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 Reflecting on the Story of Guri Endresen Rosseland

 by Betty Bergland 

 Click to read the full story of Guri Endreson

In the state of Minnesota stands a monument to Guri Endreson Rosseland. It is in Kandiyohi county, in Vikor Lutheran Cemetery, near Willmar, and it marks the grave ofGuri Endresen Sioux Uprising heroine Guri Endreson. It was established in 1907.

Guri Olsdatter Endreson Rosseland wrote from Minnesota to her family in Hardanger four years after experiencing tragedy to her family during the Indian War of 1862 in southern Minnesota. During the darkest hours of the rebellion, she hid in the cellar of her home and watched as her husband was killed. Her son Ole received a wound and later died of pneumonia. Two of her daughters were kidnapped. Here is her story in another light. It is the story of the immigrant pioneer woman as she lived with the Native Americans, as reported by Betty Ann Bergland:

1866 - After acknowledging their recent letter and expressing happiness in their well being, she stated: I must also report briefly to you how things have been going with me recently, though I must ask you to forgive me for not having told you earlier about my fate. I do not seem to have been able to do so much as to write to you, because during the time when the savages raged so fearfully here I was not able to think about anything except being murdered, with my whole family by these terrible heathen. But God be praised, I escaped with my life, unharmed by them, and my four daughters also came through the danger unscathed. Four years after the Dakota Rebellion in southern Minnesota during August of 1862, Endreson, thus, described the tragedy to her family. The delayed report accounts for the apology in the opening of the letter and, perhaps, also only the barest of details: she hid in the cellar of her cabin with her youngest daughter and watched her husband as he was fatally shot; she discovered her oldest son, Endre fatally wounded while digging potatoes ten rods from where her husband lay; another son, Ole shot in the shoulder, received no mortal wound, but he later died of pneumonia. Two daughters, Guri writes, were "carried off by the wild Indians," but they escaped the following day when given permission to return home for food. In the two days after the tragedy, Guri wandered around, she writes, "between fear and hope and almost crazy, before I found my wounded son and a couple of other persons, unhurt, who helped us to get away" (78).The historian Theodore Blegen explains who the other people were--Solomon R. Foot and Oscar Erickson. Foot gave an account of what happened next in the History of Kandiyohi County , which Blegen cites, filling in the omissions of Guri. Foot writes: "She [Guri] washed our bodies, bandaged our wounds and gave us every possible comfort. Fortunately my wagon stood so near the cabin that the Indians had not ventured to take it. She drew this as near the door as possible, put into it bedding, blankets and other things we might need. She assisted us into it, propped us up in a half reclining position, placed my gun by my side. hitched the young unbroken oxen to it and started. At night, Foot goes on, "Mother Endreson supplied all our wants and again bathed our wounds. . . spent a sleepless night watching over us, ever on he lookout for the savage foe" (Foot in Blegen, 78). The group now consisted of the two wounded men, Guri's daughter, her wounded son, and Guri, who led their ox-drawn wagon to Forest City about thirty miles away. In the letter sent four years after the fact, Guri interprets the event for her Norwegian family with both an understated sense of shock and religious conviction: To be an eyewitness to these things and to see many others wounded and killed was almost too much for a poor woman, but, God be thanked, I kept my life and my sanity, though all my movable property was torn away and stolen. But this would have been nothing if only I could have had my loved husband and children--but what shall I say? God permitted it to happen thus, and I had to accept my heavy fate and thank Him for having spared my life and those of some of my dear children (78-79).Religious faith sustains Guri, but it also prevents inquiry into the conditions that provoked rebellion. This story was told over and over in Norwegian newspapers in the weeks, months and years after the fact. The story appeared repeatedly in immigrant letters, newspapers and in commemorative essays. The repetition of the story is noted in Rolvaag's Giants in the Earth, when he writes of one character, Kjersti Tonesten: "Truth to tell, her fear of the Indians was very natural." Rolvaag explains that she and her husband " had heard the tale of terrors of `62 so often that they could have repeated it word for word as from an open book."The repetition of the story has fixed Endreson on the cultural landscape of Norwegian-American and Minnesota history. Today, a statute stands in honor of Guri Endreson at Vikor Lutheran Church, erected on the centennial anniversary of the event in 1962. On the engraving of the monument she is labeled a "state heroine" and "one of the most outstanding heroines of the nation." (See Appendix). In a commemorative essay, she is referred to as a "Hardanger heroine" and in another she is referred to as a"daughter of the Vikings." Her cabin is preserved in Kandioyhi Country by the Country and State Historical Societies. (Because of vandalism a ten foot chain link fence currently surrounds the wood structure.) The grave markers where her son and husband lie buried on the sites where they fell remain accessible near the enclosed cabin. Thus, the statute, preservation of the site and cabin, along with the occasional events held at the location, her story continues to be marked on the landscape of Minnesota and Norwegian migration. Guri is portrayed as a state, national and ethnic heroine, a heroic Norwegian immigrant.The larger event about which Endreson writes is the Dakota Rebellion that erupted on theMinnesota frontier in August of 1862, during the period of the Civil War. Frustrated by a series of broken promises, confinement on reservation land, and the erosion of a way of life, Dakota warriors began killing traders and settlers and led attacks on the United States military garrison at Fort Ridgely, along the Minnesota River in southwestern Minnesota. After fighting of six weeks, nearly 500 hundred whites, mostly civilians, lost their lives and, according to historical records, an "unknown but substantial numberof Indians." One effect of the rebellion was the virtual depopulation of twenty-three southwestern Minnesota counties. The events leading to the Rebellion are complex yet familiar. Just over ten years earlier, the Treaty of 1851--the Treaties of Mendota and Traverse