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Historical Connections

to the Stone Church

in Houston County, Minnesota

 

The pioneers of the Buffalo River Settlement who were members of the two early congregations that united to become Concordia came primarily from Houston County in far southeastern Minnesota.

Houston's Stone Church is one of the two oldest Norwegian Lutheran congregations in the state of Minnesota. Its first "missionary" services were held in 1854. The building has been designated a state historical site. Concordia can be very proud to call itself a daughter of this venerable congregation.

In 1991, as preparations were underway to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the building of Stone Church,   Jim Skree wrote the following letter providing information about the connections between the congregations of the Stone Church and Concordia:  

                                                                                                 

Houston Minnesota

                                                                                                       September 23, 1991

 

Greetings from the Cross of Christ Lutheran Church Congregation.

 

    As many of you may already know, our Congregation is celebrating the 125th Anniversary of the building of the Stone Church in rural Houston this year. On my visits to your area I was very pleased to discover that most of you are well aware of your roots in Houston and our Stone Church and consider it the Mother Church of your Congregation. Unfortunately, the majority of folks back in Houston have lost track of those who left and have never heard of the Concordia Church or the Buffalo River Settlement. The same holds true for the Houston Settlements in Hoople,  N.D. around the Sand Hill River near Climax, Mn. and elsewhere.

    One of my goals for our Anniversary Celebration has been to rectify this situation. I want to make our membership aware of their friends, and in many cases, relatives in your Congregation and to establish a link between our two churches. Sending out this letter is another step in that process and I look forward to a long and gratifying relationship.

    As an illustration of the close ties that existed between our two churches in the past I will now tell about the six pioneer couples, that I am aware of, that were buried one spouse in each of our cemeteries : Ole and Kari Kragnes, Ole and Gunhild Juve, Jon and Anne Sannes, Gulbrand and Astrid Kassenborg. Ole and Gro Lee, and Jørund and Jorand Veum.

     I will begin with the Kraakenes family from Vraadal in West Telemark. Norway. Ole Aanundson Kragnes (b. 1800) and Kari Mikkelsdatter Holte (b. 1806) were married in 1827 arid left the Kraakenes Gaard in Vraadal in 1853. A year later they settled in Badger, 2 miles south of the Stone Church. For the next 20 years they lived in the midst of the large Vraadal settlement in beautiful Badger Valley and their four children lived with or near them. (Christine Kragness Kassenborg. who was related to them through her mother’s family, grew up on a neighboring farm. Her grandfather, Ole Targeson Kragness, also lived on the Kraakenes Gaard in Vraadal and the two families came to America together and took farms next to each other in Badger.)

    Torkel Oftelie. sagawriter for the Telesoga, traveled extensively throughout the Norwegian settlements in the Midwest and had this to say about Badger Valley: "I have not seen any other place in America that is more like the home bygds (communities). All the valleys here are like a little Telemark in miniature."

    Dying in 1873 Ole Aanundson Kragnes never lived to see the Red River Valley. He was buried in the old section of the Stone Church Cemetery next to his older brother Knut Aanundson Lønnegrav, who was my great-great-grandfather. A few years later his children and his wife, Kari, moved up to the Buffalo River settlement.  Kari died in 1883 and was buried in the Concordia Cemetery. Their son, Aanund 0. Kragnes (1845-1912)took lngeborg Lee (1847-1875) as his first wife in 1866, and they and their children moved to Clay County in 1875.

    Ole and Kari's oldest daughter, Gunhild (b. 1828). was married in Vraadal in 1850 to Ole Johnson Juve (b. 1817) arid they lived right over the hill from them in the neighboring valley of Sheldon. They too moved to the Buffalo River Settlement and lived on a farm now occupied by Gordon Juve’s daughter. Ole Johnson Juve died in 1885 and is buried in the Concordia Cemetery.

    Some time later Gunhild, her daughter Olina, and grandson Leonard, moved back to Houston to be near her oldest daughter, Jorand Juve Lee, and lived in a house just down the road from the Stone Church. Jorand had married Aadne Lee. a brother of Aanund Kragnes’ wife, lngeborg, and after homesteading for a while on a farm south of Jake Holte’s (formerly the Bergland farm, now the Grover farm) they moved back to the old Lee home place in Badger Valley. Gunhild died in 1922 and was buried at the Stone Church next to her daughter Carrie Felland, who died in 1908.

