Tobacco Raising in the Eighties

Tobacco was a Borreson crop for four generations, maybe five, depending how one does the counting. I thought I had written my last post on this subject, but when I recently came upon some good Borreson stories from the eighties, I couldn’t resist another post.

In the eighties, Odell was still raising tobacco on the old “home place.” And how do I know this? Because his son-in-law Richard Gillingham said so in 1982, and that’s where Richard’s family got the idea to try it on their farm.

Richard was married to Lesley, Odell’s daughter. In addition to other jobs, they were farming with their two sons, Derek and John, in Edson Township, Chippewa County, Wisconsin, when they got the idea to try tobacco in this northern part of the state. One paper speculated that their tobacco farm might be the northernmost in our country! Tobacco was novel enough in the area by the 1980s that for three successive years, 1982-1984, newspapers featured articles about the Gillingham venture. If they raised the crop beyond those years, Lesley could tell us, I’m sure.

In the spring of 1982, the family began this venture with an allotment of 3/4 of an acre. There was no tobacco raising without an allotment. And because tobacco is so labor intensive, it was a family venture–although Richard is quoted as saying it’s “a nice little cash crop…for the boys, a part-time project, too.” The Gillinghams even added a new tobacco shed to their property.

This was the first tobacco raising in Chippewa County for more than 35 years. In 1940, with tobacco growing going downhill in northern Wisconsin, 10 county farmers had raised but 18 acres, much of the tobacco around Bloomer. Then it was gone–until the Gillinghams revived it!

Derek in the tobacco field

In 1981 tobacco was a 30 million dollar crop in Wisconsin, with most of the tobacco raised in the southern part of the state due to a longer growing season. Still, the Gillinghams were hoping for a crop in the average range of 2,000 to 2,500 pound per acre. They were, as were most other growers in the state, members of the Northern Wisconsin Tobacco Cooperative in Viroqua. There they would sell their crop t00, hopefully for about $1.00 a pound.

In their first year, their crop lagged about two weeks behind Odell’s. A late spring was the culprit. Les’s dad had his crop in the shed at a time the Gillinghams were just beginning their harvest (around September 20). After months in the shed, come a warm day in January, the leaves would be packed in bales, one step closer to the market. Wisconsin tobacco has typically been used for cigar filler and wrapper, or as Gillinghams said theirs would be used–for chewing tobacco.

Richard examining tobacco

With the numerous steps involved in raising this crop, the Gillinghams assured themselves of busy summers. In addition to off-the-farm jobs for Richard and Lesley, the family also raised strawberries, raspberries, cucumbers at various times as well.

So, if we look at tobacco raising by those involved in the labor, children as well as parents, Derek and John Gillingham are among those of the fifth generation in the Borreson family tree to raise this crop.


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Descendants of Bernt Borresen

Sometimes one little discovery solves many a mystery!

Bernt Borresen, our grandfather Emil’s uncle and his godparent in 1872, has been something of a mystery. First, I thought he had no family, but it turned out he lived in La Crosse in the 1890s and had five children. Then, it appears he died before 1905 (because his widow remarried that year) but I’ve never located a record of his death.

Check old posts here under Bernt’s name and you can learn a bit about his five children. This weekend, however, the discovery of one obituary uncovered all kinds of family information about Bernt’s middle daughter Florence.

Florence, born in La Crosse in 1892, married a John Landis in 1920 in Minot, North Dakota. (Other family members had moved this northerly direction too.) All I knew about their family was that they had one daughter June who had, maybe, married a David Albrecht. Someone on told me he knew the Albrechts had a daughter or two.

Suddenly there appeared in one of my many searches a 2019 obituary for a Bonnie Mehlhoff in Minot, North Dakota. What was this about, I wondered? I quickly learned that Bonnie was the second of five daughters born to June and David Albrecht, and she was the granddaughter of John and Florence Landis. That would make Bonnie the great-granddaughter of Bernt Borresen! She would be a third cousin to us “Borreson cousins.” Not close, of course, but interesting to me.

That same obituary gave me wonderful information not only on Bonnie’s family, but also on the married names of her four sisters, plus where they lived. Her own mother–that would be Bernt’s granddaughter–was still living in Minot, and if I figured correctly, would have been 98 years old at the time (99 now). Minot remains home to several members of this family, long after Florence Borresen, Bernt’s daughter, married there nearly 100 years ago.

In other words, one obituary revealed many Borreson relatives I never knew about–and will likely never meet. The discovery was still fun.

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Learning About Wisconsin

Do you ever wonder how our immigrant ancestors decided to come to Wisconsin? Are you curious about how they learned about our state?

It’s a well-known fact that letters from America were passed around like “hot news” when they would arrive in Norway. People read them for every bit of information they could glean about this new land; they read them as they weighed their own decisions.

Other sources of information were pamphlets and booklets published by states to encourage immigrants their way. In 1869 the Wisconsin State Board of Immigration published a 32-page pamphlet with a state map both provided by Increase A. Lapham, the state’s great citizen-scientist, to attract immigrants to the state. Among Lapham’s many gifts his map-making detailed the state’s counties, cities, major towns, and railroads. This pamphlet was published in French, Dutch, Swedish, Welsh, and Norwegianand then it was distributed in those countries. (The U.S. really wanted immigrants!)

I wondered: Could Elias and Kari Borresen have read Increase Lapham’s pamphlet and studied his map? Could this have reached them before they left Norway in May 1869? It’s possible, but probably a stretch in terms of timing.

