1918 Spanish Flu in Trempealeau county

Here in the midst of our world’s dealing with the coronavirus, COVID-19, I began wondering about that pandemic 100 years ago, the Spanish flu outbreak of 1918. I specifically was thinking about Trempealeau County and how our ancestors may have been affected. Of course, Dad was only a year old at the outbreak, but I never heard my parents or grandparents speak about it.

So, I went my favorite website for searching s old Winona, Minnesota, newspapers that often covered Trempealeau County news.

Beginning late September 1918, the Winona Republican-Herald began news items of the outbreak on the east coast, which likely began with the return of troop ships from Europe in September. Within days, the number of deaths was rocketing upward in military camps like Fort Dix in New Jersey. The September 28 paper said the U.S. House was appropriating $1 million to aid local health boards fight the Spanish influenza. Similar action was taking place in the Senate.

Wisconsin quickly took aggressive action. In early October, the state health officer C. A. Harper ordered all public meetings to cease in schools, churches, theaters, and other public places for an indefinite period of time. Wisconsin readily complied! The Wisconsin Magazine of History (autumn 2000) featured an article on the flu that stated: “Wisconsin was the only state in the nation to meet the crisis with uniform, statewide measures that were unusual both for their aggressiveness and the public willingness to comply with them.” Three months of isolation became the norm. The effects of the Spanish influenza were still serious but far less severe than many other places.

A 1918 Spanish flu poster in Wisconsin

On October 17, 1918, the Winona Republican-Herald reported that Trempealeau County was fighting the influenza through the Red Cross. The first death was Melvin Wanger on the Ed Erickson farm from the town of Arcadia, besides two young men who had died in army camps. Galesville also had some light cases at that time. The paper had no other Trempealeau County news articles about the flu after that.

By the time the pandemic was over, there were 55 deaths in Trempealeau County, out of 8,459 in the state. That state number was greater than all the Wisconsin soldiers killed in three wars: World War I, the Korean, and Vietnam. In the United States 675,000 people died, and 50 million through the world. The numbers of deaths were disproportionately high in the 15 to 40 year age group.

In my genealogical research I don’t recall discovering any family member deaths due to the Spanish flu. I find that amazing. In other places, I am sure there were families devastated by it. I have been grateful to read that scientists don’t see our current coronavirus as dangerous as the 1918 Spanish flu (although we are likely nearer the beginning of it than the end) and we can only hope, pray, and exercise appropriate caution that they are correct. Wisconsin’s prompt and aggressive action in 1918, resulting in what we call “social distancing,” was a very effective tool. It’s important to remember that today.

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A Borreson in the CCC

Thanks to Elaine’s email, I learned that her father Edgar was in the Civil Convservation Corps (CCC), and thanks to her and Louise, I can add a few details to his story.

In the Great Depression year 1933, Edgar graduated from Gale College along with his twin Ednar and younger brother Garven. Edgar and Garven stayed for an additional year at Gale, the equivalent of the first year at a community college. Louise remembers her dad saying he sold Jewel Tea coffee for a time, going from farm to farm. He must have had a car to do that, but she doesn’t think he held that job for long. With jobs being scarce, he must have made the decision to join up with the CCC.

According to both Elaine and Louise, their father served in the CCC in northern Wisconsin, including planting trees in Nicolet National Forest. He also spent time in the watchtower looking for signs of fire. A family photo adds more detail to the story of his service, with Edgar standing (year unknown) beside a sign bearing the name Long Lake Camp. This Washburn County camp was one of 125 camps in the state by 1937.

Edgar revisiting Camp Long Lake

Both of Edgar’s daughters recall that he had happy memories of his CCC times. Besides the hard work, he reminisced about the baseball playing they enjoyed in their free time. (That sounds like a Borreson!) Another evidence of his pride in his CCC service was taking his family to a forest where to point out trees planted where the logging boom had left some quite desolate north country. He also was proud that he served as a crew chief for his group. A bonus for this post is a picture of his CCC ring (below).

