Thor Kittleson came to America from Norway as a 7-year-old in 1850. Seventy-six years later, he penned three articles published in the Blanchardville Blade. When a distant cousin found and shared Thor’s articles with his great-great-granddaughter Gayle Harrop of Mazomanie, she was amazed by their detail and wisdom.
“I have now lived in the United States … nearly four-fifths of a century,” Thor wrote in 1926. “I have lived here more than half of the history of this country since the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.” When Thor came to America, James Polk was president. Since then, “we have had 20 presidents, and before I came there had been only 11 presidents.”
Thor lived from the era of “the ox team to the gasoline engine, from the lumber wagon to the automobile, from the tallow candle to the electric light, from the stage coach to the flying machine [and] from mud roads to concrete highways.” He concluded, “I have lived in an age of marvels and miracles.”
Blessed with a good memory, Thor stated, “There are … people in this country who never drove an ox team, never heard the hum of a spinning wheel, who never had to read by the light of a tallow candle, and who never wore clothing of … cloth … made by their mothers on a hand loom … from wool sheared from the sheep on the home farm.”
When Thor sailed with his family to America, the journey was risky, if not outright dangerous. They landed at New York after eight weeks and two days at sea, took another boat to Buffalo via the Erie Canal and a third ship through the Great Lakes to Milwaukee.
Thor’s family undertook the voyage, despite the discouraging words of Norwegian landowners. “At the time we emigrated … so many renters and laboring people were leaving for America the landholders and official classes were worried that … there would not be enough common people left to do Norway’s rough, hard work,” Thor wrote. “So they … tried to make the people believe that America was a terrible country in which to live.”
Thanks to the propaganda, many Norwegians “believed that the United States consisted chiefly of scalping Indians, … rattle snakes, tornados, swamps, [and] cholera epidemics.” But the immigrants came anyway — and what a difference they have made.
Coming in August: Thor’s conclusions on the immigration experience.
Doris Green authored “Elsie’s Story: Chasing a Family Mystery” and a new edition of “Wisconsin Underground: A Guide to Cave, Mines, and Tunnels In and Around the Badger State.” Both are available from http://henschelhausbooks.com, Amazon, or, your bookstore. Contact Doris at https://dorisgreenbooks.com.