    Ole and Kari's second oldest daughter, Anne (b. 1831). was married in 1852 to Jon Mattiason Sannes (b. 1830) and they left Vraadal in 1853. A year later they settled on a farm in Badger a mile down the road from her parents, just on the other side of Piggenuten (a hill, the peak of which resembled a hog snout, on the west side of the valley).

    Jon died in 1875 and Anne eventually moved up to Buffalo River to be with her family, although I’m not sure exactly when. Her sons, Andreas (Andrew) and Martin, had the Sannes Brothers Store in Houston and Carl had a store in Moorhead.

    Anne wasn’t in Clay County very long before passing away the same year as her mother in 1883. She is buried in the Concordia Church Cemetery. According to the land records she sold her farm in Badger to her next door neighbor, Tollef 0. Skree, in 1880. He in turn sold it to his brother, Gunder 0. Skree, who was my great-grandfather. Gunder and his family had just returned to Badger Valley after spending the past 7 years homesteading in Eglon Twp. a few miles south of Hawley. Their brother, Mikkel O. Skree, was the first settler in Skree Twp. (Sec. 12) which was named in his honor.

    It is interesting to note that 3 townships in Clay County were named after early settlers who had been members of the Stone Church in Houston before moving to the Red River Valley, namely : Torgrim Morken, Aanund Kragnes, and Mikkel Skree. A fourth township, Moland, was named by settlers from Houston, the Thortvedt Party, after their home parish of Fyresdal, which was called Moland at that time.

    Tone Kragnes (1834-1921) was Ole and Kari’s 3rd and youngest daughter and married A. G. (Andreas Gulbrandson) Kassenborg (1836-1913) in Houston County in 1857. They lived 4 miles away from her parents on the Kassenborg Farm in Yucatan Valley. Here A. G. built a magnificent home of beautifully dressed limestone along the banks of the South Fork River. It was a full two stories with attic and dwarfed the log houses of the other settlers at that time. Given proper care it would have remained standing for centuries, but it was on the bottoms which were prone to flooding and therefore was abandoned and stood empty over 60 years before being levelled by a bulldozer in 1990.----- “Sic transit gloria mundi”

    A. G. Kassenborg’s mother, Astrid (b. 1806), died in 1871 and was buried in the old part of the Stone Church Cemetery. A few years later her husband, Gulbrand Gulbrandson Kassenborg (b. 1811), and children, Andreas arid Geline (Mrs. Targe) Grover. left the Yucatan Valley and moved up to Clay County. [Andreas] settled near a large bend in the Buffalo River which became known as Kassenborg Point. Her son, Gulbrand (Gilbert), made his new home in Yellow Medicine County. Old Gulbrand set up the anvil he had carried with him from Valdres to service the needs of the surrounding Buffalo River pioneers. In a letter home to Norway. Gulbrand wrote that the mosquitoes along the Buffalo River were so bad that they ate up his anvil. His hammer was silenced forever in 1888 and he was laid to rest in the Concordia Cemetery.

    As you have seen, the family of Ole and Kari Kragnes has many connections in your church and settlement. The same is true of Ole Johnson Lee (b. 1813), his wife, Gro Aadnesdatter (Aasberg) Lee (b. 1811), and their children. They left Fyresdal in West Telemark in 1853 in the company of my great-great-grandfather, Ole Halvorson Skrei (Skree) (1824-1864), his wife, Sigrid Mikkelsdatter (Sinnes) Skrei (1823-1892), and their 3 sons, Mikkel, Tollef, and Gunder (mentioned earlier in the story). It is very likely that they were on the same ship as the Kragnes, Juve, and Sannes families since Fyresdal and Vraadal are neighboring valleys and there was a lot of socializing and intermarriage between the two areas.

    After staying a year in the Koshkonong settlement near Madison. Wisconsin. the Lee and Skree families moved to Houston and took land next to each other in lower Badger Valley. Here they built a house together, but an Irishman who lived west of them also wanted their land. Because of the language barrier he got his point across by carving the figure of a man on a large aspen tree, with a bullet hole in its head, hoping it would scare the Norwegians into giving up their claim. Undaunted, the two Oles carved another man on the tree and gave it a chop in the neck with an axe. At this the Irishman decided it was best to leave the land to the two Norwegians.

    Ole and Gro Lee had five children that I know about. John moved to Yucatan and lived on a farm now owned by his grandson. Jerry Lee. Asgjerd married Lisla Ole Geitestad/Lee. Their son, Gustav 0. Lee, was Clerk of Moland Township and an accomplished photographer from what l’ve seen of his work. Aadne, who was mentioned before, married Jorand Juve. and after a short stay in Clay County they moved back to Badger and look over the home farm. lngeborg, also mentioned before, was the first wife of Aanund Kragnes and died their first year at the Buffalo Settlement. Sigrid I know nothing about. (Do any of you?)

