1 /The Atlantic Crossing/
There was an exodus of biblical proportion, as thousands of people left the Scandinavian countries in the 1870 s. Brave, adventurous, and some hungry people wanted to go to that new land of milk and honey. As word from earlier travelers came back, an urgency, a sense of haste to get to that land and stake, claim, to homestead land that would become their own A mass of humanity, tempered by a hard life, now seeking a better, new way to live. Louie and Anna Karlson left Norway in 1877. They traveled to Liverpool England where they boarded a Cunard Line Steamship for the uncertain, thirteen-day trip to cross the Atlantic Ocean. They were fearless newlyweds, not yet owners of extensive personal property. Everything they owned was with them, being carried or packed in a steamer trunk. Their faith was carried on their faces and in their actions.
They were having a cheerful, romantic and uneventful crossing. It was almost like a low budget honeymoon cruise. The big boat was a couple 100 miles (ca. 161 kilometers) off the Massachusetts coast when sailing weather took a radical change. The ship encountered a huge, powerful nor’easter. The good ship bobbed around like a fishing cork, or a small skiff, on the churning water, as the gigantic waves pounded it. The crests of the waves resembled mountains, the ship would go over one mountain then down into the Valley, thrilling or possibly petrifying, the wealthy patrons on the upper deck.
Poor immigrants traveling below deck received the full sound or amplified noise of the ship being battered by the heavy waves. It was enough to scare them into thoughts of death. Some would be contemplating, leaving this earth as a heavenly body. Others going to that fiery abyss, some just to the deep, dark bottom depths of the ocean with the ship. They were also traveling near iceberg-hidden waters. There were times when other steamships could be viewed traveling in the opposite direction. A portion of that trip was made in fog, the eastbound lanes and the westbound lanes we’re not far apart in some waters, making it very dangerous in dense fog. The captain had announced not to worry, that is what foghorns are for, as he made a loud test blast of his prized musical instrument.
Anna was giving birth and said to Louie, “your father never did like me, did you know that?” Louie replied, “no I did not know that.” He told me, babies are supposed to take 9 months. Knowing our baby would not take that long. Anna, “please do not let that bother you, he will get over it in time.” My father has very strict with old-fashioned ways. If your father had it to do over, he would never send you into Oslo by yourself. That might be true but what’s done is done, and we will all make the most of it. The important thing is, “I love you” my father will have to learn how to love you.
Our cruise has started to make me rather seasick, I’m not the fearless, strong, Viking sailor, after all, been thinking seriously about vomiting. It might be because your father knows we’re talking about him. The trip was nearing its end when their baby boy was born, they named him Christian. He was a big healthy baby.
2 / New York to Michigan/
The Karlson family was processed through immigration at Ellis Island in New York without an incident. To conserve what they had in their nest egg, they decided to leave for Michigan as soon as possible. In a few days, they traveled by train to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Louie immediately went to work in a copper mine, that was his job in Norway. The pay was adequate, but Anna felt the work was far too dangerous for any amount of wage. She kept telling him, let’s go to the Dakota Territory as so many others have done before us and start farming. She said, “I fear you will be killed beneath that huge, cold Lake, if the mine should collapse. I lay awake at night thinking about you being trapped beneath that icy water.
Our baby Chris is healthy and growing fast. I think it would be a good place for him to grow up on the farm, with brothers and sisters. Okay, Anna, I will work here for another 6 months. We will save our money, then move to Dakota Territory early in the spring. You do realize, we will not have anything when we get there, no home, nothing. Just as others did, We, must homestead some land then start making improvements on it. We will dig a hole into the side of a hill like a badger or a fox. After a year or 2, and we have some money from crops, we can build a wood frame house or even a stone house. Louie, “you don’t paint a very bright picture, nothing good for us to look at, I don’t think you would ever be an artist.” Ah, my wife makes jokes too! Anna, you must admit that our lives together are brightly colored with hope.
Anna, the reason I want to leave early in the Spring, we must get a garden planted as soon as possible, we need to raise food to get us through that first, long, cold winter. Turning sod for the first time makes very poor ground to plant a garden in. Hopefully, we can find ground near a Creek where there should be some rich loose soil for our Garden. We could also carry water from the creek if it gets dry. I have heard there is plenty of small game such as prairie chickens, the lakes all have fish. We might be living off the land literally, for a long time.
My brother Ole is planning on making the trip to America in a year or two. His wife recently died giving birth to their fifth child. I know he will be a big help with the heavy work when he gets here. We will need him especially if we decide to build a stone house. I understand field stone is plenty-full, they are good for building things but not very nice when you must pick them up to plant your crops. Brother Ole was a Forester and has been doing hard work ever since he was a teenager, he is a big man now.
