Allamakee co. IAGenWeb - Immigration & Naturalization

Evan Swenson
Norway to Iowa - in his own words

...I began to get ready at once, getting a few clothes and enough food for the trip (passengers on sailboats had to furnish their own food) and on April 21, 1868, I left my old home. Father and I were alone nearly all night. Neighbors and friends came in to bid me goodbye. It was a cold and dreary morning when I reached the railway station and there were more friends to say goodbye. Arriving at Christiana we went aboard the ship, a small three-masted schooner with only one room below the deck. There were 402 emigrants and, I think, 18 of the crew. I want to mention here the second-mate. He was about my age and we took a liking for each other at first sight. He secured for me the best berth on the ship, amidship under the skylight. Julius Olson was my traveling companion. He had left his wife and their year-old baby in Norway to go to America. When the ship sailed down the bay of Christians on the 23rd of April, 1868, I had just $1.25 and passage paid to Quebec, Canada.

With the 402 passengers in the one large room there was no privacy whatever. To disinfect the vessel they wrapped a big rag around a stick, dipped it in tar, set fire to it and carried it through the room. When we were only a few days out measles broke out and I was one of the first victims. There was no doctor on the boat and my friend, the second-mate, did all he could to get medicine for me, but I seemed to be getting worse and it looked as tho I would not pull thru. I made Julius Olson promise, that in case anything happened to me, to sell all my belongings and send the money to the merchant in Norway who had made me the loan. My sickness lasted about five weeks. By that time we were getting nearer the western world and the weather seemed better. Among the eight deaths on board were seven little children. Their little bodies were place din a wooden box, made of anything that could be found on the ship, a short prayer was said by the captain and the box was put over the railing and dropped into the ocean. It was a sad sight to see the grief of the parents. One morning an old maid, who was entirely alone on the ship, was found dead in her bed. Her body was wrapped in a canvas, a rock placed at the feet and dropped overboard. The canvas seemed to keep the body from sinking and we could see it for a long time, standing straight up and it looked as tho it was trying to overtake the ship. Seeing those bodies sunk in the endless deep, I wondered what would become of them and the millions of others that thru the countless ages has found a watery grave, when the last trumpet shall sound and the graves shall open and dead come forth. It is a question I have often thot of.

There was on board that ship, a man from the same county that I came from, a sort of an Evangelist, going from house to house, holding prayer meetings. He was a wonderful man. Without forcing himself on anyone he was always ready to help anyone that was sick (and there were many) or needed help. If there ever was a Christian he was one and I thot if there was a soft spot near the Heavenly throne he was entitled to it.

We passed the banks of Newfoundland and thru a heavy fog entered the St. Lawrence River. On the 19th of June 1868, we saw a ship that had tipped over during the night. The mast was sticking out of the water and leaning about 45 degrees, with a lot of men hanging to the top just out of the water. The fog was lifting and we could see a dozen boats hurrying to the wreck. We passed the fortification below the city, known as the Gibraltar of the American continent. Here the channel was narrow and lined on both sides with perpendicular rocks heavily armed. It looked to me as tho no living thing could go past those guns. That afternoon we were met by a health officer and when he learned of the many deaths and the long trip across we were ordered into quarantine. We were released the next day and later in the afternoon on the 20th of June 1868, on my 19th birthday, we landed at the immigrant station at Quebec. It was a great building, no more than a shed, with no seats or anything like comfort. The floor was covered with sleeping men, women and children. I could hardly find a vacant spot to lie down but discovered a man alone in one corner, and thinking he was asleep, lay down near him. Soon two policemen, with a lantern, came up to him and when they lifted the coat from his head I discovered that he was dead. I didn't stay there long.

As I had only enough to pay my way to Quebec, I expected I would be left behind here until I could earn enough to get farther. But providence seemed to favor me again, for one of the immigrants offered me a loan of $10 in gold, which I gratefully accepted, and the next morning we were loaded in box cars and started on the journey to the promised land. The $10 paid my way to Chicago, but I had nothing to live on. I don't remember much of Canada as we came thru the many towns and cities. I remember going thru Montreal and finally in Detroit. Here the company that had come thru this long trip broke up, some going to Milwaukee, others to different points. Of the 402 that had left Christiana there were only two that I knew there, Julius Olson and Soren Moen. From there we took a passenger train to Chicago, arriving there on July 1, 1868, making the trip from Quebec in ten days. Our train was sidetracked at times for as long as 24 hours.

