Volume 125, Number 3
Norwegian settlers establish Viking community in 1886
BY ARLAND O. FISKE The Kenmare News
In the summer of 1886, six young Norwegian farmers walked from their homestead land they selected south of Maddock to Devils Lake to file their claims. August Aanderud, Abraham Faleide, Andrew Gilbertson, Timon Quarve, Rasmus Wisness and Tosten Lommen were the vanguard of settlers from Spring Grove, Minn., who settled in South Viking Township of Benson County. In the early days, there was a post office named Viking in their community as well as a country store.
It was a hardy bunch of people who went out in search of land that took them as far west as Burlington. Their records indicate that they also spent a little time in Villard, east of Minot. They stayed with Johannes Kopperud, the "Skole Laerer" (parochial school teacher) who had come from Norway. They traveled in prairie schooners and brought their oxen with them for the trip.
Before the 1880s were over, a sizeable migration had taken place to the Maddock community west of New Rockford and southwest of Minnewaukan. The Northern Pacific and Great Northern railroads came through in those same years, bringing new Norwegian settlers to this land of promise. At that time, Benson County bore the name of DeSmet, named after the famed Belgian Jesuit missionary from St. Louis who traveled vast areas of the trackless prairie.
The 1880s were known as the great Dakota Boom period. Lumberyards, hotels, banks, general stores, medical doctors and lawyers, plus lots of shysters, appeared in this land that had once been the home of Indians and buffalo.
Free land was the reason they risked the adventure into the unknown. US law entitled any man over 21 to file on two quarter sections of land. One quarter (160 acres) could be preemption and the other either a tree claim or a homestead. After proving he had lived on it for 14 months and paid the government $1.25 per acre, he could take a third quarter of land. It’s no wonder the Norwegian communities from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa began moving westward. The land farther east had all been taken.
The first thing the homesteader had to do was build a shack, usually with a minimum of lumber, covered with tar paper and built up around sod. The six young settlers from Spring Grove completed their first shack on July 6, 1886. The record states that July 4 that year fell on Sunday so they rested from their work. Then they averaged a shack a day until all were completed. Lumber was transported from New Rockford and cost $6.24 per 10×12 shelter, including windows and sash. They had to move swiftly in filing their claims and getting some evidence of occupancy or their claims might be "jumped" by other land seekers.
One of the farm implements they carried with them was the sodbusting plow. The prairies did not yield easily to the plow. That was tough soil to break with their kind of equipment. I remember breaking sod for a farmer north of Lindsey, Mont. in the 1940s. It made the tractor grunt. I can imagine what it would have been like for oxen, even horses. Patience was the rule for success.
It often happened that while settlers were traveling to their destinations that their horses ran away while loose for grazing. In one such case they searched for many days until the horses were found. They occasionally met a stray, but well armed, traveler coming across the prairie on horseback.
This happened to Timan Quarve while looking for horses. There was always some danger in this, but fortunately the man he met was a Norwegian named Ole Berg. Ole had been roaming the prairies for years, hunting, trapping and traveling between Army posts. He had three outfits gathering up buffalo bones that could be sold for up to $10 a ton. The buffalo had been slaughtered for their hides and the carcasses were left for the birds and animals. By the 1880s, the buffalo were practically extinct.
One of the unusual things to see for the newcomers was the "Minnie H," a large side-wheeler steamboat that traveled between Devils Lake and Minnewaukan. It made regular trips from spring to fall. In the late 1880s the lake began to dry up and the excursions were limited to Fort Totten and the Chautauqua grounds six miles south of Devils Lake. By 1905 the lake had shrunk so much that the famous old steamboat was abandoned and left to fall apart. Today there is a replica of the Minnie H along US 2 east of Devils Lake at a roadside rest stop.
After a number of country post offices and general stores closed, Maddock became the chief trading center and remains so today for the people of southern Benson County. The city was named after an Irish settler from St. Croix, Minn. named Michael Maddock (1861-1904) well known for his pioneer success and generosity.
An earlier settler named Peter Anderson might have given his name to the city if he had stuck around when he first visited there in 1881. The Maddock family still lives in the area.
Benson and Bottineau Counties have the largest concentrations of Norwegians in north central North Dakota, according to Fr. William C. Sherman in his book, Prairie Mosaic: An Ethnic Atlas of Rural North Dakota. In the Maddock area, two townships carry a Norse preference, North Viking and South Viking. The six settlers from Spring Grove built their farmsteads in South Viking and the community center was the Viking Lutheran Church. They date their history to November 6, 1887 on the Timan Quarve farm. For their centennial in 1987 they published a handsomely bound volume of 414 pages. The history of the church and community are bound together.
The nearest Lutheran pastor to the Viking community was in Devils Lake, more than fifty miles away over some rough roads. Rev. T. L. Aaberg conducted the first service in July of 1887. The second service was not held until October. Worship services were first held in the Aanderud School until a building was constructed in 1903. In June of 1909 the Viking Church was host to the national convention of the Norwegian Synod, at which time the building was dedicated. The cornerstone was opened in 1962.
I’ve come to know a lot of people from the two Viking townships and have noted the great pride they have in their conmunity. They are also well represented at the Norsk Hostfest in Minot each year. I first became acquainted with Norwegians from Maddock when I was a student at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn. almost 60 years ago. Later when I lived in New Rockford I came to meet many more.
I had family living in Maddock from 1961 to 1981. My father died there in 1969. If you meet people from Maddock, it’s a pretty safe bet they have some Norwegian ancestry. And those that have that ancestry are proud of it.
Editor’s note: Rev. Arland Fiske is a brother of Florence Wheeler, who operated the Wheeler Funeral Home in Maddock with her husband, Arthur. Art was also the mayor of Maddock during the time they lived there.
The Viking Lutheran Church south of Maddock. The church is much larger than most country churches.
A semi-trailer owned by Ebach Construction of Minnewaukan was sliced in two by a Burlington Northern Santa Fe train at Bremen on August 18 at about 5:20 p.m. The trailer portion of the vehicle, loaded with barley, was hit by the train as it passed over the tracks. Here is the tractor on one side of the train.
What remained of the trailer was on the other side of the train. The driver, Robert Beranek, 46, of Penn was not injured. Barley was scattered all around the crash scene.
A good portion of the trailer was bent around on both sides of the engine. Wells County Chief Deputy Sheriff Jeff Roehrich of Fessenden investigated the accident.
At an inservice at Leeds conducted by Lake Region Special Education, Mrs. Jacobson steps onto the balance ball as Leeds staff members learn to use movement to enhance learning.
Mr. Stave masters the balance ball as he takes part in the name toss.