From the Indian war in 1862
One of the most terrible happenings in the Norwegian American pioneer saga was the Indian uprising in 1862, in which a large number of pioneers, among them many vossings, lost their lives. A good deal has been said about these horrible events, but all doesn't agree generally and probably all hasn't ever been told.
The event especially involved the vossings that were in Jackson County, MN. No fewer than 13-14 people lost their lives at the hands of the Indians. We were reminded of this both last year at the Vosselag annual meeting (stevne) in Fergus Falls and at the centennial in the Twin Cities this summer, because a vossing, who, as a boy, had played the role of a hero dealing with these events, was present at our convention. This was Ole F. Førde, who himself was wounded and whose father met his death in the Indian attack. We will be able to hear about the particular circumstances at first hand. Whatever he has forgotten, we are lucky enough to have reliable accounts from other sources. First, we shall tell a little about the pioneers from Voss, who settled in this, the so-called .Wild West., as Jackson County then was, and we will start with the Førde family.
Ole F. Førde, whom we met at our conve0ntion, was born in Evanger, Voss, in 1851. His parents were Ole O. Fyre (here Førde) born about 1819 and his wife Martha Olsdatter, neé Bolstad. They also had another son, Ole O., so the Ole name was used a lot in the family. The mother died early and the father remarried with Kari Nilsdatter Horveid. In 1858, the family went to America and settled first in the Big Canoe-settlement, Winneshiek County, IA. Knut Mestad came to Big Canoe with his wife, Brita, as well as Nils K. Ekse and wife, Brytva, neé Mestad and Nils's brother Johannes K. Ekse. Whether all these came to America simultaneously is not known. Nils Ekse died shortly after his arrival in Big Canoe, and his widow, Brytva, married for a second time to his brother, Johannes Ekse.
Lars L. Furunæs and his wife Anna also came to Big Canoe and they must be reckoned among the vossings because Stamnæs parish, from where they came, belonged to Voss until the 60.s.. It is discovered further, that Lars Hjørnevik and his wife were there as well as Lars Lee, a brother-in-law of Førde, the elder, and Knut N. Borge or he who is most often called Knut Langeland. He was born at Borge in Haus Township, but both parents were from Voss. His wife Anna Knutsdatter, neé. Bjørgo was a sister of K. Bjørgo, the elder and M. Langeland.s wife, Gjertrud, in Big Canoe All of the above went to Jackson County and settled in Belmont Township, near the Des Moines River. Ole Førde and his family, wife and four children, went there in 1859. (One son, Nils, was born there). He bought some "claimed" land. It lay next to the river. Knut Mestad and his wife evidently accompanied Førde. They settled a short distance from him.
Knut Langeland went there in 1860. He had his wife and seven children. There were many others in the same party. It is said that there were no less than eight wagons in the train. Whether Ekse, Furunæs, Hjørnevik and Lee were along then or had come before is unknown. Everyone settled a short or longer distance from each other in about a three mile radius. Førde, Mestad, Ekse and Furunæs must have lived closest together by judging what followed. The Civil War started in 1861 and the militarily competent young men were sent to the South. The Indians then became impudent. What caused them to break out in open uprising isn't completely clear. Enough said, that a band of them attacked and killed several pioneers at Acton, MN, August 17, 1862, and on the 20th of the same month another attack was made at New Ulm, about fifty or sixty miles north of the Jackson settlement. Rumors soon reached them, but they had no accurate message. On Thursday, the 21st, a number of pioneers met for a council and it was decided to send a man away to New Ulm to scout and to learn what had happened. A man accepted the assignment, and they paid him 28 dollars for the job. The man went, but they never heard more from him. They then decided to live together temporarily. In Førde's area people were to assemble at his place in case the Indians appeared. Then came Sunday the 24th of August, which became a fateful day for the settlement. On the previous evening, four families had gathered at Førde's house. That was Knut Mestad and his wife, Johannes Ekse with his wife and 5 children, Lars Furunæs with his wife and children besides Førde's own family, himself with a wife and five children. In the morning some went to do chores for their animals, including Knut Mestad and his wife and evidently Lars Furunæs. Shortly thereafter a collection of Indians came. They had already been to Knut Langeland's home, as we shall see. Ole Førde, the elder went, without suspecting the proximity of the redskins, went to his pigpen. They spied him and shot him down. It later was revealed that he had received five bullet wounds. The house was soon surrounded. Around the house was a fence and several of the Indians positioned themselves by this. There were two doors to the house. Additionally, there was a cellar with access through a trap door in the living room floor. There also was a raftered loft, reached by a stair. A wagon stood outside the house loaded with moving goods. People had planned to move away as soon as they heard something certain about the uprising. There was also a bottle of whiskey on the wagon. A number of Indians searched the wagon. They found the bottle and made good with the contents. This gave the people in the house some time to prepare. The women with the many children fled to the cellar, Johannes Ekse, the only adult male inside, positioned himself at one door and the 11-12 year-old boy, Ole F. Førde, placed himself at the other. There were about 4-5 guns in the house, that had been distributed by the government for a so-called "home guard" (Civil Armament). Ole Førde suggested that they should fire at the Indians; but Ekse thought not, that it would be of no use. It would merely be barbaric, he thought. There were also several openings in the walls. They were never used.
