These stories can also be heard on Sunday mornings around 10 am on WILD 102’s “Look Back in Time” program. Each week’s radio story will be posted here on our website.
Weekly radio stories are researched, compiled, and read by Sheila Winstead, RCHS Board Member.
February 4, 2024
I read last week from an autobiography of Olaf Holdahl published in the Roseau Times-Region in early 1939. Last week’s segment told of how he came from Norway to the United States in 1888, and ended with him arriving and finding work in the Portland, North Dakota, area where his older brother Soren had settled. He had walked there from Climax, Minnesota. Today’s story tells what happened next.
The walking trip had taken me about twenty-seven hours with only expense of breakfast. I would have been compelled to walk over twenty-five miles anyway and spent more time and perhaps $5.00 in railroad fare had I taken the train.
On our Sunday visits together, my brother and I decided to take a trip to Jadis postoffice, Kittson County, in Minnesota (now Roseau) as soon as the rush work was over and when he could arrange with his employer to get free. The attraction at Jadis was that our brother, Bendix, had established himself in the mercantile business there in the spring of 1890. Brother Soren was the owner of a horse and buggy and we left Portland, North Dakota, November 4th. We arrived in Jadis five days later. After some heavy rains the gumbo roads over the prairie made the travel for the young horse a real task.
After a conference among us three brothers, it was decided that Soren should go to school during the winter. He had all these years been associated with older class of Norwegians and was yet backward in using the little English he had learned. I was to remain in the employ of my brother, Bendix. Now I realized an ambition that I had entertained for years. While it was Jadis post office, the townsite of Roseau had been surveyed in 1892, and here I was to get training in a new line of work.
Up to this time my life had been that of a youngster with limited experience. While at home in Norway, I had been under parental guidance and on coming to America I was put in the harness for regular work. While working on the farm I made up my mind to make good for fear of losing my job and with hope some day to get into other lines of work. I have in later years appreciated the regularity with which I was trained while on the farm as hired man, even though it was hard work. There was the chores in the morning, a full day in the field and chores again at night. A full day’s work in the field had to be done regardless of the amount of chores. On Sundays it was chores, and then for the family to attend services in the country church, and then chores again. This regularity kept me from getting the loafing habit and kept me out of mischief.
While at River Falls, Wisconsin, the Lutheran church there was served by a Norwegian pastor from a country congregation and services were held once in three or four weeks, so I attended the various reformed churches, where I was made to feel welcome. This gave me a chance to hear services in the English language. My church affiliation in Roseau has been with the English Lutheran congregation.
My first employer was one of those enthusiastic Republicans, who gladly devoted time in campaigns. He would use his team and take to the voting places, voters whom he could not otherwise rely on coming to elections. I asked him various questions about what Republicanism meant, but I could get no other explanation than that the Democrats were the cause of the Civil War, that favored slavery and were extravagant in government. This period was only a trifle over twenty years following the Civil War. There were undoubtedly varied campaign issues to fight for, but the only things I could understand was the importance of winning – and that Republicans generally won. I became a Republican at heart in this environment, and have seen no reason for changing since I became better informed.
In the fall of 1892, I was solicited to secure my intention papers to be eligible to vote. Being at that time twenty-one years, I first secured my own papers and later took my father to the county seat for the same purpose.
An incident occurred during that election that gave me some amusement. I had been instructed and informed that if my vote should be challenged that I should insist and swear to my right and privilege to vote. Going to the polls alone I found the ballot to be such that only an X was required to vote the ticket straight. On presenting my ballot it was submitted to the challengers. They looked me over. The Democratic member spoke up and said: “That fellow is alright, I know him.” While I, myself, was in doubt if any of them knew me, my ballot was accepted, and I had cast my first vote for the Republican party.
The first couple of years in Roseau was all hard and strenuous work through long days. About the first novel experience I had was when I was sent to the Indian Village at Warroad before Christmas in 1893. I had a load of picked varieties of merchandise to sell to the Indians and I was to buy fish and furs from them. There was a demand for fish from several that had a market by peddling it to farmers in North Dakota. I set up my place of business in the home of Chief Nay-May-Puck. Later that winter there were others who went to Warroad to trade with the Indians, but I believe I was the first one with such a variety of merchandise and who did business on a large scale. Hence, the first real merchant at Warroad. No white people had located at Warroad at that time.
During the summer season we bought butter, both salted and unsalted. It was my duty to work over the butter, wash it, salt it and color it in order to make it look as near like creamery butter as possible. Then it was put in a cache until fall. By fall we had over a carload of butter to ship. Whether it was the poor market or poor butter, we lost money on the product. We had paid 12-1/2 cents per pound and we received only 9 cents a pound for it. I believe my claim to being the first butter worker in Roseau county is justified.
At the organization of Roseau County, the first register of deeds, T. S. Nomeland, asked me to go to Hallock and transcribe the records pertaining to the new county. This I accepted willingly and performed the duty. During my stay at Hallock I had the pleasure of getting acquainted with the county officers and various things pertaining to the offices. This proved to be a valuable experience to me in later year.
After the inventory was completed in January, 1896, A. H. Foss and I were offered an opportunity for partnership with my brother, Bendix, and the partnership of B. Holdahl & Company was formed.
Having homesteaded the land on which the Ross creamery is now located, I turned this in on the deal, and signing a joint note in the amount of $15,300.00, I became a one-third share owner in the business.
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