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Pioneer Survives Seventy-One Years in This Community


Posted By: Di Ann Hampe Reindl (email)
Date: 11/17/2015 at 21:24:41

As written in the News-Tribune, by Margaret Fillenwarth, Sept. 25, 1946
Born in Lolland, Denmark, in 1858, a daughter to Mr. & Mrs. Claus (Jensen) Romme, little Augusta at the age of two was separated from her mother by death. She was taken to the home of her grandfather, Eric Pedersen, and was reared by her uncle & aunt, Mr. & Mrs. Jorgen Jenson.

Came to America in 1870
In 1870 this family came to America. The voyage from Copenhagen to New York was a trying one & required three weeks. From New York they came to Sheffield, Ill. By train, & one year later they took a boat from Rock Island, Ill, to Hudson, Wis. From Hudson they walked fifteen miles to Hammond, Wis., their destination. As our subject expresses it, this trip on the Mississippi was a most beautiful one.

Locate at Hammond, Wis.
The family located on a farm near Hammond, Wis., & it was there that our lady met the man who later, in 1874, became her husband. Mr. R.S. Rasmuson was a native of Denmark, having come to the States in 1866. For two seasons Mr. & Mrs. Rasmuson lived on a rented farm. At that time Horace Greeley's oft repeated quotation, a statement which he made to J.B, Grinnell, founder of Grinnell College, “Go West Young Man, Go West”, burned itself into the hearts of many a young man & young women & so it did with this couple. Today the slogan, “Horace Greeley meant Britt” greets passengers on the lighted signboard at the west corporation limits of Britt.

Came West in 1875
In September, 1875, R.S. Rasmuson came west by train to look the country over. All there was to Britt then was a depot, section house, & a small land office. He was told the distance to Buffalo Grove was twelve miles, & since his wife had relatives there, began the trip on foot. He walked around the sloughs where possible, but when he had to wade, he removed his shoes & socks. His journey's end brought him to the houses of his wife's two uncles – James (Jensen) Johnson & Chris (Jensen) Johnson. These Johnson brothers gave many new settlers housing & also gave assistance & encouragement in many ways to the settlers of these early days.

Made Favorable Report
Mr. Rasmuson returned to Wisconsin with favorable reports & immediately began making preparations for their leaving. The thrashing was done & the surplus disposed of. In October, 1875, three families, composed of twelve persons, set out in a caravan of three covered wagons, all drawn by horses. Twenty-seven head of cattle were driven through with the caravan. Ten days were required to make the trip as time had to be allowed for the cattle & horses to graze along the way. At Prescott, Wis., they ferried across the Mississippi River. The cattle were taken first & when unloaded on the Minnesota territory turned & started swimming behind the ferry as it returned to bring the caravan. This was an exciting occurrence & the cattle seemed to have caused more or less difficulty all along the way. In Minnesota they would get into the brush & the drivers would nearly get their clothing torn off, trying to get them out & in Iowa it was the sloughs. The emigrants slept in the bottom of their wagons & witnessed a few hard frosts along the way.

Spent First Winter at James Larsons
Mr. & Mrs. Rasmuson spent their first winter at the James (Little Jim) Larsons home. On March 15, 1876, they moved onto a rented farm on the Flat, belonging to H.P. Larson four miles north of Britt, on the Crystal Lake road – the place is now occupied by Bernhard Jensen,.

Blizzard on Moving Day
The Rasmusons experienced a very severe blizzard on their moving day. Their plans had been to return the following day, but due to the storm which lasted three days they had to remain at the shanty which was quite open & fine snow drifted in, making a large bank on the bed. Food supplies gave out; they had no water & so had to melt snow for themselves, their two men, who assisted them, & also their livestock. They found some wheat in the grainary & ground it in a coffee mill for flour which when mixed with milk & cooked served as a cereal. In the early years the settlers had to drive to Garner, Forest City, or Algona to get their supplies, etc. There were no roads except prairie trails and these wound around the sloughs & kept to the higher ground. That spring before the frost went out they drove to Garner where a deal was consummated with Brockway & Elder whereby the Rasmusons became the owners of 80 acres of land at $6.00 per acre in Section 10, Britt Township. They were also given permission to go to Eagle Lake & pick up any fallen timber for fuel. The only trees growing anywhere near here was timber at Buffalo Grove & Eagle Lake.

