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ALMOST SAVED, BUT LOST:
The 1873 Blizzard in Kandiyohi County, Minnesota

Claus Strand and Jorgen Strand from Whitefield Township




Norway to Kandiyohi County:

Brothers Claus and Jørgen Johannesen (with their wives and children) were immigrants from the Vanylven Parish, Møre og Romsdal, Norway (along the western coast). Their parents were Johannes Jensen and Gjertrud Andersdatter and had lived on the Indre Strand farm in Vanylven. Jørgen and his family continued to live on the Indre Strand farm before their emigration. Claus and his family lived on the Hatlebrekke farm also in Vanylven Parish.

Claus Mathias Johannesen (aka Johansen, later Strand) was born in 1825 in Vanylven Parish. In October 1855 he married Hanna Laurentze Christine Schreuder (1825-1917) also from Vanylven. They had 5 children at the time of immigration: sons Sophus (b. 1856), Johannes (b. 1861), Hans (b 1867) and Jens (b 1869), and a daughter Johanne (b. 1858). One son died as an infant in 1864. Another daughter, Clara was born in 1873 after her father's death. All children used the surname Strand.

Younger brother Jørgen Andreas Johannesen (aka Johansen, later Strand) was born January 20, 1832 in Vanylven Parish, Møre og Romsdal, Norway. He married Johanna J. Rasmusdatter (aka Rasmussen, 1820-1921) in July 1853. The couple had 4 daughters, all born in Norway, before the family emigrated: Gjertine (b. 1854), Josephine (b. 1857), Maria (b. 1859) and Anna (b. 1861). Each daughter used the family's American surname, Strand.

After saying their goodbyes to friends and relatives, the two Johannesen families left Norway in May, 1871 on the ship "SS Argo" and arrived in Quebec Canada in June. By July they had traveled to Whitefield Township in the southern part of Kandiyohi County, Minnesota. In October 1871, the families removed their names from the church membership rolls in Vanylven Parish. The brothers were excited to get settled in their new home country and probably a bit worried as how they would care for their families. Each brother took the last name "Strand" as their new surname; Jorgen simplified the spelling of his forename; each brother sought land in Whitefield Township through the 1862 Homestead Act.

Claus Strand applied for his homestead application on July 25, 1871 at the United States Land Office in Litchfield (Meeker County) Minnesota. "Chlaus J. Strand" stated that he was a married man and that he intended to become a US citizen (a requirement to obtain the homestead patent). Claus' homestead was 80 acres in Section 20 (Township 118N and Range 35W). Jorgen applied for his homestead on January 10, 1872 also at the Litchfield Land Office. "Jorgen J. Strand" declared that he was the head of a family and his intention to become a US citizen. Jorgen's homestead was 80 acres in Section 28 (Township 118N and Range 35W). One year later, in early January 1873, both brothers froze to death in the blizzard, leaving widows and children to mourn and to persevere in the two families' quest to find a better life in Minnesota.

The Storm

January 7, 1873 was a warm winter's day. The sun was shining; the winds were calm; the sky was a vivid blue. It was a perfect day to do outside chores. The brothers decided to hitch-up 2 wagons (probably sleds) to their oxen and go to the east side of Lake Waconda to collect firewood. This long lake stretches more than 6 miles, from northeastern Whitefield Township and east into Fahlun Township. It then angles north into Kandiyohi Township. Trees were abundant in the area, perfect for collecting an ample supply of firewood. The brothers were on their way home to the southwest part of Whitefield Township with their loads of firewood when the storm struck. The 1905 Illustrated History of Kandiyohi County described the event:

They lost their way, and, after driving around for some time, abandoned one of the loads. This was afterwards found within a few rods of the stable on Per Monson's land. They had then proceeded a short distance away from this point and come up to a rail fence. This they had torn down for quite a distance and piled the rails together to make a shelter. Finally, overcome by the cold, they had dropped in the snow and perished. The bodies were found within a few feet of each other on the day after the storm [Jan 10, 1873] by John Johnson, who was one of the searching party that went out to look for them. The ox teams were found near by, frozen to death.