When the rest had made it to the cellar, a child of Anna Furunæs began crying, and there seemed no way to get her to quit. Anna then said that she would have to go up again so it wouldn't summon the others, and that she did. The child stopped screaming so she tried to go back down, once if not twice, said Førde. Nevertheless, it was just the same. As soon as they reached the cellar the child started to scream and when the Indians started to breach the door, she stayed up in the living room. There was a straw mattress thrown over the trap door and she probably did it.
When the whiskey bottle was empty, the Indians prepared to go at the door. Four or five of them positioned themselves back of each other, their hands pushing against the shoulders of the other and the foremost one against the door. With the push, the door flew open and they plunged in. Johannes Ekse, who was standing inside hurried up to the loft. He was shot there. Anna Furunæs also died, probably from a gun shot wound; but her child was left alone. Ole F. Førde ran out the back door when he saw Ekse go up the ladder. Several Indians were standing by the fence outside, he said. There was a little hole in the fence that they used to go through when they fetched water. Without stopping, he ran through this and down the path that led to the spring in the riverbank. The Indians didn't immediately perceive how he had gotten through so there was a short interval before they pursued him. When he neared the edge of the bank there was one who shot. The bullet hit him in the right elbow and it smashed the elbow bone. He turned and saw an Indian not far behind, re-loading his gun. The arm hurt and was bleeding frightfully; without stopping, he got over the river bank. He threw himself down by the path and soon after the Indian went by him. If he hadn't drawn his legs in in time, he would have stumbled over him, stated Førde; he was that close. The Indian looked intently along the path on the river bank and didn't realize he was so close. Ole crawled over in the opposite direction and got out of sight. By a long alternate route, he tried to reach Mestad's house so he could inform them. But when he got there, Mestad and his wife had already tried to go home but fate was against them and they were shot on the way, as was shown later. Ole didn't waste much time there but took off for a farm where there was to be a revival meeting on Sunday. The man's name was Taraldson, he thought (evidently Holstein's). It was about 3 miles away, on the other side of the river. It was difficult to find a ford and he again had to make a detour. He finally got there just as they were about to sing. He heard them announce the number of the hymn. Then a woman saw him and told the others. She noticed that his arm was bloody and that he had been wounded. There was a moment of silence, until he entered and tried to tell what had happened, that the Indians were on the warpath. A housewife thoughtlessly grabbed his arm to see what was wrong. She was sprayed with blood and Ole gave a cry of pain, which made them understand what had happened. Now there was action. They all went out to their wagons in order to get away as fast as they could. Some went to their homes first; but no one dared stop longer than was really necessary. The people assembled at Spirit Lake, 26 miles to the south and each seemed only to be trying to save themselves and their families. No one seemed to be concerned for their succor boy, Ole Førde. Only after they were a long ways on the road southward and they didn't see him again, did they ask about him. He, meanwhile, had fallen on the wayside and wasn't able to go any further. Several went back to look for him and they found him after an hour's search. In the group was a person who knew a little about binding wounds, he was said to be an AWOL soldier, they said. He wrapped up Ole's arm. His mother had to pay him ten dollars for this later. They all got to Spirit Lake intact, where people found protection. Now it is to tell about what happened to the others in Førde's house and neighborhood. The Indians didn't spend very long at each place but hastened from pioneer to pioneer murdering any they encountered. Later, they returned for plunder and mutilation. They left Førde's house without having discovered the dugout cellar. They may have spied the Mestad people and Lars Furunæs and set after them. They evidently went to the Østerdaler Knut Slaabakken's house. Knut's son, Anders, and his brother Mikkel were home. Mikkel was shot and killed. Anders was also shot. In addition, he was hit in the head and finally stabbed and left for dead. But he recovered enough to crawl to the stable and lie down. He was found three days later. It is not known when Lars Hjørnevik's house was ravaged. Enough to say that both he and his wife met their deaths there. Lars Lee escaped to Spirit Lake.
