by Jonette "Nettie" Emilie Johnson
My father was born in Hurdalen, Norway, the 16th of December, 1834, of parents, Christian Nyberg and wife Johanne, born Hansdatter. His mother died when he was two and one-half and a few years later his father married again. My father had two sisters, the oldest, Maria, married a blacksmith and lived in Christiania. She died many years ago. The other sister, Mina, died when she was 17 years. She had a stroke and never really became well again.
My father had five half-siblings as well as I can remember that he told me. The two of these who came to America died at a comparatively young age. The one was married and his widow and daughter are living. Both died of tuberculosis and are buried in the cemetery at Sparta, WI.
Grandpa was a shoemaker and so also Father became a shoemaker. He told how he began accompanying his father when he was only seven years old, they went usually from house to house in the parish and sewed shoes. They were always very busy, especially before Christmas when everyone and everybody should have new shoes and if they did not get new shoes at Christmas, and then it did not matter whether they got them later or not. Before Christmas, they had to get up very early in the morning and sit and sew until long in the evening.
My father's home was only a little ways from Hurdal's glassworks which was owned by a rich man named Tandberg. Old Tandberg was lame on one side.
My grandfather died when he was only 48 years old. He got tuberculosis. Father was at that time working as a shoemaker in Christiania but he went home and was able to help care for his father the last two weeks, and closed his eyes. Father was named for his grandfather who was also named Halvor. He told so often how spry his grandfather was to walk even though he was quite old. He died when he was 78 years old and Father thought that was extremely old when he was a small boy. His grandmother also lived until she was quite old and it was she who took care of Father when his mother died. They lived together in the same house and they were poor, as were most of the tenant farmers at that time. They had a small patch of ground so they could have one cow. He told how kind his grandparents were and that he was allowed to go along when his father went fishing. And on Good Friday when they sat together in the sun along the wall of the house and read the Passion story.
When he became grown, he and a cousin, Julius Nyberg, got together and did shoemaker work in Feiring. They were there a couple of years and then Julius became ill and died. It was then that Father returned to Christiania and worked his handicraft there for a few years, and then came back to Eidsvold and worked in the settlement as a shoemaker. It was there that he became acquainted with my mother, Karen Andrine Larsdatter Basrud.
They built a little house at Sagmoen where he was able to buy a small piece of land. The stones which were to be used for the fireplace, he hauled on a sled a long ways so to spare the cost for money was scarce in those times. The house consisted of a kitchen and parlor and no doubt also a small bedroom and loft. Everything was freshly painted and they had it cozy in all ways.
There in Eidsvold, were my two oldest siblings born, Karine and Hakon. Then Father got the America fever and they sold their house and home and [ ] with the sailship Anna Delius (?) from Christiana about the first of May, 1866. Hakon was then only a few weeks old. They were six weeks on the ocean. Mother was seasick and very poorly but Father managed quite well. They became acquainted with one on the ship Anders Koppersven, he cooked some kind of soup of primost and water and that was about all his wife and Mother were able to eat. He was very kind to those who were sick.
When anchored in Quebec, Canada, their ship and another ship rammed in the fog but it went well and no one was hurt. In the immigration house in Quebec, Mother and the wife of Anders Koppersven were to watch the children (they also had a little girl) while Father and Anders looked around a little.
They were also to try to buy a little food or milk. And before anyone was aware, the two little girls had disappeared and when Father and Anders returned they started hunting and looking for them. They found them at last far inside a house where the immigrants were fiddling and dancing and here they were with them and about to dance, too. It didn't take them long to each get hold of a little girl and when they came back with them, Mother and the other woman were very happy, I can think.
When they were to travel to the States, they suffered much. They had to go by train in livestock cars. The intention was that they were to go to Bloomingdale, WI., as Father had an acquaintancae there, Tobias Brown, and they wanted a shoemaker there but when they came to Port Huron, Michigan, they met someone whom Mother had dnown from Eidsvold, named Hans Clausen.
When he wanted them to come along to his home a few miles from there, they were so tired out from their travels and so glad to find someone they knew, that they went to his home. They hired out for the summer there. Mother worked in the house and Father worked on the farm and on rainy days he sewed shoes for the family and patched old horse harnesses. Mother cooked for the family and also for the men who boarded there at times when they were floating logs down the river. The woman of the house was German and Mother soon learned to understand a little English as the woman did not speak Norwegian. It was hard days and then the hot days in this country which they were not used to. In the fall they rented an old house and moved in there. It was so ramshackle that Mother told how they could see the stars through the cracks when the lights were put out. But they managed quite well anyway when a kind man who had a hotel let them use an old large stove which was good at heating up.
In the winter, my Father cut cordwood for a dollar a cord. So they managed anyway. Everything was expensive at that time as the Civil War was recently ended. When they had left Norway, they did not even know that there had been a war in the United States. They had to pay 20 cents for a yard of calico and flour was 18 dollars a barrel but many things were also cheap.
The next spring, they began thinking that it was about time they went on to Wisconsin and so they traveled by steam boat to Milwaukee, and from there by train to Sparta. There was no train to Westby or Viroqua in those days. In Sparta, Father happened to meet an acquaintance from Norway and he told how they sat up all night and talked in the hotel where they had taken lodging in Sparta. Then they hired a ride for a goodly amount of money with a man who was going home to this area. It rained most of the way but they got to stay with him overnight. The next day they went on their way by foot for many miles, carrying a chest between them and a child each.
