PEDER JOHANSEN

This is as it was told to me by Myron Johansen:

Grandpa Peder Johansen was born on the island of Moen, in Denmark July 10, 1849. I know nothing of his family nor of his life as a young man in Denmark. As I remember him, he was a quiet man who spent much time in his own thoughts. I don’t remember either he or Grandma talking about his early life or youth.

Two factors influential in causing people from Denmark to come to America in those years were the military conscription (all young men had to serve a time in the Danish Army) and economic conditions. In Denmark at that time people were either rich or poor. There was no middle class. The rich owned all the property and the poor worked as hired hands or servants. There was little hope for the poor to ever climb out of the poverty conditions. They could not realistically hope to ever own property under the conditions at that time.

Peder heard of the promises of a greater opportunity in America. There in that land all people, even the poor, could own property and become independent. There was no required military service at the time. In the year of 1870, at the age of 21, he, together with other immigrants from Denmark, came to America and to Northern Wisconsin to the community now known as Luck (or North Luck).

For 10 years Peder worked in the woods and sawmills of Northern Wisconsin, living mostly in the logging camps on the shores of the Namekagon River. On occasions he took special jobs on his own. One time he cleared a ten acre parcel of woodland for $70.00. Clearing the land of hardwood trees to make it ready for farming was not an easy task. There were no railroads in the area at that time and no means of transporting the logs to distant sawmills I f they were not located on a river. Many trees were cut down, cut into pieces that could be moved, then piled together and burned.

When not working in the woods, Peder found work on farms near Hudson, about sixty miles away. Here there was a railroad and a railroad yard. Settlement here had occurred earlier and farms had been established. He saved his money and bought an eighty-acre parcel of land north of what is now the village of Luck. In the northern part of the land he built a 12 x 18 foot log house. He cleared some land around it, but most of the land clearing was done in the southern part where the soil was more like what he was accustomed to in Denmark.

With the ownership of eighty acres of land and a small house and having saved some money, he felt that he had a future in the United States. In the ten years he had learned enough English so that he could understand when it was spoken. In 1879 he became a citizen of the United States. Shortly thereafter he returned to Denmark for a visit and to get reacquainted with the girl he hoped to marry and then to return to Wisconsin and the new home. This wife-to-be was Grandma’s sister, but when she heard about life in Wisconsin and his 12 x 18 log house on his wooded eighty-acre parcel of land, she told him that it was not for her. She would take her chances with the poverty and enjoy the security that she felt she had there. Grandma saw in her sister’s refusal what she thought was her golden opportunity. She was twelve years younger than he, but had known of him before he left for America. She was only nine years old when he left the first time.

Grandma was a great little lady. She was interested in many things and had much patience with her children and her grandchildren. Her early life in America was the basis of much of the wisdom and patience that was a part of her. I don’t know that she had a single enemy. On many occasions while visiting her, I asked about her early life here in Wisconsin and why she moved here from Denmark. The following is how she told it to me as I remember it.

Grandma said “I was anxious to come here to a land of greater opportunity for me and my children. The children of poor families in Denmark were given a bag to go out and beg for food, wool, or whatever they could get. My father had a small farm and worked at a nearby mill as a stone sharpener. We didn’t have much money. When I was nine years old, I left home to work on a nearby farm. I have been responsible for my own livelihood and my own decisions ever since. When I saw the opportunity of a home of my own, even in a faraway land, I felt that that was for me. So one day I told Peder that I would go with him. Perhaps this was not a romantic proposal, but I felt that it was time for me to make some long range plans since I was now almost nineteen. We were married on March 24, 1880 and came to America on our honeymoon and what a honeymoon it was. Peder, having been to America before, could understand English and owned eighty acres of land. On board our boat were forty other immigrants coming to America for the first time. They thought of Peder as a man of much experience. Being completely unfamiliar with the new land and the procedures of entering the United States and not knowing the English language, they looked to him for guidance. They hired him as their advisor. For this he earned part of the cost of our passage.

Our ship, the Tingvalla, was not a large vessel. It had a propeller, but was also equipped with sails. We had not travelled many days when the propeller of our boat worked loose and fell off. When we lost our propeller, we had no control of the direction of the boat. We drifted at sea and went off course up into the North Sea. Icebergs were a common sight. In addition to not having any power, we also had no way of communication except by flying a distress flag by day and shooting flares by night. Having drifted off course, neither method was dependable or of very much help. Ships going to and from Denmark or other European ports saw no evidence of the Tingvalla. Since no one had seen us and we had not reached our destination, we were given up for lost at sea. Food and water had been rationed when we first learned of our trouble, but after six weeks of drifting in the cold waters of the North Sea, our daily rations consisted of only hard tack and water. Despair was evident in the faces of everyone. All of us on the Tingvalla had given up hope of ever seeing America or our families again. Then one day an English steamer happened to travel in our area. Our prayers were answered. Seeing our distress flag, they came to our rescue. We were towed into port where repairs could be made. During the tow, one of the ropes broke. It was the law of the sea at that time that if during a tow one of the ropes broke, the other one should be cut in order to prevent damage to the towing ship or its passengers. They did not cut the other towing rope so we were soon enroute once more to our dreamland.

