A Hospital’s Roots in Pigeon Falls

Yesterday as I was perusing a history of Gundersen (Lutheran) Hospital in La Crosse, Wisconsin, I came across a surprise: the meeting for its founding was held in Pigeon Falls!

Pastor Emanuel Christophersen, who married Emil and Gina Borreson in October 1899, was host the same month to a group of Lutheran pastors who met at his home for the specific purpose of founding a hospital. Among the eleven clergy were Pastor Soren Urberg of Blair and North Beaver Creek, as well as Pastor Otto Albert Myhre of French Creek at rural Ettrick. On October 5, 1899, these eleven pastors and five lay persons made up the original corporation of the hospital in La Crosse. The pastor of Our Savior’s Lutheran in La Crosse, Andreas Kittelsen Sagen, was the key organizer.

The Christopherssen home in Pigeon Falls

The Christopherssen home in Pigeon Falls

Motivated by Jesus’ love and words “I was sick and you visited me” (Matthew 23:36),  these pastors believed that faith always reveals itself in good works. And the care of the body was important as well as the care of the soul. Their action reminds me of all the missionaries of the same era who had success by building hospitals and bringing in doctors and nurses, thereby demonstrating that they truly cared for the whole person.

That same October 5 these men elected officers and trustees as well as forming an executive committee authorized to do whatever it required to build a hospital. That included raising funds, acquiring a site, and hiring an architect. They acquired land on Front Street (later South Avenue) for $8,000 from the C. and J. Michel Brewing Company.

img_0856Although all these men were from Norwegian churches, very quickly they realized their work needed a broader base. In January 1900 the first annual meeting of the corporation amended their initial articles so as to include German Lutheran congregations. All their efforts eventually resulted in a new hospital building dedicated November 27, 1902.

I found it fun to read that the beginnings were in Pigeon Falls the same month our grandparents were married by one of the incorporating pastors.

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A Family Moves to Canada

While the death of Emil Borreson’s uncle Bernt eludes me, I am learning more about his family than I anticipated.

As I wrote previously, not only did all four of Bernt’s daughters end up in North Dakota, but so did his son Bernhard. I discovered that he had lived in Sawyer, Ward County, North Dakota before something inspired his move to Canada about 1910, to the Ponteix, Saskatchewan, area about 50 miles south of Swift Current.

In my most recent find, not only do I locate him and his wife in a 1921 census of the prairie provinces, but right below them as the next family are his mother and step-father Clara and Andrew Anderson! According to this census, all three – Bernhard, Andrew and Clara – had immigrated to Canada in 1910. Both Bernhard and Andrew are farmers, and if the usual township numbering is used, Andrew’s land is immediately north of Bernhard’s.

Checking the 1916 census for the same area, Bernhard’s sister Florence is residing with her mother and step-father, and back to the 1911 census, his sister Cora is the one living with them. This leads me to think there may have been fair amount of communication among these siblings, and some travel or movement back and forth. (Andrew, by the way, was a widower with two sons and daughter of his own living with the family in 1911.)

I recall that I had located Clara Anderson (along with daughter Bernice) in the 1910 U.S. census living in Bangor, Wisconsin (near La Crosse), but her husband was absent but apparently not dead – quite puzzling. I am referring to Andrew Anderson, whom she married in 1905 after Bernt’s death. Now I am guessing Andrew had already left for Canada and would bring the family to join him later in the year.

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Homesteading in Saskatchewan

After discovering that Bernhardt Hjalmer Borresen homesteaded in Saskatchewan, Canada, I wondered what I’d learn if I sent for a copy of the homestead papers held in the provincial archives. What I received was a pleasant surprise! (Remember that Bernhardt is a first cousin to our grandfather Emil Borreson.)

“Benjamin Borresen” was the name on the papers filed for a quarter section of land in southern Saskatchewan in October 1908. I even wondered this was the right person until I came across an “Instrument of Cancellation” which established that Benjamin Borresen was in fact corrected to be Bernhardt Hjalmer Borresen. Good. (I think he’d been signing his name as Ben and perhaps an official assumed this was short for Benjamin.)

When Bernhardt filed for his quarter section, he was a single man who had come from Sawyer, North Dakota. That was Ward County where three of his four sisters had settled, meaning much of Bernt’s family from the La Crosse, Wisconsin area ended up within an hour of Minot, North Dakota, at least for a time.

The address for this quarter section was Notre Dame D’Auvergne, a French Catholic settlement later named Ponteix (pronounced pon’-tex). In fact, Bernhardt arrived in 1908, the year this little town was founded.  But of course he had been a farmer in North Dakota, and that’s what he would be in Canada as well.

Homestead west of Moose Jaw

A homestead west of Moose Jaw

The patent for Bernhardt’s claim was issued March 29, 1912, by which time he had spent about three years on his homestead. In fact, by the third summer he was there, 1911, he was cropping 116 acres. On this property he had a lumber house 10 feet by 12 feet in size (value $80) and a granary (worth $350). No land was fenced.

In 1914 a law was passed allowing homesteaders to acquire a second quarter section of land. By 1918 Bernhardt filed and acquired his quarter section immediately south and adjacent to what he already owned.

His living circumstances had changed by then. Not only was he now a naturalized British subject (that’s the language of the papers), but he was married too. There’s nothing here about his wife, but the two reside in a 16’x24′ frame house worth $600. Additionally he had a 28’x32′ barn worth $350, three granaries worth $600, a blacksmith shop $100, and a well $100.

