Icelanders in Lyon County

Part VI

Another interesting old-timer was M.D. (Mike) Johnson. He had the experience of actually driving a yoke of oxen when a boy, and he lived to be about 95 with full possession of his mental faculties. I listened to his historical anecdotes after Masonic Lodge meetings and on other occasions for 25 years before he ever repeated himself. One tale he recounted was about the time Peter P. Jokull, the Icelander who built St. Paul’s Church, was building a barn for my grandfather, S.S. Hofteig. Mike was on the crew. Grandfather Hofteig had hauled the lumber from Cottonwood and, for some reason, was loaded with a lot of short siding. Peter Jokull was an excellent carpenter and an all-around good fellow, but, like most of us, he had a shortcoming. He used a lot of profane language. Pete was going out of his mind nailing up those short pieces of siding. He swore with every strip. My grandfather, when he had had enough, said to him, ‘Good friend Peter. You quit this profanity or pick up your tools and leave.’ Pete’s jaw dropped and he stepped back in amazement, but he straightened out. He had a lot of respect for my grandfather Hofteig.

Referring to church-builders reminds me of Ole Vastrand, the Norwegian immigrant who built the Westerheim Church. He also erected another landmark in Westerheim, the round barn on the Victor Josephson farm, which is still standing on the NE 1/2 of section 8. This barn, with its then most modern machinery and organization, was the showplace of the country. It still stands but is not used.

The Westerheim Church building, after it was no longer used, was a landmark on the road to Cottonwood until November of 1965 when it was put on wheels for moving to Marshall to serve a new congregation. It tipped off the timbers and was wrecked. Joe Peterson and Dr. Vandersluis removed and opened the cornerstone, the face of which is framed and at St. Paul’s Church. The musty damp contents included a black Icelandic hymnal, a copy of the church constitution and by-laws, a list of members of the congregation and the names of the members of the building committee.

The structure and the congregation have been commemorated by a plaque placed in the Westerheim cemetery the spring of 1977 by the Minnesota Historical Society and the Minnesota Bicentennial Commission. The work of erecting it fell to the cemetery board.”

In a publication titled “Ninety Years at St. Paul’s, October 1977, a committee of the members of the Icelandic Lutheran Church in Minneota compiled and wrote a history of the church and that of the early settlers. The following excerpt was written by Cecil Hofteig, a member of the committee:


These are the high points of my memories of our family, friends and church in Westerheim Township. This township, organized in 1876 and settled first by Norwegians in 1872 and later by some Icelanders, was given the Norwegian name meaning western home. In Icelandic it was called vesturheim. Gunnlauger Petursson and a few other Icelanders were already here when my grandfather, Sigbjorn Sigurdson Hofteig, arrived from Iceland in August of 1878 and settled on the SW ¼ Sec. 2, the farm we still occupy and on which my father, Haldor B. Hofteig was born in September of that year.

(Continued next week)

Sources: “Ninety Years at St. Paul’s,” Committee Members, J.A. Josefson, Cecil Hofteig and Haldur G. (Jimmie) Johnson of Icelander Lutheran Church, Minneota, MN., October 1977.