When those in Førde's cellar noticed that all was quiet in the house, they climbed up and hurriedly found some food and some money that was in the house and went to a cornfield in order to better hide. As they were coming out of the house, Knut Langeland's 8 year-old daughter, Martha, arrived. As mentioned before, the redskins had been to his house and had created a horrible scene. Langeland's wife and four children had been killed. The biggest had been shot, the smaller ones slung against the wall. Two more had been left for dead. Knut, himself, had been out in the fields after cattle. He heard the shooting and hurried home. When he got there, the Indians had gone. He discovered that two of the children were still alive; he took one under each arm and started for Spirit Lake. One child died during the journey but the other recovered. The daughter who came to Førde's house had hidden in a cornfield. Another sister had been with her, but hurried home when the Indians came, and she was killed. When the Indians had gone away, she tried to reach Førde's house where they had been told to meet. Thus she was united with those who came up out of the cellar. Soon after they made it to the cornfield, the Indians returned. The dead were then mutilated and other vandalism done. From the field, they could see their departure. The cellar also had been discovered and some little pigs had been put down there. The people in the field lay low until dark. Then they attempted to go to Spirit Lake. It was a difficult journey . eleven children and two women. Anna Furunæs's children were not taken along because they were thought dead. They were found three days later beside their mother, but still alive. They wandered all night long and when it began to dawn, they hid in some tall grass until darkness came again, and then they set off again. It was slow. Their food ran out and thirst tormented them. In order to get a little water, one woman took her skirt and drew it in the dewy grass (some say apocryphal), then wrung it out over a pail. They, of course, lost their way. The hike came to an end one morning, when they encountered some soldiers, but they were so frightened, they thought them redskins. At last, they recognized them as helpers and they were taken to Spirit Lake. Førde thought that was on Wednesday morning. Others say Thursday morning. In Spirit Lake, a doctor was going to care for Ole's Førde's arm. He recommended that the arm be amputated, but the mother didn't like this. They soon went with the others, who had survived the bloodbath, back to Big Canoe. In Decorah, Førde's arm got attention by Doctor Billington and it healed but never regained its strength. The mother, Kari Førde, refused to go back to the fateful farm in Jackson County and sold it to a Slaabakken for 150 dollars. Another setback occurred in that Ole Førde, the elder, before his death had lent 800 dollars to a man named Carter. We have no account of the man nor the money.
Ole F. Førde married Betzy Nilsdatter Gilderhus in 1873. He first took a "homestead" and farmed it, and then he was employed by Great Northern Railroad and now lives in Wyndmere, ND. He has seven children: Martha, Ragnhild, Nellie, Albert, Seward, Oscar and Albin. We can tell about Knut Langeland, that he, as soon as he had brought his daughter to Spirit Lake, took off with a troop of soldiers back to see if anyone remained alive and to bury the dead. Since, he came back to Big Canoe settlement and stayed there until the 1870's, when he moved to Watonwan County, MN, where he lived the rest of his life with his daughter, Julia . the one he had carried to Spirit Lake. He never overcame the shock he got at the hands of the redskins. His daughter, Martha, married a Sivertson and lived in Westbrook, MN. She had six children. Furunæs's children grew up with Jacob Ekse in Big Canoe and later lived with Blackhammer, Spring Grove, MN. The two women, who were in the cellar with their children, maintained always as God's decree that that child wouldn't be quiet in the cellar and thereby saved the others.
K. A. R.