Louie was late getting home one night from work, it was almost the middle of the night. Anna was worried and scared. Louie finally got home, when he walked into the house Anna could smell liquor. She said, “Louis what have you done, I never thought you would go to that rowdy saloon and drink, whatever made you do that?” Louie said, “that is not what happened.” We had a cave-in at the mine, the water was flooding the tunnel. I was never so scared in my life, we got the water to slow down and reopened the passage, so we could crawl out. None of us thought we would get out, but we crawled from that hole like a bunch of drowned rats. I have never been so cold and miserable. My teeth were chattering so bad I thought they might break off. The shift foreman felt bad for our plight, he brought out a keg of Brandy and told everybody to drink some and get their blood circulating again. I think he was celebrating the fact that we did not lose our lives down in the mine. Yes, Anna, we are bound to go to Dakota Territory it will only be a few more months now. She said, “Louis I am so sorry for doubting you, please forgive me.” There Is nothing to forgive, “I love you, Anna. “
I will have to send Ben Johnson a letter before we leave here telling him what day we will get to Volga on the train, he will meet us there with a wagon and team of horses. He says we could stay at his place until we get our homestead land chosen and get a hole dug into some hillside, to make our home with the wild animals. We will need a small stove for cooking, and a few kitchen items that we don’t have in the trunk, it will be a small operating budget to start with that is a known fact. That land is being grabbed up fast, so we want to be sure we get there early in the spring.
2 /Dakota Territory/
They claimed their share of the promised land in Dakota Territory USA in March 1879. It had a sloping hillside near a big lake where they dug their home. There was more than enough rock to work with for building a stone house later. Their original dugout ended up being the root cellar too. A large part of the quarter section was swamp, a slough or bog, with muskrat houses on it. That meant it would be too wet to farm on most years, leaving fewer tillable acres. To help make up for that there would be income from selling muskrat hides to fur buyers. Anna immediately went to work planting a garden down by the edge of the marsh, there was rich soil and a garden would do well. They luckily found a good used stove after someone had upgraded to a large cook stove,
Anna was pregnant, and they were both very happy. About midsummer, she had a miscarriage, Louie felt terrible, thinking it was because she was working so hard in the garden. They were fortunate and acquired a pair of oxen and some equipment from a farmer who was starting to use horses. The oxen are very dependable and can do well on the Prairie grass instead of feeding them higher quality hay. Louie hired a neighbor to break 10 acres of sod that the first year, everything was done manually, planting, harvesting, all of it. The dugout home was quite snug, and comfortable, it was dug into the South side of a large Hill, so the sun shone on it. They fashioned a window and door on that sunny south wall. An eight-foot wall of stone with cottonwood tree branches leaning against it was a shelter for the oxen.
The Karlson family spent their first winter in their cozy dugout, Anna was very talented and turned a man-made cave into a comfortable one-room home. She had been busy all summer growing things in the garden and preserving everything for storage to get them through the winter months. Chris was by her side all the time. They were very fortunate to have raised a couple 100 pounds (ca. 45 kilograms) of potatoes which should be plenty for them. They could trade some potatoes to neighbors for eggs. Carrots were kept in a huge crock filled with sand. Beans were drying behind the stove. She grew several kinds of squash, they kept well in a hole dug further into the back wall. They made a shallow well not far from the slough and carefully boiled all the water that they used for drinking. A small general store was 3 miles (4.83 kilometers) away, that was the only place they could get staple items or necessities for day to day living.
Louis was reflecting one day about their crossing on the steamship. He said Anna, “those hoity-toity folks in first class wouldn’t even say hello to me, good morning, or give me the time of day. I have to smile, now they are wearing my muskrat furs and probably think they have mink coats.”
In the spring of 1881, Louie sent a letter to his brother Ole.
1 April 1881
“If you’re going to come to America you better hurry up, the land is all being taken quite rapidly.” We would love it, if you would come and help build us a stone house.” A hillside over by the Lake slid down during high-water years. It exposed some excellent clay to use for mortar, it looks like a combination of clay and limestone.
The land that we homesteaded has about 40 acres of Marsh on it, I have harvested enough muskrats to make up for the grain that we haven’t been able to harvest. I had a neighbor plow up another 10 acres of sod, and we planted wheat and corn, but we barely grew enough to keep our animals alive.
The muskrat money has helped us buy some harvest equipment, a milk cow and a few chickens. I’m going to start building a small barn, it will have stone walls, and we will buy wood to put on the roof. We hope to hear from you soon. Everything has been going well here, except Anna had a miscarriage. Our son Chris is growing up to be a strong young man, helping his mother with everything.
Love, Brother Louie, Anna, and Chris
Anna, I wrote a letter to Ole and told him he better hurry and come over here before the land is all gone and that we would like to have him help us build a stone house. I know he is reluctant to leave our parents alone in Norway, but they won’t be alone as there are 3 other sisters still living at home. I presume if they marry, their husbands will help our father on the farm. Ole did talk about having our brother Simon come with him and his three children. Simon has 4 daughters and no sons. Ole’s son Andrew will help Simon with his farming operation.
