The Norwegian Settlement of Muskego

The Fifth Norwegian Settlement in America

See also another account of this Norwegian Settlement.

Source: The First Chapter of Norwegian Immigration (1821-1840) Its Causes and Results, by Rasmus B. Anderson, LL.D., Madison, Wis., 1896.


Scandinavians is a term used to designate the inhabitants of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Iceland. In the early centuries, that is, during the so-called Viking age, they are usually treated as one people under the common name of Northmen or Norsemen, but as we proceed into the full daylight of history, it gradually becomes customary to discuss the Scandinavians separately, as Norwegians, Swedes, Danes and Icelanders….

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Pg. 266-284

We now pass to the consideration of the fifth Norwegian settlement in America, the so-called Muskego settlement in Waukesha and Racine counties, Wisconsin. We have seen how three families and a couple of single men left Tin in Upper Thelemarken in 1837, and how the Nattestad brothers, Ole and Ansten, and Halstein Halvorsen Braekke-Eliet made up their minds to emigrate from Vaegli in Numedal the same year. These two parties apparently entirely independent of each other were the first to leave those parts of Norway and settle in the new world. Then letters came back to Tin, and in this manner information was spread throughout Thelemarken in regards to conditions in America, and many began to talk about emigration. The following year (1838) Ansten Nattestad returned and spent a year in Norway, and while there he published his brother Ole's book in Drammen, and Ole Rynning's "Account of America" in Christiania. Ansten Nattestad clearly went back for the purpose of organizing a party of emigrants. His case is similar to that of Knud Slogvig, the slooper, who returned to the Stavanger country in 1835, and caused the great exodus from Stavanger in 1836, and Austen Nattestad's return in Numedal in 1838 created no less excitement and wonderment than Knud Slogvig's had caused in the western part of Norway in 1835. People would not have been more astonished, if a man had actually returned from the moon, and the two books, Ole Nattestad's and Rynning's, particularly the latter, in which a scholarly and graphic account of conditions and prospects in the new world were presented, were quickly spread throughout Norway, and from this time on we may regard regular emigration from various parts of Norway as fully established, though emigrant packets do not appear to have begun to ply regularly until after 1840.

Down to 1840, we have only the Sloop "Restaurationen" in 1825; The two Kohler brigs, "Norden" and "Den Norske Klippe" from Stavanger in 1836; "Enigheden" from Egersund and Stavanger, and "Egir" from Bergen in 1837; The ship "Emilia" from Drammen, commanded by Captain Ankerson, carrying Ansten Nattestad and his party direct to New York in 1839. The rest of the emigrants down to 1840 seem to have gone by way of Gothenborg, Hamburg and Havre, so did many after 1840.

The people whom we are about to mention intended to come with Ansten Nattestad and Captain Ankerson in the "Emelia" but there were no accommodations to be had. The vessel was loaded. The result was that the overflow went to Skien. The party who went to Skien consisted of about forty persons from Tin and the neighboring parish Hjertdal in Upper Thelemarken. These forty people were extensively connected by family ties, and the Luraas family were represented by four heads of families embracing about half of the company. There were eleven families in all, eight of them, including the Luraas families, being from Tin and three from Hjertdal. There were also a few unmarried people in the party. The most conspicuous among these people from Thelemarken was John Nelson Luraas, a man who until very recently, was still living as a prosperous farmer near Stoughton, Wis. I am happy to be able to give the rest of the story as he told it too Prof. Svein Nilsoon. He says:

"I was my father's oldest son, and consequently heir to the Luraas farm. It was regarded as one of the best in the neighborhood, but there was a $1,400 mortgage on it. I had worked for my father until I was twenty-five years old, and had had no opportunity of getting money. It was plain to me, that I would have a hard time of it, if I should take the farm with the debt resting on it, pay a reasonable amount to my brothers and sisters and assume the care of my aged father. I saw to my horror how one farm after the other fell into the hands of the lendsmand and other money -lenders, and this increased my dread of attempting farming. But I got married and had to do something. Then it occurred to me that the best thing might to emigrate to America. I was encouraged in this purpose by letters from Norwegian settlers in Illinois, written by a Norwegian emigrant who had lived two years in America. Such were the causes that let me to emigrate, and I presume the rest of our company were actuated by similar motives.

