The Coming of the Danes

Clark County, Wisconsin


The north central portion of Clark county, in and around Withee, is largely occupied by descendants of Danish pioneers, who came into that area chiefly as followers of the Rev. A. S. Nielsen, who had been pastor of a large congregation in Chicago. He preached the Second Corning, and moved from Chicago to escape its corning tribulations. He had dealt with one of the Spauldings of an old family of lumbermen, and had arranged for the gift of land for church and pastor and Danish colony. Hardly had the Danish people arrived on the scene before Spaulding became a bankrupt, victim of the depression of the 1890's. His holdings were bought by John S. Owen, who was not obligated to carry out the Spaulding undertakings. Followed a period of tension, in which the Danes threatened to throw up the enterprise and move out. Eventually the Owens gave substantial amounts of land, and the Danes settled down to church and farm.


A Typical Experience


For this Book of the Years the editor has selected the story of P. C. Stockholm as fairly typical of the experiences and hardships of the Danish pioneers. This article was prepared for the anniversary of the Danish church. The editor has also had access to the article prepared for this event by Magrethe Andersen, which is drawn upon for these incidents: "Summer time we built new roads through the woods. One hot day the big horse flies bothered the horses so bad we had to stop and kill flies. One horse, being white, was full of red spots. In those days we were pestered by horse flies, deer flies, gnats, mosquitoes and wood ticks. Some days these pests would drive a person almost nuts."


Mr. Andersen tells about stopping at a hotel in St. Paul on the way to Withee. "We went to a hotel to get some rest. Did not stay in bed very long, as the bed bugs were there first. We sat in airs the rest of the night. Jess slept with the bugs."


By the Rev. P. C. Stockholm


It was in 1893 that we first heard about the founding of a Danish settlement at Withee, Wisconsin, under the leadership of the Reverend A. S. Nielsen. While in Chicago, Father had heard Pastor A. S. Nielsen's inspiring sermons and when he learned that Pastor Nielsen was to serve the people at Withee, he was certain that this was the place for his home.


In April of 1893 the first settlers came to Withee, including Pastor A. S. Nielsen, who at that time was much taken up with "the second coming of the Lord." With Pastor Nielsen and a group of his congregation were Peter Frost and family, and H. Hansen, later called Chicago Hansen. He was Rev. Arthur Ammentorp's grandfather. Mr. Hansen was well-to-do and bought a farm one mile south and one mile west of Withee. There were also Jorgensen, his wife and adopted boy. Jorgensen and Frost bought land out at Black river where the old sawmill had been. Both farms bordered the river, at that time a beautiful place. The two Ammentorp brothers bought land out on the Longwood road about three miles south of Withee. On the same road were the two Olsen brothers.


Hard Times and Sickness


This was during that unforgettable time of the Cleveland Administration when the money crisis paralyzed all industry. There was no employment to be found. Both Father and I became jobless, and to that came sickness. All my sisters took sick with scarlet fever and my little brother died. The doctor called every day for seven weeks, sometimes twice a day. Father's meager savings had almost disappeared.


When the quarantine sign was removed, the question arose as to what to do next. The only hope was the possibility of buying a piece of land and working for ourselves. There was this hope in Withee that a sawmill was under construction.


There was not much to see at Withee but woods and pine stumps. A new brick schoolhouse was under construction. It laid a suitable distance away from the road among stumps. It consisted of two rooms on the first floor and two on the second floor. Dwellings were being built in among the stumps.


He Saw lots of Trees


When I looked around there were woods everywhere except to the northeast. There was the Spaulding farm. There were two big frame barns of timber structure, mostly hewn, a frame house and a little log house or cabin. Beyond to the north and east the virgin pine forest towered from 100 to 150 feet high--one of nature's masterpieces. Directly north of town was hardwood forest.


After some days of looking around Father, Christiansen and Fred Hansen agreed on buying a northwest quarter section of land, located about a mile and a half from Withee. Fred Hansen got the west half, Father and Christiansen the east half, which was divided lengthwise, making two long forties. There was beautiful hardwood timber on our tract. A job on the mill, it was promised by Mr. Spaulding, who also sold us the timber without reserve.


Fred Hansen bought the old boarding house at Black River, if I am right, for $129.00. It was a large building. He and his family were permitted to live. temporarily in the log cabin on the Spaulding farm. Here was work, too much, even for the hustler Hansen was. Father and I helped to take down and move the cabin and build his house. When there was a couple rooms so that they could live there they moved in. Father got some rough I u m b e r from it and we built a shanty l0 x l2 feet. I remember that meantime I had a job for a short time on what then was called the Murray farm, about 6 or 7 miles northwest of Withee. While I was there the forest fire swept through the woods. The air was, so thick with smoke that it was difficult to breathe.


The Devastating Fire


When I returned to Withee again the beautiful woods were burned over. There was so much fire that we could not build on our own land, but built up near Hansen's. I still remember Pastor Nielsen, as he walked over the field.


The next bitter disappointment was that Spaulding went bankrupt, and everything was taken over by the Owen Lumber Company.