Edgar’s CCC ring, Company 651

The advantage of having this photo is that it confirms what I found on the Wisconsin History site: that Edgar was indeed part of the Sixth Corps, Company 651, The Sixth Corps published an annual in 1937 featuring its work in the northern two-thirds of the state, and would you believe? There on page 67 was a photograph of Company 651 with Edgar seated in row 2, second from the left (below). What a happy find!

CCC Sixth Corps, Company 651

Louise thinks her father may have been in the CCC three or four years. So he may have joined in about 1935 or thereabouts. After his CCC work, he went to Milwaukee School of Engineering for perhaps two years before being drafted in the Army and sent to England.

I think it’s great to have a family connection to this  program that gave benefits to our country that last even into our own times. It was part of a greater conservation effort that recognized our resources are finite and need to be nurtured and treated with respect.

Let conclude this post with a listing of some of the achievements left to Wisconsin by the Civilian Conservation Corps (just through 1937, the date of the above annual — the CCC itself continued to 1942):

  • 3,718 acres planted with 3,400,000 trees
  • 551 acres of timber stand improvement
  • 20 miles of roadside cleanup
  • 20,910 acres mapped
  • 15 miles of truck trails built
  • 58,600 fish stocked
  • 50 miles of streams surveyed
  • 24 forest fires extinguished
  • several buildings constructed (including at Perrot Park – my previous post).

In addition to the long term gains for communities and our state, the CCC gave many young men jobs, experience, skills, pride, and hope in some very tough years. Elaine, Louise, and Arnold, we’re glad your dad connected all of us to this history.

For more about the CCC in Wisconsin, see Jerry Apps’ new book.

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The CCC in Trempealeau County

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a New Deal work program, was established by the federal government by May 1933, just over a month after Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s inauguration as president. Men between the ages of 18 and 25 were employed in Wisconsin to clean forest slashings, plant trees, control forest fires, and help build state parks.

By the fall of 1933 the CCC was already recruiting in Trempealeau County, and the Winona Republican-Herald newspaper has a number of items in the mid-thirties announcing open applications followed by names of new enrollees. I recognized some of the surnames, and my next post will be about a family member who became part of this successful program.

The headquarters for the CCC Sixth Corp was Sparta, Wisconsin, in charge of the northern two-thirds of the state. According to its 1937 annual, there were 125 camps in its area, with these in Trempealeau County: Independence, Trempealeau, Dodge, and Ettrick (the latter two from another source). Trempealeau’s was at Perrot State Park which had been established in 1918, a park where our family picnicked in the 1950s and 60s.

Carrying rock for Brady’s Bluff trail

Work began with camp preparations at Perrot in late summer 1935, and by November 4, 157 workers of Company 2606 had arrived. Over the course of the next two years, these CCC men would go on to do these projects and more:

  • a shelter house and a storage garage
  • 2.6 miles of trails
  • 400 rods of fence
  • 5,000 tons of limestone quarried
  • 12,000 trees transplanted
  • 1,252 man days fighting forest fires
  • 12 acres poisonous weeds removed
  • parking and picnic areas.

The CCC work included a western half-mile of the Brady’s Bluff, a trail used yet today to reach the site with a magnificent view of the Mississippi River.

Next post: A Borreson in the CCC.






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A Pastor’s Anniversary

A great nephew (as I recall) of Pastor Einar Christophersen, Carson Taylor, said he was going through some old photos, and he was thoughtful enough to forward one to me. Since Einar was family pastor for decades of Borresons, I thought some of you might appreciate seeing the photo. The occasion was the 25th wedding anniversary of Pastor Christophersen and his wife Myrtle who are surrounded by a large group of family and friends on the front lawn of Pigeon Creek Lutheran Church on June 20, 1937.

Carson commented it seemed strange that E.B.’s wife Myrtle was not included in the photo description above. I agree; but who knows the mind of another? (Einar wears a bow tie and dark suit and sits in the front row directly above the “i” in Christophersen.) Carson also suggested taking a close look to see if I could identify others, some Borresons perhaps. The photo has good detail so I enlarged it on my computer, but no such luck. I did wonder if one man was Pastor Sweger, the pastor who baptized me in North Beaver Creek in 1944.