"On May 17, Norway's day of liberty, in the year 1939, the ship left Skien and glided before a stiff breeze out of the Langesund fjord, and soon the great sea was in sight. We soon got out of sight of land, and when the last mountain tops disappeared from above the horizon, some of the passengers doubtless felt sad heart while thinking of their uncertain future and of the probability that they would never again see that home from which they had taken with them so many dear memories. But the decisive step had been taken, and doubt and hesitation would now be out of place. We continued to make progress, and after a few days of fine sailing, the Norwegian captain landed the passengers in Gothenborg, Sweden, which was his destination. Here we met a few families from Stavanger, about twenty persons in all, who were also bound for America. Both parties united, and an American captain, whose vessel was lying in the harbor and loaded with iron, agreed to carry the emigrants across the sea to Boston for a fare of forty-two dollars, Norwegian money for each person. There was no accident on the way, the health of the passengers was good, and after nine weeks we saw land on the other side of the ocean."

From Boston these immigrants proceeded to New York and thence to Buffalo. In Buffalo they met a captain who agreed to carry the immigrants by way of the lakes to Milwaukee. They went on board his miserable vessel, which twice came near being wrecked on the way. A woman was washed overboard, and after three weeks they reached Milwaukee. Here there was some talk among the officials of brining suit against the captain, who was reproached in severe terms for taking so many people on board a ship that leaked like a sieve and could scarcely hold together. When we consider that the ship was loaded with powder, it must be admitted that the passengers had been in no enviable position.

It was seventeen weeks since they left Skien in Norway, and still they were far from their journey's end. They intended to go by way of Chicago to the Fox River settlement in Illinois. But this plan was abandoned, and our new-comers were persuaded to remain in Wisconsin. In regard to this change of purpose a strange little story is current. I give it for what it is worth, partly to relieve somewhat the dullness of my pages and partly because it is believed by many people. While I do not care to discredit it, I have not, on the other hand, been able to get any conclusive evidence that the episode ever occurred. Here it is:

The day after our immigrants had arrived in Milwaukee, they were getting ready to depart for Chicago. Then some Milwaukee people came on board the vessel. They asked the new-comers what they intended to do in America. The answer came, that they were farmers and desired to buy land, and were thinking of going to Illinois. "Go where you like, " said one of the visitors. "This is a free country, but if you want to do that which is best for yourselves, then take my advice." Then he presented two persons, one of whom was a large fat man, the picture of health, while the other was a mere skeleton, all emaciated from disease. "Look here," said the Milwaukeean, "this fat man is from Wisconsin, where there is a healthy climate and an abundance of food; this invalid is from Illinois, where people are burnt up by a scorching heat and where they die like flies from malaria fever. Now choose what you think best."

It was a hot day in August, and the burning rays of the son added weight to the man's words and arguments. Our new-comers were perspiring in their think woolen clothes, and they thought with dread of heat in Illinois, where they would soon be changed into skeletons like that emaciated fellow who stood by the side of the healthy and vigorous man from Wisconsin.

The result was that these immigrants went ashore in Milwaukee, a city which was then in its infancy. It is claimed that the fat man exhibited to the Norwegians was the well known Mr. Walker, after whom the present south side of the city was for a long time called Walker's point.

Other immigrants having been persuaded to shorten their journey and remain in Wisconsin, their American friends advised them to locate on the shores of Lake Muskego in the present Waukesha county. A committee of the immigrants were appointed to go with an American to look at the land, which could be bought for $1.25 per acre. The summer weather had dried up the marshes, and the Norwegians took the large swamps covered with tall grass to be prairies. There was plenty of timber, and the waters were filled with fish. The emissaries liked the land, and made a favorable report to their comrades in Milwaukee. The result was that nearly the whole company abandoned their purpose of going to the Fox River settlement in Illinois and settled around the north end of Muskego lake. They at once began to clear their farms, but when the fall rains came, the most of the land was flooded. It was clear that they had made a poor choice, but still our settlers continued to live on their farms, and they were afterwards jointed by others both from Tin and from Illinois. The settlement grew and it became the stopping place for many of the later immigrants, who would remain in Muskego a year or two before going out to other settlements in Wisconsin. But in the years 1849-1850 and 1852, cholera visited the settlement and caused such a mortality that the location came into disrepute. The most of those who were spared by the cholera epidemic immigrated to other settlements.

From a conversation with Mr. Hans J. Jacobson, assistant sergeant-at-arms of the Wisconsin state senate in 1895, I learn that the following Norwegians are now living in Muskego, Waukesha county:
1. Gunnerious P. Ducleth;
2. Ole Larson;
3. Rolf Rofson Flaten. He also informs me that the following reside in the town of Vernon, west of Muskego:
1. Kittel Lohner;
2. Gunnul Knutson Morem;
3. Thomas Throndson;
4. Andreas Halvorson;
5. Anna Kjonaas, the widow of Ole Kjonaas.
Both Ole Kjonaas and his wife came with the Luraas party in 1839. John Jacobson Einong, who came from Tin, Thelemarken in 1843, lived and died in Vernon. He had four daughters. One of these married Col. Hans Heg, another married John Evenson Molee, and is the mother of Elias J. Molee, a third married the well known publisher and journalist, Elias Stangeland, and the fourth married Hans Tvieto. A son of John Jacobson Einong lives in Fillmore county, Minnesota.

