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Gabriel Stene


Gabriel Stene (1856-1945, pronounced stee'-nee) was a settler who lived about 1 mile west of the Mankell homestead. In the 1920s Stene wrote articles about his recollections of pioneer settlers of Kandiyohi County, Minnesota, for the Willmar Weekly Tribune under the name "The Pioneer Kid" and was a president of the Kandiyohi County Old Settlers Association. Stene was born in Wisconsin to Norwegian immigrant parents:

Iver Stene: 1821-1904. Born in Sogn og Fjordane, Norway, (western Norway) Immigrated, 1853
Inga Vold Olson/Olesdotter: 1830-1913. Born in Laerdal, Sogn, Norway, Immigrated, 1853
Married June 7, 1855, Columbia Co Wisconsin.

Iver Stene and his family left Wisconsin for Kandiyohi County Minnesota, arriving in 1867 when Gabriel was a child. The family settled on a farm to the east of Lake Mary and 1/2 mile west of the Mankell homestead. Iver Stene was a Haugean Lutheran. the first in Kandiyohi County. In 1870 he established the first Haugean Church, Nannestad Lutheran Church, because most of its members were from the Nannestad area of Norway. The first cemetery was located on Iver Stene's homestead farm, Section 19 of Lake Andrew Township. (see map below) By 1879 the Nannestad congregation decided to build a church and cemetery in Arctander Township, 2 miles northwest of the Stene farm. Here are two essays about the Nannestad Church. The church building was torn down in the 1940s; the cemetery remains.

The community of Jericho would develop on the northwest side of Lake Mary in a few years. Stene's neighbors included the HW Mankell, Sven Borgen and Johannes Quam families. Iver and Inga had several children:
  1. Gabriel Stene
  2. Ole Stene
  3. Severina Stene
  4. Carl Stene
  5. Henry Stene
  6. Inger Stene
  7. Marba Stene
  8. Oliver Stene
  9. Robert Stene

Portion of the 1886 Kandiyohi County Plat Map, featuring Lake Andrew Township.
Ole Stene, son of Iver and Inga, owned the farm located between the Mankell homestead and Lake Mary.

Gabriel Stene married Wilda Quam in 1882. Wilda was from another Norwegian settler family in the Norway Lake area. She was the daughter of Johannes and Anna (Thompson) Quam and sister to Nels Quam. Nels married Anna Mankell. Gabriel and Wilda Stene had several children:

  1. William George Stene, 1883-1972
  2. Ida Stene, 1884-1990
  3. Johanna Stene, 1887-1961
  4. Martin Stene, 1890-1962
  5. Anna Stene, 1892-1951
  6. Christina Stene, 1895-1997
  7. Ella Stene, 1895-1997
  8. May Stene, 1895-1947, married Lawrence Larson
  9. Olive Clara Stene, 1900-1990
  10. Archie Stene, 1903-1968

Many in the Iver/Inga Stene and Gabriel/Wilda Stene families are buried at East Norway Lake Lutheran Church in the community of Jericho. Iver and Inga, founders of the Nannestad Church, were not buried in the Nannestad Church cemetery. entry for Iver Stene entry for Inga Stene

Gabriel Stene wrote more than 100 articles for the Willmar Weekly Tribune during the 1920s. He recognized the need to document the histories of the many local settlers who were aging and dying. So Gabriel visited with many pioneers (HW Mankell; Lars Christopherson) and wrote about their experiences: leaving the home country, arriving as a homesteader or settler, fleeing and returning after the Dakota War of 1862, serving in the Civil War. His stories also describe droughts, blizzards, grasshopper plague. He also wrote obituaries. And he wrote a few articles about his own parents, immigrants from Norway.

"From Sogn, Norway to Norway Lake, Minnesota." Written by Gabriel Stene

Iver G. Stene was born November 29, 1821 at Stene-Urland-Sogn, Norway by parents with very limited means; his father being a parochial school master. He could remember the hardship in 1825 caused by crop failure and extremely cold season which caused hardship all over the land. He saw the time when bark was peeled from trees, seasoned and dried, and then ground together with barley to substitute for food. He related how often he said to his mother "I am hungry momma. I shall eat much herring and little bread." Being that herring could be had from the sea by just reaching for it but bread and potatoes were scarce. In relating those hardships he was moved to tears....

