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The 1873 Blizzard in Kandiyohi County, Minnesota

Ole Larsen Gronseth

Events of 1872, not 1873

Memories are not always accurate. Written publications from Kandiyohi County included Ole Larsen Gronseth as one of the victims of the January 1873 blizzard. However, he died in the February 12, 1872 snowstorm which befell the same area of Minnesota. Both storms occurred suddenly catching people unaware. Both storms were deadly. Both storms inflicted emotional pain on surviving family members. Kandiyohi County historian and writer, Gabriel Stene, incorrectly dated the events surrounding Gronseth's death to 1873. Stene, in preparing his newspaper article, probably read the 1905 Illustrated History of Kandiyohi County which also attributed Gronseth's death to 1873. Both Stene and the editors of the book trusted fallible memories. While the book has the year and location of death incorrect, Stene had the incorrect year, with the correct details of Gronseth's death. Though Gronseth died in the 1872 storm near his farm in Swift County and thus does not officially fit the parameters of this project, his story parallels that of those who died in 1973. Gronseth's story--his life and death--is worth telling.

Norway to Goodhue County and Swift County

Ole Larsen Gronseth (1825-1872, aka Ola Larssen Gronset), his wife Mali Rollaugsdatter Krislock, and family were from Stjørdal Parish, Nord-Trøndelag, Norway. Mali (1837-1923, aka Moli) was born in the nearby Hegra Parish. They married in 1861 and had 4 children: Elisabeth, Gertrude, Oline and Rolog (Rolf); the 2 youngest born in Minnesota. The family left Norway in April 1866 and arrived in Quebec, Canada, in June and then traveled to Goodhue County in southeastern Minnesota. Daughter Oline was baptized August 31, 1867 at Emmanuel Lutheran Church, Kenyon, Minnesota.

According to Mali's 1923 obituary, the family moved from Goodhue County to Kerkhoven Township, Swift County in 1871. This township borders Kandiyohi County which lies to the east. Brothers Ole and Iver Gronseth and their families were part of the Norway Lake and West Lake Settlements, with their farms north of West Lake, in Swift County. On an unusually warm winter's day, February 12, 1872, Ole and his brother Iver hitched their oxen to a wagon and traveled northeast several miles across the prairie to a wooded area of Section 4 of Norway Lake Township in neighboring Kandiyohi County. Their purpose was to bring home firewood for their families. Here is a description of the storm, in which Ole and Iver would fight to survive, in the February 14th issue of the Minneapolis Tribune:

For the last thirty-six hours the weather has been, in some respects, very severe; we may, indeed, say almost unprecedentedly severe. Monday evening, between 5 and 6 o'clock, it commenced raining. In an hour the storm changed from one of rain to snow, and at an early hour a heavy north wind commenced to blow. The snow continued to fall until about ten o'clock, at which time the wind was blowing a gale. Old Boreas [Greek God of the North Wind] seemed to gather new strength with each passing moment, and by midnight the gale became a perfect hurricane. They were lucky, indeed, who had not occasion to breast the storm. The snow was heaped in little piles and big piles, in long lines and short lines, in every conceivable shape and place. At each corner the wind and snow seemed to delight in fierce onslaughts on luckless pedestrians. From a comparatively warm evening the night developed into one of the most tedious that ever was experienced in Minnesota. Daylight yesterday found the storm unabated, and throughout the day and last night the winds howled with unwonted vigor.

His Death in Swift County

Historian Gabriel Stene wrote about his experiences in a blizzard where his path crossed with that of Ole Gronseth. Here is his article published in the January 13, 1926 issue of the Willmar Tribune. The year for the first part of his story, regarding Gunder Swenson, is correct--1873. But Stene then proceeds to write about Ole and Iver Gronseth whose story occurred in 1872. Ole's story began in Norway Lake Township, Kandiyohi County, but ended a few hundred yards from his farm in Kerkhoven Township, Swift County. The text is as Stene wrote it in 1926:

It was the winter of 1872-73, January 7th, a fine beautiful morning which lured so many out on their routine doings. Some to town, some for wood and hay and some for visiting. Even Railson, being the first to bring a little horse power threshing machine in to this county, was also the first to bring in to this county a steam threshing outfit. Threshing that year was a rather slow process. Owing to a fairly good crop and few machines some was left till after the holidays. On the said January 7th I made up a load of grist to go to the Swift Falls Mill, Swift Co., as the New London Mill was overcrowded. Starting off that beautiful morning, I overtook Gunder Swenson and Halvor Hande, both armed with pichforks to go over to help Even Railson thresh his grain, the finishing job. I proceeded on.

Getting to Andrias Jorgenson's, now the home of his son Olaus Jorgenson, near what is now Sunburg (no Sunburg then) I stopped to spear a good dinner. After a good dinner for myself and team I started off over the wild prairie in a northwesterly direction towards Camp Lake, then west 3 miles where the Swift falls mill was located in Sec. 3, Town of Camp Lake, a distance of about 12 miles. On that stretch there were only 3 settlers along the road--Hendrik Sagedalen [aka Henry Hanson], Mrs. Ellingboe and Tosten Kvamme [aka Quamme]. My road went northwest from Sagedalen's, another going west to three other settlers--Ole Sondroll and two brothers Iver and Ole Gronseth.

