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The Norway Lake Colony, 1862-1885
Four essays written by Orlynn Mankell

Storyteller and historian, Orlynn Mankell

These 4 essays were first printed in Stepping Stones, a newsletter of First Lutheran Church of Norway Lake, 1983-1984. The author tells a story about the Norway Lake colony, 1862-1885: the settlers' worship services, their response to the Dakota War of 1862, development of their first organized congregations, and Pr. Andrew Jackson. "From Then to Now" (part 1) was reprinted in Richard Osmundson's 2002 book Family Tree of Thomas Osmundson. Part 2 of the story and 2 additional essays are linked at the end of Part 1.

"From Then To Now" (Part 1) a history of the Norway Lake Colony,
their worship, and Rev. Andrew Jackson, 1860-1862

The Norway Lake Colony, as it lay in 1860, was, for the time to be, on the extreme western limits of what could be referred to as any sense of civilization in Minnesota. It was also to mark the western fringes of that over-all American expansion as well. To the west lay the endless prairie wilderness, virtually uninhabited, and broken up with its lakes and groves. That fall, Abraham Lincoln was to be elected President.

It was in this primitive setting that about nine families, all from Norway, had taken upon themselves the hard and demanding role of the first pioneers. It is well known as to how they put up their cabins, planted wheat and potatoes, cut innumerable logs, hunted and fished--and made note of the fact that Minnesota winters were far more severe than they had been led to believe.

The Norway Lake Colony. Osmundson homestead (#3); Isle of Refuge (#12)

They also learned how to cultivate a certain friendship of sorts with the roving M'dewakanton Sioux Indians as they would come up from their villages on the Minnesota River, up into the Norway Lake "Big Woods" on their hunting trips. In the fall of 1860 a large band described as numbering about 400, passed through the settlement traveling towards the northeast.

It was a land vastly different from anything back in Hallingdal and Numedal [Norway]. And one of these differences was that they were now in a land where there was strict separation of church and state. Although they knew it would be this way, it still took a certain getting used to. Any official state church, which was so familiar to all of them back in their native Norway, simply no longer existed. Any church of any kind would have to more or less come from their own initiative.

On an obscure and long-ago day, sometime in the spring or early summer of 1860, these Norway Lake people assembled in one of the cabins and held what could be called an organized and planned worship service. It was led by a traveling Norwegian Lutheran pastor, Bernt Muus. The cabin where it was held was the home of Bergit and Thomas Osmundson. Nothing else is really known about it, but it does stand out as being the first recorded church service in what could be called the Norway Lake Congregation. Any organized church, however, was still six years away.

Homesick No Longer
There was to appear at the Norway Lake Settlement in the summer of 1861 a man who, in different ways, was to be set just a little bit apart from the others. He was not a farmer; he dressed differently, had a good education and probably in the most noticeable way of all, was not Norwegian. He was to be the Norway Lake congregation's first regularly called pastor, Rev. Andrew Jackson.

Swedish by birth, 33 years old, he never really explains as to how he was out here in the first place. He had come from that well-to-do higher class in Sweden and very probably could have lived out an easy and comfortable lifetime in his homeland. But now, instead of all this, he was finding himself out on the very ends of the earth (or as someone in Sweden for the times would tend to consider Monongalia County [Minnesota].

He lived in a small house near Eagle Lake. He liked the area and its people and was soon discovering that it all was having a highly beneficial effect on him personally. He says, "Since coming out here by desire to return to the Old Country has almost disappeared." (A Church is Planted", Johnson, 1948.)

Nellie -- Now Nelja
He was ordained as pastor in the Swedish Augustana Synod in June 1861 at Galesburg, Ill. and from there he almost seems to come in a direct straight line to Norway Lake as he appears there about a month later. Probably his first official act as a new pastor was to baptize the daughter of the Ole Knudson's. Her parents had decided on the name, Nellie, but as Andrew pronounced her name it came out with a strong Swedish accent, such as "Nelja". Her parents liked the sound of it, so Nelja she was to remain.

The Swedish Connection
The Swedish Lutherans always seem to be in a position to serve these settler families at an earlier date than their Norwegian counterparts. Their Augustana Synod was well established in the large Swedish settlements in eastern Minnesota and as the Swedes expanded west, their pastors would follow. And it there happened to be a Norwegian community in their areas which was not being served, the Swedish pastors would offer their services.

On July 10, 1861 an organizational meeting was held at a home near Nest Lake. A parish of five congregations was put together and would consist of the three Swedish ones of Nest Lake (Lebanon), Eagle Lake and West Lake. But certainly not to be left out were the two Norwegian-speaking ones of Lake Prairie (Crow River) and Norway Lake. All names came from the lakes where the first settlers had clustered.

The Swedish people had noticed that much of this area reminded them of their native Sweden, so they called this new organization "New Sweden". Its first pastor would be Andrew Jackson (and a charge which he had been hoping for all along.)

On August 17, 1861 services were held at Norway Lake, probably again at the cabin of Thomas and Bergit Osmundson. Following the services the minutes of the Nest Lake meeting were read. it is probably the earliest recorded business meeting of the Norway Lake congregation. The election of Rev. Jackson as pastor was ratified; the constitution as prescribed by the Augustana Synod was adopted; the pastor's salary of two dollars per year per communicant member was approved. Signing the minutes for Norway Lake would be Thomas Osmundson and Even Railson.