Upon reaching the United States, some of the passengers continued their journey with us. We arrived in Luck, Wisconsin May of 1880. Some Danish people had come earlier and some came later so eventually Luck became a Danish community. When first arriving at our destination, we lived for a time with a neighbour, Hans Bille, until our log house could be completed and equipped for living. Our nearest neighbour about one mile away was Peder Nelson. Others farther away were Hemmingsen, Pickering, Hansen, and the four Bille brothers.

For a time Peder worked again in the area of the Namekagon River, where he had worked before. He lived in the logging camps where he worked. I lived alone in our home. The river was used for floating the logs to the nearest sawmill. When not in the woods, he again went to Hudson to work on the farms. Between the times of working in the woods and on the farms he came home and worked on our land, trying to make it a farm. On our land the clearing was difficult and slow. The nearest sawmill at that time was at Clam Falls, which was about eighteen miles away. There were no streams large enough to float logs and there were no railroads. The hardwood trees were therefore cut, piled and burned.

During much of this time I was alone on the farm in my little log house. I was kept busy with my house work, my small family, the garden, canning vegetables, carding and spinning wool, knitting clothing, and other household chores. In addition to our neighbors living one to four miles away, Indians also lived in the area. They were good neighbors except on occasion if they were short of food, they would come and take a loaf of bread or other food while I was gone from the house. Even though I was alone with my small family much of the time during those first years, I would bake more than one loaf and when they saw extra food they would take some. My house was in the northern part of the farm, but the garden was in the southern part where Peder had done most of the clearing, so there were many times when we were not around the house.

As more of the land was cleared, Peder was able to stay at home for longer periods of time. Gradually a barn was built and sheep and cattle were acquired. I could now have my own wool. We had no place to sell milk, but cream was made into butter and sold to people who had no cows. We used other animal fat on our bread, because we needed the money we received for the butter.

As time went on other Danish people moved to the area. Peder and our neighbors worked together to meet the needs of the people in the community. Old logging trails were made into roads. A small school house was built and a teacher hired. St. Peter’s Lutheran Church had been organized in 1880, just shortly before we came over here. It was natural that the church should be of the Lutheran doctrine as that was the denomination of the state church of Denmark. Peder was listed among the carter members. We women were not listed as members at that time because we had no vote in matters of the church. The first minister, Rev. James Petersen, was called in April of 1880. The call informed him of his duties, but promised him nothing for salary except a hope that by the grace of God they would be able to keep him from want.

For the first ten years the school was used as the meeting place for the church. Twenty acres of land was purchased on which a house for the pastor was built. The actual cost of the house was little, because the members donated the lumber and the labor for the building. Some land was cleared and a small barn was built so that the pastor could have a cow and perhaps a pig. That together with a small garden would help meet the needs of the family. In 1890 the church was built, also with the same donated lumber and labor.

The first railroad came to Luck in 1901. As the railroad was put to use, Luck began to grow and provided services for the people of the area.”

In the later years Grandpa Johansen was remembered as a man who walked haltingly with a cane as the result of an accident when he fell from the barn roof while repairing it. Before his accident he had worked hard to meet the goal of shaping a farm out of his eighty acres of woods. He passed away in 1924 at the age of seventy-five.

Grandma Johansen continued to be the same energetic, cheerful little woman who always seemed to be in the center of the family activity. She assisted in the birth of many of her grandchildren, one of them one week before she, herself, gave birth to her tenth child. Her remaining years were spent on the homeplace with Art and Olga for ten tears. When they moved into Luck she stayed with Chris and Meta for a while. Shortly after she too moved into Luck and stayed with Art and Olga until the day she passed away, July 9, 1936. It was a very warm day and she wanted to go outside. She laid down in the shade of the tree and it was there that she went to her final resting place. She was seventy-four years old.

I, Dolores, finish this by adding that that is my only real remembrance of Grandma. I can remember her in the coffin like it was yesterday. She was in a coffin in the living room of what I knew only as Chris and Meta’s house, but came to learn later that that was mother’s homeplace.