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Sacred Heart Township
(By Ole O. Enestvedt.)
The History of Renville County, Volume 2
Compiled by Franklyn Curtiss-Wedge
Chapter XLI
p. 1329-1333

It is a fact that the first settlements in this part of the country were started along rivers and streams, where the pioneers, who were never of the rich class of people, could find plenty of water, timber and hay for their needs. True to this custom, the first band of settlers in this township located in the Minnesota river valley and on the prairie along the natural groves of timber.

One of the first white men out here after the 1862 Indian outbreak was Thomas Olsen Kolien (now spelled Collin), then from Houston, in Fillmore county, this state. He went west in 1864 with the intention of digging gold in Idaho, but only went as far as Montana. He was afterward employed by the United States government as a teamster hauling provisions from Sioux City up the Missouri river to points in the Dakotas and Montana. The Indians there were very troublesome and Mr. Kolien encountered [many] fights with them.

After a two years' stay he went back to Fillmore county and told his friends about the desirable land along the Minnesota river that could be had under the homestead law. So in the spring of 1866 a caravan of five covered wagons was formed and the following persons started out for the new country: (1) Ole Kolien; wife, Joran, and six, mostly grown-up, children, Thomas, Peder, Gouleik, Sigrid, Swen and Sten. Thomas had a wagon of his own. Hellek, another son, did not come until the following year. (2) Ole Halvorsen Rennevam; wife, Gunild; and four mostly grown-up children, Halvor, Reier, Hellek and Turina. (3) Thor Helgeson; wife, Helga; and one child, Birgitta. (4) Paul Petersen; wife, Guri; and one child, Petter. In all there were nineteen people. They traveled by way of Mankato, St. Peter and New Ulm, and crossed the Minnesota river to Fort Ridgely, where they left their wagons and the women and children in charge of Ole Kolien. Near Morton the men again crossed the river, going over to the Lower Agency, under the impression that the desirable homestead land was on the south side of the river. They passed through Redwood Falls, then consisting mostly of Indian tepees, and continued in a northwesterly direction to the Indian agency at Yellow Medicine, where they found that the free land was on the north side of the Minnesota river. They spent the night at the agency and found there a man named Tosten Rustgaard, who had come a little earlier that spring and taken a claim on the south side of the Minnesota river, in what was afterward section 2, township of Sioux Agency, Yellow Medicine county, and across from what was afterward the Oslie place in Hawk Creek township. With Rustgaard as their guide, the party again forded the Minnesota river and passed down the lowlands until a beautiful spot, where the bottoms widened out into a large plain. Here was an expanse of rich land, covered with waving violet, blue-joint grass, and with many sightly groves along creeks running merrily into the river. Surrounded by such a prospect, the wanderers felt a homelike feeling stealing over them and decided that here they would cast their lots. Therefore on June 17, 1866, sitting on a high rock on the riverbank, from which a good view of the surrounding territory was to be obtained, they made an agreement to select claims in the order of their ages, the oldest to have the first choice. Two of the party, Helgesen and Petersen, at once started back to Fort Ridgely. There the caravan had been joined by Bernt Larson, his wife Martha and children, Anna and Maria, and by Kristian Kvern, a single man. The caravan at once set out for the selected land and arrived June 21. Each settler secured a claim on the creek, and plenty of timber for fuel and building purposes. So, though they had to live in covered wagons while they were getting their shacks ready, they got along fairly well. The worst foe to fight in those days was not Indians but mosquitoes. They were thick enough to obscure sunlight on warm days and came near killing the settlers' cattle. The only relief from these pests was to make "smudges" and smoke them away. The smudges were made both in cattle yards and in the houses in iron pots. Of course the smoke was pretty hard to endure, especially for the children, but anything was preferable to the continual stinging and whining of these pests. The columns of smoke rising from the settlers' homes in those days were the surest guides of the stranger to the white man's cabin.

Indians were numerous, a large group of them having their tepees in Oslie's grove and some 500 Indians lived in the timber at Hawk Creek and Minnesota Falls, but they were generally friendly. About the greatest annoyance they caused was their continual begging for food and scaring women and children when the men folks were away.

In the fall of the first year the settlers had to go clear back to Scandia Grove settlement, Nicollet county, for their provisions. This was ninety miles distant and with oxen the journey took several days. Here they bought seed wheat for $2.75 per bushel, flour at $9 per 100 pounds or $18 per barrel. A few chickens and cats were also secured at $1 apiece. The first crop (1867) was destroyed by myriads of blackbirds, crows and gophers, so there was hardly a bushel of grain raised. One of the settlers raised a quantity of turnips, which he shared with his neighbors. They were boiled and used instead of butter on bread. Game and fish were plentiful and this helped out on the food question. That summer a great prairie fire threatened the settlement and also drove a number of cows into the river, where they were drowned. Seed wheat for the next year was bought at New Ulm at $1.25 per bushel.