I happened, thru accident, to meet a cousin, Christian Bakken, at the Union station in Chicago. He had lived near our home in Norway, but we had lost track of him when he came to this country. I heard later that he had perished in the Chicago fire of 1871. He took me to his home for supper and loaned me $5 which paid my way to Madison, Wis. There I got 75 cents from my banker that took me to Black Earth, a station 20 miles west of Madison. This was about 20 miles from my destination, and the only way of getting there was on foot. The three of us were still together and we started on the journey as soon as we could. The weather was unusually warm and I was weak from the long trip, sickness and want of proper food. We didn't know the road, of course, and had to inquire the way a number of times. By common consent I acted as interpreter. I had picked up the word road, Perry, post office, and I asked the question of every person that we met, and while they could not understand what I meant, I couldn't understand a word they said. It seemed to me that we should go in a southeast direction and we didn't miss the road but little. And on Sunday July 2, 1868, I arrived at the end of my long journey lasting 10 weeks. My first impression of this country was one of wonder and admiration. I liked the people. Their ways were so different from what I was used to in the old country and yet I could not get over my homesickness, and many nights I awoke with my fact wet with tears.

When I look back upon this trip I wonder how many boys of my age would undertake it. I was practically penniless, never had heard a word of English, without a friend I could go to; I was a stranger in a strange land.

My parents had known the people I went to that night, in the old country. They had been in the United States about 25 or 30 years. They welcomed me and I stayed with them the next day and on the 4th of July went with them to a town called Pockettville for the celebration. We all went in the lumber wagon, there being no buggies in those days. The wagon, the horses and the harness was all new to me. There was a large crowd and the picnic dinner they spread was a marvel to me. I was invited to eat with several but could eat but little. For the first time in my life I began to feel homesick. I wanted to be alone as much as I could and thot of my father, brothers and sisters, 5,000 miles away.

That day I hired out to a farmer and was to get $50 for two months during haying and harvest. I went home with him that afternoon and started to work the next morning. They lived in a large Norwegian settlement. I told the man that I had been sick and was not very strong, but he was kind to me and made the work light for me where he could. I couldn't eat anything and begin to think I couldn't stand the work. His wife tried to fix and cook things that I liked and the man tried to save me always taking the hardest place. During the two months I lost only two and one-half days. When I got the $50 it was the biggest pile of money that I had ever seen. I sent $5 to my cousin in Chicago and paid the man that loaned me the $10 in Quebec. Gold in those days was at a premium of 60c so it cost me $16 in paper money. It was the reconstruction period from 1865 to 1879 before gold came down to a level with paper currency.

After getting myself some clothes of which I was in need, my thots now turned to my debt of honor back in the old country. I hired out to the same man for the rest of the season at $18 per month. In September I began to feel better as the weather got cooler, and I tried to make up to him what I thot he lost on me during the first two months and I think I did. I worked until it froze up and saved up every penny that I could. There was not much to do during the winter but I got some work at 50 cents per day and I worked early and late. I remember a farmer offered me $2 to take a cow to Madison, 37 miles. He said she would lead like a dog - she didn't lead worth a cent. I left there early in the morning and got to Madison after 9:00 o'clock that night. How I found that barn or the man in that city I don't know, but I got rid of the cow. I walked home the next day.

By the middle of February, 1869, I had saved up enough and sent a draft for what I owed in Norway also a steamship ticket for my brother, Seward. Of this amount I had to borrow $20. I had no trouble in getting the loan as I was known by a good many and had lots of friends. It was with a glad hear that I left for Madison early one February morning, going to the Norwegian Consul and buying a draft and ticket which cost me about $145, as gold was at that time at the same rate of exchange. That burden was now off my mind.

I stayed with these same people all that winter and felt fine. As I said before they lived in a large Norwegian settlement, coming from the north central part of Norway and they talked a queer sort of dialect that was at first hard for me to understand. They never talked English among themselves and I learned very little of it there. That spring I had many offers of work for the season, one offering me $24 per month, but I stayed with the same man. They had been very good to me and I didn't care to leave. While there I got $18 per month for nine months. The latter part of April that spring my brother, Seward, came and that made it much better for me.

In due time I received a letter from the man I sent the money to acknowledging receipt of the draft and payment in full. The letter was very flattering and I often wish I had kept it and had it translated. I also got or heard of flattering remarks by others but I saw nothing in the act as unusual. I simply did what I had agreed to do and what should have been done. He said that if ever I needed help in anyway to let him know. He later was elected to the Norwegian Parliament and was made Speaker of the House.

In November, 1869, I left Wisconsin and by chance happened to Postville, Iowa. As I could not talk a word of English I went with a Norwegian that lived on Judge William's farm and during the winter I worked two months for Duncan McDonald, north of Postville for $13 per month. In March I hired out to Judge Williams for $18 per month and that winter I sent a steamship ticket for brother Anton. He came in April, 1879. The next year I sent for my father, brother John and his wife and later on for John Evans and his family, also my sister, Mrs. Marie Olson. In all I sent passage for 17 people. Of that amount that I paid for passages across I got back only a small part.....


~ "A Brief Story of Our Lives"; by Evan Swenson, 1925
~contributed by Betty Meyer, g-granddaughter & Sharyl Ferrall, gg-granddaughter
~transcribed by Betty Meyer

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