I can remember perfectly well the day when my elder brother, Gustaf,
started for America It was in April, 1891, and there was snow
on the ground about our cottage, while the forest that covered
the hills nearby was still deep with snow. The roads were very
bad, but my uncle Olaf, who had been to America often on the ships,
said that this was the time to start, because work on the farms
there would just be beginning.
We were ten in the family, father and mother and eight children,
and we had lived very happily in our cottage until the last year,
when father and mother were both sick and we got into debt Father
had a little piece of land about two acres which he rented, and
besides, he worked in the summer time for a farmer. Two of my
sisters and three of my brothers also worked in the fields, but
the pay was so very small that it was hard for us to get enough
to eat A good farm hand in our part of Sweden, which is 200 miles
north of Stockholm and near the Baltic Sea, can earn about 100
kroner a season, and a kroner is 27 cents. But the winter is six
months long, and most of that time the days are dark, except from
ten o'clock in the morning to four o'clock in the afternoon. The
only way our family could get money during the winter was by making
something that could be sold in the market town, ten miles away.
So my father and brothers did wood carving and cabinet making,
and my mother and sisters knitted stockings, caps and mufflers
and made homespun cloth, and also butter and cheese, for we owned
But the Swedish people who have money hold on to it very tight,
and often we took things to market and then had to bring them
home again, for no one would buy.
My uncle Olaf used to come to us between voyages, and he was
all the time talking about America; what a fine place it was to
make money in He said that he would long ago have settled down
on shore there, but that he hoped some day to be captain. In America
they gave you good land for nothing, and in two years you could
be a rich man; and no one had to go in the army unless he wanted
to. That was what my uncle told us.
There was a school house to which I and two of my sisters went
all the winter for education is compulsory in Sweden and the schoolmaster
told us one day about the great things that poor Swedes had done
in America They grew rich and powerful like noblemen and they
even held Government offices. It was true, also, that no one had
to go in the army unless he wanted to be a soldier. With us all
the young men who are strong have to go in the army, because Sweden
expects to have to fight Russia some day. The army takes the young
men away from their work and makes hard times in the family.
A man who had been living in America once came to visit the little
village that was near our cottage. He wore gold rings set with
jewels and had a fine watch. He said that food was cheap in America
and that a man could earn nearly ten times as much there as in
Sweden. He treated all the men to brandvin, or brandy wine, as
some call it, and there seemed to be no end to his money.
It was after this that father and mother were both sick during
all of one winter, and we had nothing to eat, except blackbread
and a sort of potato soup or gruel, with now and then a herring.
We had to sell our cows and we missed the milk and cheese.
So at last it was decided that my brother was to go to America,
and we spent the last day bidding him good bye, as if we should
never see him again. My mother and sisters cried a great deal,
and begged him to write; my father told him not to forget us in
that far off country, but to do right and all would be well, and
my uncle said that he would become a leader of the people.
Next morning before daylight my brother and my uncle went away.
They had twenty miles to walk to reach the railroad, which would
take them to Gothenburg. My uncle had paid the money for the ticket
which was to carry Gustaf to Minnesota It cost a great deal about
$90, I believe.
In the following August we got our first letter from America.
I can remember some parts of it, in which my brother said:
I have work with a farmer who pays me 64 kroner a month, and my
board I send you 20 kroner, and will try to send that every month.
This is a good country. It is like Sweden in some ways. The winter
is long, and there are some cold days, but everything grows that
we can grow in our country, and there is plenty. All about me
are Swedes, who have taken farms and are getting rich. They eat
white bread and plenty of meat The people here do not work such
long hours as in Sweden, but they work much harder, and they have
a great deal of machinery, so that the crop one farmer gathers
will fill two big barns. One farmer, a Swede, made more than 25,000
kroner on his crop last year.
After that we got a letter every month from my brother. He kept
doing better and better, and at last he wrote that a farm had
been given to him by the Government. It was sixty acres of land,
good soil, with plenty of timber on it and a river running alongside.
