The Norwegians

It was prophetic that Omund Nelson Opheim and his family were the first settlers in what is now Griggs County.

They were Norwegians, the first in a long, long line of Norwegians to take land in the community.

They came from places with names like Hardanger, Stavanger, Trondheim, Valdres, Hallingdal, Gudbransdal, Bergen, Sund, Nordland, Hamar, Lillehamar, even from faraway Vardo, only forty miles from the northern coast of Russia.  They named their institutions for remembered places: Ringsaker, Ness, Eidfjord churches, and for national heroes: Sverdrup Township.

Although Norway is not large in area, mountain ranges and rivers and fjords divide it, and travel from one small community to another was difficult.  Although the country shared one mother tongue, local dialects were so pronounced that residents of one valley might have trouble understanding people from another one only 150 miles away, as the crow flies.

Though the Lutheran church was the state church, there were differing points of view there.  Pietist preachers who thought that the state church had become too worldly had large followings.

This divergence influenced the lifestyles of the people, and they brought the differences with them to Dakota Territory.  Through the lifetime of the first generation in the United States, the differences between Norwegian and Norwegian were often as pronounced as those between Norwegian and Yankees, as they called the English-speaking settlers.

Entertainment in one group might include fiddle playing and dancing, and the men probably chewed tobacco and sometimes drank liquor.

Their neighbors, who spoke a different dialect and looked upon such activities with disapproval, would find little in common with them.

In the second, third and fourth generations the children of those families attended school together and became acquainted.  As the language barrier among Norwegians and between Norwegians and other ethnic groups was hurdled, friendships were formed and with them, intermarriages.  Descendants of Norwegian settlers married people whose parents or grandparents came from Sweden, Denmark, Germany, the British Isles, or Syria, and added new traditions, new recipes to their own.

Because Norway and the United States have always been on good terms, it has been possible for Norwegian-Americans to maintain strong ties with the old country.  Members of the third and fourth generations can still find relatives to greet when they visit Norway, and occasionally entertain Norwegian relatives in their homes here.

For many years the late Peter Lima sold steamship tickets for the Norsk-Amerika Line in a building across the street from his blacksmith shop.

Foods, music and household crafts have long been ties with the homeland.  Immigrants brought their household goods in trunks decorated with colorful rosemal painting.  Inside were household linens trimmed with embroidery and crocheted lace.  Some of the cloth was woven by hand.  Bowls, spoons and other kitchen items were often handcarved.

After the pioneering era ended, people once more had leisure and interest in learning the old traditional crafts.

The Norwegians liked music.  They liked to sing.  Accordions, guitars and violins were popular.  Occasionally a settler would own a Hardanger fiddle, an elaborately decorated eight-string instrument.

The Norwegian language could be heard quite often on the streets of Cooperstown until at least 1950.  Early day business people who spoke both Norwegian and English were a connecting link in integrating the Norse immigrants into the community.  Among them were John Syverson, Knud Thompson, H.P. Hammer, P. Tang, P.K. Moe, John Oie, R.S. Lunde and many others.

Favorite Norwegian foods are still frequently served at home and in public.  One restaurant in Cooperstown regularly serves kumla (potato dumplings), and occasionally lutefisk and torsk.  Almost everyone eats such breads as Julekake, lefse, kringlor and flatbread, such cookies as spritz, rosettes, sandbakkels and krumkake.  Two favorite brown cheeses, primost and gjetost, are still available but the strong brown gaminelost is now hard to find.  Pickled herring and sardines are still popular.

A 1982 bumper sticker says: Uff da' Norwegian driver.

The Norwegian foods and traditions are more visible at Christmas than at any other time.  Some of them are the same as those described by Mrs. Fosholdt in her account of Christmas in Norway as she remembers celebrating it at the turn of the century.  New clothes for Christmas were a tradition.

Caspara (Carlson) Aarestad remembers that her mother began by sewing each of her daughters a warm new dress.  One she remembers was light blue flowered flannel with long sleeves, a ruffle at the bottom, a square yoke and white eyelet embroidery around the neck.  There were buttons and buttonholes in the back.  There were three girls at the time and each had a dress made that style.  These were worn first for Christmas and after that were their "good" dresses throughout the winter.

Foods that her mother made included rulle polse, kurv, the well-known assortment of cookies, and special Nordlands lefse with a spread called gomme.

Christmas also meant hospitality and visiting.

Gudrid Vigesaa Hetland remembers that Christmases were spent in the company of neighbors and relatives.  One Christmas visitor came with pencils as gifts for the children.  On the way, some of the pencils were dropped and got lost on the hill.

Esther Sola Harvey remembers rice pudding with a raisin hidden in one bowl.  The lucky person (usually the smallest child) who found it in the bottom of the bowl got one whole dime.  She remembered family singing, and the reading of scripture by her father.

Source: Cooperstown, North Dakota 1882-1982 Centennial page 49

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