Northern Colony Resident

An interesting article appeared in the Wisconsin Magazine of History, Autumn 2013, that led me to recall the situation of grandfather Emil Borreson’s sister, Syverine Marie, who was a resident in Northern Colony from 1909 until her death in 1918.

The article entitled, “Placing the ‘Wayward Woman:’ Eugenics in Wisconsin’s Involuntary Sterilization Program,” deals with a subject of our state’s past that was a surprise to me. Men and women of so-called “defective morals” were institutionalized at the Wisconsin Home for the Feeble Minded (another name for N. Colony) and sometimes were sterilized to prevent reproduction of their kind. Supporters of this practice of eugenics included doctors, scientists, intellectuals and doctors, including members of the Progressive movement. People targeted for sterilization usually were deemed mentally deficient or mentally ill. Most came from the lower classes, some were criminals, other sexually promiscuous. People feared they would strain on the state’s finances and would overpopulate the world.

After Wisconsin passed its first involuntary sterilization law in 1913, Alfred A. Wilmarth, a strong advocate of sterilization, became the first superintendent of the Wisconsin Home for the Feeble Minded. From 1913 to 1933, 489 residents of this Home were sterilized, 451 women and 38 men. In Wilmarth’s years there, 61 of these operations were performed.

According to Clara Cook’s Homestead (33-34), Syverine died in 1918 from acute meningitis after suffering years from organic brain disease. Our cousin Albert and I have had conversations about Syverine, and I think there’s a chance that he is right, that her loss of hearing led to a misdiagnosis. Perhaps her mind was okay, but hearing little or nothing, her development was severely limited. Maybe we’ll never know for sure.

From the WMH article, it appears that some Northern Colony records have been deposited at the State Historical Society in Madison. One day I hope to get there and see if there still exist any records on Syverine. Since she was there when Wilmarth was superintendent, I even wonder if she was affected by the state’s eugenics law. She would have been 39 years old when she was admitted and 48 when she died. It would at least be interesting to learn more about her.

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Merry Christmas 2013

Merry Christmas, cousins and all who read these increasingly rare posts I make on this blog. Enjoy this coat-of-arms from Tynset, the municipality from which some of our ancestors came.

Tynset coat of arms

I thought this particular coat-of-arms would make an appropriate Christmas greeting since, as I recalled, it featured a reindeer. So much for that: when I went to look at it again, I was reminded it was a moose! Not exactly a candidate for a part in “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Nevertheless, it’s the best I can do at the moment.


As I reviewed the description of Tynset, a northernmost municipality in the landlocked county Hedmark, I definitely thought it sounded like a Borreson kind of place: a snowy realm for skiing, hunting and fishing. It’s also the home to a company that makes “kicker” sleds – and a giant sled’s pictured here. Maybe it also has a moose that wants to be one of Santa’s reindeer.

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Where Emil Was Baptized

As I was perusing again the history of Onalaska, Wisconsin, From Sawmills to Sunfish, I discovered a photo that should have been included with one of first posts I made on this blog.

Our grandfather, Emil Borreson, was baptized October 6, 1872, by Pastor Wollert Frich (also spelled Wallert Frick) before the congregation had its own church building. In 1856, Pastor I. B. Frich began conducting worship services in Onalaska homes while he was serving at Halfway Creek Lutheran east of Holmen. At some point after 1866 Pastor Frich began conducting services at the Methodist Episcopal Church which is pictured here.

Meth Episc Church Onalaska

So Emil would have been baptized in this church building, unless the baptism took place in an Onalaska home. First Lutheran was organized as a congregation on October 31, 1870,  just two years before Emil’s baptism, with eleven charter member families. The year was 1884 before the congregation had its own place of worship at the corner of I and Fourth Streets. I still smile every time I see his baptismal record, number 8 on the first page of the old Ministerialbog.

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WMH article: From Telemark to Tamarack

Five Borreson brothers, sons of Emil and Gina, were competitive ski jumpers in western Wisconsin, from Westby in the south to Cameron in the north, from St. Paul in the west to Racine in the east. And two more of the eight sons in this family were recreational skiers. A 1919 photo of Pigeon Falls ski jumpers included the two who skied the longest: Gilbert who was a downhill skier well into his seventies even in the mountains of Montana, and Bennie who ski jumped within four decades. Quite a legacy!

After I began this Borreson Cousins blog, I started researching the greater history of ski jumping in western Wisconsin. Pigeon Falls and Whitehall were part of that story for many years, and with those places, the Borresons, the Johnstads, and the Strum’s Nelsons just three families of the many who were high flyers in this sport.

