Including an account of his voyage and his history of the disaster on Lake
Robert R. Eidsmoe of Rio Verde, Arizona, the grandson of Amund forwarded an extract from his story, and have granted us permission to present the account on the site.
"The Norwegian Settler's Story"
(From Hjalmar Rued Holand)
South of Primrose and Perry lies Green County , where, in the towns of York and Adams, are a large number of Norwegian people. On the west, these townships are bounded by LaFayette County, where the big Landing and Hadlanding settlements were made. In Green County the Valdriserne (people from Valders) are very numerous and this colony is a part of the settlement of Blue Mounds. Amund, Christopher, and Michael Eiesmoe from Southern Aurdal, Norway, were the first settlers here. They settled in York Township in 1854.
It was about the year 1852, following Stephen Olson Halles' second trip to Valders, Norway, about which there is a discussion in the chapter on the Valders Colony in Manitowoc County, that the "outwandering" from Valders commenced in great numbers. One of the best known pioneers of those days and the leader of the larger Valders community in York and Adams townships, was Amund O. Eidsmoe. When he was 88 years old, he wrote an account of his coming to America. He was along in the terrible disaster on Lake Erie, which has become household knowledge in all Valders settlements. As his account is the only one remaining of this singular mishap, and as it also gives a clear description of an emigrant's hardships, it is given here: A. O. Eidsmoe's Story of His Own Life "I was born in Southern Aurdal in Valders, Norway, the 13th of February, 1814. My first or earlier childhood years passed without anything of importance. Our parents were poor and with six children (three boys and three girls) were able to make both ends meet, nothing more. As soon as we were old enough, we had to go to work. We boys learned to run a turning lathe and made tynneturer, lobbismarer, peppergrinders, rolling pins, distaffs, and as we learned the trade, we commenced to make spinning wheels.
At the age of 16 I was confirmed by Rev. Boyes of the Lutheran Church. In my 20th year, the Western "Bærum" in Aker's Parish started a Normal and Teachers' Seminary, which commenced its work on October 20, 1834. By my own desire and with the assistance of Rev. L. O. Peterson, I was sent to that place to study. Here I remained two years and graduated from there with recommendation, "very quick in learning; a teacher and choir leader position". Then I came home and was appointed itinerary teacher in my home neighborhood. I was compelled to do this as my support at the Seminary was furnished at the expense of the Parish School Treasury. I was to serve seven years at $12.00 a year, but the position of "Klokker-posten" I did not have to take as it was held by a man who was to hold it as long as he desired.
When I had served the seven years I was compelled to, I received an increase in salary and taught in all 16 years. In that time I had married and two children were born of this union, one boy and one girl. My wife died after four and a half years of married life and our little girl died at the age of two and a half years. I married again in 1849. Then I became aware of the fact that the school salary was going to be too small and decided to wander out to America. So I went with my wife and two children from my home community - parents, relatives, friends, never to see them again - sadness and tears in overflow. (I left Valders, Norway, April 5th, 1852, with my wife and two children - Ole a son by my first wife and Gunil, a daughter by my living wife.) It was fortunate for us that we had no knowledge of the danger and adversity that were to meet us on our way, otherwise we should hardly have started on the trip. Already on the second day we were met by an omen of ill-indication for a safe journey; namely, the ship that was to carry us had already gone. Before another ship came, nine weeks had passed. This made deep inroads into our stock of provisions so we had to make more purchases. It was not then as now. We went on a sail boat and had to furnish our own provisions.
We were in the company, then held a council and decided to seek an intermediary comfort in the rural district, rather than go into town. We settled in Ringerike and remained there three weeks, awaiting news of ships to sail, but in vain. So we went to Drammen and remained there five weeks with the same wish and the same desire. Eventually the hour of departure came and we could go to Christiania. We hired a sailor with a small boat to take our goods, while my wife and two children and myself went on foot to Christiania the next day - four Norwegian miles (28 English miles). There they were in the process of fitting a ship for passengers, but we had to wait still another week before it was completed. Yes, now we came into peace and had it well, I should say so: On the ship we were always in danger of falling from the heaving and plunging of the waves and in our rooms we were thrown from one wall to the other, now up and now down. It continued in this manner for eight weeks and four days until we arrived at Quebec. Here we bade farewell to the ship and its company and were loaded with our goods onto a steamboat. Up to this time we had been only Norwegians in our "traveling" company but now we had traveling comrades also of other nationalities. The boat carried us up the St. Lawrence to Montreal. As our goods were loaded onto the wharf, one of our company, Tostein Fulhja from Slindre, was drowned. From Montreal we were to travel by rail and together with Tostein's widow and little child, we were marched into the train. She was nearly overcome with grief. It was a pitiful sight to see and think about.
From our car we could see in the distance the Niagara Falls, where grandeur is beyond my power of description. So we came one evening to Buffalo. Finally, we had arrived at the land of promise -- The United States, and we poor Norwegians were full of joy when we heard that many who lived there spoke our own language. But we soon became suspicious of the honesty and trust-worthiness of these Buffalo Norwegians. As we stood on the wharf and looked about, there came to us one, who to judge by his attire, was a sailor. He spoke to us and said we were lucky to have come to this good land from the less good Norway, and he held a learned discourse as to how we should act to become prosperous, etc. His talk was affirmed by several young men who claimed that this man's words could be relied upon by us and that it would be of great value to me to note carefully all that he stated. We stood there, as in a church, clad in holiday attire, anxious to hear and remember each one of those valuable words. In this way the time passed until it became dark. Then he stopped as if in deep thought, came closer to me and said, "Come, I waht to tell you something." I followed him several steps, whereupon he stopped suddenly, grabbed me with both hands, one on each side and fumbled with my trouser pockets, which he searched in a hurry to discover whether or not I had anything in them. To his ill fortune and my Good Luck, he found nothing excepting a good pocket knife on my right side, whose sheathe was buttoned to my pocket. This he grabbed and disappeared in the crowd and we saw him no more.