Per Monson lived in Section 23, about a mile south of Lake Waconda and about 2 miles from the Strand farms. He was an immigrant from the Skåne area of southern Sweden. John Johnson had a homestead in Section 28 and was Jorgen's neighbor. He found the brothers' bodies in Section 26, possibly south of Monson's farm, and northwest of Svea Lutheran Church.




Portions of Whitefield Township, Kandiyohi County, identifying location of events.
Section 20: Claus and Hanna homestead;
Section 28: Jorgen and Johanna homestead;
Section 23: Per Monson farm.
(Diagram created by Carolyn Sowinski; not drawn to scale)




After the Storm

Both brothers are buried in the Svea Lutheran Church cemetery in the southeast part of the township; they share a gravestone. In 1921 Jens S. Strand, son of Claus, wrote a letter describing when he saw the location where his father and uncle perished. It was printed in the congregation's 100th anniversary book called A Century of God's Grace.

Svea church is the first church I have the recollection of having visited in my childhood days. . .I came to the town of Whitefield, in company with my parents, exactly fifty years ago. There I spent the first seventeen years of my life and have many memories of the pioneer days. The saddest of these memories dates back to a year and a half after we come to Whitefield, when my dear father and uncle perished in a snowstorm, almost within sight of Svea church.

A beautiful morning in January, 1873, they went, with a yoke of oxen, to the Kandiyohi lakes for wood. On their way home, they lost their direction in the blinding snowstorm and perished.

When I some years afterwards drove that way in company with my stepfather, he pointed out to me the course of their search for shelter, which had been so nearly successful that they had come within only a few rods of a farmhouse, and yet failed to find it. They again strayed back, almost to the place where they had left the load. My stepfather pointed out to me the place where they were found dead. This saddest of all thoughts engraved itself upon my youthful mind, "almost saved, but lost." Often when I, in company with my stepfather, passed that way, I would manage to hide myself in the back part of the load, where I would sit and weep; not only because my dear father was dead, but because he had been so nearly saved, and yet perished.



Gravestone of brothers Claus and Jorgen Strand
Svea Lutheran Church, Whitefield Township, Kandiyohi County MN
(Birth years are 1825 and 1832, not 1824 and 1831)

Jens mourned with his mother Hanna, siblings, aunt Johanna and cousins. Widows Hanna and Johanna went from being the wives of homesteaders to being the homesteaders, but facing personal and financial ruin due to the deaths of their husbands. Each woman sought financial relief from the State of Minnesota, completed the homestead requirements and received land patents--80 acres each.

Hanna Strand

By late January 1873, the State of Minnesota began to allocate state-funded relief for the victims or their families. Many widows like Hanna Strand applied. Her eldest son Sophus met with A. E. Rice on January 30 and completed the paperwork on behalf of his mother. Sophus signed a sworn statement that he was acquainted with the deceased, Claus Strand who froze to death in the storm. A team of cattle, worth $130.00, also died in the storm. Claus was 44 years old and left a wife and 5 children, ages 17, 13, 11, 5, and 3 years of age. Claus had an 80 acre homestead valued at $300.00; owned 3 head of cattle, $70.00; hay/feed, $15.00; and household goods/clothing, $20.00, but no grain or horses. The application also stated that the family had food to last 0 months and fuel to last one month. On the same day that he notarized the application, A. E. Rice mailed a letter to Governor Austin in St. Paul adding more information about the grieving family. Mrs. Claus Strand was expecting to deliver a child soon and that the oldest boy, Sophus, was not living at home, thus leaving the family in a condition where they were unable to care for themselves; the family was poor. On February 7, 1873, A. E. Rice received notification from Governor Austin that he was to distribute $37.50 to the Claus Strand family. ($718.00 in 2016 dollars)

Claus Strand died before receiving his homestead patent in Section 20, Whitefield Township. His widow Hanna completed the requirements and the paperwork to secure the homestead and a future for her family. Requirements included improvement of the land, continuous residence on the homestead, and citizenship. On May 22, 1877 Hanna Strand appeared in the District Court, 12th Judicial District, and became an American citizen. In May, 1878 witnesses John Youngberg and Ole T. Olson provided a sworn statement (the Final Proof) that she improved the homestead which was her residence. Youngberg lived in Section 21, one mile east of Hanna; Olson lived in Section 3 of Whitefield Township.

...we have known Hanna Strand, widow of Claus J. Strand, for 8 years last past; that she is the head of a family consisting of seven children and is naturalized, a citizen of the United States;...is an inhabitant of E 1/2 SE 1/4 of Section No. 20 in Township No. 118 of Range No. 35, and that no other person resided upon the said land entitled to the right of Homestead or Preemption.

That the said Hanna Strand, widow of Claus J. Strand with her said husband entered upon and made settlement on said land on the 1st day of August, 1871, and has built a house thereon 14 by 22 feet square, two floors, six windows, three doors, a Frame House, and a Comfortable House to live in and has lived in the said house... from the 1st day of August, 1871 to the present time, and...has, since said settlement, plowed, fenced, and cultivated about 30 acres of said land, and has made the following improvements, to wit: has built a Stable and dug a well.

Because Claus died Hanna provided some extra paperwork, to ensure that she would not lose the homestead. On July 18, 1878 Hanna gave sworn testimony to the Clerk of the District Court clarifying the spelling of Claus' name. On his 1871 application Claus spelled his name "Chlaus" Strand.

Hanna Strand. . .is the widow of Claus J. Strand deceased who is the identical individual who made application No. 4942...under the name of Chlaus J. Strand and of date July 25th 1871, that his true name and the orthography of the same was and is Claus J. Strand, that the reason of his name being written Chlaus was as this official verily believes to distinguish himself from others of the same name.

Hannah's quest for receiving title to her homestead was delayed a few years. She should have had the patent in 1878, but the government wasn't satisfied until 1881. What paperwork remained for her after the usual documents of the Final Proof, Affidavit, and Citizenship papers? Hannah needed to provide the death date of her deceased husband, and no information about his death was included in the Final Proof. But what date did he die in this three-day long storm? The documents for this homestead (Certificate 3879, Litchfield MN Land Office, National Archives, Record Group 49) include the April 19, 1881 letter from the Clerk of the District Court in Kandiyohi County testifying to the circumstances of Claus' death, his undetermined death date, and stating that Hanna is his widow:

Hanna Strand came personally before me on this 19th day of April AD 1881 and being first duly sworn deposes and says that she is the widow of Claus J. Strand deceased who made homestead 4942 [Application number] for the E1/2 SE1/4 20, 118, 35 and that she is the identical person who made final proof of the same.

Her said husband left home on the 7th day of January AD 1873 for the purpose of going to the woods, that he lost his way and perished in said storm, that his body was found on the 10th day of January AD 1873 being three days afterwards and that for this reason she is unable to give the exact date of his death.

That she and her said husband lived upon, occupied and improved said land from the date of the original entry of said land till the time of his death and that she has since his said death lived upon and occupied said land. That from the date of said Original Entry they have not been absent from said land one day.

Also included was sworn testimony from 2 neighbors--Ole Beck and Lars Erickson--that the above statement about Hanna and her deceased husband was true. Hanna Strand received her land patent from the U.S. government on August 20, 1881. She had secured a more stable future for her children.

In 1874 Hanna married Lars Erickson. He was a fellow Norwegian immigrant who arrived in 1870, her neighbor, and one of the witnesses in her homestead documents. His farm met the west side of the Strand farm. Lars was the stepfather to Hanna's children and mentioned in the letter from Jens Strand, listed above. Both Hanna and Lars were founding members of the Hardanger Evangelical Lutheran Congregation of Whitefield, located about a mile southeast of Hanna's farm. By 1900 the Hanna, Lars and son Edward lived in Willmar and attended Calvary Lutheran Church. Lars died in 1904; Hanna died February 28, 1917. Both are buried in the Calvary cemetery.

Johanna Strand

Johanna's family also applied for financial relief from the State on January 30, 1873. Eldest daughter Gjertine applied on behalf of her mother and stated that her father Jorgen Strand died in the January snowstorm. A team of cattle, valued at $130.00, also perished. Jorgen was 40 years old and died leaving a wife and 4 children, ages 18, 15, 13, and 10 years of age. The family had 3 head of cattle valued at $70.00, hay worth $5.00, clothing and personal property valued at $20.00, no grain, no horses, no provisions. The family had enough fuel for two months. Rice wrote to the Governor that this family was poor. The state responded with $37.50 for the family on February 7, 1873. ($718.00 in 2016 dollars)

Johanna J. Strand, widow of Jorgen Strand, completed the paper work to receive her homestead (Certificate 3362, Benson MN Land Office, National Archives, Record Group 49). She did not include sworn testimony regarding the unknown date of Jorgen's death. His death is listed in the sworn testimony as January 7, 1873. Johanna became a citizen of the United States on October 24, 1876, having appeared in the District Court of the Twelfth Judicial District. On May 9, 1877, brothers John and Charles Johnson gave sworn testimony, the Final Proof, that Johanna was a citizen and had improved her homestead:

...we have known Johanna J. Strand for seven years last past; that she is the head of a family consisting of four children and a citizen of the United States; that she is an inhabitant of the SE 1/4 NW 1/4 and SW 1/4 NE 1/4 of section No. 28 in Township No. 118 of Range No. 35 and that no other person resided upon the said land...

That Jorgen J. Strand her late husband entered upon and made settlement on said land on the 10th day of January, 1872, and has built a house thereon 12 by 18 feet square, shingle roof, one story high, two floors, one door, five windows, a comfortable house to live in and living in the said house hand made it his exclusive house from the 10th day of January, 1872 until the time of his death on the 7th day of January, 1873, that since his death the said Johanna J. Strand his widow has lived in the said house and made it her exclusive home to the present time and...has made the following improvements: Has built a stable.

The U.S. government issued the land patent to Johanna Strand on March 20, 1878, 3 years earlier than her sister-in-law Hanna.

Johanna never remarried. By the time of the 1880 federal census she was living in Willmar with her youngest daughter Anna and worked as a seamstress. The 1886 Plat Book of Kandiyohi County lists Charles Johnson as the owner of Johanna's homestead. He was one of Johanna's witnesses who gave sworn testimony while she acquired the homestead. Charles also had a homestead in Section 28, the W 1/2 of SW 1/4. Johanna later moved to Minnetonka, a suburb west of Minneapolis in Hennepin County, where she lived with her eldest daughter Justine (Gjertine) Ryan, also a widow. Johannah died in 1921 in Hennepin County and was buried at Svea Lutheran cemetery.





Resources:

Ancestry.com (family trees, military, census, birth, marriage and death records).
A Century of God's Grace. Svea Lutheran Church, Svea MN, 1970.
Arkivverket Digitalarkivet (Norwegian Census and Parish records). http://arkivverket.no/arkivverket/Digitalarkivet
Governor Horace Austin papers. Minnesota Historical Society. File 293 "Grasshopper Relief, January Snowstorm, 1873" and File 311 "Papers Relative to Relief Furnished to Sufferers From Storm of 1873"
Illustrated History of Kandiyohi County, 1905).
National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group 49: Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records (glorecords.blm.gov).
Norway Census, 1801 and 1865. http://digitalarkivet.arkivverket.no/
Norway Church records. https://media.digitalarkivet.no/
Plat Book of Kandiyohi County, (1886).
Plat Book of Renville County, (1888).
Willmar Tribune, various articles written by Gabriel Stene and published in the mid 1920s.




Deaths of the O'Neill and Holden Brothers

Deaths of Helge Stengrimson and Margret Soland

Death of William Crump

Death of Lars Nelson

Death of Ole Gronseth

Death of Ole K. Skau

Death of Helena Johnson

Epilogue

Return to the 1873 Blizzard

Webmaster: Carolyn Mankell Sowinski
Last updated: September 4, 2016