Was Blair’s Ski Jump Tournament the First?

There’s been an argument going periodically through the years about which community hosted our country’s first ski jumping tournament. The strongest claims seem to have been made by Red Wing and St. Paul, Minnesota – although Eau Claire, Wisconsin is in the running too.

As I’ve read about these claims, the best ones appear to place Red Wing and St. Paul ski jumping tournaments within a few days of each other in the winter of 1887. The author of Sky Crashers: A History of the Aurora [Red Wing] Ski Club, Frederick L. Johnson, admits that St. Paul’s date of January 25, 1887 has the edge over Red Wing’s February 8. So they are arguing about a few days….

In following up information I had on the Blair Ski Club, I was reading issues of The Whitehall Times from those years. What I discovered was that Blair’s ski jumpers had organized a local ski tournament the winter of 1885, two years earlier than either St. Paul or Red Wing.

On Sunday, February 8, 1885, Blair jumpers held an organized ski tournament on the Ole Helgerson farm about one mile northeast of Blair with cash prizes offered and 200 spectators in attendance. Three of the four top places were taken by the Drangstveit brothers, Aslak, Ole, and Svennung**, who had immigrated to Blair a few years earlier from Norway’s own “cradle of ski jumping,” Morgedal, Telemark. The longest distance jumped February 8 was 55 feet and first place earned Aslak Drangstveit a whole $3.00, the other places receiving less. (Source: The Whitehall Times, Thursday, February 12, 1885)

Svennung Drangstveit photoThat first tournament even brought controversy and comedy, elements sometimes attendant with these sporting events. Some folks contended that third place finisher Ole Midtvid should have been awarded first place, and in the end, he was given an additional $1.70. Two daring men also attempted a double jump on one set of skis, with the entertaining results that “Elmer [Immell] did not fall off, but the tumble made by Green capped the climax and literally brought down the house. The whole affair beat a Fourth of July celebration by big odds.”

I’m sure, of course, that some folks won’t find this authoritative enough to be “the first ski jump tournament” in the country. They’ll want higher level competition, carefully selected judges, and other measures. For me, it sounds pretty good. The same news article indicated that the old timers from Norway in attendance at Blair’s tournament thought these jumpers equalled the jumping taking place in Norway.

The Drangstveit brothers still have descendants in Wisconsin and one day I hope to talk with them about their relatives. From what I could determine, at least one Drangstveit family lived in or near Larkin Valley. and I even wonder if my mother had a Drangstveit child in class when she taught in Larkin Valley in the late forties.

[**The tombstone for Svennung and Ingeborg Drangstveit is located in the cemetery of Zion Lutheran Church in Blair. I have seen a photo of it online.]

By the way, this is my 200th post on this Borreson Cousins blog! Thanks for reading.

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More About Early 20th Century Tobacco Raising

After spending more time in the old issues of the Whitehall Times & Blair Banner, I found evidence of more folks in Trempealeau County giving tobacco raising a try. Among the names I found the following:

  • Charles Borreson of Pigeon who had raised 10 acres on shares with Gilbert Eid, with 16,000 pounds stripped and bundled (Jan. 23, 1908)
  • O. C. Johnson of Pigeon who had 4 1/2 acres raised with Gust Nelson (Feb. 27, 2008)
  • Fred Dahl of Borst valley (Eleva?) who lost his tobacco shed and baled tobacco to fire caused by lightning (Mar. 12, 1908)
  • Several farmers from Hegg (rural Ettrick) marketed their tobacco in Blair (May 21, 1908)
  • John G. Johnson and J. E. Hovelsrud of Hegg marketed tobacco in Whitehall (Jan. 6, 1910)
  • Andrew Wek, Lewis Austin and Gilbert Urberg of Chimney Rock were in Whitehall with their tobacco (Jan. 27, 1910)
  • Also Lars L. Instenes of Chimney Rock “has considerable of the weed to sell” (Jan. 27, 1910)
  • Ed Schaefer [Whitehall] raised 9300 pounds of tobacco last season for which he received nine cents per pound (Feb. 9, 1911)
  • Christ Anderson and son John of Pigeon received $191.65 for tobacco raised on about two acres (Feb. 16, 1911)

That’s quite a few names, a random list from several years of newspapers. Most names sound Norwegian but not all. Pigeon is northern Trempealeau County, Hegg is southern; tobacco was being raised from one end of the county to the other.

Both Whitehall and Blair had warehouses to receive tobacco, according to snippets I could find in these same papers. In Whitehall, it apparently was A.S. of E.’s warehouse. (A.S. of E. appears to be a national union, perhaps for marketing purposes. There was an announcement about the Trempealeau county union’s annual meeting in Ettrick.)