When I told him about the income, we made trapping muskrats, I’m sure that will light a fire under his tail feathers and get him moving faster. Ole loves to hunt and fish, and trapping he is very good at.
The hot summer of 1881 was a scorcher for the pioneers living in Dakota Territory USA. The wind blew hard, hot and dry all that summer, crops withered in the ground. Thunderstorms developed almost daily but no rain came out of the bright, unforgiving, reddish purple, sky, only lightning. The electricity charged heavens sent bolts of deadly lightning starting numerous Prairie fires throughout the region. Many families who had wood frame homes lost their homes and belongings to the destructive Prairie fire. Some called them, “The Fires from Hell.” The wind-driven flames burned everything in their path. There were several fires burning simultaneously throughout the territory. A suffering people got tested more with each passing day. Religious, people were starting to lose their faith in a creator that would destroy that which he had created. They determined the fires must have come from hell.
Prairie Fires burned around this house
Ole and Simon with their families came from Norway in 1881, and they worked at the iron mines of Northern Minnesota where several cousins were working until 1883. Andrew met and married his wife Minnie there, she came to Dakota with him. Her daughter Alice was born, and they came to Dakota.
Dakota territory was starting into a time of drought. The weather seems to run in cycles of 10 years, if that was the case a dry cycle started in 1881. Louie’s muskrat revenue soon dried up, there was no water in the Marsh, the well even dried up, they now had to carry water for a mile from a neighbor ’s place. Things were looking very bleak and Anna had another miscarriage. Ole and Simon arrived that fall and were very disappointed in what they found. They brought with them the news about new land being opened to homestead in North Dakota and it was just as rich farmland as there was in South Dakota.
Ole, Simon, and Andrew immediately went to work helping Louie build a stone house. The hard work and brotherly barbs kept them in good spirits, they were all in agreement there had never been a stone house erected any faster than that one. And they had to haul clay and limestone for a mile from the Lake. The oxen worked overtime dragging large stones from the field to the building site. It was a very cramped quarter living there. Andrew dug the well deeper, so they had water. Simon’s children were boarded out to live with other people, and they were very happy to have a place to stay where they had fresh milk and a warm house with 3 meals a day. They were content to work for room and board. A decision was made to travel to North Dakota in the Spring and claim land there. Four other families planned to go with them. It was decided Ole, Louie, Anna, and Chris would go to North Dakota and the others would stay there in the stone house. Andrew would live with Simon and his daughters.
Ole’s youngest son Ole died shortly after getting off the ship, his other three children would live with childless couples looking for someone to work for room and board.
4 / Off To North Dakota/
It was a chilly, windy day in late March when the Karlson group with all their belongings in two wagons pulled by 2 teams of oxen started out for North Dakota. It was still March severe snowstorms could come up at any time, temperatures could still get very cold. They had their little stove in the back of one extra sturdy wagon with some extra firewood. If the weather went sour on them and it got too cold to travel onward, they would crawl into the wagon and bundle up with their bedding to keep warm until it passed.
They joined 4 other families near the border, and all proceeded to an area near a small lake, it was later known as Duck Lake. Ole and Louie claimed land that was bordered by that lake. To their amazement, it was filled with muskrat houses from the year before. It looked like no one ever trapped there. It was as if someone had left a gold mine unguarded and untouched. Far too late for trapping at that time of year because the fur was not prime and had no value. Ole said to Louie, “looking at this Lake and the previous water levels, it is on its way down. You and I are going to have a very busy winter coming up. We will have to trap muskrats around the clock, I’m sure this Lake will be dry next year. I now wonder if we made a mistake by coming here, there is no doubt a drought started that will continue up through the center of the continent. We are going to have to work hard this winter and do as much trapping as we can and save our money. I do not think we’re going to grow many crops under the continuing dry conditions. We all know the Lord works in mysterious ways. The mother muskrats that are living in this Lake are going to have baby muskrats this summer. This could be like money in the bank, it also could be how we will survive.
There was no hillside for a dug-out house by their Lake, the first thing they had to do was start cutting sod for building material to build a sod house with. They slept in the wagons or out under the stars for a couple of weeks before they had a house of sod that they could call home. There were numerous cottonwood trees around the Lake, many trees had fallen from the ice on the Lake pushing them or from windstorms. They didn’t have to cut many down, it was mostly just gathering up large branches that were already on the ground, it made their task much easier.
They put tree branches across the top of the walls and then laid sod up on the tree branches. The grass would start growing, and they would have a grassy roof that would shed water to some degree. After getting their Soddy finished, they went to work breaking ground to plant some wheat and corn. Their spirits being very low as they were putting the good seed into the dry ground, they had to pray for rain or maybe talk to some local Indians and request a rain dance.
