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Bjug Harstad


Although his name is not often remembered today, Bjug (Bee-you-g) Harstad was one of North Dakota’s most prolific church and school planters of the nineteenth century. Born in Setesdal, Norway on December 17, 1848, Bjug Harstad moved with his family to Seneca, Illinois in 1861. At an early age Harstad felt a calling to bring God’s Word to others. Following his ordination as a Lutheran pastor in July of 1874, Harstad moved to Traill County in Dakota Territory to begin his missionary work. Living in a cave and far from family, the first year on the Dakota frontier was rough for Bjug. Yet he persevered and successfully established eighteen church congregations throughout Dakota Territory and eastern Minnesota; including those in Gran, Bruflat, Hillsboro, Mayville, Hatton, St. Olaf, Bang, Terry, Hendrum and East Grand Forks. To minister to his far-flung congregations Harstad traveled a circuit preaching at each church once every three weeks. However, not all of the settlers Harstad ministered to spoke English, so the pastor accommodated his parishioners by preaching in Norwegian, German or English, depending on which language each community needed.

Bjug Harstad did not limit himself to the establishment of churches, but worked to further the educational opportunities of younger generations by planting three schools on the Dakota plains. The first, Franklin School, established in 1878, held its classes in a parsonage just east of Mayville. Students able to pay the $10 per four month term fee were instructed in English, religion, history and arithmetic, among a variety of other subjects. The Franklin School was short-lived however, surviving only two years. Undaunted, Harstad began another institution in Gran in 1880. More successful than Harstad’s earlier endeavor, it remained opened for eleven years.

Harstad’s final school on the Dakota plains was the Bruflat Academy, which opened its doors on November 18, 1889 in Portland, North Dakota. Unlike the two prior schools Harstad was able to build dedicated school buildings by raising funds from Norwegian congregations, and endowments from James J. Hill, the president of the Great Northern Railroad. The Bruflat Academy was the first dedicated high school in North Dakota allowing students from the surrounding country schools the opportunity to further their educations beyond the eighth grade.

In 1891 Bjug Harstad left North Dakota for the West Coast to continue his work planting schools. However, through his time in North Dakota, Pastor Harstad left a considerable mark on the state. His work enabled many settlers of the Northern Plains to continue their religious traditions and helped further the educational opportunities afforded to the children of North Dakota’s earliest settlers. Having led a full life, Bjug Harstad passed away on this day, June 20, 1933.

Written by Lane Sunwall


Eriksmoen, Curt. "Bjug Harstad (1848-1933): Prolific Church Founder & Religious Leader." In Did You Know That...?: 47 Fascinating Stories About People Who Have Lived in North Dakota, One. United States of America: McCleery & Sons Publishing, 2006.

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Narveson, B.H., "The Norwegian Lutheran Academies", The Norwegian-American Historical Association http://www.naha.stolaf.edu/pubs/nas/volume14/vol14_9.htm (accessed June 2, 2008).

University of North Dakota, "Bruflat Academy, Portland, North Dakota Records", University of North Dakota, http://www.und.nodak.edu/dept/library/Collections/og131.html (accessed June 2, 2008).