Allamakee co. IAGenWeb - Immigration & Naturalization

Norwegian Immigration Into Allamakee Co., Iowa
Article #1

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The Fox River settlement in Illinois had been formed in 1834-35. The exodus from southwestern and western Norway in 1836-40 brought hundreds of immigrants to the colony. In a few years the best lands had been taken and many began to look about in search of new localities farther west. A similar movement took place farther north a few years later. Between 1840 and 1850 the south Wisconsin settlements, established in 1839-40,developed into prosperous communities. For a decade they continued to receive accessions from western and south central Norway; but the principal period of immigrant colonization was the years 1839-50. In later years these settlements became stations-on-the-way for a very large number of immigrants who came and located farther west and north. Several new colonies had in the meantime been formed -- as for example in western Dane County, and at Mineral Point and Wiota in Iowa County. Between 1849 and 1860 the westward movement of Norwegian immigration was directed especially to northern Iowa and southwestern Minnesota -- in Iowa from Allamakee and Clayton counties on the east to Forest City and Lake Mills in Winnebago county on the west. During the same years, but beginning a little later, there was also established a number of settlements in central Iowa. In their early history, however, these stand entirely isolated from those in the northern counties. Finally those in the western part of the State are, for the most part, the result of internal immigration from the older to the newer parts of the State.

The first county settled by Norwegians in northeastern Iowa was Clayton. The earliest settler was Ole Valle. He came in 1846 and located in Reed township a little south of the present St. Olaf. In 1846 Ole Tollefson Kittilsland came and located in Reed township (1). The period of settlement does not actually begin, however, before 1849. In the spring of that year Ole Herbrandson and family settled in the same place. The Clermont settlement in the western part of the county was begun in June, 1849; the first settler was Halvor Nilson (2). This settlement soon grew westward into Fayette County and northward through Fayette into Winneshiek County. To Clermont in the same year came Tallak Gunderson and family, Knut Hustad, Jens A. Holt, Brede Holt, Halstein Groth, Kittel Rue, Abraham Rustad, and several others; while Helge Ramstad and wife, Ole Hanson and wife, Thorkel Eiteklep, and Embrigt Sanden located in the Norway settlement in Reed township (3). At present Norway and Clermont form one continuous settlement westward into Fayette County.

The founders of these settlements all came from Wisconsin, particularly from Rock County (3), where they had lived the first few years after coming from Norway. In the years 1850-53 a large number of immigrants joined the colony, but in the very beginning of this period the movement was directed to the counties in the northern part of the State -- i.e., to Allamakee and Winneshiek counties. The immigration of Norwegians into Clayton County had practically ceased by 1855, the chief reason for this probably being that the Germans came in very large numbers, particularly to Clayton County, during the early fifties and soon occupied all the best land (4). Northeastern Iowa was but little settled, and the development of the wilderness had only begun. Clayton County had in 1850 a population of three thousand eight hundred and seventy-three, while Fayette had only eight hundred and twenty-five, and Allamakee seven hundred and seventy-seven. the population of Winneshiek County had reached four thousand nine hundred and fifty-seven.

Allamakee was the next county in order of settlement (5). This county was opened to settlement in 1848, but land was not put upon the market before 1850 (6). In the summer of that year a considerable number of Norwegians had come from Wisconsin and settled on the prairie north of Paint Creek, living in their canvas covered wagons until houses were built (7). The early settlers of Allamakee and neighboring counties experienced all the trials and hardships of pioneer life in an unsettled country. There was no railroad nearer than Milwaukee. At McGregor there were a few stores where the necessaries of life could be had (8).

The process of home building and the clearing of the forests was slow and often attended with many difficulties. The pioneers generally brought with them no other wealth than stout hearts and strong hands, and it was only by industry and severe economy that they were able to make a living for themselves and their families. Those who hired for pay to others received very small wages, and as there was little money among the pioneer farmers it was paid in large part in food or other articles. It may serve as an illustration that in the winter of 1850-51 a pioneer in Clayton County (9) split seven thousand rails of wood for fifty cents a hundred; for this he was paid $3.50 in cash and the remainder in food. The Red Man was the White Man's neighbor in those days, but the Scandinavian frontiersman was never in all the history of colonization molested by the Indian. He succeeded in a remarkable degree in gaining the Red Man's confidence. And so, whether as a colonist in New Sweden in the seventeenth century or a pioneer in the forests or on the prairies of the West in the nineteenth century, he never had the difficulty which many have experienced in preserving pacific relations with the natives.

Most of the Norwegians who settled in Allamakee County came from Dane County, Wisconsin; but I believe, some came a little later from Winneshiek County where a settlement had been formed in June, 1850. Several, however, came from Norway by way of New Orleans and the Mississippi, as did Gilbert C. Lyse in 1851.

