Otter Tail County Minnesota
From Trygg Historical Maps, Trygg Land Office, Ely, MN www.trygglandoffice.com/maps.html
b=bottom land, m=marsh, p=prairie, s=swamp
[SUBMITTED BY: Dennis McLane 10240 W. Pattie St Boise, ID 83704 Dbmack11@aol.com , from the book "History of Otter Tail County" Volume I - 1916 by John W. Mason]
I noticed your webpage on descriptions of the various Otter Tail County townships requesting any additional information a reader may have to share. My ancestors were early settlers in Tordenskjold Township. I saw that Tordenskjold Township did not yet have any information available. During several years of researching my Otter Tail ancestors, I have developed significant information about Tordenskjold Township that I thought I might share if anyone is interested. The story below summarizes what I know about my family and the early settlement of the township. I received a few years ago an old photocopy of a family history story written by one of my Great Uncles in the 1950's. Later I determined that the portion of the story about the settlement of Tordenskjold came from an interview of my Great Grandfather Christoffer Jensen. The interview was conducted as a project of the Works Projects Administration on July 20, 1939. Another family member had sent me a copy of the interview which also contained a short obituary on Peder Jensen, Christoffer's brother. Over the years, I have enhanced the story through searching for the Jensen's in the 1870 and 1880 U.S. Census. I also obtained Christoffer's homestead file and the homestead certificate for Peder. I obtained through your website the Tordenskjold Lutheran cemetery records and gleaned additional information there. In 1996, I was fortunate enough to visit the grave sites of my Great Grandparents Christoffer and Kersten Jensen in the Tordenskjold Lutheran cemetery. However, at that time I found their graves I had no idea that I was surrounded by other Jensen grave sites and the tremendous history of that family in that place. From all of this the following Tordenskjold story emerged. You are free to do what you would like with it and I would love to hear from other Tordenskjold descendants of the Jensen brothers or anyone that may know of this family in the Otter Tail area. Especially if anyone knows of further details about the events described.
A STORY ABOUT THE EARLY SETTLEMENT OF TORDENSKJOLD TOWNSHIP BY THREE DANISH BROTHERS.
The three Danish brothers who were part of the early settlement of Tordenskjold Township were Ole, Peder, and Christoffer Jensen. The Jensen brothers were born and raised in the Parish of Jungshoved, Præstø, Denmark. Their parents were Jens Rasmussen and Ane Olsen. Peder and Christoffer left Denmark on April 17, 1866 for New York. They were finally able to start toward Minnesota on July 3, 1866.
In September 1867, Christoffer and Peder Jensen, left Minneapolis driving a yoke of oxen to find suitable farming land to the west and north. With them went two Danes, Jens and Hans Jacobsen, brothers, with their oxen and outfit. At the rate of about twenty miles a day the party made its way through St. Cloud, past Osakis Lake and pushed on to Pomme de Terre. It took them two days to get to the town of Alexandria just 14 miles away. Alexandria was then a fort. However, the soldiers had been transferred to another Fort the year before.
At Pomme de Terre they left the government trail and traveled about 4 miles to the west, then turned north to Ten Mile Lake. Here on the north end of the lake, lived Mr. McComber, who had just previously located there. The four men camped at his place over night and the next morning they started out in search of a suitable place to settle on. Peder Jensen and Jens Jacobsen walked further north the next day and got onto a large and well traveled road. They could see it was no wagon trail. They went north following the timber, rather than to go west into the prairie as they wished to locate where there was timber. It was here that the Indians camped in the winter on the North side of Dane Lake, on the land that later became the homestead of Christoffer's brother, Ole Jensen. In the summer the Indians moved west into the Red River Valley. The boys trapped during the winter, and in the spring they had quite a pile of muskrats that they didn't know how to get rid of. However, some of the Indians came along and asked through signs if they could have them, which took care of this situation. They used them, of course for food.
Christoffer Jensen selected his homestead in what is now section 17, Tordenskjold Township, and his brother Peder settled in section 18. The land had not yet been surveyed by the Government and Christoffer and Peder Jensen were the first white men to permanently settle in what later became known as Tordenskjold Township. Technically, they were not were not supposed to occupy the land until after the survey of the township was completed as they couldn't be certain as to their homestead claim boundaries. Christoffer would later state on his homestead application that he began actual settlement on September 20, 1871. Later the claim he occupied was described as the SW¼, SW¼, Section 8 and the NW¼, NW¼ and the E½, NW¼, Section 17 for a total of 160 acres. Peder's homestead claim was the SE¼, SE¼, Section 7, the E½, NE¼, Section 18, and the SW¼, NW¼, Section 17 for a total of 160 acres.
