Gunder ‘Gunnard’ Sorenson (9/20/1836 – 8/7/1905) was born in Ullensaker, Akershus Commune, Norway. He was born on the family farm, Lille Fladby, three miles NE of Klofta, one mile north of the Ullensaker church, and baptized October 23, 1836. Gunder was the fifth child and only boy. Hard times forced his father to sell a portion of the farm in in 1848, but he was able to later buy back a part of this.
Times were difficult in Norway. Unless one inherited the family gaard (farm), married into land, or worked on the seas, there was little opportunity to be successful. It is quite likely that Gunder worked the family farm until 1864 with his father, Soren Gunderson (born in Vinger, Norway in 1790). Soren died during the 1860’s, and the farm was then deeded to his eldest sister, Berte Mari Sorensdatter (ten years his senior) and her husband, Herman Arnesen. I am certain that this was extremely difficult for Gunder, as it is known that he was an extremely hardworking and ambitious man. Nonetheless it was not uncommon for a farm to be given to the eldest child, regardless of sex. Gunder married Anna Olsdatter (son of Ole) Kvarven (8/1845 – 10/22/1923) in 1864 (according to the 1900 census). Her father is listed as Ole Quarvin on her death certificate. Nothing is known of their time together in Norway. On March 31, 1893, Andreas Kornelius Sorenson married Kristine Maria Nelson at Long Bridge Church in Little Sauk, Minnesota. The wedding was witnessed by both Gunder Sorenson and Fred Frederikson.
The year 1865 marked the first of three large waves of Norwegian immigration to the promised land, America. Articles proclaimed the availability of free lands available because of the Homestead Act of 5/20/1862. This constituted “An act to secure homesteads to actual settlers on the public domain.” Early emigrants were quick to confirm this with letters home. A photograph of Gunder taken in Trondheim is displayed below.
Trondheim is a port half-way up the coast of Norway, extremely distant from the family farm in Ullensaker. In order to secure passage and set aside a stake for his journey to America, Gunder probably worked as a sailor, fisherman or longshoreman on the docks of the city. This would have kept him away from his young wife for the majority of the time. In 1869, he secured passage on a steamship and left in search of a new start. Reviewing the census record of 1880, first son Samuel was said to have been born in Norway (error). The Minnesota census of 1775 indicates Samuel was born in Minnesota.
It was customary for most Norwegians to join friends and family who were already established in their new home. The earliest Norwegian immigrants settled on rich prairie farmlands in southeast Minnesota. Predominant Norwegian settlements were present in Goodhue and Houston counties. I have found in the 1880 census records an Olang Quarve (with three children) in Spring Grove Township, Houston County, Minnesota. More interestingly, Edvart L. Quarve (born 5/1850) is listed with his wife Geolina and six children in the 1900 census. Could he be a younger brother of Anna?
In 1869, Fred Frederikson led a party of sixteen up the Red River Trail from St. Cloud to Kandota township. Kandota is a Chippewa Indian name meaning “Here we rest.” The party wintered over in Sauk Centre. They built a small ‘hotel’ (16 by 40 feet). From that small start, the settling of Kandota began. I mention this specifically because Fred Frederikson and his wife, Ellen, were godparents for Gunder and Anna’s third (?) son, Gulbrand (Gilbert), born 12/11/1876. Gunder sent for his wife, Anna Olsdatter (Kvarve) soon thereafter. H. Gilman Sorenson recalls the eve of his Grandmother’s death. She was at the home of Gilbert (her son) and Anna Sorenson, suffering from shortness of breath and a terrible cough (she died of dropsy, known today as congestive heart failure). She talked all through the evening, recalling her life in Norway. She also recalled her journey to the States. Unlike her husband, she secured passage on a sailing ship. One night, as all of the terrified passengers were kept below decks, a great pounding sound was heard and felt throughout the ship. Repeated pleas as to the cause were left unanswered. Finally, the pounding ceased and the passengers slept. The next day, the captain announced that a whale had been battering the ship. He had said nothing the night before; he was apparently as fearful as the passengers that the hull of his ship might be breached and all might perish in the cold north Atlantic.
In 1870 or 1871, Gunder and Anna were reunited. Their son, Samuel, was born April 1872. According to the 1870 census, Gunder was a farmer in the Norwegian community of North Fork Township, Stearns County, Minnesota (fourteen miles SSW of Sauk Centre). His possessions were valued at $200. Review of the 1871 Kandota County tax list indicates that he had not yet settled in Todd County. They claimed a quarter-section of part prairie, part densely wooded land (160 acres) on the southeast portion of Section 9, Township 27 of range 34, Todd County, Minnesota. Review of the Homestead Receiver’s office records (then located in St. Cloud, MN) produces a final receiver’s receipt #3600 for application #6103. “Received of Gunder Sorenson the sum of $4 being the balance required by law…” The land was proved and paperwork completed 7/18/1881. On 8/10/1876, Anna Sorenson borrowed $200 at ten percent interest from the New England Mortgage Security Company, using the homestead as collateral. She signed her name with an ‘X.’ The lien was removed on 4/15/1885. On 12/20/1893, Anna Sorenson purchased the southwest corner of section 9 for the sum of $1000 ($400 of which was from Ormus Marshall, who at the time owned the land by default on a previous note). Two additional purchases of eighty acres each were later made on adjoining section 10 land to the south. This brought the Sorenson holdings to 500 acres on sections 9 and 10.