The next summer (1868) was perhaps as filled with privations as any, as the little money and credit the people had was gone and not much of a crop had been raised up to this time. Many men folks and several women now went east to Nicollet county to work during the summer. But that fall help came. A good crop of wheat was raised, yielding upwards of forty bushels per acre. The grain had to be threshed out by flail or trampled out by cattle and sifted out of the straw by throwing with a shovel. Thor Helgesen says he finished his log stable late in the fall, and then poured water over the earth floor, which froze and made the nicest threshing floor one could wish for. Threshing in winter when snow was on the bundles had its serious drawbacks, because so much snow and ice mixed with the grain that it was almost unfit for milling purposes. Thomas Olsen (Kolien) relates that as soon as he had threshed out his wheat he put on a good load, thinking he would stop the flour famine among the settlers. Imagine his disappointment when the miller told him that it would be next to impossible to grind his wheat on account of the ice it contained. He would try to grind some of it, which Mr. Olsen would have to come and get some other time.

The trips to the mill in Redwood Falls also had their incidents. The Minnesota river had to be forded and in the spring, when water was high, the only way to get across was to unhitch the oxen and swim them across, then take as many sacks of wheat as a boat would carry and make as many trips across as necessary, taking the wagon apart and across piecemeal. In one particular case, when the rear gear of the settler's wagon had been placed across the boat so that the wheels hung down into the water, the current on the upper side caught hold of the wheel and tipped boat and all over. A few sacks were also along and these floated merrily down the river in company with wagon wheels and boat, to which the men were clinging for dear life. Drifting near enough to shore they got the boat righted and wheels fished ashore, but the sacks were nowhere to be seen. Nothing daunted by this little incident, the pioneers coupled their wagon together, loaded on the remaining sacks and started for the mill. The crossing or ford was called "Minnesota Crossing," and was located below the brown stone building. The first threshing machine brought into this township was brought in 1869 by Ole Kolien & Sons. It was a 28-inch cylinder machine, of 8 horse power, that had no wheels but had to be hung under a wagon to be moved. Later on a larger machine, owned by Thor Helgesen, Halvor Helgesen, Ole Evenstvedt and Ole Tufts, which was run for a period of twelve years, claims the honor of covering a larger territory than usual. One particular fall this company threshed the grain of sixty-eight farmers in four different counties, keeping on until Christmas, when the snowdrifts were as high as the backs of the horses trucking around the power.

The first wheat raised in the settlement was hauled to Beaver Landing, a station for the steamboats then plying the Minnesota river somewhere near Redwood Falls. Wheat brought only sixty cents per bushel (on account of the late war) and was shipped by boat down the river. Later on better prices were obtained, but as steamship traffic on the Minnesota river was discontinued the nearest railroad and grain market was Willmar, some forty miles away. The trips with oxen across the treeless and unsettled prairie with only scant clothing were some of the hardships of pioneer life. Many early settlers were lost in storms and frozen to death and others were ruined in health by exposure. Added to this there was a constant fear of Indians "breaking out" again and prairie fires had to be fought while the land was being turned into the smiling settlement which it is today.

In 1871 the grasshopper plague struck the new settlement and lasted for three years. The first season of their stay they came rather late in summer and about one-third of the crops remained after their ravages. They laid eggs in the fall and next season ate up everything, even spoiling the meadows for hay. The third year they left after spoiling the crop to some extent. Many experiments were tried to kill hoppers and save the grain, such as plowing deep furrows on the side of fields from which marauders were attacking it, spreading old straw along edges of fields and burning it, but it availed nothing against the millions of invaders, marching on like trained soldiers in one direction. An incident from this is told in this way, by Thomas Olsen (Kolien):

One morning he discovered that the grasshoppers had come in the night and had started on his best piece of wheat, gnawing at the straw so that he could see them fall. He got disheartened and made a vow that if this field was spared he would hunt up the poorest man in the neighborhood and give him ten bushels of wheat. It seems that this was the last stay of the hoppers, who when their wings had grown large enough would rise in the body and fly away - nobody knows where. At noon our farmer heard a great buzzing, and looking out he discovered the air so full of grasshoppers as to obscure the sun. They went away for good, and although his field was damaged somewhat, he kept his vow and found a poor family just settled on the prairie and almost destitute, and ten bushels of wheat has hardly ever been received with more joy and gratefulness than in this case.