The first task was to erect a place of shelter. There was plenty of timber on the land, and both of the Jensen's were accustomed to hard work. So logs were cut and hewed and a cabin built. The cabin was 20 feet by 20 feet, 1½ stories high with a shingle roof, 2 floors, three doors and four windows. Their cabin was the first building north of Pomme de Terre. Shortly they found they were in need of provisions, which meant a trip to Sauk Centre had to be made. They had a compass, and they calculated they were about due north of Pomme de Terre, and figured out they could save many miles going to market by cutting a trail through the timber south of where they had settled. They spent about 3 ½ days cutting their way through the timber. This pioneer trail was used by all the early settlers who later came to the township. It took eleven days to make the trip to Sauk Centre and back by ox team.
Christoffer paid $13.50 for a barrel of flour, and $32.00 for a hog. Christoffer did not raise any grain in 1868, as the tall grass that was plowed under for the first time had to be given time to rot and the soil turned once again before a crop could be produced. However, he raised a fine garden, which was a great boon as it reduced the demand for other supplies.
In the summer of 1868, Christoffer decided to go to Winona and secure work in the harvest fields thereabout, as harvest hands were being paid $3.50 per day. He walked to St. Cloud, then by rail to Minneapolis, but he did not have money to secure passage any further, so he got on board a barge at Minneapolis and thus was transported to Winona.
In 1869, Christoffer raised his first crop of wheat, and it was cut with a cradle and threshed with a flail. Later Christoffer and Peder purchased a horse-powered threshing machine, this becoming the first threshing machine in the township. Eventually, the government survey made it to Tordenskjold Township. George B. Wright got the contract from the government to survey. Christoffer first met Wright in the winter of 1869-70, when Wright came up from St. Paul to survey the township of Tordenskjold. The weather was bitterly cold, and Wright had a grain sack tied around his head and neck to keep warm. Jack Billings was one of the surveyors, who later became sheriff of Otter Tail County for 38 years. Settlers started coming in the next year and as theirs was the only cabin, their yard was full of covered wagons. They came in on the road Christoffer and Peder had cut through the timber the year before. It was crooked, of course, and up and down hills. As the newcomers arrived and got settled, they met and organized a township. They consisted mostly of Danes, Norwegians and Swedes.
They decided that Tordenskjold would be an appropriate name for the new township. This was the nickname for Peter Vessle ( a man well known in the history of their countries). His father was a tailor in Bergen, Norway. He enlisted in the Danish Navy, later became an Admiral, fought against Sweden. He is buried in Copenhagen.
Clitheral, 10 miles east, was settled in 1865. Mostly settlers from Illinois. Whiting was the first postmaster. Mail was brought from Clitheral to Tordenskjold by dog team driven by a man named Barbeau.
The Fergus Falls Journal of Thursday, April 17, 1930, contained an account of the passing on one of Otter Tail's earliest settlers Knute Olson, who came that county in 1868. The following paragraph described the journey north from Pomme de Terre in northern Grant County:
"Here the four men engaged Mr. Esten to accompany them as a guide. From Tumuli they traveled toward Wall Lake. They crossed the lake on ice. A small band of Indians stood on the west side of the lake watching them. It was growing dusk and the guide suggested that they strike eastward where he knew there was a settler. So they traveled over into Tordenskjold. In that whole township there was but one shack. Here lived Peter and Christoffer Jensen and two other men, brothers. They were all Danes, and Mr. Olson and his party received a warm welcome. They stopped over night and the next morning, the guide, Mr. Esten, returned to this home in Tumuli and Mr. Olson and his party looked around for a suitable piece of land. They could not as yet file, of course, since no surveys had been made."
Christoffer Jensen was married first to Ane Jensen (she had the same surname) in 1869. Two children were born to them. Hans was born on Oct. 5, 1870. Marie was born in 1873. She was known as Mary most of her life and later became part of Christoffer's second family. Ane died shortly after Mary's birth on February 10, 1875. Ane was buried among three other graves that were to become the Tordenskjold Lutheran Cemetery in Section 18 on the Peder Jensen place.
In the spring of 1876, Christoffer returned to Denmark for a visit. He met Kersten Hendricksen on the boat coming back to America in May 1876. Kersten went to Benson, Minnesota to live with her sister. Christoffer returned to Tordenskjold. While in Denmark, Christoffer may have convinced his brother Ole to make the move. Ole and his wife Anne Marie Pedersen had established their family in Denmark, but by the 1880 census they were located in Tordenskjold on the North side of Dane Lake near the Christoffer and Peder Jensen homesteads. Christoffer proved up his homestead claim on July 11, 1876 and was granted title to the land. Peder Jensen proved up his homestead claim on October 10, 1876.
Christoffer married Kersten Hendricksen on December 4, 1877 and they first settled into the homestead at Tordenskjold. Kersten accepted Hans and Mary as her own. Then they had Henry on April 3, 1879. They also had two daughters: Annie in 1882 and Hannah shortly after.