des Sioux--the Dakota ceded their land west of the Mississippi River to the United States. Essentially, the area included the southern half of what became Minnesota and opened this territory to white settlement, especially to Norwegian German, Swedish immigrants, as well as Yankess. According to a Circular submitted by the United States Consulate in Bergen, O.E. Deutzer, and published in 1863, among those killed were eight Norwegians and fifteen Swedes. The narrative of Guri Olsdatter Endreson is significant for several reasons. First, the repetition other story gives it a representative--or mythic--dimension, locating the Norwegian immigrant within a heroic narrative. Second, the story dramatically juxtaposes the Norwegian immigrant populations with Native Americans, forcing us to rethink the Dakota Rebellion, a central event in the colonization of the Midwest by immigrants. Finally, the narrative foregrounds gender in the landtaking, providing a context to explore relationships between Norwegian immigrant women and Native Americans. The prevailing view of the Norwegian immigrant in this public and popular history is the heroic. Constructed as a heroine that withstood "enemy" attack, Guri Endreson is aligned with the white colonizers that extinguished Indian land title. Thus Guri's heroic narrative of survival on the prairie helps to elevate and to legitimize state claims to the land. Her femaleness seems to make the action all the more heroic and the claims all the more dramatic. Therefore, the circulation of the story reinforces the prevailing views of women and indigenous peoples in a tale of conquest--a patriarchal narrative of colonization and nation building, the epic story of the United States. I find this heroic narrative troubling and, so ask how we might, alternately, interpret Guri's story, and more broadly, how we might approach women and gendered dimensions of the landtaking. Contexts of Guri's Story : Historiography on Women and Indians in Norwegian Immigration Studies One central problem in exploring these issues is that women and indigenous peoples have been excluded in histories of migration generally. Thus, how we might formulate a conceptual framework for incorporating these excluded groups becomes the challenge. A full examination of this historigoraphy is beyond the scope of this paper, but briefly, it is fair to assert that historians of Norwegian migration render Indians and women essentially invisible. In his pioneering work, on Norwegian migration written in 1931 and later publsihed, Carlton Qualey discusses Indians only in terms of how they retard or release migration.6 Theodore Blegen, another pioneering historian, discussed Indians in the contexts of threats immigrants faced. Thus, indigenous peoples were often considered with diseases and other dangers, as they were in 1838 in Ole Rynning's True Account of America.. This conceptualization and treatment is reproduced in subsequent histories, including the only full study I am aware of that treats women in Norwegian migration, L. deAne Lagerquists' monograph, In America the Men Milk the Cows: Factors of Gender, Ethnicity, and Religion in the Americanization of Norwegian-American Women .7 Like other historians of Norwegian migration, she writes of Indians in the context of dangers: "Other human and natural dangers continued. Treaties and agreements with the Sauk and Fox tribes in the 1840s and 1850s opened up additional lands for white homesteaders. Nonetheless, Indians were still living in the vicinity of Norwegian settlements." Yet, she goes on to suggest non-violent interactions: Contact between the two groups usually was peaceful, but sometimes it was even pleasant or amusing. A certain amount of curiosity was present on both sides. Indians shared their medical skils and returned strayed chldren to their parents; Norwegians share their food. There were, however, violent incidents. The Spirit Lake Massacre of 1857 in southern Iowa and the Sioux Outbreak of 1862 in Kandiyohi Contry, Minnesota stimulated fears in other settlements ( 41-42).The only other passage in which Lagerquist refers to Indians incorporates Guri's story: again she juxtaposes danger with the "amusing." She introduces Guri's story by saying: "Dangers to settlers were both natural and human in origin. As they moved west from Wisconsin there were encounters with Indians. In the violence of 1862 Guri Oldsdatter Endreson's family paid a heavy price for their new home in Kandiyohi Country, Minnesota" (74). The tragic narrative is followed by anecdotes of "assuming contacts at approximately the same time period":In the Red River Valley Mathilde Berg Grevstad remembered that an Indian woman once begged for a dress and that a blanket once disappeared from the clothesline. Martha Hove Houtgstad heard her mother tell about giving the Indians near their Worth County, Iowa, home some bread and butter; to her surprise they would scrape the butter off once they were out of the house. The Hove family bought deer meat from the same people(74-75). Published in the context of the series, Chicago Studies in the History of American Religion, Lagerquist's volume emphasizes religion and women " who identified strongly with the Norwegian American Lutheran church" (197). The significance of the volume is its singularity in addressing Norwegian immigrant women. The point I wish to make here is that even feminist scholars might reproduce prevailing categories of historiographic research unwittingly. Thus, we question everything-- as pioneering women's historian, Gerda Lerner, proposes. In effect, it becomes necessary to move outside Norwegian immigration historiography for perspectives on immigrant women and their relationships with indigenous peoples. In her 1984 publication, Women and Indians on the Frontier, 1825-1915, Glenda Riley addresses the issues of westward-moving European women and their relationship with indigenous peoples.8 Two Norwegian immigrant women are mentioned--Gro Svendsen and Elisabeth Koren. Their letters and diaries give us some understanding of women's experiences on the frontier: Svendson is quoted as saying that women did nothing but cook; and Koren is cited for noting that women had no leisure. In general, however, Riley makes no distinction among immigrant and ethnic women. Primarily, she differentiates between men and women's relationships with Indians. Women, she argues, report mutual support--as guides, assistants and purveyors of provisions--more often than they report the hostility of enemies. Reasons offered center on women's socialization emphasizing nurturance and negotiation, along with the lack of physical strength. Thus, she argues, "women tended to pursue a more gentle course than men in their dealings with Native Americans" (169). Citing Lillian Schissel's work on Women's Diaries that women had