    It looks as though I’ve saved the oldest couple for last. Jorand Olavsdatter Bygstøyl Geitestad Veum (b. 1802) was the matriarch of the large Geitestad family from Fyresdal in West Telemark. Immigrating in 1861 they were the latest of any of the families in this article to arrive in Houston: however, they were the first to leave and were among the founders of the Buffalo River Settlement in 1870.

Gamle Jorand’s husband, Gunnar Bendickson Geitestad (1793-1846), died in Norway and she then married Jørund Anderson Veum (b. 1801). (Jorand’s sister Signe was married to Jørund’s brother Aanund.) According to our records Jørund died in 1865 and was buried in the Stone Church Cemetery but I have not found a stone for him.

    Jorand and Jørund came to America with five of her children and their families and another son arrived in 1872. They were at first taken in by various families in the Houston area but soon gathered together in an area 7 miles east of Houston known as Mound Prairie where they established their own farms.

    After the Civil War almost all the land around Houston had been settled. Those wishing to buy a farm or add acreage to an existing farm found the land to be either unavailable or quite expensive. At this time many of the immigrants started looking toward the Red River Valley which was being opened up for settlement. Here broad expanses of flat, fertile land could be obtained from the government for free under the Homestead Act of 1862.

    Even though it meant leaving many of their friends and their new home with its familiar surroundings, church and schools, the spring 1870 saw the first band of immigrants preparing to leave Houston for what had since 1862 been known as Clay County, Minnesota. Leading the group was Jorand's second son, Ole Gunderson (the elder) Tortveit. After exploring the area around Moorhead, in Minnesota and North Dakota, they decided to take the higher land along the Buffalo River to be safer from flooding. Here they found plenty of wood for building and burning, water for the livestock, wild fruits, fish, and above all the good land — some of the best in the world! (This is a sentiment that I have heard echoed in my talks with some of the older members of your Congregation, and I’m sure there are many younger ones who also share that opinion.)

    In 1896 the “Bestemor” of the southern part of the Buffalo River Settlement died at the age of 94 and was buried in the Concordia Cemetery. Having been born in 1802 she has the distinction of being the earliest born person in your cemetery. During my first visit to Concordia Church and Cemetery I was very pleased to see that you have honored her with a special plaque. (I am still trying to determine the earliest born person in the Stone Church Cemetery.)

 

    And so ends my story of the pioneer couples whose final resting places are divided between our two churches. I would hope that the ties that once bound us tightly together, though now loosened with time, will not unravel completely.  We have every reason to be thankful for and proud of our churches, our cemeteries. and the people who have worshipped and are buried there.             

 

  

Jim Skree

Archivist for Cross of Christ Lutheran Church and Friend (and Relative) of the Concordia Congregation

 

 

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STONE CHURCH MEMBERS WHO MOVED TO THE BUFFALO RIVER SETTLEMENT

 

Ole Gunderson Tortveit (Thortvedt) (& Tone) – from Fyresdal- led the 1st party of settlers from Mound Prairie to Buffalo River in Spring of 1870.

 

Bendik Gunderson (Gedstad) ( & Anne)-from Fyresdal - father of Gunder, Jorand, Oval, Andrew. etc.-grandfather of Almer, Bennie, Agnes, Andrew, Lester, Senell Gaustad, Alice Jacobson. etc..

 

Ole Gunderson Geitestad (Lee) & Asgjerd -from Fyresdal -father of Gustav 0. Lee, Julia Gunderson. etc.

 

Gulbran Gulbranson (Kassenborg) (the father) (&  Astrid) -from Valdres- father of Andreas and Geline (Grover). His son and namesake Gilbert Gilbertson moved to Yellow Medicine County (CWV).

 

Andreas Gulbranson (Kassenborg) (& Tone)-from Valdres -father of Ed Kassenborg. etc.

 

Targe A. Grover (& Geline Kassenborg)-from Fyresdal-father of Christian, Alexander, Otto, etc.-his brother, Ole, lived in Looney Valley.

 

Ole Stutelien (the elder) (& lngrid)-from Valdres-father of Ole, Andrine, Gilbert, Oliana, etc.-to Buffalo River?

