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Jon Norstog, A Prolific Writer


Once, the most prolific writer in the Norwegian language lived in North Dakota. He was Jon Norstog [norՙ-stogg], born in Telemark [tehՙ-leh-mark], Norway, in 1877. He disliked farm work, and would rather hunt, dream and write. At a church academy Jon deepened his faith and learned the common idiomatic language of Norway, while also mastering the official Standard Language, which was more Danish than Norwegian. Jon Norstog preferred to write in the idiomatic language, a practice that smothered his career in Norway.

In 1902 Norstog emigrated to Iowa where he learned how to use a printing press. Jon wrote and printed a short-lived magazine. In 1904 Norstog went to Minneapolis to work for a Norwegian language newspaper. Jon wrote his journalism in the Standard Language, but wrote poems in his idiomatic language.

In 1905 Norstog went to Grand Forks to help edit NORMANDEN [nor-manՙ-en, THE NORTH MAN], the largest Norwegian language newspaper in North Dakota. In 1907 he went to Minot to edit NORDVESTEN [nor-vestՙ-en, THE NORTHWEST].

For twenty-four years Jon wrote much of NORDVESTEN: editorials, items of local interest, national and Norway news. He described his travels around America, and contributed articles to all other Norwegian language periodicals in North America and Norway.

In 1910 Jon moved to Watford City where he homesteaded a claim, building a shack with a small printing press. Jon spent many summer days writing his idiomatic poems and printing his books of poetry. He sent copies to editors and Lutheran pastors in America and in Norway. His book-length poems were based upon Bible persons. Shorter poems pondered the Christian Faith.

In Wisconsin Jon met Inga Bredesen [ingՙ-gah brehՙ-deh-sen]. She taught high school in Minneapolis. Inga admired Jon's poetry, and married him in 1919. Together they moved into his house in Watford City. Inga served as Mackenzie County Superintendent of Schools. She and Jon raised two sons.

During the 1930s Norstog gave political speeches. He campaigned for John Moses, who was running for Governor. Norstog orated in the Norwegian Standard Language and in German. Governor Moses would later appoint Norstog as game warden for McKenzie County. Jon arrested more poachers than any other official in North Dakota.

When John Moses ran for the U.S. Senate, Norstog campaigned even harder, but his health failed. Jon died on November 22, 1942. The obituaries in English and in Norwegian praised Jon Norstog as a poet and a journalist.

Dakota Datebook written by Doctor Erik Luther Williamson

Source: Masters thesis, Dr. Erik Luther Willianmson, Luther Seminary, 1977.