Goodhue County, Minnesota


 ~ Wanamingo Township ~

 Wanamingo comprises township 110, range 17, and has remained unchanged in area since the township organization act of 1858. It is bounded on the north by Leon, on the east by Minneola, on the west by Holden and on the south by Cherry Grove. Wanamingo is crossed east and west by the north branch of the Zumbro in the southern part, but the valley is broad and has gentle slopes. In the northwestern part there is a bran eh of the Cannon. The surface is largely prairie, gently rolling, with very fertile soil, well-watered by many springs and running streams. Where these are not at hand, water is found by digging a few feet below the surface. The natural groves of timber in various sections add variety to the landscape. No other township in the county it is said affords superior advantages to the farmer.

The story of the early settlement of Wanamingo has been told as follows: "The first settlers came here in 1851, and were natives of Norway. Early in that year Henry Nelson (Talla) came to Dodgeville, Wis., from California, where he had been staying a few years and where he had accumulated a snug little sum of money. About the same time his older brother, Toge Nelson (Talla) then a widower, came back to the same place from Australia, where he also had earned some money. The two brothers then agreed to go to the Northwest together and search for a home. Purchasing a team, they started, and after being on the way as far as Root River, they heard that the territory of Minnesota contained good farming land, with wood and water. They then purchased a number of cattle and such implements as they would need for beginning farming operations.

They were now joined by Thosten Anderson, another of their countrymen, who was also in the same pursuit. As both the Nelsons were determined to start in farming for all there was in it, they each hired a man to help them. Henry hired William Williamson (Runningen) and Toge hired Nils Gulbrandson. Both these hired men were carpenters by trade. Mr. Gulbrandson left his family in Wisconsin, expecting to return for them in the fall, providing he liked the new country. The prairie schooners were ready and the little company started for the unknown land May 21, the party consisting of those already mentioned and Henry Nelson and family, Thosten Anderson and family, and two sisters of the Nelsons, Mrs. Jens Ottun, whose husband had not yet arrived from the old country, and Mrs. Nels K. Fenne, whose husband was then in California. After rambling over the new territory of Minnesota for three weeks they came, June 12, to the place now called Wanamingo. They had for many days seen no white persons but themselves. At about. 11 o'clock on the day named above they crossed the north fork of the Zumbro. Toge Nelson stopped his team and, looking around, saw there was a fine park with beautiful land adjacent. He exclaimed: 'Here will I live and die.' His words were fulfilled, for he died in 1889, having lived in that place thirty-five years. The whole company found it to be desirable country for settlement, and so began their improvements.

Knowing nothing as to how much land one man could hold as a claim, they marked off large portions, for they expected others of their countrymen to join them in making the town a Norse settlement. They began by making dugouts and sod shanties for living and sleeping apartments. They broke up the prairie for field culture and planted some corn, sowed buckwheat and rutabagas. They also planted a few potatoes that season.

"Four weeks after this party had made their stand, two young men, Hans Ovaldson and Andrias Hesjelden, came to the place, having followed their tracks. These young men belonged to a larger party of immigrants, whom they had left some thirty-five or forty miles behind. They were so much pleased with the location that they started back immediately for their comrades. They found them and induced nearly all the party to come to Wanamingo. This last party consisted of Andres Baarnhus, John Stroemme, Guncler Hestemyr, Ole O. Oakland, Haldor Johnson, and their families. About the first of August another train of Norwegian immigrants came on from Wisconsin, but finding the township of Wanamingo already claimed, they went further west into Holden and Kenyon, some even beyond the county line west, to make claims.

"In the latter part of July this town was visited by two men from Red Wing, this being the first intimation the new settlers had of the existence of such a place. These men informed them that Red Wing was on the Mississippi river, about thirty miles distant, in a northeasterly direction. This information was a great benefit, as they knew of no market town nearer than Decorah, Iowa. In August Nils Gulbrandson went to Wisconsin for his family, and it was agreed that he should there meet -lens Ottun, who had arrived from Norway, and accompany him to Red Wing- on the steamboat. Three weeks later Toge and Henry Nelson set out from Red Wing to meet them. After wandering about for two days they found the place. In the meantime the party had arrived, but both men had taken the cholera while on the steamboat. Mr. Gulbrandson died in one hour after landing. Mr. Ottun survived. They were left on the shore by the boat hands. Mrs. Gulbrandson took charge of her dying husband and grown-up daughter. The latter also took the disease, and died shortly after the father. William Freeborn, seeing Mr. Ottun lying on the levee with none seemingly to care for him, offered five dollars to the man who would take him to some house and care for him over night. A few days after this the Nelsons arrived in Red Wing and found Ottun so far recovered as to be walking about, and he, in company with Mrs. Gulbrandson and her son, returned with the Nelsons to the new settlement. The next year, Toge Nelson (Talla) and Mrs. Gulbrandson were married. In October, 1854, the Nelsons went again to Red Wing, for winter supplies. Nils J. Ottun, son of Jens Ottun, related years afterward to a historian that his father was sent by the party for flour and some other necessities.

