Here’s a subject that’s out of favor, but that won’t stop me. Did you know that Norwegians, especially Norwegian immigrant families, were vital to the success of tobacco as a Wisconsin crop? And did you know the Borresons were part of this picture? In a post about Emil, Dave mentioned that his grandfather had filled him in on tobacco harvesting, but I getting ahead of myself….
Before white farmers settled Wisconsin, the French explorer Allouez reported as early as 1670 that the Winnebago Indians (Ho Chunk) were growing tobacco. Beginning in 1840-1841, the Norwegian immigrants to the Koshkonong area (Dane County, Madison) became enthusiastic supporters of the crop, although they had not raised it back in Norway. One source listed names like Nelson, Swenson, Larson, Erickson, Lund, Weum and Jacobson as forever to be associated with this enterprise. Here was a chance to raise a crop and earn cash which immigrants were lacking. As I recall reading elsewhere, they also had the large disciplined families required to do the labor. In a previous post, I had mentioned that tobacco ranked ninth as a Wisconsin crop by 1929. Sometimes it’s been said that it was tobacco that paid for many of the dairy barns built in the first six decades of the 20th century. In 1938 there were 18,400 acres of tobacco in Wisconsin, 8300 of them in Dane County. Wisconsin’s crop was cigar tobacco and stemmings were used for chewing tobacco.
In those years tobacco was being raised in Trempealeau County too, and in Fitch Coulee. I’m guessing David’s tobacco conversation with Emil took place in the mid-forties, and equally interesting is a photo Dave sent me of the Borreson farm. Here it is:
Look carefully. What’s in the foreground of this picture? A crop of tobacco. I don’t have a date for the photo, but it’s from an album page, so it appears, with another photo with a 1935 date. So could it be that we know that Emil raised tobacco, at a minimum, the years 1935 through 1945? The tobacco shed with its typical hinged boards swung open awaits on the left side of the photo. In that shed the crop, started in a bed in springtime, would have been strung from laths when harvested.
Other interesting elements of this photo include the stacks of grain, probably oats, that will be awaiting threshing; I count up to nine of them! Seems like a good crop. And if you look closely at the right end of the tobacco shed, you’ll see an old car – is it as old as a Model T, I don’t know. Finally, the view seems to be of the west end of Emil’s dairy barn.
I’ll be curious to know if anyone remembers more about raising tobacco on this farm. I think several of Emil’s sons carried it over into their own farming: Ednar and Odell did, I think, and my father Garven too, for a few years in the early sixties. I seem to recall that an allotment was often difficult to get, even to raise even an acre or two of tobacco.