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Old Photo of REA in Trempealeau County – and a Question

Recently I came across a nice surprise: a photo from Trempealeau County in a special insert on The Great Depression in the Herald-Tribune newspaper, Venice, Florida. I inserted a copy of it below. As I recall, Emil Borreson and family got their electricity about the same time as this photo, 1936.

As I was reading about the depression, another question occurred to me: were there any Borresons or any of their extended family that participated in the CCC? I’ve never heard of any.

A quick survey of news items in the Winona Republican-Herald indicates that the CCC was recruiting in Trempealeau County already during its first year, 1933, and then throughout the decade. The county recruits, groups of 10 to 20 it appears, would go to Ft. Sheridan in Illinois for their training and then on to their first assignments. I recognized a number of surnames in the lists printed but found no Borresons or Estensons. (I’m sure I didn’t see all the lists.)

I also read another article that 200 CCC workers were upgrading Perrot State Park at Trempealeau in the thirties. The locals received news that they were leaving and were petitioning the Corps to have them complete what they had started. I don’t know how that turned out.


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More About Borre

Recently I came across more interesting historical information about “Borre,” an ancient burial site in Norway about 35 miles south of Oslo. I think I may have written a bit about the Borre style some time ago on this blog. Since the word forms the core of our surname, I am drawn to learn more and will share some of my new findings here.

Borre mound cemetery

The Borrehaugene burial site (sometimes called the Kings’ Grave) lies on the west side of the Oslo Fjord and dates from about 560 to 1050 A.D. That beginning predates the Viking Age by 200 years. Let me give you a quick list of some things I find interesting.

  • There are at least seven large mounds and 30-plus smaller ones or cairns. Many of these latter were opened and looted hundreds of years ago.
  • Mound 1 was destroyed in the process of road construction in 1852, a tragic loss, really, because it contained the remains of a Viking ship 56 to 66 feet long. This was the first ship burial found in Norway and was probably comparable to the fantastic Gokstad and Oseberg ship burials discovered later.
  • Other finds in that mound were three horses, their trappings and stirrups, several iron cauldrons, a glass vessel, weapons, and tools.
  • Storri Sturluson’s saga suggests that the Borre burials were of Norwegian kings from the Ynglinge dynasty, from about 850 to 950 A.D.
  • Ground-penetrating radar has helped archaeologists learn that were at least two large halls within 400 feet of the site, one dating to 700-800. They have concluded an important and powerful person lived here. One hall has been reconstructed and has become a major tourist attraction.
  • Remote sensing has recorded a newly discovered tomb appearing to hold a fully armed warrior in a sitting position. According to T. Douglas Price in Ancient Scandinavia: An Archaeological History…, “Borre was the center of a small kingdom in the later Iron Age, ruled by individuals with connections to Sweden, and perhaps England and Denmark as well” (p. 356).

Midgard Historical Center

If you want to learn more about this amazing place, click on this Wiki site, Borre mound cemetery.  The mound cemetery has become part of Borre National Park at Horton which also has a new visitor center. Were I to travel to Norway again, this would be one of my stops.

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One Hundred Years in America

On June 8, 2019, this Borreson family will mark 150 years in America. That day in 1869, Elias and Kari Borresen came into port at New York City aboard the ship Britannia and debarked to find their way to Wisconsin.

To mark that day for myself, I decided to assemble a book of photos spanning the first one hundred years the Borresons lived in America. I used Shutterfly to assemble, edit, and finally print the book which I entitled ONE HUNDRED YEARS IN AMERICA: A Borreson Pictorial History, 1869-1969.

The book is 8″ x 8″ with a color photo on the cover, five on the back (see below), and 56 pages. It contains about 105 photos from those years, many of them appearing in this blog at some time. I have added commentary for nearly all. Nine chapters cover the following topics: the early years, house and home, farming, church and community, schools, sports and leisure, weddings, family and social, and cousins. Two later photos also are included, folks at 1985 reunion and at a 2009 cousins gathering.

The book is dedicated to the memory of Emil and Gina Borreson whose lives (one or both) span all but 12 of this hundred years.

Here’s the front cover:

And here’s the back cover:

For more information about the book, contact me, Glenn Borreson.

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