Vindegg was probably the first to clear land and he became a well known writer of "America letters".
In 1843, Kristi's brother Aslach, his wife Marthe, children Egil and his wife Berith, Ole and Ann left Norway with over 180 others from Telemark led by Olav Knutson Trovatten. They settled in what would become the "heart" of the Telemark settlement in Prairie Rose township.
By 1850, over half of the 5,000 Norwegians in Wisconsin lived in the Koshkonong settlement. As more Norwegian immigrants came to Wisconsin, Koshkonong became large enough so that it was split into an East and a West church community. In the 1840's there were 543 families or 2,670 people. In the 1860's there were 633 families or 3,699 people. 150 years ago Koshkonong Prairie was known as "Queen of the Norwegian Settlements." This became the largest settlement of Norwegian immigrants in America, and over the years became the parent of key settlements in Minnesota, Iowa, and elsewhere in the Midwest.
As with all immigrants, food became an important way of expressing cultural identity, and lefse, lutefisk, and rommegrøt quickly became recognized Norwegian staples. Unlike many other ethnic groups in Wisconsin, the Norwegians immigrants retained much of their culture, in no small part because of their tight-knit communities. In Norway, the church was the centerpiece of the community, and reflected not only religious faithfulness but also provided an identity for each area's moral, social and political culture. It is not surprising that the first concern of immigrants was to create Lutheran congregations that served that same role. In the fall of 1844 the Koshkonong area was visited by Norwegian minister, Johannes Wilhelm Christian Dietrichson. Congregations serving the East and West areas of the settlements would spring up soon after.
The Norwegian language was maintained through church services and passed along to succeeding generations through their church education. In many areas, Norwegian language church school and confirmation instruction continued until World War II. Well into the mid 1900's, storefronts in many rural midwestern towns advertised their products and sales in Norwegian. The Norwegian immigrants also created a large and active Norwegian-language press. The first Norwegian-American newspaper, "Nordlyset, " or "Northern Light" was founded in Muskego in 1847. Norwegian-American newspapers allowed immigrants to communicate with each other and develop a strong sense of national community.
Kristi's family story reflects the larger Norwegian immigrant experience. They began by joining Kristi's brother in the Koshkonong settlement in 1846. In the 1850's, as land became more scarce and expensive in Koshkonong, Tone and her husband relocated to Worth County, Iowa. Ole, Tarje, their mother and sister Aase moved to Houston County Minnesota as soon as it opened for settlement. (After Ole and Tarje married, Kristi and Aase joined Tone in Iowa.) After the Civil War and the Sioux uprising, Tarje would join the wave moving northwest as one of the early settlers in Clay County MN. Tarje's daughter Tilde would become the first of the Grovers to join the next major migration when she and her family headed to Oregon in the early 1900's.