So they came to Tobias Brown in Bloomindgale, but since they had not written to him and he had not heard from them in any other way, he had in the spring of 1867 sent for Gustav Nyberg, Father's second cousin, who was a shoemaker. He had come only a few weeks before Father came to Bloomingdale so they obviously had no work for him there. NOW WAS GOOD ADVICE NEEDED! (a literal translation of a Norwegian proverb)
But then Brown remembered that in Avalanche there was no shoemaker and so they went on down there. Mother and the children remained with Mrs. Brown. In Avalanche there was a man named Enok Enokson who owned a mill there and was quite well off. He was very kind to Father and promised him they could live in a room in his house for the summer. He also got to get a space to sit and sew shoes with a cooper whose name was Christian Didricksen. Father had only four dollars left so he was glad to stay there and obtain work. Then they moved there and kind people helped him buy leather to sew shoes. He had to go to La Crosse to buy leather and many times he walked that long way on foot but sometimes he got a ride part of the way.
Father was lightfooted and it was easy for him to walk but perhaps it was also that he had a good will to do this, it helped much. (The distance from Avalanche to La Crosse was about 35 miles. LO)
So then he sewed shoes and worked for Enok on the mill dam. Avalanche lies in a valley and when there was much rain, floods came and often the mill dam went out, too. It was no doubt no easy task to stand in water and shovel gravel.
The same fall, he was able to buy a couple of lots from Enok and built a small house and they moved into their own little cottage for Christmas. After this time Father went to Minnesota and worked in the harvests. There was no self-binder at that time so there was needed many workers to bind and shock the grain. They made good money, too.
In that little home in Avalanche, were born Maren, Johan and Anne. In time, Father scraped together enough so that he was able to purchase 40 acres of land a mile and a half south of Avalanche. Now he built again, this time it was quite a large log house but they did not move at once.
There was only weeds there which needed to be cleared bit by bit. The trees were large and the stumps had immense roots so there were many hard days of work. After they had lived in Avalanche eight years, they moved onto their own land and lived there until after Mother died in 1903. In that home my sister Hannah and I were born. Hannah died on 1899, only 21 years old. Mother became not quite 63 years old.
After some years went by, Father bought more land and cleared more woods. When Mother died, he owned 200 acres and they had also given their sons 80 acres because they always stayed home and worked. After they had moved on the land, he quit the shoemaker work except that he might patch shoes at times but after a while he quit entirely.
From time to time, as his means improved, he would fix a little on the house and also added an addition to the kitchen so we had plenty of room. Father always worked very hard and I can remember when I was a little girl that he often had such a backache that he could not straighten up and had to lie in bed for several days.
After Mother died, Father sold the farm to my sister, Maren and her husband. So then my father, brothers and I moved to my brothers' farm which was near by the old home. My oldest sister, Karina had been married many years and had a family. Anna was also married and Hannah was dead so there were only we four again who seemed to belong together.
In the summer of 1907, Father and my brother-in-law-, Theodore Lee, went to Washington and Oregon on the west coast. Father visited Karina who lived in Hillsboro, ND. He also visited my sister, Anne, who lived in Stephens, MN. When he returned in the fall, he bought 10 acres of land with some buildings on it a short distance east of Westby, WI.
Here he spent time off and on during the summers for two or three years but mostly he rented it out to strangers. When he was there, I would go between the two places and help as best I could. Otherwise he stayed home with my brothers and I was there, too. In the fall of 1914, my brothers bought the place near Westby and in the spring we moved there.
When Father began getting old, his eye sight became poor and the last five years he could not read which was hard for him as he had always enjoyed reading. But then we read aloud for him because the days became long as his strength diminished and he was unable to work. But Father was always cheerful and lighthearted. He always looked younger than his years and he thought it was amusing to have people who did not know him, guess his age. Father was quite poorly much during his last year. Four years before he died, he was very poorly most of that summer with a type of rheumatism but he became quite well again.
The spring when we moved here, he got bronchitis, and into the summer, the 5th of July, he was going out for a little walk, and only got as far as the road in front of the house, when a pair of run-away horses ran over him. We had to carry him in. He had a pair of broken ribs and was so poorly that he had to lie in bed for a while but became well again. In the winter, he was in bed for two weeks with lagrippe and very sick but got well again.
In the night, the 22nd of October, 1917, he was so sick that we thought his last hour had come. It was his heart that was failing and he was very sick. But God was good to us and let us keep him yet a few days. It was his last illness and he did not get up again. The doctor said it was pneumonia and aging weakness. He suffered much and was glad to leave from here.
The 24th, Pastor Halvorsen was with him and he received the Lord's communion. He thanked us for everything good and slept away quietly and peacefully the 30th, October, at six in the morning (82-10-14 old). He was buried the 5th of November, 1917, at Coon Prairie Cemetery beside my Mother and where my sister, Hannah, also rests. Maren also rests there. She died in 1914.
Today it is Good Friday and Father has lain in the grave nearly five months. The loss is great but I hope he is at home with the Lord Jesus who on Good Friday suffered and died for us all and paid for all our sins. And I hope that we all can one day gather again up there as Father said he hoped for.
Farewell, Father, and rest in peace
Until the time that we gather up there,
The time is long and the loss is great,
And the tears stream from the eye.
Have thanks for all the time that you were with us,
For all the striving and stress
You became old and tired
And longing often for the rest.
And perhaps that when you went
It will draw us after you up there
Up there together with Father and Mother
And siblings dear.
(Translated literally but not rhyming-EB)
[Written by Jonette "Nettie" Emilie, the youngest daughter of Halvor, on Good Friday, March 29, 1918. Translated from Norwegian by Esther Bakke of Westby, WI, in March, 1991. From the files of Winnifred I Stigen, Viroqua, WI]
HALVOR JOHNSON NYBERG is the Gr-Gr-Gr-Grandfather of Mark and Genevieve Olson