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Woman Not Dead


On this date in 1902, word came from Lisbon that a woman had been found dead near Velva. Elaine Lindgren wrote about it in her book, “Land in Her Own Name:”

“Freezing temperatures were always a threat, but the tale of Helma Nelson has a surprising twist. Helma had a claim about 13 miles northwest of Velva. On March 24, 1902, a dispatch from Lisbon reported, ‘Helma Nelson, daughter of Andrew Nelson, a farmer living near Lisbon, was found frozen to death in a cabin on her claim near Velva.’

The story was carried in a number of newspapers, including the Minneapolis Journal. While it was certainly tragic, the story wasn’t all that unusual. Claim shanties were often so inadequate, that it didn’t take much for Nature to overcome settlers.

There was one reader, though, who found the story very shocking, and that was Helma, herself, who was very much alive … Helma wrote to the Minneapolis paper from Valley City.”

Here are some excerpts:

The other day while reading your paper, I found an item which surprised me very much. It was my own death announcement. The item is correct in every detail except that I was not frozen to death and wish you would correct it.

I am at present at Valley City and have been here since my return from Velva. I do not understand how anything so unfounded as this could get out, but perhaps the following will explain.

My “shanty” is not of the warmest kind and I was caught there in the big blizzard of March 14, 15, and 16. I had only a limited supply of fuel and had not reckoned on a storm like that.

Helma continues her letter by saying, George Selvig … and Mr. Sawdey, of Tilton, Iowa, deserve credit in their effort to come to my rescue. On Saturday, the second day of the storm, they, with great difficulty, found their way to my place …. They thought it best if I …. go with them.

I will admit I did not have bright hopes of ever seeing or finding any house or place of refuge when we left my shanty, but after wading through the snow and facing the wind which was freezing one side of our faces, we spied Mr. Selvig’s house … I think we were very fortunate, indeed.

“The newspapers wrote retractions stating, ‘She is out on her claim again and expects to have a bumper crop this fall.’”

A story excerpt from Elaine Lindgren’s book, “Land in Her Own Name,” prepared for Dakota Datebook by Merry Helm.