Iver Stene's oldest sister, Martha, married one Mikkel Knutson. They emigrated to the Promised Land in 1848, settling at Bonnet Prairie, Columbia County, Wisconsin. Iver Stene went into the sheep and goat business, buying and shipping to Bergen, similar to shippers here. By which he made some money and looked for the time he could bring his parents and sisters across to the land of Promise.

In the Spring of 1852 there was a great 17 of May celebration, National Day, similar to Fourth of July here, at Laerdals, Sogn, Norway. Amongst other attractions was a greased pole with a purse containing some money to be given as a prize to who could fetch it down. There was a lively scramble for the prize which finally was won by Iver Stene. Sliding down to the ground he was approached by a young lady of 18 who reached out her hand and congratulated him. They were not just strangers to each other. They had met at meetings so called Hans Nielson Hauge's faction, or better known as Lesara. Her name was Inga Vold Olesdotter. I'm coming back to her, as she was destined to be my mother.

The following spring Iver Stene had money enough to bring the family with him, bought tickets for six. His old parents, his two sisters, his sweetheart and himself. But the rose he had loved fondled and cherished in childhood was not to be transplanted in foreign soil with success. Her head leaning the direction of her native soil, the stem bending towards the ground, faded away and perished in foreign soil, far away. There is many a slip between the spoon and the lip. The day for goodbye from the native land, relative and friends came! The old sail ship began moving, a waving of goodbye kerchiefs and arms. Old Norway was soon looking like a mist and a cloud in the far off distance. He had his treasure and what he owned in this world with him. But he could never relate the journey without being deeply moved.

They were 14 weeks on the ocean. Just think of three and a half months with nothing in sight but heavens and water. Fresh water supply gave out. Food supply very little. The captain ordered those who had, to divide with those in want. The worst of all, cholera broke out on the ship and many passengers found their journeys terminal in a watery grave; they were left at sea. They all began to be familiar with the fact of starvation and death on the ocean. Likely cholera would take them all. Finally they reached New York, sick and tired. Then they proceeded until they reached Milwaukee, Wisconsin, their terminal point, and had just unloaded their emigrant goods, when his sweetheart died from cholera. Now it was Iver Stene's sad duty among strangers, in a strange land, to find a suitable place to bury his youth's treasure. There was one consolation - that he was spared of seeing her sunk into the sea. He found that (his) brother-in-law Mikkel Knutson had been there three times looking for them, the last time waiting three days. He finally concluded something had happened, so they never had arrived.

They met instead Sjur Holmen, a well known pioneer from Koshkonong, Wisconsin, who informed him that he knew Mikkel Knutson and promised to bring them to their home on Bonnett Prairie. Arrangements were made and the simple sad funeral performed. Holmen said "I can take all your goods, but then all of you must walk 75 miles, or I can take you all in the wagon and leave the goods." They all decided to walk, except the old man, he being too sick. Holmen's motor (was) a yoke of oxen. The old man being very sick they stopped over at Holmen's cozy home. Part of the load was left, giving them chance to ride. It was a shaky trip for the old man as sick as he was.

They reached the home of Mikkel Knutson, son-in-law and brother-in-law, in the evening. Just so the old man could greet them and exchange a few words. He was not to see another dawn of day. Before morning he was cold in death also from cholera. It was again Iver Stene's sad duty to prepare him for burial. Oh merciful God. Why not he also died in Milwaukee, where father and sweetheart could have been placed side by side? If it was like it could have been done, but not 75 miles with oxen.

Being a new settled country there was no cemetery. Together with his brother-in-law they selected a suitable place which since then has been a community cemetery till this day at Bonnet Prairie, Columbia County, Wisconsin. Iver Stene selected a quarter section a mile from the cemetery where he build a lumber shack, a home for his mother and his sisters, Ragnild and Kari. The two girls however, had to seek employment and work out.

In the Spring of 1854 he could not resist a longing back to that sacred place at Milwaukee 75 miles, which he traveled on foot, as he had found out that the pioneer minister, Elling Eielson, from the Fox River settlement was to have a gathering there and being that there were no minster services at the sad funeral, he wanted the grave in shape and the ministerial performance in accordance with the Christian Religion. And there again he happened to meet Sjur Holmen, who took time out the previous year, and by having his company that far, could walk the rest of the road. Holmen said you can have my company, but fear you must walk all the way, as I am here to meet newcomers. Now I will leave Holmen and Stene here awaiting newcomers, while I take the readers with me over to Norway.

