In the early 1890s, Bertinus and Maria (Thorson) Estenson had been in America fifteen-plus years. Bertinus had emigrated in 1875, Maria the following year, and they had married in the fall of 1879. In 1892, here’s their family portrait with three of their four daughters – (l to r) Oline, Emma, and Gina (age 12). Thea was yet arrive (1894).
What was it like in Trempealeau County about that time? Well, I found a copy of The 1891 Blue Book of the State of Wisconsin and learned a few things.
In the 1890 census, Pigeon Township’s population was 1,387, greater than Lincoln Township’s 937 which included Whitehall. The whole county’s population was 18,920, up from 10,728 in 1870.
In the 1888 election Trempealeau County had sided with the winning candidate for governor. W. D. Hoard (a great dairying advocate) won 2,276 to 1,567; but two years later when Hoard failed to be re-elected, the County gave him but a small edge, 1,387 to 1,373. Hoard thought English ought to be the required language in the public schools, and immigrants – Germans especially, and some Norwegians – dropped their support due to this. Don’t you wonder what the Estensons – and Borresons – thought about this?
Peder Ekern, who had given Bertinus a ride from Black River Falls to Pigeon Fall when he arrived in 1875, had served as a member of Wisconsin State Assembly in 1881 (one session). In 1890, the 29th District, including Trempealeau County, was represented by Robert Lees, a Democrat from Alma, who had been born in Scotland, served as county superintendent and a judge, and was wounded and taken prisoner at Gettysburg in the Civil War.
In 1889-1890, 98 schoolhouses in 95 districts served 7,187 students taught by 132 teachers. Fitch Coulee School had not been established yet, so perhaps Gina and her sisters went to Moe Coulee which had earlier beginnings.
Principal farm products in 1890 in Trempealeau County were: 1) oats – 1.3 million bushels, 2) corn – .6 million bushels, 3) wheat – .25 million bushels, and 4) potatoes – .174 million bushels. The county ranked number eight in the state with 1.3 million pounds of butter, and number eleven with 16,246 milch cows. (Yes, milk was spelled “milch.”)
Such is a glimpse of the larger world as Bertinus and Maria raised their cows, pigs, chickens, corn and probably more on their Fitch Coulee farm (Homestead, 5) in the 1890s.