Monday, August 18, 2008

Minnesota's Sesquicentennial Stroll: Walking The Pembina Trail & Trønder and Other Norwegian Descendants Gather in Minnesota

Minnesota's Sesquicentennial Stroll: Walking The Pembina Trail

by Steven G. Reynolds

Minnesota USA is nestled between the Red River of the North on its west, the
Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Ontario on its north, Lake Superior and the St.
Croix River along its east and the midwestern state of Iowa far to its south. Boasting all its 10,000 lakes and many times that number of people with Norwegian ancestry,
Minnesota remains a land steeped in Norwegian heritage helped in part through the
unique efforts of a Minnesotan named Orlin Ostby who, with his family and friends are doing their part in its promotion. Beginning on July 1st, Ostby, a proud Norwegian descendent fluent in old dialect Norsk, has been walking steadily southward with an ox named Pum and a fur-laden two-wheeled cart from Pembina, North Dakota, at the extreme northwest corner of Minnesota and the Canadian border along a historical trade route called The Pembina Trail, to commemorate Minnesota’s Sesquicentennial of 2008.
Once traveled by thousands of ox cart trains laden with animal furs and bison hides and driven by the Métis, an indigenous French/Cree or French/Ojibwa mixed-blood people of the Northern Plains, the Pembina Trail was part of an arterial system of crude trails, later known as The Red River Ox Cart Trails, that were on the east and west sides of the Red River from the Selkirk settlements in Canada ( now Winnipeg, Manitoba) to St. Paul, Minnesota, a distance of over 450 miles. Fur and hides were transported by two-wheeled ox cart to the trading centers in St. Paul, then loaded with
l-r Steven Reynolds, Jackie Helms, Orlin Ostby, Mandy Ostby, Catherine Ostby, Christopher Ostby
(Photo by Mike Weber)

supplies for Red River settlements for the long arduous trip back north. Although ponies were used for a short time, once European settlers came into the territory with cattle, the Métis began using the stronger oxen to pull the carts and heavier loads. Oxen can be any breed of bovine, cow or steer, five years of age or older that is trained to pull a wagon or implement, such as a plow.
Ostby is re-enacting the walk with ox and cart completed by his friend and neighbor
Delmar Hagen in 1958 for Minnesota’s Centennial. Delmar, for whom Orlin worked as a 17 year old, encouraged him to do the same in 50 years for Minnesota’s 150th birthday.
Orlin helped Delmar train a Shorthorn breed ox named Napoleon to pull his ox cart
whereas 50 years later Orlin used a Holstein breed ox named Pum. Planning to follow the same trail Delmar had, Orlin soon learned that original portions of this trail are now all but impossible to find as they have been farmed under by aggressive farming practices, paved over as highways, or engulfed by urban sprawl. Reality determined that Ostby’s group travel gravel roads and the less dangerous stretches of modern highways as they averaged 10 miles a day walking besides the cart by-passing congested metropolitan areas for safety reasons.

Dressed in clothing symbolic of what the Métis wore during the ox cart period of
the mid-1800s, Ostby and his wife Amanda who is a Metis descendent, their 12 year old daughter Catherine and 15 year old son Christopher, Orlin’s cousin Tom Thronsedt, also a Norwegian descendent, and the family’s two friends, Norwegian descendent Steven Reynolds and Jacqueline Helms, a Métis descendent, began the 420 mile walk on the extremely hot week of July 1st 2008. Selling commemorative buttons and autographed t- shirts (even Pum autographed them) at county fairs along the way, Orlin and his group visited with people along the trail who often wanted to pet Pum or take photographs of the group, ox and cart. Ostby greeted people in Norsk to determine whether or not they were Norwegian and many times he was answered in kind especially by the older people who once spoke Norwegian at home as children.

