SWEDES IN NEBRASKA1
Many of the pioneers who first turned
the sod in our fertile fields are still among us; but if we
let a few years more pass by without gathering all the
information we can from them, we shall lose much material on
which future generations might base the story of the
settlements of the state of Nebraska. It would be well,
therefore, if all available material could be gathered
during the next few years, and I hope that the State
Historical Society may be able to extend its investigations
into the work done by the various foreign immigrants.
Nebraska has a large percentage of foreign population, and
it is evident that this fact has had an influence in the
development of our commonwealth.
1 A paper read at the annual meeting of the Nebraska State Historical Society, January 22, 1914.
The Swedes left the old country for the same reason that their forefathers in the Viking age set out for foreign shores. The fatherland was not productive enough to support a large population. Since the founding of the Swedish colony on the Delaware in April, 1638, Swedes have been migrating to America, though the number of immigrants was wellnigh insignificant until the middle of the nineteenth century. The colony on the Delaware was shortlived, and the Swedish Lutheran churches erected there fell into the hands of the Episcopalians. Still it is worthy of note that the last minister sent out by the Lutheran state church of Sweden to the churches on the Delaware was Niklas Collin, who died in 1831. As late as 1823, Mr. Collin preached every other Sunday in the Swedish language. It is indeed remarkable that the language of the old country could have maintained itself for such a long time--almost two hundred years.
There have always been people of an adventurous spirit who struck out over the western seas for America, and there are traces to be found of individuals from Sweden who roamed about as far south as Texas and Mexico. These adventurers founded no settlements in the early years of the last century, but they doubtless interested their friends in America.
In the latter part of the forties immigration of Swedes in America increased, and families came in search of free land. To find such land it was necessary to continue the journey from New York westward. The usual course was by canal boat to Buffalo and then by steamer to Chicago. Large colonies settled in Illinois, and ere many years had passed that state was well filled, and then the immigrants found it necessary to proceed still farther to the west.
It is not known at what time the first Swede arrived in Nebraska. In the sixties considerable numbers reached Omaha either directly from Europe or from the eastern states. Some remained in Omaha, while others took
homesteads or bought cheap railway land and then settled down on the lonesome prairie. The building of the Union Pacific shops in Omaha, in 1865, afforded work for many newcomers, and at this time the Swedes began to come to Nebraska in considerable numbers. There was a great demand for machinists, blacksmiths, carpenters and other tradesmen. The building of the railroad bridge in 1871 also called for laborers. Ever since that time there has been a large colony of Swedes in the metropolis of our state. From Omaha the stream of migration turned to Saunders county and Burt county.
Rev. S. G. Larson perhaps did more than any one else toward settling the country east, west and south of Wahoo. He conducted several parties of immigrants from Omaha to Mead, Malmo and Swedeburg. It is said that three hundred obtained homesteads or railroad land through the aid of Mr. Larson. His work as pastor of Swedish Lutheran congregations brought much opportunity to assist the newcomers. He had a homestead four miles south of Mead, and, like all the others in the community, endured with fortitude the hardships of pioneer life. The Swedish Lutheran congregation of Malmo was organized in Lars Peter Bruce's sod house April 25, 1870, and the Swedish Lutheran church of Mead was established in the same year.
Among the first Swedes to settle in the Swedeburg vicinity was N. A. Aspengren. He speaks of the event as follows:
When we looked over these bare hills for the first time June 23, 1869, there was not a human dwelling to be found. We each took our homestead and at once prepared to build some sort of shelter against wind and rain. The usual method was to dig a hole in a hillside and cover it with grass and brush, which had been brought from a neighboring ravine. Jan. 22, 1870, the settlement received its first visit by Rev. S. G. Larson of Omaha, and the first sermon was delivered in Olof Olson's home in section 6. In 1871, there were few newcomers, but in 172 and 173 larger numbers arrived.
In 1875 the doctrinal questions which had vexed the
Swedish churches, both in the old country and in America, came up in these settlements, and the result was that in a short time Mission churches arose beside the Lutheran in Mead, Malmo and Swedeburg. On the southern edge of the Swedeburg settlement we find a little town by the name of Ceresco, and there a Mission church has been erected. To the southeast of Ceresco stands another Mission church, known as Bethlehem.
Theodore Hessel, a Baptist minister, was the leader of a group of immigrants that settled at Estina, near the Platte. The Baptiste were the first to organize a congregation in Wahoo. The settlers at Valley were Baptists, and that settlement now has two churches of the Baptist denomination. Lars Peterson and Andrew Egbert were the first Scandinavian settlers in Valley. They arrived in 1873. Most of the land thereabout had fallen into the hands of the Union Pacific railroad company or individual speculators. Lars Peterson, a Dane, bought his land for eight dollars an acre.
The establishment of Luther College there, in 1883, made Wahoo an important place for the Swedes of Nebraska. A pioneer in educational work among the Swedes we may well call Dr. S. M. Hill, who since 1884 has been actively at work at the college.