He had two fine horses and a wagon and sleigh, and he was busy
clearing the land. He wanted his brother, Eric, to go to him,
but we could not spare Eric, and so Knut, the third brother, was
sent He helped Gustaf for two years, and then he took a sixty
acre farm. Both sent money home to us, and soon they sent tickets
for Hilda and Christine, two of my sisters.
People said that Hilda was very beautiful. She was eighteen years
of age, and had long shining golden hair, red cheeks and blue
eyes. She was merry and a fine dancer, far the best among the
girls in all the country round, and she could spin and knit grandly.
She and Christine got work in families of Minneapolis, and soon
were earning almost as much as my brothers had earned at first,
and sending money to us. Hilda married a man who belonged to the
Government of Minneapolis before she had lived there six months.
He is a Swede, but has been away from home a long time. Hilda
now went to live in a fine house, and she said in her letter that
the only trouble she had was with shoes. In the country parts
of Sweden they wear no shoes in the summer time, but in Minneapolis
they wear them all the year round
Father and mother kept writing to the children in America that
now they had made their fortunes they should come home and live,
but they put it off. Once Gustaf did return to see us, but he
hurried back again, because the people thought so much of him
that they had made him sheriff of a county. So it would not do
to be long away.
I and my sister Helene came to this country together in 1899,
Hilda having sent us the money, 600 kroner. We came over in the
steerage from Gothenburg, on the west coast. The voyage wasn't
so bad. They give people beds in the steerage now, and all their
food, and it is very good food and well cooked It took us twelve
days to cross the sea, but we did not feel it long, as when people
got over the sea sickness there was plenty of dancing, for most
of those people in the steerage were Swedes and very pleasant
and friendly. On fine days we could walk outside on the deck Two
men had concertinas and one had a violin.
When we trot to Minneapolis we found Hilda living in a large
brick house, and she had two servants and a carriage. She cried
with joy when she saw us, and bought us new clothes, because we
were in homepsun and no one wears that in Minneapolis. But she
laid the homespun away in a chest and said that she would always
keep it to remind her.
I stayed with Hilda two weeks, and then went out to my brother
Knut's farm, which is fifty miles northwest of Minneapolis. It
was in August when I reached him, and I helped with the harvest
and the threshing, He had built a log house, with six windows
in it. It looked very much like the log house where my parents
live in Sweden, only it was not painted red like theirs.
I worked for my brother from August, 1899, to March, 1901, at
$16 a month, making $ 304, of which I spent only $12 in that time,
as I had clothes.
One the first day of March I went to a farm that I had bought
for $150, paying $50 down It was a bush farm, ten miles from my
brother's place and seven miles from the nearest cross roads store.
A man had owned it and cleared two acres, and then fallen sick
and the storekeeper got it for a debt and sold it to me. My brother
heard of it and advised me to buy.
I went on this land in company with a French Canadian named Joachim
He was part Indian, and yet was laughing all the time, very gay,
very full of fun, and yet the best axman I ever saw. He wore the
red trimmed white blanket overcoat of the Hudson Bay Company,
with white blanket trousers and fancy moccasins, and a red sash
around his waist and a capote that went over his head.
We took two toboggans loaded with our goods and provisions, and
made the ten mile journey from my brother's house in three hours.
The snow was eighteen inches deep on the level, but there was
a good hard crust that bore us perfectly most of the way. The
cold was about 10 below zero, but we were steaming when we got
to the end of our journey. I wore two pairs of thick woolen stockings,
with shoe packs outside them the shoe pack is a moccasin made
of red sole leather, its top is of strong blanket; it is very
warm and keeps out wet I wore heavy underclothes; two woolen shirts,
two vests, a pilot jacket and an overcoat, a woolen cap and a
fur cap. Each of us had about 300 pounds weight on his toboggan.