Built House in 1876
In the fall of 1876 the Rasmusons built a small house on their own land & moved into it. On this farm their four children were born – Tena, William, Lewis & Emma.

Poor Crops First Year
The first year was a poor crop year, the wheat being affected by blight. The settlers were beginning to come in fast & much sod was broken up in the summer of 1876. The grasshoppers came, laid their eggs in the new sod & took the crop of 1877 before they left. When they left they filled the sky like a cloud & darkened the sun as they swarmed away. No one ever knew from whence they came nor where they went, but it was a relief to have them gone except for a small field of buckwheat which had been planted late. The Rasmusons had the buck-wheat to live on & to use in trading for other things at the stores that year. The people had no money then. Often times they did not have enough to buy a three-cent postage stamp.

Lay Base of Highway
One of those early years H.H. Lee & Mr. Rasmuson started work on the highway from the transfer east of Britt, alongside the Milwaukee railroad. The only time they could use horses on the marshy ground was when it was frozen so they plowed the frozen sod, piled the frozen sods together & made the foundation of our present Highway 18, which was paved from Garner to Britt in 1921. Often times as Mr. Rasmuson rode over this highway in a motor-powered vehicle he related the story of how he helped to lay the foundation bed of that road – of the frozen dinners they ate from their pails; & for their labor they received the magnificent sum of $.50 per day. Those were hard days, pioneer days, & pioneer trials.

Friends Come to Visit
One of the early years some Wisconsin friends came by rail to visit the Rasmusons. When they stepped off the train they asked, “Where is the town?” There was no town then except what has already been mentioned, but today we have the town named “Britt” which is the only Britt in the
U.S. Postal Directory. Today we have the town named “Britt” which is the only Britt in the U.S. Postal Directory.

Mrs. Rasmuson Boarded Workers
The early school days have already been mentioned in other old time stories, but we will add that Mrs. Rasmuson boarded & roomed the carpenters that built the first school house which is located on the corner of the Richard Schubert farm. For years she roomed & boarded the teachers. She also boarded & roomed men working on the M & St. L railroad, which was built in1880. Some of the men found sleeping quarters in the Rasmuson granary.

The Early Neighbors
Early neighbors of the Rasmuson family were the H.H. Lees, John Burdicks, Nick Burgardts, Ed Downings & James Dickerson family. Mr. Palmeter has built a house on the hill on the farm now owned by Cecial P. Lewis before the Rasmusons arrived. A Mr. Wooliscroft lived in a sod house on the old Nick Burgardt farm, now tenanted by Mrs. Elder Brugardt, the first winter of the Rasmusons residence there. One of the first neighborhood gatherings was a dance held in that sod house.
In 1878 the first death in the Flat community occurred, that of William Wooliscroft, & his was the first burial made in Evergreen Cemetery at Britt. R.S. Rasmuson, John Burdick & H.C. Potter were appointed by the board to lay out a cemetery. These three gentlemen were severely criticized for taking five acres of ground for a cemetery, but since then three additions have been made to Evergreen Cemetery.

Blizzards Were Severe
Blizzards in the 1880's were most severe. A teacher in Orthel Township, Miss Bertha Nelson, who had come here from Missouri for her health, froze to death in one of the storms in January of 1886. It being a three day blizzard the teacher & her three pupils remained in the school building the first night. The second evening they started out for their homes. The teacher became separated from the pupils & became lost. The thermometer registered from 35 to 40 degrees below zero and the wind blew fearfully hard from the northwest. It became known on the following day that the teacher was lost, & all efforts by the neighbors to find the body failed & the alarm was turned in at Britt. The next day men organized groups started out at dawn & the body was found not far from the Rev. Robinson home (parents of G. A. Robinson) where Miss Nelson roomed. She had passed the place & became lost. R.S. Rasmuson was in one group of the search party.
The snow of the early blizzards which came with the northwest winds was very fine, & as G.A. Robinson tells the story, would sift through the key hole & form a bank in the room until the bank would reach the door lock. The settlers would string a line from the house to the barn to follow while out choring to avoid becoming lost in the blizzards.

