When Thor Kittleson’s family emigrated in 1850, so many people were leaving for America the landholders worried “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.” The propaganda described a land filled with scalping Indians and rattlesnakes. Worst of all were the Yankees.
Thor’s family first encountered “the terrible Yankee” on the road to Dane County. When rain drove them to shelter at a farmer’s home, they were “cordially received by the Yankee wife.” She set out a “pan of sweet milk with the cream on, and some white bread.” The family still carried food from Norway, but it had become stale. “We had never eaten a meal that tasted better than that milk and bread of the Yankee farmer’s wife,” Thor stated. “She did not act … like Yankees we had heard about in Norway. But then, of course, she was a woman. The men might be different.”
When Thor’s father got a job husking corn for a Yankee farmer, “he took off his hat to [his employer] as he had [done] in Norway when meeting a man of a higher social order. [But] the Yankee made him understand that in this country … all honest men are lords.”
At noon Thor’s father came to the farmhouse and “looked around for the place where he should eat. When asked to come into the house and eat with the family he hesitated. [Asked] to sit down at the table, between the Yankee farmer and his wife, to eat white bread on a white table cloth, he at first refused.”
At the end of the day Thor’s father hurried home to tell his wife and children about the Yankee farmer. When his father had finished his story, Thor recalled his words, “‘Let us all thank God for bringing us here to this blessed land of America.’” From that day, his father was a “patriotic American citizen.”
Thor viewed his father’s experience as a lesson for the U.S. government of 1926, when citizenship laws had become stricter. “The immigrants who have come in later years have not received such a hearty welcome as my father did … they are neither wanted nor needed as badly as were the new comers in 1850.” Yet, “the best … way to Americanize our immigrants is to treat them right.”
Doris Green authored “Elsie’s Story: Chasing a Family Mystery” and “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.