In 1871 a committee was sent out from Altona, Illinois, to study conditions in Nebraska, in the hope that a colony might be founded somewhere in the state. The committee came by railroad to Lincoln and then went, partly by wagon and partly on foot, to the vicinity where Stromsburg is now situated. The land was to their liking, and they took homesteads and urged their friends to do likewise. Stromsburg was founded in 1872, and a steady stream of migration to Polk county followed. The town is strikingly Swedish, as the number of Swedish churches indicates. The Lutherans, the Mission Friends, the Baptists, the Methodists, and the Free Mission are all represented.
A little to the northwest of Stromsburg is the large rural settlement of Swedehome. The railroad did not happen to come that way, and so the Swedehome settlement did not become a town. Settlers took land there in 1870 and 1871. Osceola, east of Swedehome, was founded in 1871.
At about the same time a number of Swedes settled in the neighborhood of York. The Sandahl brothers and Swan Swanson were among the first. In 1874 a Lutheran congregation wag organized.
When the branch of the Union Pacific railroad was extended westward to Central City, the name Hordville was given to a Swedish settlement, where the pioneers had taken homesteads in the early seventies.
In 1864 immigrants from Dalsland, Sweden, settled on homesteads along Logan Creek in Burt county. The town of Oakland was named for John Oak, not of Swedish descent, who had previously settled there. In 1867 another party arrived. Andrew Beckman, an early pioneer, was so charmed by the country that he hastened back to Illinois to induce his friends to come to Nebraska. There are now no less than six Swedish churches in the settlement: Lutheran, Baptist, Evangelical Lutheran Mission, Methodist, Mission and Free. About ten miles to the northwest of Wakefield is a settlement by the name of Concord. Wausa, situated in the southeastern corner of Knox county, was named in honor of the Swedish king Gustavus Vasa. Mr. Thorson was the pioneer of this community, and the post office was for a time called by his name. Rev. Torell of Oakland and Rev. Fogelstrom of Omaha, visited the community and recommended to many people that they establish homes there.
Swedish people settled in and northwest of Aurora. August Page settled northwest of the town in 1871.
A Swedish settlement ten miles south of Oakland is called Swaburg. There is a small colony of Swedes in Fre-
mont. Mr. E. P. Anderson went there to live in 1867. In 1881 Gustus Johnson of Farmersville, Illinois, sold his farm and moved westward. After having seen parts of Iowa, he came to Oakland; but as land in that vicinity had already become expensive, Johnson continued his journey to Wayne and Dixon counties. Through the Swedish paper Hemlandet the opportunities of this country were made known among the Swedes east of the Missouri River. In April, 1882, when Rev. B. M. Halland, the founder of the famous Halland settlement in Iowa, was on a visit in Wayne county, it was decided to organize a congregation, and the organization was perfected the following year.
In 1872 Peter Matson and Bengt Olson, from Galva, Illinois, settled, with their families, in what Is known as the Looking Glass Valley, in the northwestern corner of Platte county. Arriving in the fall, they built their sod houses and prepared for the winter. Columbus, their nearest town, was thirty miles distant. In 1874 still more people came from Galva. They had belonged to the Methodist church in Illinois, and naturally they organized Methodist churches in their new homes. Rev. Olin Swenson, who came to the valley about 1876, built two churches. A few miles westward a large Lutheran congregation grew up. Newman Grove, in the southwestern corner of Madison county, is about ten miles from the settlement just mentioned. In 1878 a party settled northwest of the town, and two years later others took land to the north. The first company of settlers to reach Boyd county arrived in 1890, from Oakland. The Bonesteel branch of the Northwestern railroad was not built at this time. The nearest railway station was O'Neill, thirty-five miles distant.
In 1872 several Swedes took homesteads at Stockholm, Fillmore county, which is situated between Shickley and Ong.
To Saronville, in Clay county, came a company of nine "gottlandingar" (inhabitants of Gottland, Sweden) in
1871, who for some time had lived in Illinois. In the summer of 1873 more gottlandingar arrived, many of whom had been Methodists in Sweden. From Swedona, Illinois, came still another company of Methodists. It was natural that these people should begin to organize a church of their own denomination. There were, however, others who had belonged to Lutheran churches, and they organized a Lutheran church at Saronville in 1872.
Minden, founded in 1879, is situated on the eastern border of the large Swedish settlements which stretch through Kearney and Phelps counties. Charles Carlson reached Phelps county from Galesburg, Illinois, in 1874. In 1875 still others came from Illinois. In 1876 Andreas Olson, from Jemtland, Sweden, arrived with his wife and took a homestead four miles north of what is now the town of Funk.
When Phelps county was organized, in 1873, the number of Swedes living there was small, but shortly thereupon the migration to these parts set in, and now Holdrege and the country roundabout has a large Swedish population.
There are many other places that might have been mentioned in connection with Swedish immigration to Nebraska, but time and space forbid. I have named only the most important points. As time goes on our interest in the beginnings of our state will be all the keener, and we shall all be the more desirous to know who our pioneers were. We are yet so near the beginning that we may not grasp fully the significance of pioneer days. I hope, however, that our state may succeed well in preserving the records of the past and that there may be written on the pages of history at least a few chapters dealing with the Swedish element in Nebraska.
The following data showing the number
and distribution of Swedes in Nebraska are compiled from the
U. S. census of 1910. The counties named in the table are
only those containing 300 or more persons born in
© 1999, 2000, 2001 for the NEGenWeb by T&C Miller