Mr. & Mrs. Evan Swenson and family
An unflagging purpose, strength of character, industry and
perserverance, combined with a firm determination to achieve an
honorable destiny, have actuated Evan Swenson in all the
activities of his varied and eventful career and have brought him
such substantial and well merited success that today no history
of the agricultural development of Allamakee county would be
complete without the record of his life. Starting at the bottom
of the ladder, penniless, friendless and in a strange country, he
has steadily worked his way upward to prosperity, constantly
overcoming almost overwhelming obstacles and difficulties and
standing today among the substantial and representative farmers
and able business men in the vicinity of Postville, where he
makes his home.
He was born near Christiania, Norway, on the 20th of June, 1849, and is a son of Swen and Maria (Olson) Swenson, also natives of that country. The father was a tailor by trade and also cultivated a small tract of land in Norway and, although he was crippled from the time he was one year old by the loss of an arm, was a man of remarkable strength and accumulated a comfortable competency. The mother passed away in 1863 and 1871 the father came to America, locating near Postville, Iowa, on a farm in Post township, where he died in 1898. He had a family of nine children, of whom the subject of this review is the youngest.
Evan Swenson attended school for a short time in Norway but his advantages along this line were limited, for at the early age of fourteen he began working as a farm laborer, and the independence, and self-reliance thus developed in him remain important elements in his character at the present time. For a while he received eight cents per day for hard work in the fields, his wages never going above ten cents a day, and after two years he was hired out to a farmer for a period of eighteen nomths, receiving at the end of that time six dollars in money and a suit of homespun clothes. Afterward he spent a similar period working by the day and then rented a small piece of land, which he operated for one season, giving all of the proceeds of the farm in payment for six months rent. His crop of hay he did not harvest, selling it all at public auction. The season of 1867 was late and Mr. Swenson did not get in his crops until the 7th of June and when harvested he realized for his summers work only sixteen dollars. In view of these conditions and the hardships which surrounded his life in Norway he determined to leave the country and, having spent all of the money he had made in the summer for living expenses during the winter, he borrowed in the spring of 1868 enough to purchase a ticket to Quebec, Canada. He left Norway with enough food to live on during the ocean journey and with a little over one dollar and twenty-five cents in money, he landed in Quebec on the 20th of June, 1868, on his nineteenth birthday, without one cent in his pocket. Mr. Swenson was unfamiliar with the English language but borrowing ten dollars, he managed to make his way west to Chicago. The journey took ten days, and there he met a cousin, who loaned him five dollars and gave him his supper.
From Chicago he pushed on to Madison, Wisconsin, where he borrowed seventy-five cents to take him to Black Earth, and from that point he walked twenty miles to Perry Township, Dane County, where he hired out to a farmer for twenty-five dollars a month. After two months he received eighteen dollars a month until the winter time and he then continued with his former employer, working for his board and lodgings. During the next season he again received eighteen dollars a month and he continued to hold this position until November 1, 1869, when he came to Iowa, having with the exception of a short time since remained a valued resident of this state. He located in Postville but in the fall of the same year went to McGregor, where he obtained a position chopping cord wood on what is called Bloody Run for Mr. Lonsburg. After three weeks at this work he returned to Postville and made his home with the family who were operating Judge Williams farm in Grand Meadow township, Clayton county, remaining there until the spring, when he became a hired laborer in the employ of Duncan McDonnell, for whom he worked for two months. In April of the same year he returned to Judge Williams property, working upon it for one year thereafter at twenty dollars per month, and at the end of that time he reentered Mr. McDonnels employ, remaining with him for six months. After spending another period on Judge Williams farm, Mr. Swenson purchased a yoke of oxen and went with it to Rock county, Minn. where he took up a Homestead claim two and a half miles from the county seat. It was a raw and unimproved tract and Mr. Swenson broke two acres of the soil, dug a well and erected a sod shanty. He, however, did not continue the development of this farm but after a month sold his outfit, gave up his title to the land and walked to Worthington, whence he took the railroad to Mankato and came from there to Postville. In the following fall he took charge of Judge Williams' farm, then comprosing twenty-three hundred acres, one of the largest agricultural properties in this seciton of the country. He continued to superintend this place for two years, earning during that time forty dollars per month, the highest salary he had yet received. He married in 1875 and afterwards rented Mr. McDonnell's farm of five hundred acres for two years and at the end of that time realized a long cherished ambition, buying one hundred and twenty acres for fourteen dollars an acre. He cleared it of scrub and timber and with characterristic energy and ability carried forward the work of its development and improvement for nineteen years, selling it at the end of that time for fifty-three dollars per acre. He then bought a farm two miles north of Postville, known as the Perry farm, paying for it sixty dollars per acre and after a three years residence selling it at a profit of ten dollars per acre. When he disposed of this property he bought a farm near the Bethel church, the property being known as the J.M. Harris farm, and he paid for this sixty dollars per acre. Upon this property he has since resided, his holdings now comprising two hundred and eight acres, and by his careful management, practical methods and unremitting industry he has made it one of the finest farms in this part of Iowa, his success following many years of earnest and well directed labor. Upon his farm he has made substantial improvements in buildings and equipment and has the entire tract under a high state of cultivation. His attention is given for the most part, however, to his stock-raising interests, which are extensive and important, his high grade Shorthorn cattle and Poland China hogs commanding high prices and a ready sale upon the market. Mr. Swenson is connected with the Cooperative Creamery Company of Postville and is a stockholder in the Citizens State Bank, and his ability is widely recognized in business and financial circles.
On the 6th of February, 1875, Mr. Swenson was united in marriage to Miss Eliza McWilliams, who was born near Edinburgh, Scotland, on the 6th of December, 1856, a daughter of Nathaniel and Isabel McWilliams. Mr. & Mrs. Swenson became the parents of twelve children: Arthur W., who is operating three hundred and fifty-eight acres of land in Franklin township; Maria, wife of Arhtur A. Dresser, a farmer in Post township; John F., who resides near Frankville, Winneshiek County; Harry S., engaged in farming in North Yakima, Washington; Katie, who married Jerome Van Allen, a mail carrier in Chicago; Amy, the wife of Chester B. Davenport, now a resident of Roseville, Illinois, and formerly teller of the First National Bank in Lincoln, Nebraska; Frank L., a soldier in the regular army, stateioned at San Francisco, California; Alma, formerly engaged in teaching, who resides at home; Hall L., who is attending the Postville high school; Allison E., a student in the same institution; and Ethel and Lillian, who are also attending school.
Fraternally Mr. Swenson is affiliated with the Masonic order, holding membership inBrotherly Love Lodge, No. 304. He has been a member of the Ancient Order of United Workmen since 1875 and of the Modern Woodmen of America for the past seventeen years. His political allegiance is given to the Republican party and he has always been ninterested and active in public affairs, rendering his township and county able service in various capacities. He was for thirty years a Justice of the Peace and has done a great deal of far-reaching and beneficial work on the school board, having served as president and director of that body and now as treasurer. He is one of the most prominent, representative and successful men of this part of Iowa, where he has resided since pioneer times and to the development and upbuilding of which he has made such tangible and substantial contributions. His life furnishes splendid examples of the value of industry, determination and honorable purpose in the achievement of success, for by his own unaided exertions he has reached the goal of prosperity, his success and the methods by which it was attained having gained him a high place in the confidence and esteem of all who know him.
-transcribed by Sharyl Ferrall, great-great-granddaughter
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