 

Ole Stutelien (Studlien) (the younger) (& Berte)-from Valdres-father of Inger, Jane, Galena Tangen, Olina (Mrs. Aanund) Kragnes, Edwin O, etc - grandfather of Ole, Alida, Anne Ramstad. etc.

 

Ole Johnson Juve (& Gunhild)-from Vraadal-grandfather of Fred, Ole, & Gina Lee, etc. in Badger. Belle Flatten, Evelyn Olson, Julia Sannes, Alden Juve, Anne Hammett, Obert Skrei. Etc

 

Mikkel Larson Revskit (& Margit)-from Vraadal-went back to  Norway in 1888.

 

Aslak Olson Hauge (& Anne)-from Vraadal- lived on Houge Ridge - father of Ottis Houge, Gina Lippard, Amanda Whitchurch, etc.

 

Ole Halvorson Storoslien (& Karine)-from Skafsaa-father of Elsie, Lewis, Turine, Tilda, Henry, Charlie, etc.

 

Ellef Olson Helland (& Sigrid)-(from ?)-lived on Lybeck farm in Badger before 1872.

 

Anund Jorgenson Veum-from Fyresdal-(Son of Jorgen Anderson Heggli / Veum)-was an early photographer in Caledonia, moved to Washington state.

 

Knud Halvorson Tveten-from Skafsaa-Bachelor.

 

Ole Knutson Timrud (& Tone)-from Fyresdal-father of Ragnild, Ommond, Gunhild, Ole Theodore, etc.  -grandfather of Henry, Gena Kragnes, etc.

 

 

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Names found in Stone Church Records 1867-1879

 

Aadne Halvorson (Hegland ?)-from Fyresdal-brother of Knut Hegland-to Buffalo River.

 

Aadne Knutson (Klokkergarden-Taralie) (& lngeborg)-from Fyresdal-father of Knut, Bendick, Gunhild Findalsiveit etc.?-died in 1869-family to Buffalo River.

 

Aadne H. Breiland (& Gro)-from Fyresdal-nephew of Gro Lee in Badger-adopted daughter Gena Braland-moved to Buffalo River.

 

Anders Olson Risoen (Rice) (& Signe)-from Vraadal-brother of Tosten Rice-father of Rasmus Rice (m. Dora Targeson Skretvedl)-Crystal Valley-ND-Buffalo River-(CWV).

 

Andrew (Aanund) O. Kragnes (1. lngeborg 2. Oline)-from Vraadal-father of Gilbert, Ole Emanuel, Oliver. Alvin, Lena Gorder, etc.-grandfather of Russell, Allard, Bernard, Goodwin, lngeborg Holte, etc-moved from Badger to Buffalo River.

 

Anne Sannes-from Vraadal-widow of John Mathiason Sannes-daughter of Ole Anundson Kragnes-Badger.

 

J.J, (Jens) Aggerholm (& Signe)-(from Denmark ?)- early secretary of Stone Church-moved to Buffalo River-daughter Matilda m. Jens Aggerholm (1st cousins ?).

 

Ole T. Kilene (Kiland) (& Martha)-from Vraadal-father of Torvald, Theodore, Serine Rice, Tomina Gorder. etc.-grandfather of Marlin. Ed,  Joseph,  Nettie Cosen, Rasmus Rice, etc-Buffalo River.

 

Targe Johnson Holte (& Anne Margrethe) - from Vraadal -father of John, Jacob, Gurine Kiland, Hannah Klokseth, etc.-grandfather of Jake Holte, Julia Olson, Karine Wik, Martin Kiland, Nettie Cosen, etc-moved to Buffalo River.

 

Many of these pioneers were founding members of both our churches and as such we owe all of them and their families a large debt of gratitude for their hard work and selfless giving. It is almost impossible to overestimate the contributions that our ancestors made to the quality of our lives today and to appreciate the sacrifices they made so their children might inherit the promise of America. Such a proud and fine heritage should be both cherished and preserved.

 

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Notes

  • Vraadal, Fyresdal, & Skafsaa are bygds or parishes in West Telemark that border one another. This was the heart of our Congregation in the old country.

  • Most names have been left as they appeared in the Stone Church records, but some have been changed slightly to conform more closely to the modern spellings for easier recognition.

  • Places of origin in Norway refer to the husband (sometimes the wife is from another area & that is not indicated.)

  • No attempt was made to make a complete list of children or grandchildren--just a sampling to show how they relate to the present.

  • (CWV) = Civil War Veteran


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