In 1884 the people farming near Duck Lake harvested a very small crop. It yielded barely enough income to pay for the seed and survive on. The strong-willed, groups desperate situation became magnified many times over in 1885 when influenza broke out. That dreaded virus claimed nearly half of those recent arrivals. Grieving and sadness was the order of the day, the men were exhausted from digging graves. A spot half a mile away on a hilltop had been chosen to create a Pioneer Cemetery. That was the end of the trail, the final resting place for many cousins in that group. Their dreams had been devilishly dashed, spirits being trodden on and tested. They all knew down deep, they must carry on, many alone, better days would come. Faith and hope must prevail.
Anna gave birth to a big baby girl in the fall of 1885, that baby was healthy, Anna and Louie we’re proud, thankful parents for the second time. The mother and baby both faced the influenza virus and won.
In 1886 Duck Lake dried up, that was the end of the trapping bonanza, no more muskrat money to rely on. It was so dry thistles didn’t even grow, there was not even one tumble-weeds blowing around in the constant hot wind, nothing but dust storms. Ole said to Louis, “We better pack up our wagons again, while we still have some money. Brother, the way I see it, the foothills of the Rocky Mountains up in Alberta Canada is our last hope. It is just now being opened to homesteaders. We may have to learn to get along with the Black Foot Indian still living there but there is land to be claimed. That is truly the last frontier as far as homesteading property goes, and from what I understand it is very desirable land. We will have to clear a certain amount of timber from it every year before we can farm it. You know me, I will be right at home in the forest, making the wood chips fly off my double-edged ax. “What do you say, Louie?” “You better talk it over with Anna, you now have another baby.” I’m sure we will all be healthy and happy in that environment, the winters are cold and long, usually much snow, but it is a great land. The land up there is almost identical to what we left back in Norway, we will feel like we’re back home again, that is worth much. It has a very short growing season, we were born near the Arctic Circle, we know not many fruit trees will grow there.
5 /Destination Alberta Canada/
In mid-March 1887 they left Duck Lake. Ole was driving one team of oxen and wagon, Louie was driving the other team with the second wagon. Two other families joined them. The little wagon train was moving again, they truly hoped it would be the promised land. Anna, Chris, and baby Mary were bundled up in the back of one wagon amongst their quilts and furnishings. They had packed everything they owned again, and we’re headed for the Rocky Mountains. They could be caught in some bad weather in March at Alberta, but again they had a little stove and firewood in the wagon. It was their plan to arrive at Black Deer as early as possible. There was a wagon trail all the way to Black Deer, from there West there was no actual trail you might make your trail as you went. Westbound travelers knew they would be following the path of the least resistance. If you had to clear a tree for your wagon to get through you surely did not want to cut a big one. It was best to have someone in the group walking scouting the area further ahead but still within shouting distance. They knew it was going to be slow going, few people had ventured West from that point it was mostly uninhabited since the early fur traders came through.
It was going to be a long hard summer, All work, and absolutely no play. They had to get a cabin built, dig a well, and get firewood cut for the winter. There would be much to do and a short time to do it in. When they were getting settled into their home a big Saint Bernard dog showed up one day, he decided he was going to live there too, and he became their dog King, he and Chris were the best friends from day one, it was as if they had known each other all their lives.
The Karlsons had been living in Alberta for 3 years and were settled in well and happy. Ole and Louie were busy hunting, fishing or trapping when they were not clearing land to farm. The homestead law required them to clear so many acres of land each year, to take out the timber. They had plenty of logs, and we’re now living in a 2 room, log house. There had been enough homesteaders moving into the area, a school district was started. A small rural schoolhouse was about 2 miles (3.22 kilometers) from where they lived, centrally located for the major population. Chris didn’t think too much of the idea, but he did go to school, he was a very good student. There were still no roads, there were some wagon trails and walking trails. The speed of the travel was regulated by the weather. If there was not much snow, travel was by bobsleds, if the snow was soft and deep, you may have to use skis or snowshoes. If it was raining summer weather, it was usually to muddy to go anywhere. Travel was simply done by foot, that was the easiest way to go from place to place.
6 / Ole Killed by Grizzly Bear/
One day Ole didn’t come home from a hunting trip, it was a long time after dark when they heard King outside. Anna opened the door, King was standing there Ole’s coat in his mouth, it was covered with blood. Louie said, Oh, my, “I don’t like the looks of this, not at all.” The next morning Louie took King out, the big dog led him up the Mountain to Ole’s favorite hunting spot. There was Ole, a grizzly bear had killed him and eaten his legs off, then buried him in the ground part way. That bear was planning to come back and finish him when it got hungry again. Louie had a terrible, slow, heart-breaking trek, as a walked back home, the dog at his side. King acted like he was in mourning. Louie was thinking, ‘I have never seen a bear leave a track that big, I’ll bet Ole emptied his gun into that gigantic, monster and it still wouldn’t stop.
