Jorgen Soma

Ole Jorgen Omundson Soma was born in Sandnes, Norway, October 28, 1853.  His father was Ommund Risa who died when Jorgen was only three years old.  He was raised by his mother, Agnethe, who lived at Soma in Holland.

In 1882 so many immigrants were coming to America that no ships were available when he brought his trunk to the dock.  Instead he took an Oslo boat to Amsterdam where he waited five days to take the next usable boat, which was a Crown Line cattle boat slightly remodeled to accommodate immigrants.  The rooms on this ship were filthy and smelled of previous cattle passengers.  For fourteen days they sailed the Atlantic Ocean.  The journey ended in a near panic, as there was a shortage of coal and food.

Arriving in New York in 1882 he took an immigrant train to Chicago.  At breakneck speed the train approached a large bridge.  At the moment they reached the bridge the train jumped the rails and slid several rods along the ties.  Jorgen said that for a few minutes he feared this was to be his last ride.  He left on a smaller train for the Dakotas.  Approaching the Red River Valley it seemed as if the train were entering the ocean.   As far ahead as he could see, the valley was flooded, covering the rails by several inches.

In the latter part of March of 1882, Jorgen reached Valley City to look for land.  He first worked on the railroad, which was being built from Valley City to McHenry at that time.  He found favorable land in the Cooperstown vicinity.

He took a homestead on the southwest of Section 12-145-59.  This was under the Timber Culture Act of 1873 and stipulated that he must plant at least one-fourth of the land to trees within four years.  The only trees available were cottonwood trees.  This land is now owned by a son, Ingvald, and operated by a grandson, Jergen.

He erected a frame shanty where the Shepard Farmers Elevator now stands.  He dug his 24 x 40 foot barn four feet deep into the ground and it proved very efficient.  When going to Cooperstown, four miles away, he drove one ox and one horse.  Cooperstown was then a village of a few houses.

In 1885 he married Gurina Froiland and she bore him five children: Hans (who died very young); Omund; Agnethe (Nettie); Jonas and Oscar.  After her death, he married Lina Lee, who lived only a few months after their marriage.  Gina Kydland, from Sandnes, Norway, together with her father and stepmother, Torger and Lina Kydland, were visiting in the area at the time, and she was prevailed upon to help "that poor widower with his four young children.€  They were married in 1903.  Gina's mother was Lise Osland, sister of Mrs. T.T. Fuglestad and Mrs. Torkel Vigesaa.  Torger Kydland and his wife returned to Norway in 1905.  During World War 11, when the German troops entered Norway, Torger Kydland was taken back into the mountains out of danger, as his heart could not tolerate the trauma.  He died at age 98.

When Jorgen first started farming, he plowed with oxen, using five, two for seeder, and three for drag.  Using all at once, he managed to cover much ground in a short time.  He used a binder drawn by oxen for harvesting and Swen Aalgaard threshed for the entire community.  Very dry years followed but his land was low, which insured good crops each year.  Wheat and oats were the general crops he raised in those early days.

For fuel, buckwheat and grass seed screenings from the elevator were burned.  Dried cow dung was also used.  Wood fuel seemed unattainable but he hauled oakwood from the Sheyenne River.

The native prairie grass was highly inflammable.  One year a large prairie fire swept down from the northwest with a strong wind.  The corner of the fire was aimed directly for the newly erected schoolhouse.  With wet sacks, Jorgen and his help managed to steer the fire from the buildings.  Another natural hazard was the fierce winter storm.  In March of one year, after comparatively fine weather, a blizzard raging for three days froze many cattle that had been grazing in the sloughs in the vicinity.  The storm was so fierce that windows were blown in.

In 1909 Jorgen built a brick house in Cooperstown and retired.  He had farmed approximately twenty-five years.  That same year he bought his first car, a red two-seater, which he used to drive back and forth to the farm.  From then on, automobiles and tractors were his hobbles.  One special car was a white Glide, on which the front fenders pointed skyward.  In 1912, Jorgen took his family on a trip from Cooperstown to Red Willow Lake in a car that had front seats and back seats, but no doors nor a top.  Two years later his car had doors and a top, though the top was used only in cases of inclement weather.  On a tour to Grafton, North Dakota, the family started off at seven in the morning and arrived at the destination about 6:30 in the evening, tired and travel-worn.  The trip averaged about ten miles an hour, but was thought to be a great adventure.

After about four years of driving back and forth to the farm, which his son, Omund, was renting, he decided to go back to farming.  He had a house built on the land he had bought from Knud Holland; W of Section 13-145-59, and moved his family into what later became a blacksmith shop while the house was being built.  The family at this time consisted of Jorgen and his wife Gina, and four children, Lise, Torger, Gurina and Ingvald, and the youngest son by his first wife, Oscar.

Besides being interested in automobiles and machinery, Jorgen had a passion for thoroughbred horses.  Percherons and Belgians were the favorites.  These were show horses and he won ribbons at every fair and horse show, and displayed the prizes on the walls of his home office.

The early settlers formed a congregation as early as October 16, 1881.  They met in their homes and continued to do so until 1902.  December 8, 1901, Ole Lima wrote to his brother-in-law and sister, Andreas and Ane Vatne, who were then on a visit to Norway: "Friday, the 20th, we are to have trustee meeting, the 21st we have congregational meeting again, to try to get at the church building.  Friday I stopped in at Jorgen Soma's and saw the plan he has worked out for the church.  He thought that a large enough church could be raised and finished for less than $1,000.00.  It strikes me as a good idea to get Jorgen to build the church on contract, or else to furnish materials and hire Jorgen as overseer.  He is surely the most practical man we have among us.€  "Completed, J. Soma would guarantee the lumber bill not to exceed $526.00, aside from the steeple, which he assumed would increase the sum by $50.00.  This sounded quite encouraging."

There is no record of any land having been deeded to a school district, but the Shepard school is located on the E of Section 11-145-59 and the building is now used for town meetings.

After moving to the farm in 1912, four more children were born to Jorgen and Gina Soma.  Two girls died in infancy, and two other girls, Mildred and Judith, completed the family.  He continued to farm and to deal in real estate for many more years.  Besides serving on the various Township boards and school boards, he acted for many years and until his death in 1934, as Director of the First National Bank in Cooperstown, now the First Bank in Cooperstown.  At the time when two banks in Cooperstown closed, Jorgen Soma and S. Almklov (Dr. Almklov's father and Norman Hoel's grandfather) exchanged worthless paper for hard cash, thereby keeping First National Bank from closing.

In 1931 he was ready to retire.  He bought lots 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 in block 47 in Cooperstown, now owned by daughter Lise Johnson, and left the farm to be managed by his sons, Torger and Ingvald.

After Jorgen's death November 21, 1934, Torger inherited the home farm.  He was also a man with business acumen, and proceeded to expand his interests.  He died July 2, 1955, when his private plane crashed.  His wife, Inga, and son Jergen now own the land, which is operated by Jergen, his son Tim and daughter Kathy.  Jergen's wife, Beverly is an RN at the Griggs County Hospital and teaches the Nurses Aide program there.

Source: Cooperstown, North Dakota 1882-1982 Centennial page 93

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