Icelanders in Lyon County
I understand that the name Hofteig comes from the name of a place in Iceland called Hofteigi (neither Hofteigi nor Hofteigur are included in the National Geographic or Britannica atlas), where my grandmother’s name was Steinunn. They crossed the ocean on a steamship and came into New York City. Some Icelandic relatives making the trip with them settled on Washington Island, which is nine miles north of the dip or Door Peninsula in Lake Michigan near Green Bay, Wisconsin. They were Gudmundsons. My grandparents came on by train to Tracy, which was on the Chicago Northwestern.
I don’t believe my grandparents had any relatives here to rely upon, and they immediately built a sod hut in a side hill where they spent their first winter on the 160 acres he homesteaded. Wheat was the first crop my grandfather planted, and the next year he put in some oats. Later on he planted corn, but, as long as I can remember, he continued to raise wheat. He had sheep right from the start, and he always had cattle. For many years he had milk cows, not for a dairy business but for cream, which we separated and sold to a truck picking it up. We fed the skim to the calves, and we had some hogs too. Our farming was diversified.
The first years the wheat was taken down to Minnesota Falls, beyond Hanley Falls, on the Minnesota River, northeast of us, where it was milled, and we traded it for flour. Taking wheat to Minnesota Falls by horse and wagon was a regular fall routine, and sometimes we hauled it by sleigh in winter.
I remember that our old granary, which is still standing, had an outside stairway, and at the top of this stairway was a platform. I can barely remember men carrying bags of grain up that stairway and dumping them into the grain bin, which had an upstairs and downstairs. The bin downstairs was filled by pouring the grain through a hole in the upstairs floor. When the lower bin was full, we closed that off and started filling the upper bin, putting boards up against the door to wall it in. Everything was grain tight. The floor was ship lap and the walls were drop siding.
My dad then bought a John Deere grain elevator run by horses. No one else in the community had one, and it was borrowed often. I still have this horse power outfit. The shaft leading to the elevator was turned by horses hitched to a long lever running from a central gear arrangement. One horse could have done the work but our horses worked better together. Walking in a circle, they had to step over the shaft each time around. I wish I had a penny for every bushel that went up the elevator. The farmers borrowing it returned it in condition. It was a real labor-saver.
We always had a lot of cats that kept the mice and rats down, but later on they developed distemper and we had to resort to rat poison. We couldn’t keep the cats alive unless we could catch them and get them vaccinated. Otherwise they died prematurely. Now, for some reason, the cats have survived longer, and even the kittens, and since we have had more cats they have gotten rid of the sparrows, which is not anything to brag about, but sparrows can be destructive too.
I don’t remember too much about rats in the early days, but mice were always a problem. After the dry years in the 1930s we had two or three colonies of rats move in, and they just took over the place. They did not get into the house but they moved from outbuilding to outbuilding and they even ruined cement floors. They came across the creek, looking for water, I suppose, and they congregated around the stock water tank kept full by our windmill. We could shine the car lights on them at dusk and see them lick up the water which had overflowed when the windmill worked overtime.
(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.