This settlement of sturdy Scandinavians, while the beginning of the influx of the substantial people of that nationality to the western part of Renville county, was not the first settlement in Sacred Heart. People had been here before the Massacre. The famous Major Joseph R. Brown stone house had been built about 1860. In 1865, before the Scandinavian colony arrived, G. P. Greene had settled in the township.

Mr. Greene was a prominant man in the township. He was the first postmaster of Minnesota Crossing, so called from the ford below his house. The mail was brought by a carrier from Vicksburg until 1876.

Mr. Greene was also the first school teacher for several years in the first school house in the township erected late in the year 1868 in section 5 on the corner of the northeast quarter of the northeast quarter. Each of the settlers hauled two logs and put the building up with their axes. At first it had only the earth floor and sod roof, but later a floor and shingle roof were added improvements. Long tables with four-legged slabs on each side for benches furnished the inside. Many of the later successful citizens of the township got their first instruction in this humble building under the tutelage of Mr. Greene. Among those strapping young fellows we mention the following: P. O. Kittilsland and his brother Torbjorn, Ole Mogen, Halvor Helgesen, Kolben Knutsen, Thomas and Hellek Olsen (Kolien), Halsten and Anton Kokken, Ole Knutsen, Ole Tufts, Reier and Hellek Halvorsen, Andrew and Martin Osli, Otto and Martin Sveiven. The girls were represented by Joron Enestvedt, Gunild Teigen, Astrid Flaata, Lina and Christiana Asli, Hattie and Alice Greene. The first marriage by "squire" was also solemnized at the old Greene place and the contracting parties were Kristian Kvern and his newcomer bride who was instructed to say "yes" whenever Squire Greene spoke to her. During the ceremony, when the justice looked her way, she would put in a decided "yes," to which the old man remarked afterwards, "She was almost too willing; she said yes all the time." In the evening the happy couple, having neglected to give a wedding party, were treated to a moonlight serenade from stovepipes and cowbells and frying pans, such as only the hardened muscles of the frontier boys could produce. The serenaders took their victim out in his night clothes and rode him around on a rail until he was almost exhausted. Mr. Kvern afterwards had the whole gang arrested, and it is related that they were so numerous that when given dinner at the hotel in Beaver Falls they ate up everything in the place. Most of them were fined, and those who could not pay were ordered to work out the fine by grubbing on the bridegroom's claim! Another lawsuit was that of Ole Johnson vs. Ole Halvorsen Rennevam, the case being held at the Vicksburg store. There had been a dispute between the men about some trespassing cattle, and this resulted in Ole Johnson's attempt to stab Ole Halvorsen with a knife. The latter was haying and had his pitchfork handy, holding it out so the other man ran into it enough to show marks from the prongs. Ole Johnson then proceeded to Justice Greene's (one mile distant) and swore out a warrant for assault. Fortunately for the aged Rennevam, he had had an eye-witness to the case in his son Hellek, and this turned tale so that Ole Johnson had to pay $5 fine and costs. The lawyers in this case got into such a wrangle that they fought hand to hand, and one of them threw the other out of the store building.

In 1867 came to Sacred Heart Ole and Tollef Enestvedt, Lars Rudi, Hellek Kolien (Collin), Erik Nilsen, Ole Melsness, Gunerius Melsness, Peter Mortinsen (Mangerud), Ole B. Dahl, Ole Johnson. In 1868 came Hermo Halvorsen, Johan Olson (Forkrud), Peter Gundersen (Trane), Anders Samuelson, Bernt and Oluf Kortgaard, P. G. Peterson (Goli) and Erik Goli, Halvor Goli, K. Trongaard,, Peder Eriksen, Ole Tufto, Emil Lilleby, Peder P. Olsen, J. P. Okins, Lars P. Kottum. In 1869 came Halvor Tufto, Sr., H. W. Olson, N. W. Brooks, S. Brooks, Lars Tufto, Johannes Hang, Henrik Oslund, Gunder Sorensen, Mikkal H. Strandjord, Ole O. Sveiven. In 1870 came Halvor and Stener Helgesen, Mathias, Samuelson, Peder Osli and others.

On April 6, 1869 the first town election was held at the house of G. P. Greene, whose small log house was the town center up to 1876. At this town meeting the following officers were chosen: S. Brooks (Chairman), Ole Johnson and P. G. Peterson, supervisors; G. P. Greene, clerk; Ole B. Dahl, assessor; Ole O. Enestvedt, treasurer; P. W. Brooks and G. P. Greene, justices; J. P. Okens, constable. On motion the name of Sacred Heart was given to the new township.

