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 The Norseland Settlement

  Nicollet County, Minnesota 

  By Gene Estensen 

The 1851 Treaty of Traverse des Sioux and Mendota acquired for white settlement nearly 24,000,000 acres of the finest farmlands in the world. Land in most of Minnesota west of the Mississippi and the Dakotas became available, and settlers rushed in. Built in the 1860'sNorwegians came from the land-short settlements of Rock Prairie, Koshkonong, Muskego, and elsewhere beginning in the summer of 1851. 

In the year 1854 , after a journey of seven weeks, the families of Norwegians Torstein Østensen Bøen of Tinn, Telemark, Johan Tollefson of Totten, and Lars Svenson Rodning of Hallingdal (a single man) crossed the Minnesota River at the Traverse des Sioux. They climbed the far shore and settled near what is now St. Peter in Nicollet County. This became known as the Norseland Settlement. Torstein Østensen settled at Scandian Grove in Lake Prairie Township.

About a year later, on October 7, 1855 a group of Swedes joined him at Scandian Grove. Andrew Thorson of this group would write, "It was a beautiful fall season. During the winter we lived among Indians who were numerous in our woods. Four or five Norwegian farmers were living in the vicinity. We were the first Swedes at this place."

Thorson reported that the Swedes spent the first winter in a house that stood on some land "now occupied by Annexstad" (this would be the Torstein Østensen Bøen farm). The next year, on June 17, 1856, Ole Østensen Bøen and family from Tinn, Telemark joined his brother Torstein at Nicollet County. Accompanied by Gunder Nereson and Swenke Torgerson, they settled near a grove in the northern part of what is now New Sweden Township and named the area "Norwegian Grove." By 1858, 31 families called Norseland home.

Pioneer C. C. Nelson found mostly Indians when he came to what is now New Sweden Township in 1858. "We lived among the Indians four years. They visited us frequently and occasionally stayed all night and we accommodated them the best we could, although we didn't find them very pleasant or agreeable. However, we tried not to cross them for fear they would attack us at any time".

During the Sioux Uprising, all of the settlers were terrified and sought shelter in the city limits of St. Peter.  An unlucky few were killed, but all were affected by the events of August, 1862.   For several years following 1862, settlers posted armed men on the highest ground as they performed their farming chores. Through it all, the Norseland Settlement continued to thrive.

In 1874-75, the ravages of the grasshopper plagued Nicollet County. The aid flowed in and it was noted "that this should stand out as a perpetual memorial for this people, who in times of dire distress put forth a self-sacrificing hand to aid their brethren....No one can form any idea of the ravages of the grasshoppers in that section of the county without first seeing them. For miles the ground is literally covered with them. They are coming this way and mow everything before them".

The center of the community was its church, and Norseland Lutheran Church is still an active Lutheran Congregation. Today, the old store at Norseland is still in business. It is at this store that Mr. Swensen showed me the store records of the 1850s and 1860s. There, on the old ledgers, I saw the signatures of my ancestors from Telemark when they purchased goods on credit!

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