no special stake in demonstrating bravery, Riley concludes: "In other words, in their attempts to provide food, clothing, and other commodities, for those people who depended upon them for succor,women often formed relationships for mutual support with Indians" (169). Riley reports that Indians were hired to do chores, worked as nurse maids and often helped as midwives. These relations often led to warmth and affection. Furthemore, visits to Indian camps for the purpose of trading often generated warm relations between Indian women and white women.When comparing men's and women's relationship with Native Americans, Riley argues that while men tended to develop adversarial roles, women demonstrated more collegial roles. Given the socialization of nineteenth century women--associated with domesticity as producers of food, clothing and other domestic items-- the collegial role was easier to cultivate. By contrast, she argues, as men were more identified with land, livestock and equipment, their adversarial roles were heightened: Thus, although both men and women conducted trade with Indians and employed them along the trail and in their new homes, they did not achieve the same degree of closeness with Native Americans. Men's accounts generally lacked the fond references to American Indians, friends and neighbors that filled many women's writings as the time they spent on the frontier lengthened. Rather, men tended to remain in their adversary position to the Indians, while women tended to develop and expand their collegial role (175).Riley further argues that because women were viewed as physically and intellectually inferior to men, but morally superior, they drew upon the moral elevation accorded them and altered their views of Indians more quickly, replacing images of Indians as "enemies" to that of "human beings to be empathized with, perhaps even liked" (122). In her analysis Riley posits an alternative to the model of woman as "protagonist in a patriarchal narrative of conquest" and Indian as "the enemy other" evident in the popularized version of Guri's narrative. Nonetheless, Riley's view tends to dichotomize men and women's experiences and essentialize differences rooted in socialization processes. Also, Riley tends to ignore the dispossession of the land, the central meaning of westward expansion for Native Americans. Therefore, I would argue that this conceptualization of women and Indians on the frontier remains problematic .In short, these historical frameworks remain inadequate for conceptualizing gendered dimensions of relationships between immigrants and Native Americans. First, the popular narrative history of Guri Endreson as state (or Hardanger) heroine is problematic because it aligns her with oppressive policies of conquest, serving patriarchal and colonial views of Native Americans. Second, the historians that render Native Americans invisible, or as the "enemy-other," provide no gendered perspective and, in effect, erase women. Third, Riley's view of the collegial female, as opposed to the adversarial male, posits a model that dichotomizes male and female relationships and masks dispossession, making her framework inadequate for exploring relationships between women and indigenous peoples. I would call for alternative conceptual frameworks and move toward recent work on feminism and nationalism. Theoretical Frameworks and Feminist Analysis In order to grasp the complexity of the gendered dimensions of realtionships between immigrants and Native Americans that include colonization, conquest, injustice, we require a theoretical framework that encompasses the larger historical processes but sees Endreson as an historical subject. Her life makes concrete the complexities of these relationships when we juxtapose westward expansion and immigration. Yet, we need to recognize the multiple and contradictory positions--as wife, mother, woman, Norwegian, immigrant, Christian, and western European-- that Guri occupies simultaneously. In other words, we need to see her humanity and historicity as well as the ideological power her life and story signify. For this, historians might turn to feminist cultural theorists--first, in thinking about multiple and contradictory subject positions we occupy simultaneously, and, second, in acknowledging how discursive practices surrounding gender serve both national and ethnic formations. If we consider the narrative of Guri'sheroism in light of nineteenth- century nation building, we see how her story serves nationalism. Nira Yuval-Davis, in Gender and Nation, argues that "women usually have an ambivalent position within the collectivity. On the one hand . . . they often symbolize the collectivity[,] unity, honour, and the raison d'etre of specific national and ethnic projects, like going to war. On the other hand, however, they are often excluded from the collective "we" of the body politic, and retain an object rather than a subject position." She concludes, therefore, that the "construction of womanhood has a property of`otherness.'9Guri serves these functions: she makes concrete the duality between savaage and not savage, and so serves the state in helping to legitimize land-taking. However she also serves ethnic formations (as a":Hardanger heroine" and "daughter of Vikings") functioning to elevate the ethnic group in service to the state. Guri's story functions not simply as an individual one, or as a woman's or a Norwegian's: Norwegianness and femaleness blur in service to the nation. Guri's position is an ambivalent one: her story elevates the adversarial relationship with Native Americans, while keeping us from alternative conceptions. Still, the historical Guri occupies other positions as wife, daughter, widow, mother, friend, immigrant--as well as colonizer on indigenous land. To acknowledge the multiple, contradictory positions Guri--and immigrant women--occupied in the landtaking moves us to more meaningful and complex understandings of this history. In the complex intersections of gender and ethnicity that Guri's story represents, confronting tensions and oppositions--male/female, white/red, Norwegian/American-- rather than dichotomizing them, opens up complexities of immigration history. I would argue that we need to see simultaneously both the individual courage of Guri while rejecting the ideological formations embedded in the heroic narrative of savagery and conquest. Yet, we need to acknowledge the ideological formations that naturalize that story. In order to fully explore the complexities of relationships among immigrants and Native Americans in their gendered dimensions, we require conceptualization that address the colonization, land dispossession, the injustices-- and their longterm effects--but also the historical subject, Guri Endreson. This paper aims to contribute to that process.