In 1851 Samuel Freeman had prepared a precursor to Lapham’s:  “The Emigrant’s Handbook and Guide to Wisconsin.” His 148-page booklet, with the permission of Governor Nelson Dewey, was printed in Milwaukee with the intention that it be given immigrants upon their arrival in the port of New York City. This too aimed to attract immigrants to the state, providing them with helpful information such as: agriculture and manufacturing, wages, climate, a major section on Milwaukee, travel info from New York to Milwaukee, and helpful advice.

If Elias and Kari had traveled from New York to Wisconsin in 1851, Freeman’s book indicates they could have taken the following route:

  • New York to Albany via Hudson River boats
  • Albany to Buffalo via railroad (or Erie Canal)
  • Buffalo to Milwaukee via steamboats on Lakes Erie, Huron, and Michigan.

Eighteen years later (1869), the route may have been similar but with changed opportunities. It strikes me as slow-going.

A postscript: What motivated this post was my read of a wonderful book, Studying Wisconsin: The Life of Increase Lapham, early chronicler of plants, rocks, rivers, mounds and all things Wisconsin (Bergland and Hayes, 2016). I highly recommend it, the story of a man devoted to science, having no college degree but an equal of formally educated scientists.



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Two More Old Photos

In the same perusal of old papers a few days ago, I came across two photos I decided to add here.

The first is of our Grandmother Gina, taken in April 1960 (according to info on the back). I admit to including it mostly because this is how I remember her. She would die in December of the same year.

The second photo is an aerial view of the Borreson farm while Odell was farming the place, taken perhaps in the seventies or eighties. (I think one of his family might know the date.)  I love the clarity of the photo, the orderliness of the grounds, and the harmonious combination of old and new buildings.

Visible in the back left is the tobacco shed, a reminder that four generations of Borresons raised this crop. In the center is the unique L-shaped machine shed. And I am assuming the trees on the right hide the oldest building, the stone milk house. The brick house dates back to 1912.

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A 1906 Farm Mortgage

Going through some old papers, I came across an old mortgage document that my parents must have passed on to me.

In April 1906 Emil and Gina Borreson purchased land, “the southeast quarter (1-4) of section fifteen (15) in township twenty-two (22) north…,” from Peder Olson Bjordal at a cost of $1,600. (I didn’t try to determine the property location.)

The Borresons had a mortgage with John O. Melby and Company Bank with $300 and interest due each year beginning June 1, 1908. The interest rate was 6 per cent. Here’s the face of the document.I thought the signature portion (included below) of the same document was interesting for several reasons:

  • The loan was in the names of both Emil and Gina, even in those very patriarchal times.
  • “Borreson” was typed “-son” in the document, but both Emil and Gina still signed in the old Norwegian way, “-sen.”
  • The notary public was Herman L. Ekern, a Pigeon Falls native who was just beginning a notable political career in Wisconsin. When he signed this document, he was already serving in the State Assembly. He later became the state Attorney General, 1923-1927, and was named Lieutenant Governor in 1938. He was a close friend of the famous Governor and Senator Robert La Follette. In 1917 Ekern was also one of the founders of Lutheran Brotherhood Insurance.



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World War ll Draft Cards is regularly adding to its collections, one of the most recent being World War ll draft cards. Of the eight Borreson brothers, Edgar and Odell served in the military during that war. Not only did I find images of their draft cards on Ancestry, but draft cards for the other six brothers as well.

The cards are noteworthy not only for their military purposes, but for the information they provide genealogists today. I am going to add Edgar and Odell’s cards here, but I’ll also include personal information of interest from the cards of their brothers.

Edgar’s draft card

In addition to the information on his card above, Ancestry indicated about Edgar that he weighed 145, had blue eyes and blonde hair, and stood 5 feet 6 inches tall. Note that his contact was his sister Mabel Okerwall and he was employed at Babson Bros. in Chicago. So we know where he was October 16, 1940, the card’s date.

Odell’s draft card July 1, 1941

In 1941 Odell was 155 pounds, had brown eyes and brown hair, and stood 5-11. His contact was his brother Garven and his employer Ernest Rasmussen for whom he was a farm laborer.

The eight brothers had draft cards with a total of four different dates. (I think the scope of the draft changed as the war continued.) I can send family members a copy of their father’s card, if you wish, but here let me just add information as I did for Edgar and Odell.

Bennie, age 33, weighed 140 pounds, had brown eyes and black hair, and stood 5-7. His contact was his father Emil for whom he was working. (Draft card date October 16, 1940)

Ednar, age 26, weighed 174 pounds, had blue eyes and brown hair, and stood 5-11. His contact was Ernest Bruns of Burk Township, Madison, Wisconsin, who was also his employer. (Draft card date October 16, 1940)

Garven, age 23, weighed 152 pounds, had brown eyes and brown hair, and stood 5-11. His contact was his father Emil and he was self-employed in Pigeon Township. (Draft card date October 16, 1940)

Edwin, age 41, weighed 185 pounds, had blue eyes and brown hair, and stood 5-10. His contact was his wife and he was a self-employed farmer at Ettrick, Wisconsin. (Draft card date February 16, 1942)

Gilbert, age 39, weighed 150 pounds, had blue eyes and brown hair, and stood 5 feet 8 inches tall. His contact was his wife and he was a clergyman in Curtis, Wisconsin. (Draft card date February 16, 1942)

Sidney, age 18, weighed 142 pounds, had hazel eyes and brown hair, and stood 5-11. His contact was his mother and he was working for his brother Edwin at Ettrick as a farm laborer. (Draft card date June 30, 1942)

So there it is: basic physical descriptions for eight brothers and their job information from an early 1940s date.


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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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