Several ads for tobacco sorters appeared in these papers. At the Whitehall warehouse, Holtan and Sorenson advertized a couple years and “will pay 90 cents peer hundred next Monday” (Mar. 23, 1911). Another ad seemed to feature a bigger operation: “Wanted – 500 Women and 100 Men to work at sorting and stemming tobacco in the American Cigar Company’s Warehouses at Sparta, Wis. Good wages and steady work the year around” (Mar. 26, 1908). Another item mentioned that many Pigeon farmers sold their tobacco to G. H. Rumrill of Janesville, Wis., with several carloads shipped and more to follow (Feb. 27, 1908). Janesville, like Edgerton, had lots of tobacco warehouses.

Tobacco warehouse (unident) Janesville ca 1909In a last item, Eugene Sorenson [maybe the fellow at the warehouse] offered tobacco seeds for sale: “the best strains of pure Coon, Comstock and Golden Spanish Tobacco seed…early varieties of excellent quality” (Mar. 12, 1908).

All in all, it appears that the amount of tobacco raising in these years was significant, although the price per acre falls short of the $200 to $500 per acre amount stated in the newspaper which was encouraging farmers to give this crop a try. My guess is that farmers sometimes did very well, and other times wondered why they bothered to work so hard for so little.

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Pigeon Creek Lutheran Church Memorial

Many changes have taken place since the fire destroyed Pigeon Creek Lutheran Church back in 2011. This past Monday, a cold and rainy spring day, I stopped by the old church site and witnessed the beautiful memorial park that has been constructed where the old church once stood. I am sure other cousins must know the story that led to this lovely place of meditation and reflection. Enjoy the photos. I encourage you to stop by on a warm day which is what I hope to do as well. (A blue sky would add to the beauty.)

Pigeon Creek church memorial (1)                                                                The Entrance

(Enter this gate, turn right, and go a ways beyond the edge of the photo and you will find yourself at the grave marker for Emil and Gina Borreson and other family members.)

Pigeon Creek church memorial (2)                                                              A Closer Look

Just barely visible at the distant left on this photo is the list of founders of the Pigeon Creek Lutheran Church, a list that includes Borresons among among others.

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An Earlier Generation of Tobacco Raising

Welcome back. This is my first posting in months, but my little discovery yesterday is one I am eager to share with you.

I was at the Whitehall Public Library researching ski jumping in the winter of 1907, when, on page 1 of the January 24 Whitehall Times and Blair Banner, I read this sentence:

“Elias Borreson of Pigeon received $255.50 for tobacco he grew on 1 1/2 acres.”

This means that our Borreson family was raising tobacco one whole generation earlier than I had previously documented. I knew that it was raised on Emil and Gina’s place in the 30s and 40s, but this sentence means tobacco was a source of income for Emil’s father too, and in the greater picture, a crop for four generations of Borresons. Pretty impressive! (Use the search word “tobacco” on this site for the old articles.)

That same newspaper mentioned three additional Pigeon families caught up in this crop: Peter Estenson and O. C. Skumliem both had come to Whitehall for lumber for tobacco sheds, Peter a 36-foot addition and O. C. a new buidling. Peter Nelson sold tobacco in the amount of $1,420.26 from 8 acres – a sizeable return in those years. It appears that tobacco had become somewhat popular at the time.

Whitehall tobaccoThis photo of tobacco arriving for sale in Whitehall comes from the 189os. Imagine our ancestor Elias in such a scene.

Last year when I was researching tobacco raising in Wisconsin, I had made this note: In May 1901, the Winona Republican-Herald (which frequently covered heavily-Norwegian Trempealeau County) reported that in “certain parts of Vernon County, the farmer who has three or four acres is envied for his wealth, so valuable is the crop.” Several years later the same paper (Oct 1905) encouraged Trempealeau County farmers to try the crop: “A yield of $200 to $500 an acre is not an exaggeration…. A Vernon county farmer this fall just recently sold the crop of 16 acres for $4,000.” [The prices must have been lower when Elias and Peter Nelson sold their crops, a fluctuating reality farmers always faced.]


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All Their Sorrows

Emil and Gina Borreson managed to raise all ten of their children from infancy to adulthood. Not one death. I’ve always thought that quite remarkable; I read of other Pigeon Falls families not so fortunate. For Emil’s parents, in fact, the story was different.

Elias and Kari Borresen were the parents of six children, three boys and three girls. Emil, Selma, and Charlie all grew to adulthood, married, raised families, and died at a full old age. For the other three, each story was unique and tugs at the heart in its own way.

Eldest child Syverine Marie, whose story and the questions it raises appears elsewhere in this blog, was regarded as mentally deficient, but there are doubts about that diagnosis: perhaps she was deaf or very hard-of-hearing from birth and that handicap harmed her development. Eventually, she entered Northern Colony at Chippewa Falls where she lived until her death at 48 years of age. I could believe that placement at the Colony was both necessary and emotionally difficult for her family.

The third child Bernt, three years younger than our grandfather Emil, died in 1885 at the age of 10 years. Was the cause of death an illness? an accident? Someday I must go to the church Pigeon Falls and see if I can learn more from the record. Losing a child is hard for any family, even, I’m sure, for pioneer ancestors who faced it far too often.