In the History of Waukesha County, by Frank A. Flower, I find the following sad report of our Muskego settlement: "What was called the Norwegian settlement began in the south part of the town in 1839, and grew rapidly until some of the newly arriving immigrants brought the cholera in 1849. Terrible and indescribably scenes followed the breaking out of this fearful scourge, as the poor and ignorant people did not know how to diet or abate its ravages in the least. A hospital was finally established on the shores of Big Muskego lake, in a large barn, where scores of the poor people died. This plague broke out here again in 1851, and raged with frightful violence and fatality. A log house near the town line in Noway(sic) was then an improvised hospital, and graves were dug and kept open for expected corpses. The plague resulted in so many deaths, and carried such terror into the community that all but a few of the surviving Norwegian families left the town." The fate of the Muskego settlement most forcibly reminds us of the unhappy Beaver Creek settlement of 1837.

John Nelson Luraas, the leader of the party from Tin, very soon left Muskego and bought a farm in Norway, Racine county. This farm he improved considerably, and then sold it to Even H. Heg, and Luraas himself removed to Dane county, Wisconsin. This John Nelson Luraas, who deserves prominence as one of the principal founders of the Muskego settlement, was born in Tin in Thelemarken, December 25, 1813. He landed in New York, September 8, 1839, and as stated, remained in Muskego until 1843. On June 16th, 1843, he arrived in the town of Dunkirk, Dane county, and in October, 1868, he removed to a farm in Webster county, Iowa, about ten miles north of Fort Dodge, where he remained until the fall of 1873, when he returned to his farm in Dane county. IN the fall of 1886, he removed to Stoughton, where he died May 29, 1890. He was married in Norway, April 8, 1839, to Miss Anna Olson Berg. John Nelson Luraas was an intelligent, enterprising man, and he accumulated a considerable amount of wealth. I was several times a guest at his hospitable home near Stoughton.

In the Spring of 1840, Soren Bach and Johannes Johannesen, ,men of means and intelligence who had come from Drammen, Norway the preceding year, 1839, and spent the winter in the Fox River settlement in Illinois, arrived in the town of Norway in Racine county, directly south of Muskego. Norway became the nucleus of the new settlement, which extended into several towns of Racine county, and the whole settlement has since been known as Muskego, although the original settlement became practically abandoned.

Bache and Johannesen came for the purpose of selecting a home for themselves and for others who intended to emigrate to America from the vicinity of Drammen in Norway. The cluster of beautiful lakes, the clear streams of living water, swarming with fish and game, which they found in the town of Norway, satisfied their desires. A cabin was built in one of the Indian mounds on the banks of Wind lake, reports of the country were sent to their friends across the sea, and in the fall of 1840, a large party of emigrants arrived at Milwaukee, destined for the town of Norway. This party consisted of Even H. Heg, his wife and four children, Syvert Ingebretson, Ole Hoganson, Ole Anderson, Helge Thompson, Johannes Skofstad and others, all of whom settled in the same vicinity. Soren Bache having considerable capital, he with his partners, Even H.l Heg and Johannes Johannesen purchased a large tract of land in the town of Norway. They afterwards sold part of their lands to immigrants who came later.

Johannes Johannesen being a man in whom the Norwegians reposed great confidence, a large number of immigrants that landed at Milwaukee in the forties first came to what was known as Heg's farm, where they would remain for weeks consulting about which part of the country was best to locate in. Many now living in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota will remember the old barn that sheltered so many of them for a while in those early days when houses were scarce. In this, Heg's barn, Rev. C.L. Clausen preached to the Norwegians in the settlement in 1843, and in this barn he organized a congregation that same year. A Norwegian church was begun in 1843, but was not finished and dedicated before 1845. Rev. C.L. Clausen was a Dane by birth, and soon after his arrival to America he was ordained by a German Lutheran minister . The spot selected for the church and also for the burying ground was covered with a large number of Indian graves, and was considered as appropriate a resting place for the pale-faced Norwegian as it had been for the red savage. The church was built of logs but large and commodious, on the same ground where the beautiful new church now stands and where lie buried so many of those old pioneers, including Johannes Johannesen, Even H. Heg, and his wife, and his son, Col. Hands C. Heg, who was killed in the battle of Chickamauga, during the rebellion.