As the result of my research, I wrote an article, “From Telemark to Tamarack: Ski Jumping in Western Wisconsin,” which was just published in the Winter 2013-2014 issue of the Wisconsin Magazine of History, the periodical of the State Historical Society. In addition to the greater story, the article includes a photo of Bennie Borreson and Karsten Linnerud and several Borreson references (Bennie, Sidney, and Garven). I love knowing that our family is now documented within this chapter of Wisconsin’s history.

I encourage you to go to the Wisconsin Magazine of History’s website to read a summary of the article, even more to purchase your own copy. You can obtain a copy by calling the magazine’s online store at 888-999-1669. The cost is $8.95 for the issue plus postage and handling. The Wisconsin Magazine of History is an award-winning publication and you’ll enjoy other articles equally well.

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Farming in Fitch Coulee

Here are three more photos from cousin Carol, grouped in this post because all are glimpses of farming in Fitch Coulee – maybe around 1940. Enjoy them.

Horses at Flikkeshaug copy

In this photo of farmers and horses taken at the Flikkeshaug farm, our grandfather Emil Borreson is the third man from the left.

Threshing season lunch time 1940 copy

This threshing scene includes a good glimpse of grandmother Gina on the left, Ednar (Red) pouring coffee, and uncle Bennie in the front and turned toward the camera. In a busy day, it’s time for lunch brought to the field by Gina. Others in the photo are Archie Stendahl, Bernard Moe (or Moen?), and Clifford Sween. Bennie wrote 1940 on the back of the picture.

Silo filling 1941 or 1942 copy

Silo filling is the action here on the Fitch Coulee farm with Emil’s old Fordson powering the silo filler. Bennie noted that Norman Hallingstad is unloading his team’s wagon, Ednar (Red) is at the silo filler, and that he Bennie may be out in the field getting another load. The year is 1941 or 1942.

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Uncle Sid in Old Photos

Already more than a month has passed since Uncle Sid’s funeral, but a recent day when cousin Carol showed up with old photos and scrapbooks, he was at the center of my attention again. The photos and other memorabilia Carol showed me over a couple hours included several that featured Sid or led me to think of him.

Fitch Coulee farm copy

This first old photo of the farm was new to me, and I included it because of the foreground: there’s the stream that Sid, Conrad, and other family members would dam up to make a swimming hole (and a person next to it, I think). In fact, somewhere on my blog, there an “old swimming hole” photo. You can search it out, if you wish. Notice also the simple bridge over the stream, bottom left.

Back to Chicago copy

The second one apparently is a light-hearted gathering as Carl and Mabel, with children Conrad and Gertrude, are preparing to leave for Chicago after a visit to Fitch Coulee. Sid, I understand, is that young lad next to Gina in the front. If he’s about eleven years, that would make this 1934. As you can tell, Emil and Gina are not joining in the frivolity of other family members tipping the bottles, for example.

Sidney at hard work ca 1950 copy

The third picture is of Sid working in the woods somewhere, and it bears a brother’s teasing line written by Bennie, “Sid at hard work.” Maybe it’s around 1950, or perhaps Irene would know more exactly. Enjoy these old photos, thanks to Carol – and her father who’d saved them.

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The Cigar Maker’s Wife

There it is: Amelia Borreson, cousin of Emil, was definitely married in 1898 – to a Scottish cigar-maker from Minneapolis! Not exactly what you’d expect of the daughter of Norwegian immigrants. The typical relationship would have been another Norwegian, maybe a farmer from the same community. Yes, we get surprised now and then.

Shirley speculated (see the Comment to my last post) that Amelia may have been pregnant and Harry Mitchell did the honorable thing: he married her. Maybe. In any case, Harry didn’t stick around long: he was gone by 1900.

A bit more on the marriage. I also find it interesting that Amelia and Harry were not married at her church in South Beaver Creek, which raises questions in itself. Did they choose not to marry there, or did the pastor refuse the two of them? I could imagine either possibility. Harry likely was not Lutheran, no small matter in 1898, and there may have been embarrassment over what’s-the-rush. So Amelia and Harry were married thirty miles away in La Crosse, a distance these folks would have thought twice about traveling.

In La Crosse, Amelia and Harry were married by a Harvey E. Hubbard. Through several sources on, I have discovered Mr. Hubbard had been an attorney at law in the city at least since 1884. He had been born in the state of New York in 1830, and by the age of 30 was postmaster in La Crosse. Ten years later, the 1870 census identifies him as a “police justice.” His law offices were downtown, in 1884 on the second floor at 331 Main, in 1900 at 107 North 4th Street. At the time he performed the legal ceremony for Amelia and Harry, Mr. Hubbard was 68 years old.

If I were a writer in the romance genre, I might give this story the title, “The Cigar Maker’s Wife.” And there would have been more drama than I can give you.

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