The fifth child Emma grew to adulthood and married Carl Olson in 1907. Some time after their marriage Carl and Emma moved to the Dakotas. Less than two years later, Emma drowned after falling into an open well while pulling up water. Our aunt Clara writes in Homestead that our grandfather went to the Dakotas to accompany Carl as he brought Emma’s body back to Wisconsin and burial in the church cemetery. A third life had been cut short.

When Elias died in 1928, his wife Kari had preceded him by seven years, which meant that both were witness to these sad events. Yet, like folks of every generation, they found solace in their faith and strength to carry on.


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Pigeon Creek Lutheran Parsonage

In 1947, Pastor E. B. (Einar) Christophersen was serving four Lutheran congregations: Upper Pigeon Creek, South Beef River, Hixton, and Pigeon Creek, the church of the Borresons and their ancestors. Recently, a nephew of Einar and Myrtle, Carson Taylor, sent me several photos and an old article about the Christophersens and their unique living situation. Since Einar followed his father Emmanuel as Pigeon Creek’s pastor in a virtual “dynasty,” this story is too good to keep to myself.

On October 17, 1947, the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press featured the Christophersens on a page 3 article, “Farm Is Pastor’s ‘Living’.” Not only did Einar and his father before him serve as pastors, but they also lived on and worked a 23 acre farm. The history of this arrangement began in 1876 when the elder Christophersen came from Norway to accept a Call to Pigeon Falls. The farm made sense: it was a place to keep his horses for traveling throughout the parish (Hixton, for example, was 15 miles away) and it mean food for his family of 11 children.

Pigeon Falls parsonage pics - Copy (3)

Christophersen farm and parsonage

Seventy-one years after his father arrived in America, Pastor Einar was still operating the farm and maintaining a herd of eight purebred Holstein cows.  His sons were gone from home, and being older himself (b. 1885), he was having to hire help for some of his work. But just the winter before, he himself had milked his cows by hand because he couldn’t hire help.

Pigeon Falls parsonage pics - Copy (4)

Pigeon Creek parsonage, undated

The parsonage, of course, is a house provided the pastor as part of his salary, as was the farm too, in Christophersens’ case. This parsonage was a large, white, ten-room structure which in 1947 was shielded by tall pines on the north and west and shaded by giant elms. A small pavilion graced one corner of the lawn, a place where outdoor services were occasionally held.

Pastor Einar, who with his wife had recently returned from a trip to Norway in 1947, remarked that a farm of 23 acres would have been big in Norway but not here in America.

Special thanks to Carson Taylor for sharing with me the article with this information plus the photos I have included. Carson also added that he pheasant hunted with Rolf (one of Einar’s sons) who kept two hunting dogs in the barn. I don’t know what year the farm and parsonage ceased to be part of the pastor’s salary, but according to Carson, they are now owned by a Norwegian family with strong connections to the old white frame church that burned down just a few years ago.

Enjoy the post and photos. I would love comments from anyone who can add to this interesting history.

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A Bertha Puzzle Solved

In Homestead, Aunt Clara admits to having “no additional information” about Berthe Borresen, born December 25, 1842 in Norway to Borre Andersen and Maria Andersdatter. Bertha would have been an aunt our grandfather Emil, and Clara indicates she came to America in time to be a baptismal sponsor for Emil on October 6, 1872.

This has been my problem: I have located information about all five of Berthe’s siblings in Loten, Norway, but little on Berthe – just birth and baptism records in the same church as the others. Records for all the others are amazingly complete, but not for Berthe.

After searching years of baptism, confirmation, and even marriage and death records in Loten (all online), I began considering another alternative: maybe this Berthe died young and her sister Berthe Marie was named for her. Such practices were not unusual in Norway or in this country.

Since Bertha Marie was born in 1852, I began scouring the Loten parish death records for Berthe’s name sometime between 1842 and 1852. Would you believe that, yes, I did in fact find that record! The name and record is difficult to read in the church register, but clearly, it’s Bertha who is the daughter of Borre from Rustadeie, the family farm. Bertha’s age was listed as 7 – she was actually 5, almost 6 – but such might be an understandable mistake. I am almost 100% positive about this being Berthe’s death record. This older sister to Berthe Marie never lived to come to America.

That also means she could not have been Emil’s baptismal sponsor in Oct 1872, but almost certainly then, his godmother was his other aunt Bertha Marie, who may have simply gone by the name Bertha (without the Marie). As Clara wrote, Bertha Marie did immigrate to America and she married Alexander Matson. They became the parents of five children, one of whom was Eddie who served as best man at Emil and Gina’s wedding in 1899.

Perhaps Bertha Marie came to America with her brother Bernt in 1872 since both were Emil’s godparents that fall. Some day I hope to find that immigration record. In the meantime, another small puzzle has been solved.

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