In Laerdal, Sogn, Norway, in the Spring of 1854 a colony of neighbors had formed a company to emigrate to America, among them being Mr. and Mrs. Lars Thorson, who by the way are my wife's grandparents and their family, all grown up. Their daughter Anna was married to Johannes N. Quam, well known settler of Lake Andrew. Also (part of the company to emigrate) was the previous mentioned Miss Olson (Inga Vold). Mr. and Mrs. Quam had a baby girl, the first born (my wife's oldest sister). Just one year before they were to start Mrs. Quam was taken down seriously ill with typhoid fever and was to worsen gradually till the day they were to leave for Bergen. She was unconscious and her life despaired of. Even the doctors had given up hope. The old folks took the baby with them, expecting her not to live. But a change took place. She got over it and gained rapidly. She learned all the folks had gone, but they did not tell her the worst. On her request to see her baby they had to tell her the truth, which drove her nearly insane. They had to hurry off to Bergen hoping that they might catch the ship, but arrived a day too late. The ship, the relatives and the darling baby were already tossing on the ocean. Mr. and Mrs. Quam had to stop over in Bergen till the following Spring, 1855, which was the best. Theirs was also a horrible journey. They also being 13 weeks on the ocean.

The above named Miss Olson (Inga Vold) was the only one escaping the fearful sea sickness and had to mother two small baby girls the whole way, one being the one named above, my wife's oldest sister. The other one after she grew up became the wife of John Paulson, early pioneer merchant of early Willmar, and brother of Reverend Ole Paulson. Now (my story goes) back to Milwaukee and in company with Holmen and Iver Stene meet the ship and its passengers. Among those coming ashore was Miss Olson (Inga Vold) with her two babies. She spied Iver Stene, walked right up to him and greeted him. Not recognizing her at first, she said "Don't you remember I greeted you and congratulated you upon your good luck in taking the prize at the top of the greased pole on Lerdal's Oren, two years ago?" Yes, Yes. They got a big, bulky load. The passengers had to walk when they go to Sjur Homen's place. The colony was at their terminal. Inga Vold stuck to home as a housemaid for about a year. She was an aunt of Rev. O.H. Stenson Manistee, Michigan where he served as Minister for about 30 years, also of his brother Henry Stenson of Willmar.

The unexpected meeting of Iver Stene and Inga Vold there in Milwaukee culminated into a love tangible and they were married the following year, June 5, 1855, by Rev. Elling Eielson and settled to housekeeping in their pioneer shack on Bonnett Prairie, Columbia County, Wisconsin. I was born March 1, 1856.

The first thing for father like all the rest of the new settlers was to secure a pair of steers. I can remember him having a triangle homemade harrow, point to the front, spike at the rear about 8 feet. Bolted together with a wooden piece, also with one inch square teeth. It looked like the shape of the letter -A-. He carried the seed grain, throwing it out by hand. Harrowing over by oxen.

All the hay was cut by scythe and grain cut by cradle, which was said the most strenuous job the new settlers had. Mother and children were along in the field, mothers bunching up and tying it into bundles. Children taking care of themselves, in care of the big and I had the job myself. Thus the new settlers did not cover much ground a day, but what they accomplished was clear profit. No high priced machinery, No hired man at 40 cents an hour. If they were not fit for 50 or 75 miles trip to mill, wheat was ground in coffee mills by cracking into some sort of graham to substitute for what we now call flour.

In 1855 the following year Mr. and Mrs. Quam, who had to stop over in Bergen, and a group of others, made preparation for America. They also had a tough voyage, about three months on the ocean, which was the case with all in those days with the old sail ships. At the present time the modern steamers plow through the ocean in one week and it is considered only a pleasure trip. They also arrived at Milwaukee, their destination also being Kashkonong, where they again met relatives and friends and Mr. and Mrs. Quam their darling baby who, however should not stay with them long and was taken away from them at the age of 7 by diphtheria. A whole colony of them leaving in 1856 for the wild west were ferried over the Mississippi at La Crosse, winding their way into the wilderness clear to Steel County near Owatonna, where there now is a genuine sign. All are relatives, the whole country being braided into one relationship.