Milwaukee Blocked Six Weeks
During one severe winter the Milwaukee railroad was blocked for & no trains came through for six weeks. The dealers were out of coal to sell to the settlers. At the Milwaukee there were large coal sheds which contained a goodly supply of coal, but the company wouldn't permit their agents to sell the coal. Finally the situation became desperate & one day about eleven farmers lined up in sleds at the depot demanding the coal. They told the agent E.P. Healy, that they had come to take the coal. They were willing to pay for it & they were going to have it. So Mr. Healy wired that the men had come & were going to take the coal. He was granted consent to sell the fuel to them.

Emma Rasmuson Ill
In the middle of 1880's little Emma Rasmuson, age 2, grew ill & as the days passed her condition grew worse, & finally it became necessary for Mr. Rasmuson to venture forth with team into the most severe blizzard which then, had been raging for several days, to bring Dr. A.J. Cole, the practicing physician, to the home. A blinding blizzard, sick child, a team & a member of the family, perhaps going to their death, brought anxiety to the family at home & as the hours slowly passed the tension grew greater. In the early days settlers gave doctors transportation to & from their homes & often times board & lodging for the night. In this case Dr. Cole remained in the Rasmuson home all night, Mr. Rasmuson having gone for him in the early afternoon. Driving blizzards the settlers often gave their horses the reigns to pick their own way & old Dobbin & Nellie never failed their master.

A Terrible Cyclone
In June, 1881, a terrible cyclone went through, mowing down great oak trees that had stood through the ages in sunshine & storm along waters' edges of lakes, & at Lime Creek in Ellington the storm took the life of Jacob Ward, one of the founders of that community, & father of Mrs. Ellis Abbey, of Britt.

Wild Flowers Bloom in Profusion
The wild flowers in the fall were most beautiful, & the silvery sheen of the prairie grass shimmering in the breezes was a most gorgeous sight indescribable by words of man. Such was the sight that greeted this caravan of there covered wagons in the fall of 1875. But soon after, the menace of the prairie, the prairie fire took its toll & left nothing in its path but a charged mass of debris, & in places Mother Nature's house was swept clean.

Prairie Fire Destroys Supplies
At the time Mr. & Mrs. Rasmuson lived with the James Larson family they kept their supplies in a dugout & the prairie fire which swept through burned the pit & they had hard work to save the house. As time went on & the Rasmusons did farming for themselves much of their hay was stacked in the fields & “back fires” were burned around the stacks & buildings, that is, several furrows were plowed around each & a space of ground skipped & several more furrows plowed & the space between burned over.

Music of the Birds
The songs of the wild, & the music of the wild game – the booming of the prairie chickens, thinking of the geese & brants, & the quacking of the ducks, the whistle of the quail, the honking of the geese & brants, & the trilling of the cranes, was music to the ear of man – music that cannot be expressed in words – music that will never be forgotten.

Sandhill Cranes Plentiful
The sandhill cranes, numbering in the thousands, feeding like sheep with much the same appearance in the distance, inhabited all the prairie country. The cranes, the herald of spring, would drift in the slaty shadows, trilling as they came. The shallow sloughs were their nightly taverns & at dawn they were off to the stubble to feed. When the flock settled for feeding time, three sentinels could be seen posted on a hilltop to give the shrilly flight call to their comrades when danger threatened. As the white man moved in the flocks became depleted until today they are almost extinct.