They then proceeded to choose a six-member board of deacons: Swen Borgen, Johannes Lundborg, Ole Knudson, Even Railson, Johannes Haavelson - and Thomas Osmundson (If anything was happening at this early Norway Lake colony, Thomas always seems to be there). A few days later it was decided that these six deacons would also serve as trustees.

It is this day of August 17, 1861 when Norway Lake becomes a duly constituted and easily recognized congregational entity, complete with a constitution, a called pastor and with its own church council for the times. For practical purposes it could also be the first infancy of the Norway Lake church, depending on what separates "church" from "congregation". And always figuring prominently in this earliest Norway Lake Church was Thomas.

Rev. Jackson always seems to enjoy being with these Norwegian people at Norway Lake. And they in turn always seem to receive him well. He lists the congregation's membership as 45 and an overall 203 in his parish. Jackson in fact seems to get along far better at Norway [Lake] than its own Norwegian pastors would 20 years in the future. [A reference to 1885 events at East Norway Lake Church in Jericho.]

The pastor would meet interesting people as he made his rounds in the parish. One day he ran into a party of Sioux Indians who had make their camp along Henderson Lake (and which was a favorite camping place for them). He visited briefly with a man of importance among them and who was later believed to be that somewhat legendary Sioux Chief, Little Crow.

The name Andrew Jackson by itself is a famous one, and like the President Jackson, has a certain 'western' ring to it. Andrew was later to establish New London's Lebanon church and then to be prominent at Gustavus Adolphus College, but as a pastor serving a people on the lonely frontier is where he always seems to belong.

Interlude at New Sweden
Young Bergit Osmundson was again ready for worship services at her well-kept cabin home on this afternoon of Aug. 20, 1862. This cabin seems to be a familiar meeting place by this time but services were also at times held at the Christopher and Ragnhild Engen's (Bergit's sister). These services also seem to play a certain social role at the settlement. They didn't see each other often and it was nice to get together.

Rev. Jackson was soon facing his congregation in this familiar cabin. His features were dark and probably blended will with his dark clothing and which was almost mandatory for his calling. Much unlike his contemporaries, his photographs never show him with a beard. This would be his second service for the day, having just come from his West Lake congregation six miles to the west. Outside in the trees his horse was tied.

Rev and Mrs. Andrew Jackson, married 1861 or 1862.
Source: A Church is Planted, by Emeroy Johnson

It is always well reported as the startling news was brought to the cabin of something drastic having just occurred at West Lake and in the form of a sudden and unprecipitated Indian attack. Many were dead, the reports were. The service came to an abrupt end.

Unknown to all of them the great Sioux Indian Outbreak (or the Dakota War) of August 1862 had broken out and was now suddenly reaching up into Monongalia County [merged with Kandiyohi County in 1870]. In the end it would leave about 25 dead directly within Rev. Jackson's parish of New Sweden.

The astonished pastor - and if the reports were true about West Lake - had to face up to the fact that one of his congregations had now for practical purposes suddenly ceased to exist, and as he thought about it he could see a certain frightening logic to it. The M'dewokanton war parties had commenced their attack on the far western side of his parish and would now most certainly begin a drive to the east.

Bergit's usual well-ordered cabin was now a scene of utmost confusion and uncertainty. Many, however, simply did not believe these wild stories they were hearing. But this dazed survivor from West Lake, Johann Lundborg, by name, was telling a convincing story. It is well known, of course, as to how they all retreated to a small, off-shore island in the southwestern bay of Norway Lake. There they would wait and see until things settled down.

Bergit seems to move from event to event at Norway Lake. And while a member of this unique island colony she was to observe another one. It was her 22nd birthday. Only her 22nd but an amount of living had been crowded into them that can only be described as being remarkable. To make it doubly significant it was her 22nd on Aug. 22. And with the somewhat unusual location, it is probably only Bergit who could do it in such a way.

But certainly not to be outdone as far as continuing events would go, would be her husband, Thomas. The war parties did eventually make it to Norway Lake, but not until the following day and one who would get a good dramatic, close up look at them (and each side being aware of the other), would be none other than this intrepid man of the frontier, Thomas Osmundson.

Here are several more essays written by Orlynn Mankell (PDF files) which tell more of the story--settlers in exile; settlers return after the Dakota War; the development of the first Norway Lake congregations, 1860s-1880s.

"From Then to Now" Part 2.

Rebirth at Norway Lake, 1862-1864: Home Away from home; Norway Lake Revisited; Kristina is her Name; A Last Visit in Norway Lake; Bergit into Exile; Rev. Muus at St. Francis

"A New Beginning"

The Norway Lake congregation,1865-1885: A church is planted; 26 x 30 in Knudson's Grove; Out of Storm and Turbulence

"Historical Reflections"

First Lutheran Church of Norway Lake begins, 1885: Hard Times and Good Times; Every Hundred Years or So

Notes: Rev. Jackson preached periodically at the Beckville Lutheran Church, south of Litchfield, Meeker County. This was the home congregation of the Jordin family, immigrants from Sweden.

For more information about the 1862 Dakota War, its impact on settlers in this area of Monongalia County (later part of Kandiyohi County) and about the Isle of Refuge, please read these webpages (several are Orlynn's published articles):

Bibliography: Keeping the Faith...Sharing the Faith;
Family Tree of Thomas Osmundson from Kandiyohi County Minnesota;
A Church is Planted

Orlynn and Vivian Mankell

Sven and Margit Borgen

Thomas and Bergit Osmundson

Webmaster: Carolyn Mankell Sowinski
Last updated: May 3, 2015