Bernhardt had no livestock, so it appears he was into grain farming. Between 1912 and 1917, his acres under cultivation varied from a low as 118 to as high as 202. After 1914 the homestead law required a certain amount of fencing and he had 55 acres fenced (value $150). The 1924 wheat pool map below shows an elevator at Ponteix (upper right), where Bernhardt likely brought his crop.

A 1924 Saskatchewan Wheat Pool map showing elevators

A 1924 Saskatchewan Wheat Pool map showing elevators

The papers required Bernhardt to show that he was a resident on this land, and the first two or three winters he did not stay there. Here there seems a discrepancy, or least a question. In a form he completed, he indicated he was guest of friends in Wisconsin. On sworn forms from two Saskatchewan neighbors from Bourgogne who knew him, he was said to winter in Minot, North Dakota. With sisters in this area, that would make sense.

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A Borresen in Ponteix

Bernt Borresen, Emil’s uncle and baptismal sponsor at Halfway Creek in La Crosse in 1872, remains something of a tantalizing mystery. He married Clara Olson, had five children, and worked for the railroad in La Crosse, Wisconsin, for some years. But after moving to a farm in nearby Monroe County about 1900, he apparently dies within a few years (Clara remarries in 1905). Any information about Bernt’s death escapes me.

Bernhard Hjalmar, Bernt and Clara’s eldest born in 1885, leaves home in the first decade of the 20th century, and eventually, I locate him and his wife Edna in Ponteix, Saskatchewan, Canada. The town today is still but 600 people, located about 50 miles southeast of Swift Current in what appears to be wheat county. Here’s one current distant photo of the town in a landscape rather like “Big Sky Country” Montana’s just to the south.

Ponteix viewOne interesting fact about Ponteix is that it must have significant French background and population. Of the 605 residents yet today, 175 of them speak both French and English. Perhaps the bilingual character was even stronger when Bernhard and his wife Edna were there in the thirties. It would interesting to know what drew them to this part of the country.

Ponteix Catholic churchReplacing an earlier church that burned, this Roman Catholic Church (Notre Dame d’Auvergne) was built in 1929 when the Borresens would have been farming in the vicinity. There  the (very likely) Norwegian-speaking Bernhard would have lived among many French speakers, an exceptional experience in our wider family.

Actually I have discovered that there is a record of Bernhard homesteading in Saskatchewan. In the section where he owns the SE land, there is a Benjamin Borresen who owns the NE land. What are the odds that two unrelated Borresens would have adjoining land? Could Benjamin be Bernhard’s son? Oh, it seems like I’m close to something here!

Some years later Bernhard and Edna Borresen left Ponteix: I located their death records in Vancouver, British Columbia. I even found a street address for them in Vancouver. But more about their lives in either of these places still eludes me – as well as learning if they had children.

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Borreson Cousins Reunion 2016

On Saturday, June 25, a number of the Borreson cousins and family members met for a reunion in Black River Falls, Wisconsin. The day was a hot one, very hot, but delicious food, good conversation, and excellent planning by Joyce and Judy made for a wonderful day.

The location was Brockway Park Shelter located next to Dale Borreson Field, named in honor/memory of our cousin. In retrospect, I thought this was an excellent location for another reason: the love of the game of baseball in the Borreson family.

Here’s a photo by Joyce of the reunion’s attendees – without names attached – so you can have the fun (or frustration) of guessing their identities.

BorresonCousinsPhoto120160625In addition, on the Photos page on this blog, you will find a photo of “cousins only” in attendance. Enjoy!


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A Tribute to Emil

The photos that feature our ancestors’ daily lives are too few, it seems to me. I’d love to have photos of Grandfather Emil milking the cows, for example, or Grandmother Gina making cheese. Photos of these events, so ordinary to them, would be treasures to us.

I do recall one tiny snapshot of Emil splitting wood for fence posts, the family home in the right foreground and the Fitch Coulee school in the background. I have often thought, Oh, how I would love a good close-up of that scene – Emil in his work clothes, arms extended with the axe, working up a sweat splitting wood for the farm operation.Grandpa Emil - Fitch Coulee SchoolNow, the other side to these thoughts is that I’ve been puttering with some first attempts at flat plane carving, an old Norwegian folk craft. I have a couple how-to books with illustrations and patterns from the expert himself, Harley Refsal of Decorah, and I’ve been trying to teach myself.

While carving my first few attempts, I discovered Harley’s pattern of “The Wood Chopper” and thought to myself, I should really try that in honor of my grandfather Emil. I loved the pattern; I thought it was perfect to remember him. So here is my fifth carving piece or attempt, a little tribute to our grandfather bearing all the marks of a beginner but still fun to do.

Emil the Woodchopper

Emil the Wood Chopper

Mary gave me a the gift of a three day carving workshop with Harley Refsal this fall, so I’m counting on that to work on my skills. In the meantime, this is a bit of fun – and my small tribute to a hardworking grandfather.


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A Bit of Trivia

Here’s a bit of Borreson trivia: What was invented in 1899, the year Emil Borreson and Gina Estenson were married?

The answer: the paper clip. Click this link for more details: http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/blpaperclip.htm.

A scientist by the name of Johan Vaaler is credited with this invention, a useful little tool that has become part of our everyday lives (although in 1899 it had a different look to it). In 1999 the Norwegian postal service printed this stamp to mark the 100th anniversary of this achievement.

Paper Clip stamp

As I add this bit of trivia, I do recall that our grandfather Emil appreciated technological advances in farming, so perhaps he would even have had a bit of admiration for the inventor of this humble little tool.

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