In the year 1860, the state of Wisconsin ceded to the town of Norway all the swamp lands within the limit of the town, about 2,300 acres. The act provided that the proceeds should be used for a drainage fund. Only a small portion of this fund has been used as of yet, but the money is let out at interest, on good paper, and thus far not a dollar has been lost. The credit of securing this grant to the town is due to the efforts of the Hon. Knud Langland, who at the time represented the second assembly district of Racine county in the state legislature, and who labored zealously for the passage of the bill. The lands are now all or nearly sold and have proved to be a great benefit to the settlers of the town.

For the above facts in regard to the first settlement of Norwegians in Racine county, I am indebted in part to an article published some years ago in a Racine county paper, the article being presumably written by Mr. Ole Heg, a brother of Col. Hans Heg. In a sketch of the Muskego settlement written for Billed Magazin, Prof. Svein Nilson says that Soren Bach and Johannes Johannesen came to Racine county in 1839, having spent only a few weeks in the Fox River settlement, but I have accepted the more probably version that these men spent the whole winter in Illinois and came to Wisconsin in the spring.

A sad accident occurred in the early days of this old settlement, and that is said to be the chief reason why Soren Bache returned to Norway. He and his friend, Rev. C.L. Clausen, were out hunting one day and stopped at the house of a Norwegian settler. While Soren Bache was making some examination of the trigger his gun accidently discharged and killed the housewife, whose name was Hege. It made the husband almost distracted and Soren Bache was in danger of losing his reason. He gave Hege's widower forty acres of land and a cow, and did all he could for the poor man, who accepted the gifts, but said "these things do not bring back my dear Hege." It is believed that this accident was the main reason why Bache returned to Norway in 1845. He wanted to get away from the scene of his great misfortune.

Even Heg had a considerable amount of money with him, and with that he bought a large tract of land. It was not long before the town of Norway became occupied, and soon the newcomers began to spread into the adjoining towns. Mr. Johannesen died in the colony in 1845, and the same year Bache returned to Norway and settled on a farm, Valle, in Lier, where he is said to have lived until the year 1879, but these two men are to be remembered as the founders of that part of the Muskego Settlement which is located in Racine county,a nd which became permanent. Even Heg was a most enterprising man. His barn, which is still standing, was generally filled a couple months each summer with Norwegian emigrants on their way to Koshkonong and other Norwegian settlements in Wisconsin. Even Heg's oldest son was Hans C. Heg, one of the most brilliant names in Norwegian American history. He was elected state prison commissioner in 1859, and in 1861 he organized the 15th regiment, Wisconsin volunteers, consisting almost exclusively of Scandinavians. Hans Christian Heg became its colonel. He was born near Drammen in Norway, December 21, 1829, came to America with his father in 1840, and was fatally wounded in the battle of Chickamauga, on the 19th of September, 1863, and died the next day, September 20.

In a former chapter of this book, I gave a full account of Col. Porter C. Olson, largely for the reason that his name had never received any particular attention in the Scandinavian press of this country. Col. Hans. C. Heg's name, is, on the other hand, well known, particularly to all Scandinavians. Col. Porter C. Olson's father came to America in the sloop in 1825, while neither Col. Heg nor his father left Norway before 1840. The latter do not therefore properly belong to this epoch treated in this volume, and thus the reader will readily see why I do not yield to the temptation of giving Col. Heg such a biographical notice as his distinguished and patriotic services deserve.

Even Heg's daughter, Andrea, is to be remembered as one of the first Norwegians to teach English district school in Wisconsin. She taught school in the Muskego settlement during the winter of 1855 and 1856. She afterwards married Dr. Stephen O. Himoe, who taught school in Muskego during the winter of 1851-52, and who was the surgeon of the fifteenth regiment, Wisconsin volunteers; and after the war she settled with her husband in Kansas and died out there. Dr. Himoe is still living in Kansas City, Mo.

Speaking of early Norwegian school teachers in Wisconsin, I am informed by a letter from Mr. H. J. Ellertsen that as early as 1845 a man by the name of John Tredt, taught school in Muskego, both Norwegian and English, but this was private school. Then Mr. Ellertsen tells me of a man by the name of Carl Torgerson, who taught public district school in Muskego in the winter of 1852-1853. He was then a young man about 25 summers, and had come from Christiania in Norway, having learned English before coming to America. He was a man of good education. In the summer of 1854 he returned to Norway, and it is presumed that he did not come back to America. Mrs. C.L. Clausen taught Norwegian school in the Muskego settlement during the winter of 1844.