A Prominent Ekern Neighbor

Perhaps you remember the line from Clara’s Homestead I shared here, that in 1875, immigrant pioneer Peter Ekern gave our great-grandfather Bertinus Estenson a ride from Black River Falls to Pigeon Falls, his new home in America? Peter Ekern had been in BRF to replenish supplies for his store in Pigeon.

I find it interesting that the Ekerns readily made the transition to become a politically-involved family in their new country. Peter not only was a key citizen in the community of Pigeon Falls with the businesses he began (mill and store, for example), but he was elected to a term in the Wisconsin State Assembly where, as I read in one source, he was a sponsor legislation to limit the power and abuses of the railroads, a major issue in the latter half of the 19th century.

I’m including the above portion of a 1914 plat map of Pigeon Township, because I discovered that our grandfather Emil’s farm was just three properties north of land owned by another Ekern, Herman, son of Even and nephew of Peter. If you look closely on the bottom right portion of the map, you’ll see the names of H. A. Anderson and H. L. Ekern on 160 acres. That would be Hans Anderson, a Pigeon lawyer, Trempealeau County judge, and law partner with the other – Herman Ekern, Han’s son-in-law, also a lawyer and eventually an influential Progressive leader in Wisconsin.

Herman came back to Pigeon after earning his law degree from the UW in 1894. He entered law practice with Hans and married his daughter a few years later. In 1899 Herman was elected district attorney for the county, and then from 1903 to 1908, served three terms in the Wisconsin State Assembly, the last one as Speaker. In 1907 he became the key writer of legislation for reforming the state’s life insurance business. Later, he would become one of the founders of Lutheran Brotherhood, which today has become part of Thrivent Financial for Lutherans.

There’s more. These were the years that Progressivism made great progress in the state, and Herman Ekern became a close friend and advisor to its dynamic leader, Robert M. La Follette, Jr. In 1926 while serving as Wisconsin’s attorney general (1923-1927), Herman was the choice of La Follette and his team for the Republican candidacy for governor but was defeated in the primary by Fred Zimmerman (who went on to become governor).  However, in 1938-1939, he served as the state’s lieutenant governor when Governor Philip La Follette appointed him to finish the term of Harry Gunderson who had resigned.

I guess that’s enough…. I just had to do this post when I observed the names in that 1914 platbook. One final comment: Herman Ekern was born in 1872, the same year as our grandfather, Emil Borreson, but how different the paths of their lives.

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