Christoffer and Kersten sold the homestead and moved to Fergus Falls in 1882. They lived there 11 years and they had both good and bad times. In partnership with another man, Christoffer operated a store for some time, but as this venture proved unprofitable, it was not of very long duration. He was in the lumber business with Winther, and they also had a yard at Elizabeth. He was also out of work for a time. They were getting along with $10 to $12 a month for family living. Then they had the scarlet fever epidemic. Christoffer was sick in bed, Hannah and Anna had both died. The deaths occurred in winter and they had to wait until spring to bury them. Kersten made them each a burial dress. Henry was so sick that the neighbors, who brought over food and left it on the porch, also brought a shroud for him. He lived, but was a long time getting back to health.
Christoffer and Kersten had another son named James in 1885. They also had a daughter named Hattie on March 11, 1887. Both these children were born in Fergus Falls. Their daughter Effie was born sometime before they left Fergus Falls.
The first of many tragedies struck this small family in 1891. Christoffer's son Hans was working in the woods in Wisconsin. He wrote a letter home saying he was ready to start for home. He never came home and nothing further was heard until a telegram came saying he was dead. He died of pneumonia March 28, 1891. He got pneumonia and medical care was not available. When they came to claim the body, they found him laid out in a box in the back of the camp.
Peder Jensen died April 20, 1916 and is buried with his wife Maren Kerstine (d: April 10, 1917) at Tordenskjold Lutheran Cemetery. Ole Jensen died on July 2, 1919 and is buried with his wife Anna Marie (d: July 26, 1916) at Tordenskjold Lutheran Cemetery.
After living in South Dakota, Texas, Oklahoma, North Dakota and various parts of Minnesota, Christoffer Jensen died on September 10, 1942 in Mahnomen, Minnesota and was buried at Tordenskjold Lutheran Cemetery with his first wife Ane (d: February 10, 1875) and his second wife Kersten (d: June 13, 1941).
Many of the descendants of these Minnesota pioneers are also buried at Tordenskjold Lutheran Cemetery next to the Church that sits on the homesteads established by the Jensen brothers.
Population totals in state and federal census summaries.
Places of birth for Tordenskjold Township in the 1905 state census.
The following names have been extracted from original land records (by John Nelson) and Mason's History (by Karen Terry).
Aldrich , Josiah W ; Andersen , Ane M , Niels ; Anderson , Anders , John ; Arstad , Mikkel ; Askeroth , Nils J ; Askerud , Jons N ; Barbeau , _____ ; Berg , Elias H ; Bergh , Ole H ; Billings , Jack ; Brakke , Sjur O ; Carlsson , Carl J ; Christensen , Bardon , Jorgen , Mathias ; Christiansen , Hans ; Dahlen , Knud H ; Dyrland , Vettle K ; Esten , (Mr) ; Franze , Johan ; Grue , Simen T ; Hagen , Albert J ; Hall , Soren A ; Hansen , Hans , Nils , Rasmus ; Harms , Henry ; Headman , Peter ; Hendricksen , Kersten ; Henrikson , Hartvig K ; Hoff , Andrew T , Christian A , John T , Karen E , Ole , Tolleff A ; Ihlseng , Ole H ; Jacobsen , Hans , Jens ; Jacobson , Svend ; Jakobsen , Ole ; Jansson , Andro ; Jensen , Ane , Anne Marie , Annie , Christoffer , Effie , Frederik C , Hannah , Hans , Hattie , Henry , James , Jens C , Kersten , Maren Kerstine , Marie , Marie (Mary) , Ole , Peder , Peter ; Jenson , Anders ; Johansen , Svend ; Johnson , Andrew , Christian , John , Ole , Zacarias ; Josephson , Albrect ; Joten , Torger K ; Kvilvang , Gunder J ; Larson , John H ; Loe , Ole J ; McComber , (Mr) ; Mikkelsen , Iver ; Mikkelson , Nils ; Miller , Justinus ; Moe , Christen , Martha ; Mortensen , Hans P , Jeppe ; Movold , Ole T , Tobias ; Myrbo , Ole O ; Narjord , Essten O ; Nielsen , Peter C ; Nilsen , Anders , Mikkel ; Olsen , Ane , Lars , Nils ; Olson , Knut , Knute , Lorentz , Micael C ; Olstad , Hans N ; Pedersen , Anne Marie , Jens ; Pederson , Jens , Knud , Peder ; Peterson , Lena , Tom ; Plumb , Inga ; Rasmussen , Jens , Jorgen ; Roos , Carl J ; Schei , Peter J ; Shei , John P ; Simenson , Thore ; Skalman , Lars ; Skramstad , H H ; Sorgaard , Christofor T ; Stenersen , Torsten ; Storstad , Petter O ; Stoutland , Gabriel ; Svendson , Sigrid ; Swenson , Ammund ; Thomson , Jacob ; Thoresen , Herman ; Torgersen , John S , Mikkel ; Torkelson , Ole ; Torstenson , Torsten ; Tostensen , Tosten ; Vessle , Peter ; Volen , Anneus M ; Volmo , Marie M ; Westfall , August ; Whiting , ____ ; Winther , _____ ; Wright , George B
Return to Otter Tail County Home Page