Before this I had looked over my farm and decided where to build
my house, so now I went straight to that place. It was the side
of a hill that sloped southward to a creek that emptied into a
river a mile away.
We went into a pine grove about half way up the hill and picked
out a fallen tree, with a trunk nearly five feet thick, to make
one side of our first house. This tree lay from East to West So
we made a platform near the root on the south side by stamping
the snow down hard On top of this platform we laid spruce boughs
a foot deep and covered the spruce boughs over with a rubber blanket
We cut poles, about twenty of them, and laid them sloping from
the snow up to the top of the tree trunk. Over these we spread
canvas, and over that again large pieces of oilcloth Then we banked
up the snow on back and side, built a fire in front in the angle
made by the tree root and, as we each had two pairs of blankets,
we were ready for anything from a flood to a hurricane. We made
the fire place of flat stones that we got near the top of the
hill and kindled the fire with loose birch bark. We had a box
of matches, and good fuel was all about us. Soon we had a roaring
fire going and a big heap of fuel standing by. We slung our pot
by means of a chain to a pole that rested one end on the fallen
tree trunk and the other on the crotch of a small tree six feet
away; we put the pan on top of the fire and used the coffee or
tea pot the same way we made tea and coffee in the same pot. We
had brought to camp:
Cornmeal, 25 pounds $0.47
Flour, 100 pounds 2.00
Lard, 10 pounds 1.00
Butter, 10 pounds 1.80
Codfish, 25 pounds 2.25
Ham, 12 pounds 1.20
Potatoes, 120 pounds 1.40
Rice, 25 pounds 2.15
Coffee, 10 pounds 2.75
Bacon, 30 pounds 1.50
Herrings, 200 1.75
Molasses, 2 gallons .60
Axes, 3 3.55
Toboggans, 2 3.25
Pair blankets 5.00
Pot, coffee pot, frying pan 1.60
Knives, 2 .75
Salt, pepper, mustard .15
Tea, 9 pounds 2.70
Spades, 2 3.00
Hoes, 2 2.00
Sugar, 30 pounds 1.80
Snow shoes, 1 pair 1.75
Powder and shot .65
"Jake," as we all called the Frenchman, was a fine
cook. He made damper in the pan, and we ate it swimming with butter
along with slices of bacon and some roast potatoes and tea "Jake,"
like all the lumbermen, made tea very strong. So did I, but I
didn't like the same kind of tea The backwoodsmen have got used
to a sort of tea that bites like acid; it is very bad, but they
won't take any other. I like a different sort So as we couldn't
have both, we mixed the two together.
The sun went down soon after four o'clock, but the moon rose,
the stars were very big and bright and the air quite still and
so dry that no one could tell it was cold. "Jake" had
brought a fiddle with him and he sat in the doorway of our house
and played and sang silly French Canadian songs, and told stories
in his own language. I could not understand a word he said, but
he didn't care; he was talking to the fire and the woods as much
as to me. He got up and acted some of the stories and made me
laugh, tho I didn't understand We went to bed soon after eight
o' clock, and slept finely. I never had a better bed than those
Next morning, after a breakfast of cornmeal mush, herrings, coffee
and bacon, we took our axes and went to work, and by working steadily
for six hours we chopped an acre of ground and cut four cords
of wood, which we stacked up ready for hauling. It was birch,
beech, oak, maple, hickory, ironwood and elm, for we left the
pine alone and set out to clear the land on the side of the creek
first. The small stuff that was not good for cord wood we piled
up for our own fire or for fence rails.
We found the fire out when we returned to our camp, but it was
easy to light it again, and we had damper and butter, boiled rice
and molasses, tea with sugar and slices of ham for supper. A workingman
living out of doors in that air can eat as much as three men who
live in the city. A light snow fell, but it made no difference,
as our fire was protected by the tree root, and we could draw
a strip of canvas down over the doorway of our house.