Two stories are told of the naming of Sacred Heart. One story concerns Charles Patterson, who settled in Flora township, on the Renville county side of the rapids in the Minnesota river, in 1783, and there established a trading post. He wore a peculiar shaped hat, made of fur, and the Indians began to call him the man with the strange or mysterious or magic hat. Their word "wakan," really meaning "spirit," being applied to anything that they did not quite comprehend or that was unusual in any way. Each particular clan of Indians had some animal which they never killed and which they regarded as sacred. It has been said that the Indians then living in this locality esteemed the bear sacred and that Patterson's hat was made of the fur from a great bear which had frequented the neighborhood.

Gradually they began to refer to the man himself as "The Spirit Hat" or "The Sacred Hat," the meaning being the same as the name from which "Medicine Hat" was translated. Later the white people corrupted the name of "Sacred Hat" to Sacred Heart.

A much more pleasing story of the name was told to Ed. O'Connor, of Sacred Heart, by Louis G. Brisbois, a French pioneer of Hawk Creek township. He delared that in the early days, the mouth of the Sacred Heart creek formed in the shape of a heart and that a French missionary-priest, inspired by this, had given the name of Sacred Heart to a mission of French half-breeds and Indians that he had established here, and that the locality gradually took the name of this early mission, still retaining it long after the mission had passed into oblivion.

Sacred Heart township embraces township 115, range 37, and a fractional part of township 114, range 37. It is bounded on the north by Ericson township, on the east by Emmet and Flora townships, on the southwest by the Minnesota river, and on the west by Hawk Creek township. The township has one thriving village of the same name. The railroad crosses it in the northern part. The township is settled by Norwegians and Swedes, with a small sprinkling of Americans, Irish and Germans.

Thor Helgeson has many interesting stories to tell of pioneer times. No one today can realize the difficulties that agricultural operations presented in the early days. In 1866 Mr. Helgeson managed to break three acres. In 1867 he went to a place thirteen miles this side of St. Peter and purchased three or four bushels of wheat at $2.75 a bushel. This he sowed on the three acres. But the blackbirds entirely destroyed the crop and nothing whatever was realized from the three acres.

During the grasshopper plague Mr. Helgeson remembers one day, when he and others took a team and went to the field in an effort to get some straw before the grasshoppers could get it. The grasshoppers were so thick and blinding that the oxen had to be unhitched and led back to their stable.

One year some of the wheat was saved by dragging long strings through the fields and thus knocking the hoppers from the wheat stalks.

But in 1876 there was a satisfactory crop, and the wheat exhibited by Mr. Helgeson at the Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia was the best that was presented from Minnesota. The first cat, the first chicken and the first rooster in Sacred Heart township were purchased by Thor Helgeson at Swan Lake in Nicollet county in 1867. He paid $1 each for the cat, the chicken and the rooster. In the fall of 1866 Mr. Helgeson went to West Newton and bought some flour at $6 a hundred. This was not quite enough. In the spring of 1867 he noticed a man in the bottoms with a load of goods, having a hard time to get through. For $1 he helped the man through to Minnesota Falls and there bought some flour for $9 a hundred.

About Christmas time in 1867, Mr. Helgeson, with two companions, Tov Rudi and Knut Berget, started on snow shoes for Redwood Falls. Tov Rudi got tired and found shelter in the edge of the timber along Rice Creek, about a mile from Redwood Falls. He froze his feet and could not walk, and lay in the snow partly unconscious all night. He was found by the Indians the next morning, but died a few days later. Thor Helgeson and Knut Bergen kept on their way back to Sacred Heart. When they nearly reached the ferry south of Vicksburg, they found that they could go no further. They made themselves a camp in the sheltered place between two large rocks and though Mr. Helgeson had but one match and half another, they succeeded in kindling a fire with dry cedar, which they kept burning by using pieces of wood split from a basswood log which was near the shelter. Fortunately, Mr. Helgeson had a sharp knife, and he also had an axe head, which he had purchased in Redwood Falls. But using a stick for a handle to the axe head he managed to split up quite a little of the basswood log. Thus the night was spent and the two men escaped freezing.