Many Eagles at Lake
In the early days the woods around Eagle Lake was the nesting grounds for numerous eagles that made the place their headquarters. From the presence of so many of these birds, known as the “king of all birds”, the lake got its name.

WOW! Indians
Indians, often numbering in the hundreds, would camp at Eagle Lake & make the settlements for miles around, begging for food – meat & flour especially. At the sight of an Indian the Rasmuson children, in fright, would tuck themselves away under beds, or wherever they could find concealment, until the beggars had gone.

The early days had their mirages. Many have never experienced one, although they were are still seen on the desserts in the western states. The early settlers speak of having seen Algona & very often Forest City could be seen plainly in the early morning air.

The First Business Places
Numbered among the first business men of Britt were Thos. Drylor, who started the first store; P.H. Madson, was Britt's first carpenter, & built the Drylor store; Dr. H.F. Ford, first doctor; Alex Moir, first druggist; K.K. Liquin, first lumber dealer; Louis Rock was the first agent on the Milwaukee Railroad, sent to Britt by the company in 1870 to manage its affairs at this point. How long he stayed we do not know, but Robert Lattimoore was the agent at the time the Rasmusons came to Britt, & in 1880 E. P. Healy was appointed as agent. Rodney Hill was the first agent on the M. & St. L. Railroad. Later Mr. Hill with the Thompson Brothers, of Forest City, organized the Citizens Bank where Tena Rasmuson was employed during the years of 1897 to 1911. E. P. Healy organized the Commercial Bank about 1891. The first hotel was the Star Hotel built by S.F. Benson in 1876; C.C. Way was in the land office; C.L. Palmer had a hardware business; George Stubbins was a pioneer storekeeper; John Paulson, a farmer who lived near Britt, was a booster for all Britt improvements. There were the W.W. Dunsmoors, the Charles Browns, Chris Petersons & many others that Mrs. Rasmuson does not remember, but the town grew rapidly after 1880 when the M. & St. L. railroad was put through. From the Milwaukee depot it spread to the M. & St. L & in later years became known as the “Little Town Between the Two Railroads” famous for its Hobo Conventions which originated back in 1900.

Stuck in Mud
It will be hard for the present generation to believe that people actually did get stuck on Main Street of Britt in the early days. One day when the Rasmusons were stuck C. C. Way made a prediction that they would live to see Main Street paved, but he would not. Believing it to be a fairy tale they dismissed it from their minds. Years later, in the fall of 1916, the Rasmusons saw the prediction made by C. C. Way come true.

Mrs. Rasmuson Only Survivor
Of this little group of immigrants who migrated to Hancock County in 1875, Mrs. Rasmuson is the only one left to tell the story. She & her husband retired to a home on North Main in Britt in 1893, having endured all the hardships of real pioneer life. Mr. Rasmuson passed to his reward on December 14, 1935, & since Mrs. Rasmuson has been making her home with her daughter, Mrs. Tena Healy, enjoying the sunset years of her life, caring on her church work, which she has always enjoyed, attending lodge & club meetings. She has been a member of the Royal Neighbor lodge for the past fifty years & is also a charter member of the Order of the Eastern Star lodge. She has been a member of the Social Art club for fifty years. This club is the oldest club in Britt & was organized in 1892.

Trip by Train
Only a few weeks ago Mrs. Rasmuson made a trip to Oak Park, Ill., for a visit with her daughter, Emma, now Mrs. Fred S. Hill. At the age of 88 she made the return trip via train to Britt alone. Mrs Rasmuson states that she has been blessed with all that she has ever asked for or cared for. She gives thanks to divine guidance for directions that caravan of three covered wagons to Iowa, the state that has such a beautiful name; & to the little town of Britt, which took root on a little island surrounded by an emerald sea & has been developed into a thriving community of homes – sweet homes.
(Augusta Rasmuson died on December 19, 1956, age at death 98. At the time of her death her two sons had passed, two daughters survived, also 10 grandsons, 23 great grandchildren & 5 great-great grandchildren.)


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