Louie got to the cabin, Anna was waiting, she looked as if she had been crying when she opened the door. What happened? “Louie started crying again,” “he was killed by a grizzly bear.” I will have Chris go with me in the morning, we will go back up there and bury Ole on his beloved mountain. He will have eternal rest there, just as if he had never left Norway.
Winter was long, sad and lonely without Ole being there with his good-natured ways and sense of humor. Anna and Louie were sitting by the fire, she said, “Louie, it will never be the same here without Ole. Do you think we should stay, or should we leave this place?” We have our home here now Anna, we’re not getting any younger, Chris is doing good in school, he has a great future, and soon Mary will be in school. I suppose we better stay right here where we’re at. Hopefully, our future together here at the bottom of this mountain will keep getting better, and we will have some peace in our senior years.
As usual, the hunting season was good, there was plenty of meat in the smokehouse, another winter was soon coming to an end. March was coming in like a lamb, weather was unusually nice, even this far North. Shortly after noon one day, during that first week, a strong storm came from the Northwest with terrible hard, cold winds and snow. The temperature dropped like a rock, 30 degrees in a matter of a few minutes. The snow was so thick you couldn’t see, it was a complete whiteout. The sun had been overhead and in less than an hour, you could not see your hand before your face. Chris was at school, they should have still been there when the storm hit at that time of day. When he didn’t get home, Louis wasn’t concerned because a huge would pile was cut at the schoolhouse so the children could stay there in case of bad weather and keep warm.
7 / Chris Lost in Storm/
The storm started to let up the next morning, it looked like it was worse than the storm in January 1888 when record low temperatures were set, −65 °F (−54 °C). It just didn’t last as long. About noon Louie heard someone at the door, it was the doctor from in town. Come in and warm up, “what the heck are you doing out in this kind of weather.” Bring your backpack in,” how can you ski with a pack this heavy?” The doctor replied, “I was in the Finnish Army before I went to medical school. In the Finnish army, you stay in good physical condition, you must, with a neighbor like they have. The doctor said, “he had been at a residence further up the mountain, the kids were all sick. He thought he better get back to town because people would need him after this storm.” He said, “I stopped off at the schoolhouse to warm up for a little while.” Louie asked, “we’re all the kids warm there?” The doctor replied, “there was no one at the schoolhouse and the stove was cold.”
You said nobody was at school! My God, Chris hasn’t come home, Oh, what are we going to do, there must be six feet of new snow. I will have to take King and start walking that way but I’m not sure what trail he would have taken, there are 2 or 3 different trails that he might take coming from school, all about the same length. The doctor said, “I will go with you, and help,” “No doc, you must get back to town.” I will go, say a prayer for me and King, please. Anna you and Mary keep on praying until we get back.
I will take some blankets, extra snowshoes and the little dog sled, King could easily pull it, and we will bring Chris back on that sled. The doctor skied toward town, Louie and King headed back toward the school. Louie recalled there were more trees on 2 of the trails, he was trying to get a picture in his head of each trail. Which one had the fewest trees? That should be the one Chris would have taken, so he started down that trail. He had gone over a mile on snowshoes, that is a slow hard mile. Being in good shape he was moving right along. He kept a close eye on King, the dog wanted to go a different direction, then Louis realized the one other trail ran parallel, close to the one they were on. King rumbled right through the heavy brush, but Louie had a terrible time with his snowshoes getting through the thick small trees. When Louie finally broke through the tangled brush and got out on the other trail, he realized King had found Chris and was starting to dig in the snow. Louie got his snowshoes off, using one snowshoe for a shovel he dug his way down to Chris, he had almost 5 feet (ca. 152 centimeters) of snow over the top of him. Chris had broken off many smaller Cedar branches and pulled them over himself, he made a durable little place to get away from the weather. But It looked like he was frozen solid, Louie could see a tiny sign of breath coming from his nose.
He got Chris bundled up with the blankets and tied onto the sled. They started off for home as fast as they could go, Louie thought for a while the dog would take Chris straight home. As slow as he was going, the dog was patient with him and kept looking back, that faithful animal was looking out for his welfare too. It seemed like it took forever, but they finally got back to the cabin and Anna was waiting at the door. She cried out, “Is he dead?” No Anna, he is near death but I’m sure he is still alive. I think the best thing we can do is carry him to our bed. Then each one cuddle up beside him, Mary can lay by his feet to thaw them out. We must slowly get the temperature to come back up in his body. When his breathing improves, he will need some nourishment, some liquids, you better make chicken broth or something.