We had now our own little home with an old camp stove, which filled a big part of the room. Now it meant a job so we could live. The big store in Withee was owned by W. Tufts. He also had a farm one mile west of town. He was doing logging jobs and when he learned a-bout Father he hired him, or rather both of us, to cook. It was very hard work for Father. We had to carry the water up about 50 feet from the river. He also demanded that we should cut our own wood as well as for the men's camps. The result was that we got sick, and we had to give up. It was about Christmas time and after we got over the flu and were able to work, we started cutting logs and wood. It gave a little income, but not much. Wood sold for 75 cents for 4-foot wood, but it had to be removed so that we could plow the land. A start was made and by spring we had made a fair clearing. The following spring we had cleared land and planted potatoes, beans and vegetables. We seeded every little patch we cleared with oats, grass and clover.


When the haying began we worked for Mads Damkiaer, who had come from Chicago and had rented the Spaulding farm. He had also taken over the agency for selling the land.


I recall that our first church services were held in the old schoolhouse a block north and one west of the depot.  This house was later bought by Ole Jensen, who made it into a nice home for him and his wife.


It was in the fall of 1893, in late September, that the congregation was officially organized.


When the new brick school house was finished and taken into use, the services were held there until the church was built. I believe that was the winter of 1894 and '95.


It must be remembered that this was started by the Danish Folk Society, who had made a contract with Spaulding, in which it was agreed that an 80-acre farm with the new parsonage should be given Pastor Nielsen as compensation for his work. Furthermore, there was a land grant consisting of 320 acres beginning at the corner of town and extending one mile along the road north. When the congregation was organized so shortly after, the question arose as to what extent the people who had purchased land outside the colony land should have equal right with those who bought from the company and paid a higher price. The group on the colony land claimed that land grants, as well as Pastor Nielsen's farm, were given in behalf of the congregation on the colony land and not of those who bought outside, as it was conceded that the value of these grants was compensated for by increasing the price of the colony land.


Soon after came the crash. Spaulding went bankrupt and the John S. Owen Lumber Company took over. As this was a bankruptcy sale John S. Owen was not required to take over the obligations consisting of the above-mentioned grants. So for a while everything was hanging in the sign of the question mark. It was mean- while found out that the Owen Lumber Company was not interested in a Danish colony and refused to meet Spaulding's obligations. I recall that a petition was drawn up and signed by all the settlers on the colony land. Just what the colonists demanded I do not know, but I do know that it stated that if Owen Lumber Company would not meet their obligations the settlers would all throw up their contracts and go somewhere else. The final result was that the company agreed to give the 89-acre farm to Pastor Nielsen, including the parsonage, and they also agreed to give the 40 acres to the congregation on which the church later was built. Thus it was settled and we could continue our work. The congregation grow as new settlers came to buy land or homes.


It Was Slow Work


In the spring of 1894 Mads Damkjaer moved out from Chicago and took over the sale of the land. He rented the Spaulding farm and before long he bought the 80 acres adjoining th4 church land. Most of the Spaulding farm was hayland as were most of the farms, due to the fact that there were a lot of pine stumps on it, which made cultivation difficult.


Turning to ourselves, Father and I had been clearing our land, but were progressing very slowly. It was needful for us to work out to earn a little for our living. We worked for Mr. Damkjaer during the haying season. Later in the fall we agreed to clear 10, acres for Pastor Nielsen. We made a start on it but the timber was mostly windfalls and difficult to clear.


One day when I was chopping over a narrow log, my axe glanced on a knot and went into my foot, cutting deep into the joint of the toe. I went home to our little shanty. Dad was very worried and ran up to Pastor Nielsen's for help. Mr. Edmund Nielsen, his son, who had studied medicine, but due to, illness had not completed his course, came back with Dad. He had the necessary medicine with him, including some white buttonhole silk from his mother's sewing box. Dad found a triangular buckskin needle that we used when mending our mittens. Ed declared the wound must be sewed. After applying medicine and the bleeding was stopped, he went to work. I had to sit on the bench and hold the foot while he sewed, I relieve, four stitches. After he had masterly bandaged the foot, he comforted me by saying I would be all right in a few days. However, that he should not have said for in about three days I got up. I had a little f ever caused by the loss of blood, but the bumping around caused inflammation in the wound. When Ed Nielsen, on his visit, saw that I was up, he ordered me to bed, with my foot up.


About this time Father received a letter in which the doctor in Superior called him to work on his farm to cut timber, logs and wood. Father still owed him a sum of money from the time of sickness. Father cut wood and filled and piled the shanty full so that I could keep warm and he got everything that I needed for some time. The neighbors were to come and see me every day. However, I was not downhearted, just regretted that I could not work. I still remember Dad as he was to leave me. I did not realize then, but later I understood how hard it was for him to leave me alone among almost strangers. In about eight weeks I was well enough to walk to town. Now it was my turn to get a letter, calling me back to Superior. There was a milk man who wanted to hire me, so I left. How disappointed I was when I heard I was to have $8.00 per month. It was a boy's pay for a man's job. I worked early and late, filling in all odd moments by cutting wood. I did have the advantage that I could split wood for Mother in the evenings.


Long winters also have an end and when spring came Dad went back to Withee and some time later I followed. We planted a garden, which was dug with a spade. We planted potatoes and navy beans. In all the bare places where fire had burned the sod we sewed oats, so by fall we were quite well prepared for winter. We also had quite a lot of hay from the meadow.


It was that spring that the congregation had moved to the new school house. We held our services in the south room. I think this change was made while we were in Superior.


The following fall or summer Mr. C. Christiansen sold his forty to a friend of Mother, Mrs. Petersen. Father began to work for him and I likewise. later Dad began to build a small house and that fall mother and the girls came to live with us.


Dad traded off some hay for a cow, and I just felt that we were on top of the world.




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