The colony coming into that wilderness from Sogn, Norway were Johannes Nelson Quam and family, Lars Thorson and Family, Tosten Nelson and family, Lars Johannesson, Mons Anderson with families. Emigrants on the above mentioned ships, all Kashkonong, Wisconsin. Well do I remember, altho very young, the horrors of the Civil War, the death, bloodshed, young men in the neighborhood reported fallen one after the other. I remember how father was drafted three times, but returned to us on account of defective hearing. I can yet see mother on her knees by her chair, mornings and evenings, praying continually for war relief. As previously mentioned, they were admirers of Hans Nilson Hauge's faction of Norway and belonged to Elling Eielson's faction here. A follower of Hauge was for Norway what Rosenius, Anfeldt, Waldenstrut others were for Sweden, what Moody, Talmadge, Saukey, Bliss and others were for the English, spirited and promoters of the true Christianity. Father was song leader in the local church as well as lager gatherings such as the synodical annual meetings.

At a meeting of that kind in Arendal, Fillmore County in 1862, he noticed that the Minnesota soil was far superior to his Wisconsin locality and that a neighbor of Reverend A. E. Boyum had his farm for sale and after years staying in Wisconsin, sold out and moved to Arendal, Fillmore County in the above named place. But wherever you go there is something lacking. The water proposition was a marked drawback, well drilling machinery those days and surface water not sufficient. They remained there two years. Remember that father was also the leader of church at that place. Under those circumstances and after placing a little daughter and sister in the cemetery, he sold his farm to the Rev. A. E. Boyum, who was blessed with good water. That farm is still a part of the Boyum's farm.

He then bought a farm adjoining Rev. Osten Hanson Asplunds in Goodhue County. But conditions were the same. Again, he had to haul fresh water. He remained there two years and while there was also leader of Church songs. Rumors were afloat that out in the west was the genuine land of waters. In the spring of 1866 he set off traveling on foot from Asplund, Goodhue County, following the government trail clear to Norway Lake in the then Monongalia County. There he found satisfaction. There was good soil, timber, water, fish and game in abundance. A man, a distant relative of ours also set out for the wild west, but in a southwesterly direction, with some others, landing in Jackson County, where he also found the outlook very favorable, selecting for himself a spot for a future home. But he experienced a sad tragedy which will appear in the next chapter.

Allow me to present the picture of the first person giving me the impression of a real Swede. It thrills me yet and I shall never forget October 28, 1867, we a caravan composed of two families, three covered wagons drawn by oxen, a bunch of cattle, a herd of sheep and a blessing of kids, myself included, slowly heading for a little lumber shack on wild prairie with not a bush or twig to indicate trees, on the Northwest corner of Sec. 20, Lake Andrew. It was built that summer from rough lumber. The home of H.W. Mankel was our destination. As they were to be our neighbors, we were met by Mrs. Mankel before we got to the place, greeting us and welcoming us to Norway Lake. She asked how long we had been on the road. The answer was three weeks. We were escorted to the shack. Mr. Mankel became busy throwing out hay for out hungry stock. This was a rare treat to them as the prairie we had come over was scorched black by prairie fires. There was to be a real welcoming feast. And it was in the sense of the word, six grown persons and a bunch of kids of 15 theirs included, marked the party.

The farm we moved to was about one mile southwest of the Mankels. There were no buildings so a dugout was dug in the side hill right east of where the house now stands. We lived in the dugout till spring. Lumber was hauled from St. Cloud and a house was built. Also a stable was built, it is called a barn. Livestock was watered at the lake right west of the buildings. A well was dug by 20 feet deep. Water came up so we could lay down and reach it with our hands. So we had plenty of water. There were plenty of trees so we had a good wind break."

Stene, Quam, Johnson, and Swenson families, c1924. Some people have been identified:

Standing (very back): Three men are (possibly) Henry, Swen and George Swenson.
Very tall man is Dr. Hans Johnson (husband of Estelle Quam)
Standing: Gunder Swenson and Gemine Swenson (3rd and 4th from left),
Anna Swenson Quale (3rd from right),
Clara Swenson Berg (2nd from right), Ruby Swenson (far right).
Seated: Nels Quam (3rd from left), Gabriel Stene (3rd from right)
Estelle Quam Johnson (2nd from right).

Photograph courtesy of Dr. Robert Johnson, great-grandson of Anna and Nels Quam.

(Bibliography: Willmar Weekly Tribune

Sven and Margit Borgen

Stene's Obituaries of Gunder and Gemine Swenson

HW and Elizabeth Mankell

Stene's articles about HW and Elizabeth Mankell


Stene's immigration stories of Lars Christopherson and his sister Anna Christopherson Olson Holter

Webmaster: Carolyn Mankell Sowinski
Last updated: May 15, 2014