Starting from Jorgenson's it was very mild and snow was melting. Then it began snowing very heavily. Snow flakes about the size of quarter dollars melted as fast as they reached the ground. On the prairie I met a bunch of cattle--about 20 head belonging to Hendrik Sagedalen. They were enjoying the fine weather, nipping grass on the prairie. A little further on I passed the two brothers Iver and Ole Gronseth with each a yoke of oxen and a load of wood. I turned northwest from where the Kvamme schoolhouse now stands. From there they were to go west about 1 1/2 miles. Getting along about a mile I noticed in the air something like a huge roll of gray wool coming at a terrific speed. I could feel cold gushes and began to shake the water off from my robe, preparing for a bad storm. Just like slamming two hands together I was in a blinding snowstorm. I could not see the horses or anything else, not even the lines in my hands. My first attempt and aim was to turn the horses around and get back to Jorgenson's. No use for me to try to guide the horses--had to let them take their own course.

Hanging over the front end of the box to see if I could see the road, I could not even see the whipple trees. They were willing to return and I could tell by their feet that they were on the hard road. All of a sudden my horses came to an abrupt stop. I was up against Ivar Gronseth's oxen. We had a hard time passing each other. We could talk to each other, but not see each other. I said, "You better unhitch, leave loads and get oxen home. You will not get thru with loads against this weather." But they said, "We must have wood or our folks will freeze to death." Ole took the bridle off my horse and got me safe by his load. They then proceded west and made it to Ivar Gronseth's, a mile and a half. Here Ole had only 80 rods home. Ivar said, "you must not go, Ole; you will never make it in this weather." But Ole said, "The cattle are out, beside that I have sickness in the family. I must go." He started but never got home. Himself and his oxen froze to death.

Gabriel Stene continued his 1926 story, explaining what happened to him after he met the Gronseth brothers and turned around, relying on his horses to find the path.
Myself, after parting with the Gronseths, gave full navigation to the horses. Fearing there would be a big snow drift at edge of Jorgenson's grove, which I found to be the fact in due time, I could not do a thing, only give the horses the lines, leaving everything to them. I could hear by the sound of their feet that they were on the hard road. Soon the horses balked. I understood I was up against the above mentioned bunch of cattle, who all froze to death. Getting to Jorgenson's grove I had a hard tussle to get thru a snow drift about three feet deep and about 20 feet across. Getting thru there the horses made good to the stable, where they had their dinner feed. On getting there we found Andrias Jorgenson and son Ole A. Jorgenson were busy caring for their stock. I asked if they had room for the horses. They said they had room...We could talk to each other but not see each other. After getting the horses in, we hung clotheslines to be guided by between horse and stables. The storm raged without any letup for three days and three nights. The fourth morning was clear and blistering cold--about 30 below. Going home from there I could drive over fences and everywhere, snow being packed and frozen.

Separate journeys of Ole Gronseth and Gabriel Stene from Kandiyohi County to Swift County, February 12, 1872.
Solid line is Ole's route. Dotted line is route of storyteller Gabriel Stene.
S = Kvamme Schoolhouse, Section 26; Iver Gronseth farm, Section 22; Ole Gronseth farm, Section 27.
Jorgenson farm, Section 32 in Kandiyohi County. Stene's destination was the mill in Swift County.
(Diagram created by Carolyn Sowinski; not drawn to scale)

After the Storm

About a year after Ole's death, his widow, Mali, married Christopher Knudson Thorseth (1833-1913, aka Christoffer Torset/Torseth), a homesteader, a Norwegian immigrant, and a neighbor to the Gronseth family. She had 4 more children including twins: Bertha and Olaf, 1873; John, 1875; and Martin, 1880. The family remained in Kerkhoven Township, Swift County. Mali died on March 1, 1923 and was buried at Spring Creek Lutheran Cemetery in the township. Four of her children were also buried in the same cemetery: Rolog, Bertha, John and Martin. Ole's brother Iver and his family were buried at West Norway Lake Cemetery, south of Sunburg MN.

Resources for this chapter: (family trees, military, census, birth, marriage and death records, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America Records).
Arkivverket Digitalarkivet (Norwegian Census and Parish records).
Curtiss-Wedge, Franklyn. History of Goodhue County,Minnesota. Chicago, H.C. Cooper, 1909. Parish records in Norway.
Illustrated History of Kandiyohi County, 1905.
Kerkhoven Banner
Minneapolis Tribune
National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group 49: Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records (
Plat Map of Swift County, 1916.
Plat Book of Kandiyohi County, (1886).
Plat Map of Kandiyohi County, (1874).
St. Paul Pioneer Press
Willmar Tribune, various articles written by Gabriel Stene and published in the mid 1920s.

Complete Bibliography

Deaths of the O'Neill and Holden Brothers

Deaths of Helge Stengrimson and Margret Soland

Deaths of the Strand Brothers

Death of Lars Nelson

Death of Ole K. Skau

Death of Helena Johnson


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Last updated: November 3, 2016