Having only ten dollars, his wife sent a gold nugget worth ten dollars more. They bought two barrels of flour. Jens Ottun worked for Toge Nelson that winter, splitting rails, leading his son Nils and the mother to keep house alone. The mother used to measure off the slice of bread for each to be eaten at every meal, the same size, and this, with a little butter and something they called coffee for drink, constituted their everyday diet through the winter. In the latter part of March the people who had settled in the northern part of the town came to them for flour. They were entirely out, and the snow was so deep they could not get to Red Wing. Only one barrel was then left in the settlement. That was one of the two that Jens Ottun had bought, and it was equally divided among all and was made to last until the road to Red Wing became passable. The first death among the settlers was that of the youngest child of Thorsten Anderson, named Berith. Mrs. Jens Ottun was requested to select a suitable place for a burial ground, and a farm for a preacher. This she did at the time of the burial of this child, in July, 1854. The first white child born in this town was Knute N. Fenne, in September of the same year. The first marriage was a double wedding in June, 1855. Toge Nelson (Talla) and Mrs. Gulbrandson, already mentioned, and John J. Marifjern and Soeneva Johnson were united in marriage at the same time, by Rev. Nils Brant, of Oconomowoc, Wis. The first public religious service was held the same mouth by the same clergyman. The laud selected for the preacher was for many years occupied by the Rev. B. J. Muns, who came in 1859 and for about forty-five years remained the pastor of several churches in that locality.

"A few American families came to this town in 1855 and made claims in the southern portion, on the Zumbro River. One of the settlers. James Brown, platted and laid into lots forty acres of land for village purposes and called the place Wanamingo, the name of a heroine of a novel popular in those days. A store was built by J. T. Wright in this village.

"The first settlers had some difficulty the first year in adjusting the boundaries of their several claims. Not knowing how many acres one person could hold and pre-empt, their farms were unusually large. Everyone wanted timber, prairie land and running water. This was in the latter part of 1855, before they found that each could hold but 160 acres, in adjoining 40-acre lots. In some cases their first buildings would be a mile away from their breaking, as the late comers were obliged to claim a patch here and a patch there to satisfy all needs. So there were troubles to meet and overcome when they went to the land office to purchase their lands from the United States government after it came into the market. Many had hard struggles to encounter in that settlement during the first two years.

They had not the means to pay their passage over the sea and were obliged to devote t heir earnings to that outlay. But for the fact that a few had money and could furnish work for others who had none, there would have been much suffering.

The people from Norway seemed to be well fitted for pioneers in a new country. As farmers they have proved themselves to be more successful than any other nationality, perhaps, who have come into the county. With no other means than a willingness to work at any labor to be done, with stout arms and faith in God and their fellow men, many of them are now reckoned among the wealthiest of our citizens in every branch of business now carried on. The farms and farm buildings in the town of Wanamingo at the present day show a degree of thrift and industry equal to the best in this county. The first wheat crop was raised here in the year 1856. There being no flouring mills near, it was all kept and used for seed. This town has the honor of being the first to build up and sustain the Norwegian Lutheran church, which has become the most numerous of the Christian churches in the county."

James Brown is said to have taught the first school in the township. The first store was probably opened on section 4, by Elans M. Sande and Knut Sanden, in the spring of 1857. They stocked ii with goods and carried it on for about a year, when Mr. Sanden was married and his attention turned in other directions. Mr. Sande also concluded that he could make more money farming, so the mercantile business was abandoned. Both of these gentlemen soon became well-to-do farmers of the township. Another early storekeeper was Paulus Miller.

The Aspelund Society was organized in 1875, for the mutual benefit of the farmers. A store was erected on section 16 and the society incorporated in 1876. The first officers were: President. O, J. Wing; secretary, N. J. Ottun; treasurer. E. E. Sevareid; directors. Henry Nelson (Talla), Hans M. Sande and Ole Lewis. N. J. Ottun was appointed the first manager.

To the Civil War Wanamingo township contributed the following soldiers:

Elling Albertson
Jermia Anderson
Arne Anderson
Samuel Arnold
D. W. Brawn
Henry H. Brown
Asa H. Dayton
Anfin Dalaker
Ole Evenson
John Ericson
Hans Hoisted
George W. Heart
Harris Harrison
Ole Johnson
Olans Johnson
Hans Johnson
Abraham L. Jackson
Guilder Killoe
Samuel Knutson
Ole Larson
Lewis Lewison
Martin Martinson
John Nilson
Charles Nelson
Ole Oleson
Thomas Peterson
John Peterson
F. F. Sandberg
Lawrence Thoreson
Henry J. Burrell
Phillip Buck
John M. Clark
Halver Enderson
Franklin Fuller
Anthony Farrell
Otis E. Fowble
Marshall Gore
Achiel D. Hollista
John S. Hall
Francis G. Hall
Elias Hoyt.
William Hahn
Julius Johnson
John J. Koenan
George Newville
John B. Robinson
Eleazer Robbins
Anson Smith
Almon P. Smith
James B. Stouthers
Lorenz Thoreson
Gunder Thompson
Theodore Moonen
James A. Miller
Peter McDonough
Jonathan B. Serrell
Halver Stamerson
Charles J. Dobering
Francis J. Burke
John Betcher
William H. Blaker
Samuel B. Brown
Laurens E. Brown
Spaulding Whittemore
Lucian L. Perkins
Sela Denny
Phillip Buck
Samuel Johnson
Charles Martin
John Gutteridge
Joshua Oliver
Melvin O. Dutton
John Clementson
Daniel McAlonan
William H. Applegat
R. G. Applegat
Peter B. Townsend
John Johnson
Tenkel Nelson
Charles Flack
John Peterson
William G. Renearson
Lodolf Swanson
Patrick Connersy
Peter Hoppe
Andrew Roberts
Francis Coule
Archibald Galloway
George H. Gaylord
W. B. Harlan
Jacob J. Hussell
John Mallory
John Ockerson
George C. Ridley
Ole Severson
John Williams
Nels Iverson
Fikel Jensen
Frank W. Carlson
George Chambers
Samuel B. Roberts
Dominick Toole