One couple who had learned about the Pembina Trail walk via the website had crisscrossed the area in which the Ostby group was known to be walking and finally located them at a crossroad. Introducing himself, the man asked to walk with Orlin’s group for a mile or so while his wife followed them in their car. Telling Orlin that his wife had been born in Norway, Orlin turned from the man, went back to the woman in the car and blurted loudly in Norwegian, “[du er norsk!] “You are Norwegian!!” The woman fairly squealing in delight. The two stood on either side of the car door and excitedly chatted away in Norsk as the ox and cart and group including the woman’s husband, walked out of sight. The woman said Orlin spoke perfect old dialect Norsk and that it was so fun to talk to him.

The highlight of the six week trip, for Orlin, was the Tre Lag Stevne and the Trønderlag of America Centennial held in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. While there, he met several new cousins through his Trøndelag Norwegian heritage.

Trønder and Other Norwegian Descendants Gather in Minnesota
by Linda K. Schwartz

More than 300 people of Norwegian ancestry gathered for the “Tre Lag Stevne” Aug. 6-9, 2008 to learn more about their Norwegian roots. Their ancestors came from three areas: Trønderlag (like Orlin), Gudbrandsdal, and Nord Hedemarken. A wide variety of activities were presented for the group to enjoy: seminars about Norwegian culture and history, genealogy research with many resources, a tour of Otter Tail County, and of course, opportunities to meet and greet other Norwegian descendants. Between seminars, participants were able to meet Orlin and Pum outside the conference center.
Orlin, Pum & his newest cousin Torill Johnsen, who is Leder (Chairman) of
DIS-Norge in Norway. She lives in Oslo, Norway.
On Thursday, Aug. 7, a cast of more than 40 actors and musicians came from Rissa and Lensvik in Sør-Trøndelag, Norway to present a musical adaption and translation of Johan Bojers “The Emigrants”. The sold-out production was very professionally performed and well-received by the audience. Many commented on the superb quality of the music and the singers. Gunhild Øyangen and her committee from Rissa and Lensvik deserve many thanks for arranging for the play to go to America.

On Saturday, Aug. 9, the Trønderlag of America group took over with their Centennial Celebration and nearly 300 participants. The organization was founded in Fergus Falls on September 17, 1908 so it was fitting that they celebrate in the same place. Several genealogists with background from Trøndelag assisted with Trønder research in the genealogy room that morning: Barry Dahl (Rochester, MN), Margit Bakke (Flom, MN), Kris McCrea (Santa Clara, CA), Jo Anne Sadler (Glendale, CA), Torill Johnsen (Oslo, Norway), Oddgeir Fossli (Inderøy, Norway), and Jostein Molde (Trondheim, Norway). Many researchers discovered information about their emigrant ancestors for the first time.

Participants in the Centennial learned about each of the 120 charter members of the organization and enjoyed Norwegian music and dance throughout the afternoon and evening. Several descendants of the founders told the story of their ancestor. Seventy percent of the founders came from Nord-Trøndelag, 22.5 percent came from Sør-Trøndelag and less than 8 percent came from other parts of Norway.
Arna Rennen from Duluth, Minnesota, whose Trønder ancestry comes from Frosta, sang folk songs from Trøndelag. Hjorten Husorkester from Trondheim joined with the Tre Lag Stevne Musicians in the Centennial opening ceremony and later provided music for listening and dancing at the banquet. Mikkel Thompson, originally from Underwood, Minnesota now living in Sweden, together with his dance partners Ruth Sylte and Florance Thompson, demonstrated many folk dances from the Trøndelag region as he told the story of his immigrant ancestor, Nils B. Thompson. Anders Persson provided music for their dances.

As part of the Centennial, Trønderlag produced a commemorative book with short biographies of each charter member. All participants received a copy along with a special Centennial pin. A longer book, “Aarbok 2008,” will include longer biographies and photos of the charter members, along with others who emigrated from the Trøndelag region of Norway. Information about the organization and its publications is found on their web site:

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