So we lived till near the first of April when the sun began to
grow warm and the ice and snow to melt. In that time we chopped
about nine acres and made forty five cords of wood, which we dragged
to the bank of the river and left there for the boats to take,
the storekeeper, giving me credit for it on his books at $1.25
a cord We also cut two roads through the bush. In order to haul
the wood and break the roads I had to buy an ox team and bob sleigh
which I got with harness, a ton of hay and four bushels of turnips
for $63.1 made the oxen a shelter of poles and boughs and birch
bark sloping up to the top of an old tree root
By April 15 th the ground which we had chopped over was ready
for planting, for all the snow and ice was gone and the sun was
warm. I bought a lot of seed of several kinds, and went to work
with spade and hoe among the stumps of the clearing, putting in
potatoes, corn, wheat, turnips, carrots, and a few onions, melons
and pumpkins. We used spade and hoe in planting.
The soil was black loam on top of fine red sand, and the corn
seemed to spring up the day after it was planted.
We planted nearly twelve acres of the land in a scattering way,
and then set to work to build a log house of pine logs. "Jake"
was a master hand at this, and in two weeks we had the house up.
It was made of logs about 12 by 8 inches on the sides. It was
18 feet long and 12 feet deep, and had three small windows in
the sides and back and a door. The ends of the logs were chopped
so that those of the sides fitted into those of the front and
back. The only nails were in the door. I had to buy the windows.
The only furniture was two trunks, a table, a stool and a bench,
all made with the ax. The roof was of birch bark.
About the first of June my sister Helene came with a preserving
kettle, a lot of glass jars and a big scheme. We got a cook stove
and a barrel of sugar, and put a sign on the river bank announcing
that we would pay fifty cents cash for 12 quarts of strawberries,
raspberries or blackberries. All through June, July and August
Indians kept bringing us the berries, and my sister kept preserving,
canning and labeling them. Meanwhile we dug a roothouse into the
side of the hill and sided it up and roofed it over with logs,
and we built a log stable for cattle. A load of lumber that we
got for $2 had some planed boards in it, of which we made doors.
The rest we used for roofs, which we finally shingled before winter
came on again. The result of my first season's
work was as follows:
(From March I st to December 31 st, 1901)
Farm, paid on account $50.00
Axes, 4, with handles 5.00
Spades, 2 3.00
Hoes, 2 2.00
Oil lantern 1.25
Lamp with bracket 1.50
Oil, 4 gallons .40
Cow with calf 25.00
Yoke of oxen, with harness, sleigh, etc. 63.00
"Jakes's" wages, 6 months 120.00
Helene's wages, 7 months 112.00
Windows for house 6.50
Kitchen utensils, dishes 5.40
Toboggans, 2 2.75
Blankets, 2 pairs 10.00
Mutton, 35 pounds 2.10
Beef, 86 pounds 6.02
Corned beef, 70 pounds 3.50
Bacon, 82 pounds 4.10
Flour, 3 barrels 10.50
Cornmeal, 80 pounds 2.40
Codfish, 40 pounds 3.60
Sugar, 400 pounds 20.00
Oatmeal, 75 pounds 2.25
Molasses, 9 gallons 2.70
Tobacco, 10 pounds .90
Tea, 18 pounds 5.40
Coffee, 10 pounds 2,75
Rice, 25 pounds 2.15
Preserve jars, 400 7.50
Stump extracting 17.00
Preserve jar labels, 500 2.50
All other expenses 21.00
INCOME AND CASH IN HAND
(March 1 st to December 31 st, 1901)
Cash in hand $292.00
Wood, 45 cords at $1.25 56.25
Preserves, 400 quarts 66.50
Wheat, 67 bushels 46.50
Corn, 350 bushels 163.30
Carrots, 185 bushels 90.45
Turnips, 80 bushels 32.00
Potatoes, 150 bushels 75.00
Total expenses 549.52
Balance on hand $272.48
That comparison of income and expenses looks more unfavorable
than it really was because we had five months' provisions on hand
on December 31 st. We raised almost all our own provisions after
the first three months. In 1902 my income was above $1,200, and
my expenses after paying $50 on the farm and $62 for road making
and stump extracting and labor, less than $600.