They all stayed in bed with Chris for several hours, his body started to warm up, and he cried out, “where am I?” “What happened? Then he started crying because his hands hurt and his feet hurt, he hurt all over his body. Louie said you stay with him, while I bring in more water. Damp cloths should make his body feel better, starting out with cool and then warming up. Anna gave Chris some water with an eye dropper, He thought that was good and tried to smile. Chris had frostbite over most of his body, his toes and feet were severely frozen, and his hands were frozen, not quite as bad as the feet. It was surprising he didn’t complain much. Anna tried to help his pain with damp cloths. He started to take some nourishment, she gave him mostly soft food and broth. She gently rubbed Chris’s body and his hands and feet trying to keep the circulation going, to keep the blood flowing.
Mother, the teacher got sick. So she told us kids to go home early. I remember when I left the school the Sun was shining nice and bright it was almost warm out. When I got about halfway home it started to snow and it got real cold. Within a few minutes you couldn’t see anything. I was on my trail in the cedar trees and realized I had to make a shelter because I would get lost. That is when I broke off a bunch of branches and made myself a shelter at the bottom of that one big tree.
Louie heard someone at the door, it was their neighbor John Larson, he wanted to know if he could borrow the dog, he was still looking for his 2 girls. Louie said, “Of course you could borrow the dog.” “I will get dressed and go with you.” He said, no, “you better stay here, I will bring your dog back later.” John, “Just keep him on a leash while you’re searching and when you get done, turn him loose, he will come home by himself.” We will pray that you find your girls OK, go and be safe. Louie later learned the man found his 2 daughters that evening about dark, and they were both dead.
3 days after Chris had been frozen, he was sitting up in a chair by the fire. He said, “Dad, I want some deer jerky, I have to get some meat, something in me besides soup. His feet and hands were bandaged, they looked bad, discolored. Chris devoured the jerky, and Anna said, “it looks like you’re ready to go to work on some good solid food to start getting your strength back. Your dad will go into town and talk to the doctor, see what else we could do if there’s something we can do differently.
Father, I was so scared out there covered with snow. I had all kinds of things go through my mind. After walking that trail so much I knew if I got away from the Cedars I would be out in the open more. I decided to break as many branches off as I could to make my little shelter down at the base of that big old tree. I’m sure glad I did that, I felt pretty good there for a few hours, then it started to get cold during the night. I started thinking about when we were in Dakota territory, that first year eating those little berries off the Wild Rose bush and digging wild turnips. You shot lots of prairie chickens and ducks, then we ate goose eggs in the spring. Stealing them from a mother goose was tricky. Those were some hard, but good times. I remember going with you trapping muskrats, and then a lot more muskrats up in North Dakota. The time we went to that general store and bought a bundle of wooden shingles, the store owner laughed and said, what are you going to do, shingle your sod house.” You said no, we need these for muskrat hides, drying stretchers.” I wonder how many 100 rats you and Ole caught. It may have saved our lives. Mother, did you get tired of eating muskrat meat too, all the time we were living at Duck Lake? Chris, I better not comment on that, not while your father is listening. Sometimes it is best not to say what we are thinking. The worst part was the smell from the hundreds of muskrat hides drying in the house, by the stove yet! I’ll bet you that old sod house still smells like a muskrat. It is a smell that is very hard to describe and one that is not very friendly to your nose.
Then I thought about the bear that killed Ole, what if he comes after me now, he will just eat me for a quick lunch, then I realized he should be sleeping in his den somewhere up in the high country. From the size of his track, I hope none of us ever run into him out in the wild.
I thought about the many people who died in North Dakota and their families. I started feeling warmer and wondered if that meant I was dying, deciding I did not want to die yet, I prayed that you and King would find me, and that’s the way it turned out.
Louie was getting ready to go into town and see the doctor, and he heard some noise outside. It was the doctor taking off his skis. Doctor, what are you doing out here? He said, “I knew you were going after your boy, I thought I better come out here and see how you’re all getting along.” Louie said I’m afraid he’s got frostbite awful bad, hope we all feel better after you take a good look at him. Hello Anna, “I thought I better come out and take a look at your son Chris.” Can you imagine, they have a telephone in some towns nowadays? I don’t suppose we’ll ever have anything like that out here in the country. You could just pick it up here and talk to me in town. Wouldn’t that be the handiest thing ever invented? Hi Chris, “how are you feeling?” Chris replied, “My body is awful sore and the skin itches but can’t scratch it the way mother has my hands bandaged. The doctor gave him a thorough examination, and then he went out in the kitchen to talk to Louie and Anna.
8 / Deep Severe Frost Bite/
Folks this looks very bad for Chris, I’m afraid he’s going to lose his feet and possibly his hands too. There’s really no way I could do that surgery out here at your house. It would be too dangerous for him. They’re talking about having a hospital in town someday but that’s way off in the future. I tell you what, why don’t you bring Chris into town, and he could stay with me and my wife. When the time comes to decide on the surgery, I have gas to put him to sleep with and I could do it there. I have more equipment available, that would be the safest way to go about doing this. I’m almost positive he will lose his feet and possibly his hands.
