A Good Long Walk, Pioneer Style. Plus, an Announcement

Picking up where we left off last week, our caravan of Norwegians traveling from Decorah, Iowa, into the Dakota territories in 1861, had little in the way of drama on their trip. Nothing worthy of a movie. No Donner party mishap to report.

Shame, that.

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And yet this next part of the tale is without a doubt my favorite, for it gives us the picture of old Great-Grandpa ambling ahead of the ox-pulled wagon, reading a book under the shade of an umbrella.

I can’t remember how old I was when my dad told me about it, but I remember the warm feeling it gave me. It gave me an awareness – an explanation for who I was. These are your people, the story said. This man who walks in solitude and brings a book to bide his time? Yes. It explains everything.

Along with this we hear of more practical matters, such as how they parked their wagons for the night, and later crossed the Sioux River on a ferry. You read this tale long enough, and you’ll have all the instructions you need to make the trip yourself.

Here it is in his own words (as published in 1907):

The course to the west which we were now to cover consisted of long stretches of naked prairie, with great distances between places where water and fuel could be found. We had to carry these supplies with us in our wagons so that at night we would be sure to have these necessities. Every evening the wagons were placed in a square, the oxen were turned loose to graze, and a fireplace, with a wall encircling it, was spaded out. Here we made our fire.

Before we went to rest the oxen were tied to the wagons, and at the earliest break of day they were again let loose so that they might both feed and slake their thirst in the dew-laden grass. In rainy weather we found it advisable to remain in camp; otherwise the chafing of the yokes on the necks of the animals caused sores to develop.

As a protection against wind and rain, I had provided a small tent under which we could cook and braise to our heart’s content. The varieties of food might not have been many, but oh, how delicious they were to our keen appetites!

The day’s journey was short, averaging perhaps fifteen miles. With an umbrella in hand and a book in my pocket, I would go ahead of the caravan as a advance guard, and when I was a mile or so in front of it, I would sit down in the shade of my umbrella to read until it (the caravan) caught up with me again. The long evenings of early fall were utilized for reading within the wagon by light of a stearin candle.

At last we reached Sioux City, near the point of influx of the Big Sioux River into the Missouri. The Big Sioux forms the boundary line between Iowa and Dakota. Across it we were transported by means of a ferry, and although the boat was a primitive one, the passage was very ingeniously accomplished.

First a cable was stretched across the river. The flat-bottomed ferry had a wide keel and at each end of the ferry this was made fast to the cable with a hawser. When the crossing was being made, the hawser at the front was shortened, placing the ferry aslant with the stream, so that the force of the current against the keel moved the craft across. For the return trip it was necessary only to reverse the arrangement of the hawsers. The adjustment of the lengths of the hawsers was all that was needed in the operation, the rest being accomplished by the stream itself.

After a three weeks’ journey we arrived at Vermillion, which, by the route we traveled, was approximately three hundred miles from Decorah. I had walked, not ridden, every inch of the way.

I hope you’ve been enjoying these last few weeks of my Great-Grandpa’s tale. I may from time to time present a few more interesting nuggets, as the mood strikes me or the need arises.

For now though, I have an announcement to make: We’re moving. As in, Husband and I are packing our belongings, selling the homestead, trekking across country to a new locale. (Though unlike Great-Grandpa, we’ll be driving.)

This is why I’ve been so busy lately, and why I’ve been so dreadfully behind in responding to comments on this blog or keeping up with my fellow bloggers.

Again, terribly sorry.

It seems packing up 17 years of living and laughing and loving doesn’t happen overnight. We had to tell family and friends, break it to the kiddos (they’re staying in Phoenix), get the house ready to sell, and sort through our own complicated emotions. Emotions containing fear, sadness, excitement, longing… everything all at once.

Yet whatever fear or sadness we felt were never outmatched by the overwhelming sense that this move is right. However nuts it may sound to anyone else, we believe we’re on the right path.

Where are we moving, you ask? Believe it or not, Minnesota!

From extreme heat to extreme cold. No half measures for us.

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I’ll let you in on more details in the weeks to come, as we still have to sort out moving details, as well as a place to rent until we (hopefully) find a home of our own.

In the meantime, through all of this, I’ll think of a man walking in solitude, biding his time by reading a book. Did he experience fear or sadness on his trip? Possibly. Mostly, I think he felt his path was right.

My Infamous Relative Revealed! Plus, Some Thoughts on Family Pride

This is it, folks, it’s time for our Big Reveal! The moment we throw open our family closet and shine a light on that bullet-ridden skeleton we’ve got hiding in there.

Just who is this infamous relative we referred to and oh-so-cleverly illustrated in last week’s post? I’ll tell you!

Only first, let’s give a shout-out to the fine folk who responded so readily with the right answer:

Andrew from Andrew’s View of the Week
Delphini from My Window
Husband of Anne from Jupp Kappius, and,
My sister-in-law, Laurie

There are a few things I’d like to point out:

  • First, the instructions said to put the initial of the last name in the comments, and that’s exactly what sis-in-law Laurie did. Just the letter. Exactly what was required; no more, no less. That, my friends, is the mark of a solid ‘B’ student. (Love ya Laurie!)
  • Next, it was only after the first few comments rolled in that I realized how incredibly lame my instructions were. All I said was to put his initial in the comments to prove you know the answer. Meaning all anyone had to do was read the first response (that would be Andrew’s), add the letter to their own comment and claim they knew all along.
  • Lastly, no one did that! Making the Feeding on Folly community a collection of the most honest, trustworthy souls I know!

Truly. You guys are the best.

Either you admitted you researched it, as Diane from LadiesWhoLunchReviews,etc did, or that you had no clue until you saw the letter, as Matilda from matildanovak.com did. Others said that even with the letter, they still had no idea (Oh Roo, silly Roo). I mean, they could have said “Oh, that must be Q,” and never let on they didn’t know!

Wow, people. Just… wow.

It just goes to show, you are everything my notorious relative was not. And may I say, I’m honored to share this little corner of the internet with you.

*sniffle*

Okay, now on with the Big Reveal: My infamous relative is none other than…

Vidkun Quisling!

I think my illustration is pretty spot-on, don’t you?

I won’t tell his whole story here (you can read his Wikipedia page for that), suffice it to say he sold out his country to the Nazis. But it’s not merely that he was a traitor, for even traitors can have their good points.

What made Quisling a… well, a quisling, is that he acted in his own self-interest. He wasn’t a Nazi; he didn’t buy into their ideology or hold to their plans. He merely went with the team that promised him the highest rank.

The jerk.

Now I’d like to point out — not that it matters, but I’ll point it out just the same — that I’m not an actual descendant of his. Despite having two wives, he didn’t have any children. So there’s that.

My dad was 17 years old when Norway was invaded by the Germans. I’m not sure how quickly the details of the invasion spread or how early Vidkun’s involvement was known, but my dad remembered the effect it had on his family.

In particular his Aunt Clara, for Aunt Clara was proud of her family and their relations. Just to be distant cousins to the Quislings was an honor, as they were a prominent family and several were in service to the King.

It’s interesting, is it not, how quickly our pride can turn to shame? How the actions of one individual can spread over the ocean, all the way to a small town in Iowa, into the heart of a white-haired spinster whose only crime was in boasting of her family’s royal connections?

But that’s the danger in boasting. It can so quickly turn against you.

Roo asked me in her comment last week how I felt about being related to this jerk Quisling.

I admit a part of me gets a kick out of telling people, partly for the shock value, but mainly because it’s a great story. And given the number of years that have passed, there’s no cause for shame. As Claudette pointed out in her comment, he’s not me. His actions do not reflect on me in any way.

And this is where I find Quisling’s role in my family tree an important one, for he forces me to stay humble.

Look at it this way: if I say the bad branches in my tree do not reflect on me, then I must say the good branches don’t either. Any successes my ancestors achieved, any noble or generous acts they may have accomplished, have no bearing on me. I can be judged by my actions alone, no one else’s.

This book I found in a forgotten cabinet, Pioneer Memoirs, has been an entertaining read for me. As it happens, Aunt Clara wrote periodically for her local newspaper, and her father, my great-Grandfather, had some of his experiences published as well. A few of their pieces are included in the book, and I plan on sharing some snippets with you in the weeks to come.

My reason for doing so is twofold:

  1. They’re great stories, and I’m all in favor of Story.
  2. The next two months or so are going to be crazy busy for me with many changes afoot, and this blog may very well suffer for it. Either I let it drift to the wayside, repost old articles, or let Aunt Clara and Great-Grandad tell their tales.

My pledge to you is that I’ll do my very best to avoid any family boasting. My request of you is that if I should slip up, you call me out on it.

All you need do is leave one comment: Remember Q.