In 1856 there were in the whole county five hundred and five Norwegians; one hundred and eighty-one of these had settled in Paint Creek (then Waterville) township, the rest being located mostly in the neighboring towns of Center, La Fayette, Taylor, Jefferson, and Makee. In the meantime a new settlement had been established in the northwestern part of the cunty, in Hanover and Waterloo, which soon extended into Winneshiek County. But the earliest Norwegian settlement in Winneshiek was formed on Washington Prairie in June, 1850 (10), when a number of families moved in from Racine and Dane counties, Wisconsin. Eastern Winneshiek County received in the following year a large Norwegian population. In a few years the eastern, northeastern, and central part of the county grew to be the chief Norwegian community in that section of the State, and it has ever since held a very prominent place among Norwegian settlements in Iowa. Through the location of Luther College (11) in 1862, it bacame an educational center for a large part of the Norwegian northwest.

Those who came in June, 1850, and settled on Washington Prairie were: Erik Anderson --Rudi (12), the brothers Ole and Staale Torstenson Haugen, Ole Gullickson Jevne, O. A. Lomen, Knut A. Bakka, Anders Hauge, John J. Quale, H. Halvorsen Grove, and Mikkel Omli. These came from Racine and Dane counties, Wisconsin. In the following month Tollef Simonson, Knud Opdahl, Jacob Abrahamson (13), Iver P. Quale, and the two brothers, Nelson Johnson (14) and Gjermund Johnson Kaasa settled in Springfield and Decorah townships. These settlers were chiefly from Voss, Telemarken, Sogn, and Valders, Norway, and most of them had emigrated in 1848-49 (15).

From the towns of Springfield, Decorah, and Glenwood the settlement soon spread into the neighboring towns -- north into Canoe, Hesper, and Highland, where it united with the settlement in northwestern Allamakee County, and south through the towns of Calmar and Military, uniting with the settlements in north central Fayette County (Dover township). This last settlement extends through Pleasant Valley southward into Clayton County. Together these settlements form one connecting link from the eastern part of Clayton County, west through Fayette, and north through Winneshiek to northern Allamakee. In Allamakee it extends as far as Harpers Ferry and Lansing (16). The bulk of the population, however, resides in Winneshiek County. The principal Norwegian townships are at present, Glenwood, Decorah, Springfield, Highland, and Madison. About half of the population of the county is of Norwegian birth or descent.


1. See article by Rev. Jacob Tanner on En kort Beretning om 50 Aars Kirkeligt Arbeide i Clayton Co., Iowa, in Lutheraneren, 45 (1901). These names are taken from Rev. Tanner's article.

2. In Reed township

3. Tanner's article

4. Rev. Tanner writes: "When we look at this Norwegian settlement as it was then and is to-day largely, it immediately strikes us that it was wood and water the colonists looked for, and therefore they let the prarie lie and chose the hills along the Turkey River. Not until later did they learn to understand the value of the prairie, but then the Germans had taken most of it."

5. The Fayette County settlement about Clermont is a western extension of the second settlement in Clayton County; its beginnings have been referred to above.

6. The first entry of purchase appears under the date of October 7, 1850.

7. There were, it seems, Norwegians in the county as early as 1849 or perhaps 1848; but I have not been able to ascertain their names or any facts with regard to them. The earliest settler in the county was Henry Johnson, after whom Johnsonsport was named, but I do not know to what nationality he belonged.

8. In the Clermont settlement there was a log-cabin store at Clermont.

9. This pioneer is still living. -- See Tanner's article.

10. White people first settled in the county in 1848. The county was organized in 1850, and the first term of court convened on October 5, 1851.

11. The chief educational institution of the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran synod. The Norwegian Lutherans in America are divided into several branches, of which the United Norwegian Lutheran Church of America and the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Synod of America are in order the largest.

12. Erik Anderson, who is still living in Decorah, had come from Norway in 1839, learned the printer's trade in Chicago, and was the one who set the type for the first Norwegian paper in America, Nordlyset (The Northern Light) published first in Norway, Racine County, later in Racine, 1847-1851.

13. The father of Hon. Abraham Jakobson.

14. The father of Martin N. Johnson, member of Congress from North Dakota. Nelson Johnson was one of the founders of the Muskego settlement in Wisconsin in 1839. He later entered the Methodist ministry and was for two years, 1855-57, pastor of the Norwegian M.E. Church in Cambridge, Wisconsin. With the exception of these two years he lived in Winneshiek County until his death in 1882.

15. Letters from Hon. Abraham Jakobson, to whom I am chiefly indebted for facts on the early settlement of Winneshiek County.

16. The intermediate strip of territory including northern Clayton County and the northern tier of townships in Allamakee has only scattered Norwegian settlers.

~source: The Coming of Norwegians to Iowa, by George T. Flom, July 1905; Vol III, #3 Iowa Journal of History and Politics; State Historical Society, Iowa City, Iowa; pg. 375-381

~transcribed by Sharyl Ferrall

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