If we do nothing, he will have a very painful and agonizingly slow end to his young life, the pain will become unbearable, so I think we should amputate. There is only one alternative, take him to Calgary by dog sled and that ride alone might be more than he could stand. He’s going to be very sensitive to any cold air touching his body from now on.
Anna said, is it alright if I come to town and stay with him? I can help take care of him, instead of your wife having to do everything? Anna, that would be just fine, the doctor replied. Mary can help her father with housework. You could come out and visit from time to time. I think that sounds like the best idea. The doctor said, “Louie, I don’t think the snow is too bad on the main trail from here to town, you should be able to bring them in with your horse and bobsled. I don’t doubt but it’s going to be very close to spring before we get Chris taken care of. Hopefully, this spring when the weather warms up, Chris will be ready to start a new life, learning how to get along with artificial limbs.
King was in sitting by Chris in his chair, as if he was trying to cheer him up, with his chin on Chris’s knee. King had a look on his face like he understood this was a very bad situation. He was there to try to help make the most of the ordeal and get Chris to feel better.
On the next warm day, Louie brought the two horses out of the small barn and hooked them to the bobsled. Anna brought a Buffalo Robe from the house, she, Mary and Chris got in the bobsled and covered up with the robe. They were off to town with bells jingling on the harnesses. It was a pretty picture, looked like a happy family out for a sleigh ride. The consequences and destination of the trip left everyone quiet and gloomy. Chris was the first one to speak, he said, Father, I heard you talking to the doctor the other day I realize I’m in much trouble. I must learn to live with much pain, I pray I can get through it. Son, you have an inner strength that you haven’t tapped into yet, before long you’ll be reaching down deep inside of yourself. You will find energy and strength and a peace that will allow you to do things that were thought impossible.
9 / Chris Loses Limbs /
The Karlson family arrived at the doctor’s house where they met the doctor’s young wife Ellen, a beautiful young lady. She welcomed them into her large house and showed them the spare bedroom, where they would be staying. Chris walked in with heavy boots on his feet, his mother on one side and father the other, supporting him. Ellen said, “The doctor would be back shortly, he was at the general store.” Toivo and I have only been out here a little more than a year, we don’t have any children yet, we hope to start a family soon. He went to medical school late in life, after he served in the Army. He loves his work and is very dedicated. It broke his heart to see how badly Chris was frozen. Chris is lucky to be alive. The Lord must have some special things in mind for him to do with his life. Toivo will give Chris the best care possible, probably better than he would get at any hospital.
When the doctor got back, he gave Chris a quick examination and changed his bandages, then he said the next few days are going to make much difference. We will see many changes take place and hopefully they will be good. He told Louie and Mary that they may as well start for home before dark, everything would be alright. There were much, tears and hugs and kisses as everyone said goodbye. Chris had a smile on his face and said, “Dad, don’t worry about me, I will be OK.” Toivo said to Louis, “I’ll bet you didn’t know you were marrying a nurse, by the time we get done here, Anna will be a full-fledged nurse.”
Louie and Mary started back home, there were no words until they were about halfway home. Little Mary said, “Father, are they really going to cut off his feet and his hands?” Louise said, “We sure hope not but the doctor will have to do what he thinks is best, your brother was frozen awful bad.” It is a miracle that he is still alive.
It was a week later when Louie and Mary went back to visit Chris, he was sitting in a chair and both of his feet had been removed and his left leg close to the knee. Chris said, Father, the pain isn’t as bad now, but my feet and my toes itch and I don’t have them anymore. I have no feet, You, know I never did want to play baseball anyhow. Louie hugged Anna, she was crying, she looked so tired. Louie asked, “are you OK?” She said yes, We, will get through this, we must have faith that we will get through it for the best.
Doctor Toivo talked to Louis and told him that everything went well so far. The left hand is much worse than the right, and they both have gangrene that wants to spread up the arms. A family here in town left me a wheelchair when their father passed away. They told me to give it to anyone who could use it. I think it would be very handy for you and Anna to have out at your house to move Chris around in. Chris isn’t very big yet, but you can bet he’s going to do some growing. Without his hands and feet working properly, he will grow muscles that will be unbelievable. Chris will devise ways to get himself around, to do many things that will surprise us. He has been reading several of my medical books. He just loves to read, he finds the medical terminology interesting. The other day Anna was turning pages for him, she went to do something else, he just picked up the feather quill that was on the desk in his teeth and turned the pages Anna was so surprised.