About the Article
This paper was presented at the Seventh International Interdisciplinary Women's Congress: Women's Worlds held in Tromsø, Norway, June 20-26, 1999 at Session: VII Gendering the Past: "Women Pioneers and Activists" on Friday, June 25, 1999. The title is slightly revised from the version printed in the WW99Program ("Norwegian Immigrants and Indigenous Peoples: Gendered Perspectives on Interethnic Relations in Nineteenth Century Midwestern United States"). The paper represents work in progress and is part of a larger project examining real and imagined relationships between Norwegian immigrants and Native Americans in the nineteenth century Midwest. Sources Cited: 1Guri Endreson's letter to her family is found in Theodore C. Blegen Grassroots History(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1947) 77-80. Blegen notes that the surname of the Endresons was Rosseland, and that her husbands' full name was Lars Endreson Rosseland. She signs the letter to her family, "Guri Olsdatter" (80). The letter of Guri Olsdatter also appears in Fra Amerika Til Norge, II: Norske Utvandrebrev, 1858-1868, edited by Orm Øverland and Steinar Kjærheim, (Oslo,Norway: Solum Forlag, 1992), 378-381.2Theodore C. Blegen, Grassroots History , 77-78. In the chapter entitled "Immigrant Marthas,"((65-80) Blegen includes the letters of three women--Jannicke Sæhle (1847), Henrietta Jessen (1850), and Guri Endreson (1866). Blegen acknowledges in his introduction to the documents the "pall of silence"that historians have "Permitted to rest over the role of women in the American epic [the making ofAmerica]" (65). Of these letters Blegen writes: "They constitute a small contribution to the understanbding of the part of immigrant women in the conquest of the wilderness and in the building of the mid-continental domain. They are simple documents, written with no art save that which the simplicity oftruth stamps upon them. For that very reason, however, they possess a peculiar value as authentic records of the experiences of pioneer women" (65).3 Ole E. Rolvaag,Giants in the Earth(New York: Harper and Brothers, 1927), 64. 4Gary Clayton Anderson and Alan R. Woolworth, editors, Through Dakota Eyes: NarrativeAccounts of the Minnesota Indian War of 1862(St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1988), 15O. E. Deutzer, Cirkulare fra de nordamerikanske Staters Consulat i Bergen (Bergen: DahlsBogtrykkert, 1863), 86C arlton C. Qualy

 


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