At the organization of the township, May 11, 1858, the officers elected were: Supervisors, O. Hansen (chairman), N. K. Fenne, J. G. Brown; town clerk, J. T. Wright; justice of the peace, W. R. Brown; constable, Warren Illson; assessor. N. K. Fenne.

Following is the list of the early supervisors, the first named under each date being the chairman:

1859, George W. Duffy, Saave Knudson, Halvor Olson;
1860, T. J. Smith, Halvor Olson, Thor Einertson
1861, T. J. Smith, Saave Knudson, Collen Nelson;
1862, Hans H. Holtan, J. T. Leet, William Williamson;
1863, Hans H. Holtan, Coelboern Nelson, I. C. Swift;
1864, A. P. Jackson, Knut Sanden, Hans M. Sande;
1865, A. P. Jackson, Hans M. Sande, Knut Sanden;
1866, A. P. Jackson, Hans M. Sande, Knut Sanden
1867, A. P. Jackson, Hans M. Sande, Knut Sanden;
1868, A. P. Jackson, 0. J. Wing, N. K. Fenne
1869, Hans H. Holtan, O. J. Wing, Chris Sanden;
1870, 1871, 1872, the same;
1873, O. J. Wing, G. C. Gunderson, Charles Anderson;
1871, G. C. Gunderson, Charles Anderson, John Swenson;
1875, 1876, the same;
1877, G. C. Gunderson, John Swenson. A. T. Rygh.


1859, N. K. Fenne
1860, Saave Knudson
1861, to 1863, Neri Helgeson
1864, Charles Paulson
1865, E. E. Sevareid
1866, to 1868, John Paulson
1869, Elef Olson:
1870, and 1871, Hans M. Sande
1872, and 1873, Ole O. Follingstad
1874, to 1877, Hans M, Sande
1878, Ole O. Huset.

Justices of the Peace

1859 W. R. Brown, George W. Duffy
1860 T. J. Smith
1862 W R. Brown
1863 Charles Paulson
1864 J. P. Leet
1865 Charles Paulson
1866 L. P. Leet
1867 O. Paulson, W. R. Brown
1868, A. P. Jackson, N. J. Ottun
1869, W. R. Brown
1870, A. P. Jackson
1871. AY. R. Brown
1872, N. J. Ottun
1873, Christ Hveem
1874, N. J. Ottun, T. T. Corchran
1875, Hans M. Sande
1876, N. J. Ottun
1877, Hans M. Sande
1878, Ole O. Huset


1859 O. Hansen
1860, and 1861, W. R, Brown
1862, A. P. Jackson
1863, Benjamin Clark
1864 and 1865, J. P. Leet
1866 to 1868, N. J. Ottun


1860, William Williamson
1862, W. R. Roulet
1864, G. C. Gunderson
1866, Charles Paulson
1868, J. Paulson
1869, Thorsten Anderson
1870, E. E. Sevareid


1859 Ole Olson
1860 Ole Olson, S. Glaz
1862 Lewis Throp
1863 William Miller, William Johnson
1864 William R. Roulet
1865 William Miller
1866 William Johnson
1867 William Johnson, William Miller
1868 Charles Anderson
1869 Thron Julickson, William Johnson
1870 William Johnson
1871 Thron Julickson
1873 Erik Nelson
1875 and 1876 John Sevenson
1877 T. I. Laven

Overseers of the Poor

1858 Torger O. Rygh
1859 John Wing
1863 Kling Johnson
1864 and 1865 Coelboern Nelson
1866 K. J. Naeset
1867 Hans H. Holtan
1868 Hans M. Sande
1869 Torger O. Rygh
1871 Lars Olson
1872 and 1873 Swent Johnson
1875 Hans M. Sande

1858, Knut Sanden, served two terms

The settlements in the township are at Hader, Wanamingo, Aspelund and Norway.

  Goodhue County |Minnesota AHGP | Wanamingo Village

Source: History of Goodhue County Minnesota, Franklyn Curtiss-Wedge, H. C. Cooper Jr, & Company, Chicago, 1909.


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