Why don’t you take Anna home with you for a week, if I decide that we must take Chris’s hands, I will wait until she gets back to help with him? I’ve been hoping we can save them but one more week won’t make much difference, she needs her rest, being completely exhausted. Louie said, “thank you, doctor, that sounds like a very good idea to me.” Louie, Anna, and Mary started to return home. The bobsled runners making a crunching noise as it moved over the snow that thawed during the day and now froze, then they traveled along smooth and quiet in the shaded places. The silence was broken by Anna sobbing. She said, Louie, this is all my fault, you would have stayed in Michigan if I hadn’t kept nagging you to leave the mine. No, he replied, what do you mean this is your fault? What happened to Chris is the results of us living in this world, we had no control over it. This was not your fault, if anything, it would be my fault for dragging you all to this mountain country. Mary said, Daddy, I don’t like it, you and mom are fighting, I’ve never heard you do this before. Louie, replied, Mary we are not fighting, we just feel bad for Chris, and we’re trying to figure out why it’s happened. That is something we will never do. I’m sorry if we scared you.
They were all sitting by the fire that evening, Mary said, you should have seen Chris last week. He was reading books all day long, he would have read at night, but the kerosene lamp did not make much light. The doctor said, “Chris learned more reading that week then he did in many months at medical school.” Doctor Toivo cannot believe how fast he learns, I couldn’t turn the Pages fast enough, so he figured out a way to turn them himself without his hands.
The week Mary spent at home seemed to fly past faster than a high mountain, storm cloud. She was dreading going back to town with the knowledge the doctor would be amputating at least one of Chris’s hands, but she couldn’t stand to see him suffer. She stayed in town and Louie and Mary returned to the log house. Mary said, “I’m scared for Chris.” Louie replied to her, “me too.”
That week the doctor amputated Chris’s right arm just below the elbow the left arm had done some healing they were trying to keep hope up for that arm. Another week passed it almost seemed as if Chris read books constantly to keep his mind off the pain he was having. That pain had to be nearly unbearable.
Decision time came for Chris’s last arm. Doctor Toivo said to Chris, We, don’t have to do this if you want to take the chance of keeping it. As you can see Chris, the color is very bad, and the blood isn’t circulating in it. Like you read about. I’m afraid the gangrene will continue to go up your arm, and it will poison you in time. It will take your life away from you.
The doctor said, Chris, in Finland they have a thing they call Sisu. There is really no definition for it. It is a combination of things, a strong will, or guts, inner strength or power, each person has it in their body. I believe it is part of their soul. Chris, I can see that you have an abundance of Sisu in you, I believe you can get through this and overcome all the obstacles that it will present, but this is your decision. You tell me what you want to do.
Chris looked at the doctor, I want to live so much, please remove this other arm. We will leave it all in the Lord’s hands, I’m sure he will protect me and guide me for the rest of my days in this world. Doctor Toivo removed Chris’s other arm, it was taken off just above the elbow.
Chris and Mary stayed at the doctor’s house for 2 more weeks, he was healing nicely. The day Louie and Mary came to pick them up they all had a party with cake and ice cream. The doctor told Louie that he was going to find a prosthetic for Chris to use on his right arm. That would be a birthday gift from him and Ellen. He told Louis, he was not going to send him a bill, they could pay some money when he had extra, or if the doctor had poor luck hunting, he could bring the doctor some meat, or eggs from his chickens. Louie was speechless and told the doctor there was no way he and Anna could ever thank or pay them enough.
Louie, last week somebody found a huge bear, they are sure it is the one that killed your brother. It was skinned and five 30 caliber slugs were in its head. Louie replied, “If it had been shot in the head, that Big Bear must have caught Ole by surprise.” it must have had him in a death grip, with its huge paws when he shot it. Ole would have shot that bear through the heart and lungs if he had been able to do it. I can’t imagine how he could have hung on to his rifle while the bear was mauling him, but that must be what happened. Toivo said the District Mounties think that is the largest Silvertip Grizzly bear ever killed in Alberta. One thing we now know for sure, it died with a severe headache
10 / Pioneer Peace at Last/
The Karlson family were all returning to their home together, the sleigh bells were playing happier sounds. They were returning on a positive note after a long negative time.
The family had only been home for a few days before Chris learned he could walk with King by hanging on to Kings’ neck and walking beside him on his knees. They became an inseparable pair as they walked around the house and yard. Chris was developing extra strong muscles in his upper body and in what was left of his arms and legs. He became solid as a rock.
The doctor bought a big box of medical books from the University, and he had them sent to Chris. The doctor also worked with Chris’s teacher, and they planned a way where Chris could take a test to be admitted to the University in 2 years. Chris passed that test, then he went to the University, living on campus they supplied him with prosthetics and a wheelchair. He graduated with honors and stayed there and later became a teacher in the medical school.
The province did this because there was a severe shortage of doctors, especially in the isolated rural areas of all the provinces. They needed more doctors, many who graduated from medical school wanted to work in metropolitan areas. Very few choose the rural communities for the simple reason the people were poorer. It was a bold move. But it proved to work and supplied doctors, good, faithful doctors, to serve the communities.