John 0. Klukken wrote a serial article in 1957 for the centennial edition of the Osakis Review. He was a local historian who recalled the lives of the early settlers of Gordon Township, Todd County, Minnesota. I include information from this in order better portray early pioneer life in Todd County.
It is written that Vikings discovered America (scientifically verified in Newfoundland but not proven that they ever traveled to Minnesota). According to theory, they even sailed Sauk Lake, following Sauk River from Lake Osakis. Up until 1857, the arrival of the first white settlers, the area was rich with wildlife, a paradise for the Indians. The Sorenson homestead lay near the fluid boundary between the Chippewa and Sioux Indians. It is likely that with enough patience, arrowheads might still be found, witness to Indian hunting parties as well as battles.
When Gunder arrived, Kandota Township lay fifty miles from the closest railroad in St. Cloud. The land was virgin and unspoiled. While the last of the Indian uprisings occurred in the early 1860’s, Indians were often seen in the area (and saved the lives of more than one local settler who was close to starving). The woods teemed with wildlife, including deer, bears and wolves. The woods were so thick that it was difficult to find one’s way to the nearest neighbor. Trees were marked with an ax in order for settlers to find their way from one hut to the next.
The hardest thing to tackle for the early settlers in the wooded area was to grub and clear the land for crop purposes. If ever anything took determination and “the sweat of thy brow,” here it was. It took only to look at the shaking and calloused hands and fingers of the pioneers to know that they had put into the job more strength than they really had, at least many of them. It would take one man with a grub hoe and an axe normally one month to grub one acre, and another to clear the logs and brush and break it. The process of clearing a field was indeed slow in coming.
For the Sorenson family, winter was the best time to work in the timber. Gilman Sorenson recalls that his father Olaf, with brothers, would load up a sleigh full of wood, head cross country to the frozen lake, then travel up the lake to Sauk Centre. There, the load would fetch a dollar. If the weather was good, the boys would get back late in the evening, If not, they might have to spend the night in Sauk Centre. I wonder what kids today might do to earn a dollar, not for themselves, rather for the benefit of the entire family.
There was little to distract one from the grueling daily routine. Imagine a life without television, radio or theater. While Gunder was literate, Anna was not. The children were allowed to attend school until the age of ten or eleven. After that, they were too busy with farm work to waste their time elsewhere. The primary distraction for many of these early settlers, including the Sorenson family, was the church. There was a long tradition of organized religion in the Fladby farm in Norway dating back to the fourteenth century (the farm was church property under the aegis of the bishop). Gunder was baptized in the church, along with all of his sisters. In Minnesota, Gunder was one of the early co-founders of the Kandota Congregation Lutheran Church. The church was built on his land, just north of the house. In 1892, the Kandota and Long Bridge congregations joined. They shared a pastor for a few years, and finally the Kandota Church was vacated. The only remnant is a graveyard. Sorenson family members are interred at the Long Bridge Church cemetery. Services were conducted entirely in Norwegian, and all of the children were confirmed in Norwegian. Small wonder thus that the Sorenson children were barely literate in English.
The Sunday trek to church was not one to be taken lightly. While Long Bridge Church was only four miles distant, the trip was generally made on foot. The presence of adverse weather (rain, sleet or snow) could make this a miserable journey. Once there, the entire community met for the regular church services as well as social gatherings afterwards.
For many women, this was their only regular contact with friends and neighbors, the only break in a daily routine of work and more work. All of the Sorenson children were confirmed; presumable both at Kandota and at Long Bridge Lutheran Church. A list of the couple’s American-born children follows:
Edward 1/7/1879- 2/14/1934
Otelius 10/7/1880- 4/24/1907
Alfred 11/08/1885- 2/2/1954
Gunder Sorenson was known as a very diligent farmer, a hard worker who demanded much of himself and his boys. Not only did the boys work in the fields and do their chores, they were also expected to help clean the house and do the dishes. Gunder purchased the first steam-powered thrasher in the area. He oversaw the operation, while Olaf worked the pumper and Gilbert stoked the steamer. The outfit required two teams of horses. The Sorenson family thrashed oats for themselves and neighbors. In August of 1905, Gunder developed an abscessed tooth. This was well before the era of antibiotics, and before a doctor could arrive, he succumbed to a systemic infection. He was 68 years old.
Very little is known about Anna Sorenson. After the death of her husband, she lived primarily with her youngest daughter Malla, and husband Fred Flan. Each summer, she would join one of her children for two weeks at a time. At the time of her death, she was staying at the home of (son) Gilbert and Anna Sorenson. Alice Sorenson Lunde recalls that she spent almost all of the time in a rocker. Alice was unable to talk to her, since Anna spoke only Norwegian. Al Sorenson recalls being scolded by her for tossing his coat on the floor. Being younger (he did not learn English until he started school), he still understood enough to get the gist of her message. She passed away in her sleep during the night of October 22, 1923 at the age of 78.