I have no trouble selling my produce, as the storekeeper takes
it all and sells it down the river. He also owns a threshing machine
and stump extractor.
The Frenchman went away in August, 1901. 1 don't know where he
is. I have had other good workmen since but none like him.
I studied English coming out on the vessel, but I was here six
months before I could speak it well. I like this country very
much, and will become a citizen.
One thing I like about this country is that you do not have to
be always taking off your hat to people. In Sweden you take off
your hat to everybody you meet, and if you enter a store you take
off your hat to the clerk. Another thing that makes me like this
country is that I can share in the government In Sweden my father
never had a vote, and my brothers never could have voted because
there is a property qualification that keeps out the poor people,
and they had no chance to make money. Here any man of good character
can have a vote after he has been a short time in the country,
and people can elect him to any office. There are no aristocrats
to push him down, and say that he is not worthy because his father
was poor. Some Swedes have become Governors of States, and many
who landed here poor boys are now very rich.
I am going over to Sweden now to keep Christmas there. Six hundred
other Swedes will sail on our ship. Many are from Minnesota. They
have done their fall planting, and the snow is on the ground up
there, and they can easily get away for two months or more. So
we are all going to our old home, but will come back again, and
may be bring other people with us. Some Swedes go to the old country
We're going in the steerage and pay a low special rate because
the ships need passengers at this time of the year. We'll have
the steerage all to ourselves, and it ought to be very comfortable
and jolly. We will dance and play cards all the way over.
Christmas is Sweden's great day; in fact, it is wrong to speak
of it as a day because it keeps up for two weeks. The people have
been preparing for it since November last Near our place there
are twelve farm houses and about ten people living in each house.
In the last letter that I got from my mother two weeks ago she
told me about the preparations for Christmas. I know who the maskers
are, who will go around on Christmas Eve knocking at the doors
of the houses and giving the presents. That's supposed to be a
secret, but mother has found out.
I expect to return to America in February, and will try to bring
my elder brother, Eric, and my youngest sister, Minna, with me.
Eric has never seen a city, neither has Minna, and they don't
think that they would like America much because the ways of the
people are so different and they work so much harder while they
My father says that Sweden is the finest country in the world,
and he will never leave, but he is only sixty years of age, and
so he could move very well. Mother is younger, and they are both
strong, so I think they will come to us in Minnesota next year,
and then our whole family will be in America, for Uncle Olaf is
now in New York in a shipping office.
Gustaf is married and has three children, and Knut is to be married
in two months, but either of them would be glad to have the father
and mother. I think, tho, that they will come to my house.
I am carrying with me two trunks, and one of them is full of
Christmas presents from Knut and Gustaf, Hilda and Christine to
father, mother, Eric and Minna. When I return to America my trunk
will be filled with presents from those in the old home to those
in the new.
Among these presents are books of pictures showing Minneapolis,
Duluth and New York, and photographs of our houses. My father
and the other old men will not believe that there are any great
cities in America They say that it is a wild country, and that
it is quite impossible that New York can be as large as Stockholm.
When they hear about the tall buildings they laugh, and say that
travelers always tell such wild tales. May be they will believe
Brandvin is the great drink of the farmers in Sweden. It is a
strong white liquor, mostly alcohol, and men can get drunk for
very little money in Sweden. That makes some of the old fellows
say that a kroner in Sweden will buy more than $2 in America,
but that is not true.
Some of the pictures that I am carrying to Sweden are of women
in America They have a better time than in Sweden At least, they
do not have to do such heavy work, and they dress much more expensively.
Minna will be greatly surprised when she sees how Hilda dresses
now, and I feel sure that she, too, will want to come here and
try her fortune, where there are so many rich husbands to be had
The Swedes who live in America like the old country girls, because
they know how to save money.
New York City