A large number of people and goods of every description were now crowded together onto a large boat called the "Atlantic" and at eleven o'clock it moved off on Lake Erie. There were many people and all wanted to find a place to sleep. As many as found room went down into the cabins, but many had to prepare their beds upon the deck. I and my family were among the latter. The deck was crowded with every conceivable thing: baggage, new wagons, and much other stuff. So we lay down to rest but sleep was not of long duration. When it was near midnight we were awakened by a loud crash and saw a large beam fall down upon a Norwegian woman of our company. It crushed several bones and completely tore the head off a little baby that lay at her side. Another ship had collided with ours and knocked a large hole in the side of the "Atlantic" so that a flood of water rushed into the cabins and people came up as thick and fast as they could crowd themselves. It seemed as if even the wrath of the Almighty had a hand in the destruction. The sailors became absolutely raving and tried to get as many killed as possible. When they saw that people crowded up they struck them on the heads and shoulders to drive them down again. When this did not help, they took and raised the stairway up on end so the people fell down backwards again. Then they jerked the ladder up on the deck. All hopes were gone for those that were underneath. Water filled the rooms and life was no more.
People rushed frantically from one end of the boat to the other. The trap doors were torn open and goods and people were swept into the water. Then was the life of a person of little value. My wife and children and I were miraculously saved; although swept into the water as the ship sank, with much swimming around with my wife and children on my back, we were picked up by the other ship. When I discovered that all of my family were alive, I was full of joy, as if I had become the richest man in the world, despite the fact that we had lost all of our goods. We had lost all but our lives, but they were precious, we now realized. An account of the catastrophe's cause I have from one of our newspapers and is as follows:
"Atlantic sailed out from Buffalo in the evening at eleven o'clock and to sight the Propeller Ogdensburg that belonged to a competitive company. Between these there was a bitter enmity and the captain of the Atlantic became desirous of running over the Ogdensburg and sinking it. All the lights were turned out so that the act of running down the rival company's boat would be unnoticed. At the last moment the Ogdensburg had time to turn hastily aside to escape the Atlantic and advanced a short distance, but in anger at this attack, the Ogdensburg turned and with a mighty spring, pushed a big hole in the Atlantic's side so that the water soon caused the boat to sink. The loss of life is estimated at about 300, of whom 60 were Norwegians. A trial of the officers of each ship was held with the result that the Atlantic was blamed for the misfortune. Mr. Petty, the captain of the Atlantic, was arrested and taken to Milwaukee, but what happened to him later on, I do not know.
From Detroit we came by rail to Chicago, where we received lodging and food. We went from Chicago to Milwaukee by boat. We had with us people of different nationalities -Germans -Irish - I do not know what they were all called, but all had the same distinguishing marks: half naked and without baggage or effects.
When we arrived at Milwaukee, the Germans were very kind to us and had taken up contributions so we were all supplied with money and clothes. A merchant, named Carlsen, was very kind to us and gave me a suit of clothes and $30.00 in cash. There were probably those who received more, but I was glad that they had helped us this much.
We now got a man to take us over land to Springdale, Dane County, Wisconsin, with oxen. We knew there were acquaintances there from our neighborhood back home who had settled there several years before. As any one may know, it was up to us to search for work so as to get a little to live on.
There was still both State and Government land not yet taken up and I thought I would settle down here. I staked out a claim and built a rude cabin for ourselves and a stable for two cows I had bought, so we could have gotten along fairly well after a time. But after two years had passed a land speculator came along from Madison and informed me that had bought the land. I left the whole thing without as much as a cent for all my hard labor, and moved to York, Green County, where my brothers had located. They had come to America about the same time as myself and family, but on different boats. I had nothing to buy with, the price of Government land at that time was $50.00 for 40 acres. I got the banker at Monroe, Mr. Ludlow, to buy two "forties" for me and gave him 34% interest. Money was not to be considered at that time. I gave him bonds for the time being and finally got it all paid. Afterwards I bought more land and had at last five "forties". The last two I had to pay $110.00 for one and $116.00 for the other. It was Mostly wild land and had to be grubbed before it could be broken. But after a while I became fairly prosperous.
In the English school district that was organized after a time, I was the first teacher and taught for four years. After I had been in America six years I was elected Justice of the Peace and held this office for 28 years. I was also in this time Town Treasurer for two years, Town Clerk for three years and "Norsk-lokker" for eight years, together with many other small offices, so I have had plenty of business. But farming has been my mainstay and for my living, it paid best.
On the first of January, 1900, our children had a postponed Golden Wedding for us (November Thanksgiving, 1899). Two weeks later my wife died quietly and peacefully, after an illness of but tree days with lung fever. I thank God earnestly for his care over me so far. If he has laid a burden on me he has also, fatherly, helped me to carry it. If I could prepare myself for a blessed departure from this world and my passing away be as my dear wife's, my wish would be fulfilled. God help me I Amen.
Of my children, seven are now living. I have forty grand children and thirteen great grand children. I, myself, am eighty seven and a half years old."
Signed: A. O. Eidsmoe
The translation has been followed almost literally, except where a literal translation would leave the meaning obscure. S.B.E.) ---Translated by Sever Barnhard Eidsmoe, Tostan's oldest son, and Amund Eidsmoe's grandson.