The nearest markets were at Willmar, some forty miles away and at New London, some twelve miles beyond Willmar. The scarcity of money and the long distance that supplies must be brought made the use of substitutes a necessity. Prairie tea was used in place of imported tea. Green coffee berries were purchased, roasted at home and then ground in the coffee mill. This hand coffee mill was useful in other ways. Wheat was ground in it and from the coarse flour thus resulting a sort of wheat pudding was made. Corn was also ground in the same mill and corn bread made from it.

The first real estate assessment of Sacred Heart township, 114-37, was made in 1869. Those assessed were: Ole Gilbertson, sections 5, 8; Peter A. Oslie, 6; Andres Samulson, 8; Halvor Olson, 13; Fred Thies, 13; John D. Rosenmeyer, 13.

By 1872 quite a number of people had acquired property in Sacred Heart township (114-37, 115-37), the real estate assessment that year being as follows: 114-37 - Bartel Larson, section 6; Ole B. Dahl, 5; Thor Helgeson, 5, 6, 7, 8; Ole Halleckson, 6, 7; Gilbert Severtson, 6; Anders Samuelson, 8; Aslak Asmonson, 6; John D. Roseymer, 13; Daniel Ames, 24; Emile Hammel, 13; Ole Halvorson, 16; Julius Larson, 16; Ole Enestvedt, 16; Halvor Olson, 13; John O. Pain, 12, 13; H. E. Wadsworth, 24, 13; M. Duncan, 13; John Warner, 24; Thomas Olson, 5; Hallek Olson, 5; Ole Gilbertson, 5, 8; Peter A. Oslie, 6. 115-37 - Ole B. Dahl, section 32.

The first personal property assessment of Sacred Heart township (114-37 and 115-37) was made in 1869. Those assessed were: Daniel Ames, Halver Anderson, S. Brooks, Samuel Burnell, N. W. Brooks, William Beckman, Christian Christianson, Brent Christianson, Ole B. Dahl, Samuel Daniels, William F. Dyne, Tollef O. Enestvet, Ole O. Enestvet, G. P. Green, Erik Gunderson, Hermo Halverson, John Houg, Louis Holstine, Ole Halleckson, Ole Halvorson, Thor Helgeson, Iver Iverson, Ole Jenson, Brent Larson, Peter Mortenson, Ole O. Melsnes, Erik Nielson, John C. Norman, Thomas Olson, Halleck Olson, J. P. Okins, Peter Oslie, C. C. O'Brien, Eli Okins, Lars Peterson, Henrik Person, John O. Paine, John Peterson, Peter Peterson, Lares L. Rude, Gulbert Syverson, Ole O. Sveiven, William Wiemens.

G. P. Greene was the first settler in Sacred Heart township after the Massacre. He, his son Datus, and John O. Paine arrived here in the early part of 1866. From Ft. Ridgely they passed the home of Holger Jacobus, in the southeastern part of the county, and then took a northwestwardly course. After they had crossed the east branch of the Sacred Heart creek, Mr. Paine took possession of a fine piece of land in sections 12 and 13 bordering on the creek. Near here they came upon Sam Burnell, a bachelor, who with a companion was camping there. Burnell later took a claim nearby. Mr. Greene continued about four miles further west, where he came to the ruins of the Major Joseph R. Brown buildings. There he decided to locate. The Greens at once started a house, and while Datus was completing it, G. P. went back and got his family, consisting of his wife, Adaline C. Greene, and the children, Frank C. Greene, aged 12; Alice, aged 9; Hattie, aged 6, and William, aged 3. They arrived on a bright balmy day in the early part of June. Datus L. Greene took a claim adjoining.

The Major Brown Indian agency building, the ruins of which may still be seen, was constructed of granite, and was three stories high on the lower side and two stories on the upper side, by reason of its standing on the hillside. It was about 24 by 60 feet in size.

At the time G. P. Greene settled there, the north side and the west end were standing complete, but the two upper stories of the east end had fallen and about one-third of the south side was down. The foundations of many of the houses in that locality are built of rock taken from this ruin, as it was difficult to find rock north of the river for foundation purposes.

There was also a stone stable at the entrance to the glen, with walls partly standing. Mr. Greene fixed this up and used it as long as he lived there.

There was a well of good water just east of the stone house, stoned up, and about forty feet deep. Mr. Greene cleaned out the well and used it while he lived there. Frank C. Greene remembers that in cleaning it they found a pickaxe, shovel, pitchfork and other things that the Indians had thrown in there, evidently with the intention of killing anyone who might have resorted to it for safety.

The little stone structure the ruins of which are just east of the ruin was built by Mr. Greene and used as a granary or storeroom. The large cottonwood trees now standing in front of the ruins were planted in 1866 by Mr. Greene and his son.

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