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Homesteading Near Fort Abercrombie


Andrew Paulson met Hanna Broken in western Wisconsin, where they were married in 1869. Both were Norwegian immigrants, and for a time, Andrew supported Hanna as a logger. Three years later, however, they had lost everything in a bad business deal. In 1871, Andrew left Hanna in Chippewa Falls and headed west to Fort Abercrombie to find work – but the train traveled only as far as Benson, MN. From there, Andrew had to walk and cross swollen spring rivers by swimming. The Paulsons’ daughter, Jennie, told the story:

“Father was hired as a veterinary surgeon at the fort and also did some blacksmithing and horse training. He wrote to my mother and told her of the conditions at the fort and suggested that she be contented to live there alone in Wisconsin until there were more improvements in the West. But after she got the letter, she decided that if he could live there, she could also. So she packed up her few belongings and with her baby, she took the train west.

“The railroad was not completed to the fort, so, when she reached the end of the line, the trainmen told her she would have to get off – if she hadn’t changed her mind and return to the East to wait until the train service was better. She laughed at them and said she would get to the fort even if she had to walk all the rest of the way.”

Jennie’s mother learned of a construction crew heading to the fort in the morning, but when she asked for a ride, they told her they had no place for her to ride. The next morning, however, she convinced them she and her baby could sit on top of one of the construction cars. It wasn’t a comfortable ride. “[Mother] arrived in the last of November in a snow storm,” Jennie said. “She was the first white woman to come to the fort by train.”

Hanna made extra money making soap for the fort, and the following spring, she and Andrew headed out to stake a claim. “The Wild Rice River crossed through their forty acres and supplied them with water,” Jennie said, “and the timber growing on the banks was used for fuel. Mother spent most of the first summer alone because father was on the trail to and from [the fort] or Fargo, where he did the shipping. He had to haul the lumber for their home from Fargo, and he got his mail from the fort.

“There were many days...mother was alone...in the tent, and [once] when father wasn’t going to be home for the night, she had a visitor who asked to be fed and given shelter for the night. This visitor was an old Indian woman. Mother told her that she could stay in her tent if she wanted to and that she could eat with her if she desired. Mother set the table, and the woman sat down to eat. [The woman] drew a large knife from under her shawl and began to cut the vegetables which had been set before her. Mother was very frightened but tried not to show her fear.... In the early morning the woman left, thanking mother for her kindness.

“About noon of that day two men on horseback rode up and inquired about any travelers who had passed by. Mother told them no one had passed. Then they told her that they were looking for an Indian woman who had married a white man some years previous. He had been sent to jail, and while he was in jail, she had...had a baby. When she learned that her husband was going to be freed, she killed her baby and ran away.”

Andrew and Hanna Paulson ended up achieving several “firsts” in their lifetime, including having the first school, which was held in their house, being the first to farm with horses, and owning the first binder.

Source: Albers, Everett and D. Jerome Tweton, Editors. The Way it Was: Norwegian Homesteaders. Fessenden, ND: The Grass Roots Press, 1998.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm