Sheridan Daybreak I, pages 237-241
A DREAM THAT BECAME DAGMAR
It is said that ideas come from imagination; imagination is man's greatest asset.
Henrik Plambeck, a young pastor in Flaxton, North Dakota, first saw the need and the possibility for planting a new Danish Evangelical Lutheran settlement farther west. Circumstance denied him the opportunity to carry out his plan, but his good friend, E. F. Madsen, was so inspired by the idea that he carried on the work and made the colony of Dagmar a reality.
It was on September 19, 1906 that E. F. Madsen wrote an article in Dannevirke, a Danish newspaper, that he intended to take a trip to Williston to look over the situation and homestead developments. If any Dane wished to join him, he could meet him at the Union Depot in St. Paul on October 2, or in the hotel in Williston the following Thursday morning.
The following is taken from Madsen's account of his trip as told in Dannevirke. This is a translation.
"My travel companions met me here and there along the was and we came to Williston the morning of October 4. Now we were a little band of seven men, so we began our investigation. We learned there was no place left in Williams County large enough for a colony, so we took the next train to Culbertson.
"At three o'clock Thursday afternoon we were in Culbertson, and now we got busy. First we hired four vehicles - two light rigs to take us forty miles out on the prairie next day and two wagons to follow with lumber for the claim shanties. Then we bought lumber, nails, saws, and hammers for $50. Next we went into the land office and talked with the U.S. land commissioner to learn whether we had the right understanding of the squatter laws. He was an accommodating man who gave us all kinds of information and said we could confidently choose our claims, build our shacks, go back east and come out here again next spring to take over our lawful property.
"Finally we secured Mr. Freeman, a locater who had just come back from the prairie where he had located a group of squatters. I told him our plan of opening a Danish homestead colony. We agreed that his fee for each one of the Danes we send out there would be five dollars (the regular price is ten dollars) and I asked him to stay with each settler til lumber is unloaded on the place where the shack is to stand so there will be no mix-up in claims.
"When we next morning headed out - forty miles north on the naked prairie - with our locater along and our wagon loads of lumber following, the townspeople told us we were the most daring squatters that had come to town. We had bought lumber for our houses without having seen our claims.
"Our leader, Mr. Freeman, shouted to the wagons that they should drive out 28 miles and stay overnight at Bedford's. He told us he would take us forty miles out on the prairie and locate us before sundown. To the north the tableland rises gradually until fourteen miles from town we reached the divide. Here we had to stop. We stepped off the wagons and gathered in a cluster to enjoy the most glorious sight. Below us lay a large lake whose mirror-clear arms reached in over the prairie. North of the lake spread a level plain, gold painted by the sun, and with claim shacks spread around toward the north as far as my eye could see through the field glasses.
"On the beautiful plain, north of the farthest claim shacks would be the place for the colony. Let us get going! At Bedford's stopping place is a store where settlers can buy necessary provisions. Bedford, a lovable and hospitable old German, spread a variety of splendid vegetables on the dinner table before us. We went out in his garden to see what could grow in this country where we expect that thousands of Danish homes will be built. I am a gardener, but equal to those vegetables I have seldom, if ever, seen. Then we drove again - out, far out, on the open plain that lay in its virgin loveliness just as it had been created by the Lord. We came to where the land is not yet taken, drove five or six miles farther out and examined the soil. Eighteen to twenty-four inches of brown-gray loam that when loosened is light and porous as a handful of ashes. A layer of clay underneath. A few rocks, but nowhere more than would be needed on the farm.
" 'What do you think of the soil?' Mr. Freeman asked me.
"I answered, 'It is as good as the Lord can make it. If he were to do it over, he would be likely to spoil it.'
"We agreed that here we should stay and my companions wanted to establish the new Danish colony by taking their claims side by side right where we stood. There was no important difference in the land to consider in making a choice. One section seemed just as good as the next as far as the eye could see.
"I studied the lay of the land with my field glasses. Toward the south I saw the top of a hill which lies twenty miles south of the Missouri River. We are forty miles north, which gives a tremendous view of sixty miles. Toward the west a little stream, and behind that an Indian reservation. Toward the east the Dakota border on whose heights I could through the glasses count a great many claim shacks in Daneville (the United Danish colony about eighteen miles away). Toward the north the vast open plain right up to Canada with room for thousands of happy Danish homes.
"If we will!
"I lay down in the grass and prayed a silent prayer and then the view became even greater. I seemed to see churches, schools, high schools and meetinghouses rise up out of the ground with many people walking in between. The same view my good Danish companions on the trip have seen too. For us these have been happy days but also serious days.
"I had been committed to give the colony a name. What should I call it? Yes, it came of itself. Here I lay and looked out over the golden plains. On the deep blue of the sky floated small white clouds whose black sharp shadows sailed over the plain as ships - something I remember from Denmark. 'Oh, you lovely plain,' I burst out. 'Fair as the day, Dagmar shall be your name. Queen Dagmar's Memory.' (In daily speech, the Dagmar colony; in English just Dagmar. This is our prayer - we men from widely different regions, who by chance have become founders of the colony - that all who come to visit, and the Americans there shall say the colony name is good clean Danish without any English swing or twist.)
"By evening we were located and drove 'home' to Mr. Bedford by the store and the lake. Here we stayed overnight along with the other land seekers (21 people in two small rooms).
"Next morning we drove out with the lumber to build shacks. I had the pleasure of being along in the building of the six first shacks in the new colony. Likewise, I tried to break sod. Our teamsters had to plow around each shack as protection against possible prairie fire. They couldn't get it to go, so I had to plow a furrow.
"The sod is easy to break. It can be done with three horses. We used only two.
"By the time the sun went down, we had finished. Our locater and lumber wagons had been sent home. Three Danish hurrahs rang over the new colony and then we left too. We stayed overnight at Bedford's. In the evening I asked the old settler about many things.
" ' Where can coal be found?'
" 'Only one place, and that is where you happen to stand. And if you don't want to dig down to it, you can break it out of the hills here by the creek.'
" 'How is the water?'
" 'It is the same as in North Dakota - alkali in the lakes, but not enough to hurt cattle. For good water you must dig or drill.'
" 'How much hay can you sell to settlers when they come next spring?'
" ' Oh, a couple of hundred tons.'
"Sunday morning at sunrise, we headed for Culbertson. The songs, "I Østen Stiger Solen Op" ("The Sun Arises in the East") and "Den Signede Dag Med Fryd Vi Ser" ("The Blessed Day with Joy We See") have never been more beautiful to us than as we sang them going past the lake. We were seven men in the wagon and one wheel was giving us trouble, so we came to town late in the afternoon. Something to eat, our claim papers filed with the U.S. Commissioner (fee $3), our locater paid, rent paid on wagons at $6 per day, farewell at the railway station to several good Danes who had promised to help us next spring, and then we sped eastward, and were soon scattered to our various homes. We seven had been well rubbed together in both wagons and beds on the whole adventure.
"I say now once and for all - later I will be quiet because there is no time for idle talk - here there must be resolute action. If you Danes who are poor but with the Danish longing for land, if you want to own 160 acres of good soil, and if you want to live near other Danes at the place we have started, a place where two railroads may soon come through - then don't hesitate. There is not time.
"Do not write a long letter to me to waste more time. Just put sixty or seventy dollars in your pocket, go to the railroad station, and hurry out there. I have arranged everything in Culbertson as economically and practically as conditions allow.
"I leave it in your hands then. The land is, according to law, free for all Danes, as well as other nationalities. But we who have founded the colony wish that you who love our native church and the cause of our people will hurry to get there first. Then you will be nearest neighbors. Come before October is over. There are excursion rates every Tuesday on all railroads.
"The colony is planned for Danish young people and those Danes with small means who cannot carry large debts, but who would like to get out of the claws of the employers and away from the city's clamor and discord. Therefore we can say about this colony - the first in our history where land is distributed free - as we say about Queen Dagmar: She came with burden. She came with peace. She came the small farmer to comfort."
"Signed by E. F. Madsen, St. Paul, Minnesota, October 9, 1906.
"We, the undersigned, who traveled with E. F. Madsen on this trip, wish to support this announcement with our names, and to declare on our Danish honor that the above is the accurate account of the facts. And it is our conviction that we with clear conscience can advise our countrymen by the hundreds to follow the example of others and hurry to obtain a future home in this lovely free-land colony. Signed by A. P. Andersen, Beaver Creek, Minnesota; Edvig Rasmussen, Flaxton, North Dakota; Paul Mouritsen, Latimer, Iowa; Johannes Christensen, Irene, South Dakota; Niels Molgaard, Porter, Minnesota; and Skov Nielsen, Porter, Minnesota.
(The above article is condensed from the book edited for the fiftieth anniversary of the Dagmar community by Irving Andreasen. The title of the article is the title of the speech Henry Jorgensen gave at the same anniversary.)
RECOLLECTIONS BY LEORA JOHANSEN
I remember Emil Ferdinand Madsen as a rather small slight man. The wire-rimmed glasses and the black, tight fitting skullcap he always wore gave him that impressive look which added to your respect and appreciation of his ability as a poet, writer, and painter. As a child, I remember too when he and his wife would drive to church in their Hupmobile. It was a very distinguished looking car with the steering wheel on the right side and big brass headlamps. The corners of the fabric top were anchored with cords to the front fenders.
I remember too one of his affectionate expressions of praise to his wife - "Du er en knop; ja; du er en Rosenknop." Translated this is, "You are a bud' yes, you are a rosebud."
Anyone that visited in the large home they built admired the portraits Mr. Madsen had painted on living room walls. He had taught school at the Danish Folk School in Tyler. He truly had a vision of the development of the full personality and the quality of life concerned with the sensitivity of people.
He never became a successful man as judged by the amount of land he acquired or the size of the estate he left. His love and concern for Dagmar can best be expressed by a verse of the song he composed in 1910:
"Mellow hills belong to thee,
Gently with the prairie blending;
And as far as eye can see
Danish men and women building;
Molding thee into their lives,
Dagmar's valleys, hills and skies
To a monarch's memory."
NETHANAEL LUTHERAN CHURCH
The first meeting of the Dagmar colony was held at the A. P. Andersen home on May 26, 1907. Among other things it was unanimously agreed that in all things concerning the colony, the women would have the same voting rights as the men. Last but not least on the meeting agenda was the following:
1. Organization of a church congregation.
2. Laying out a cemetery.
3. Plans to establish a school for the children.
Recorded in a book are the first three baptisms of the community performed by Pastor Henrik Plambeck on July 5, 1907 at the home of Dr. Johan Juhl.
During the latter part of 1907 a church interested group held several meetings and wrote a constitution under which they would organize a congregation. Elected to the first council were: Karl Laursen, president; Emil Christiansen, secretary; and Niels L. Christensen, treasurer. Jorgen Nielsen and Christian Jensen were elected trustees.
Mrs. E. F. Madsen suggested that the church be given the name Nathanael in honor of the disciple of that name. The full name became Nathanael Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church and it became affiliated with the Danish Evangelical Church in America. Later the "Danish" was dropped from both titles and the synod became known as the American Evangelical Church in America.
A letter of call offering a salary of $300 per year was sent to Pastor N. P. Hald who accepted and upon arriving, homesteaded the quarter of land directly north of the present church. The first year services were conducted in a sod house and at the home of Pastor Hald. He had sent money for lumber and the men of the congregation had built the home.
Realizing the need for a new building and with pledges of cash, labor, and transportation, the new church became a reality in the summer of 1910. This building was located about 500 feet straight north of the present church and was known as the "meeting house."
Although discussion concerning a burial ground had taken place at the first meeting, no action had been taken. As there had already been an occasional death, an area was designated and the cemetery was dedicated on August 21, 1909. On that day, Johannes Christensen, age 32, who had been a member of the original group and who had arrived with E. F. Madsen was buried.
Pastor Hald resigned in the fall of 1910 and a meeting of the congregation was held in October. Selection of a pastor was the first order of business and the treasurer reported a cash balance of $2.48 and that $122.24 was still owed Pastor Hald.
In March, 1911, at the home of Mrs. Jorge Jorgensen, a meeting was called for the purpose of organizing a Ladies Aid. The first year saw 28 ladies pledging themselves to helping members of the church and community in any way possible.
At a congregation meeting it was decided that for convenience they would divide the community into four districts, each with its own governing body and regular worship services. The four districts were: Dagmar, where the village is located; Racine Valley, the Anton Sundsted locality; Volmer, which is still Volmer; and Saint Ansgar, which is the area surrounding the Nathanael Church. This arrangement lasted a few years but better roads and methods of transportation eliminated the need for so many districts.
Pastor Svend Jorgensen accepted a call on October 12, 1911 and the following eight years he served saw a tremendous growth in the spiritual life and social life of the colony.
In 1913 was begun the summer religious school for the children with classes in singing, gymnastics, and folk dancing. Also begun that year was the "Midsommerfest," a three-day annual Christian and cultural lecture series conducted by visiting speakers. It also served as a time for neighbors and friends to visit over the many good meals and cups of coffee.
Feeling the need for a real house of worship, the congregation again got together and a building committee was appointed. It was agreed that pledges would be received and actual church construction would begin when the total reached $4500. It was at this time that Volmer elected to remain a separate unit to be served by the same pastor as Nathanael. Construction of the new church began in 1915 though only the basement was completed that year. The corner stone was laid by Pastor Kristian Ostergaard at Midsommerfest and contained a copy of the constitution of the church and other documents.
When completed the new church was valued at $7500 and the dimensions were 30' x 56', with a 16' x 20' chancel. The balcony was 16' x 30', and the tower which contained a 400-pound bell topped by a cross, reached a height of 84 feet. The cross was later destroyed severe storm. On December 17, 916 the church was formally dedicated by Synod President, K. C. Bodholdt, assisted by Alfred Sorensen and Pastor Svend Jorgensen.
Education was considered a must for the future growth of the community and the winter of 1915 saw the beginning of "Ungdoms Skole" (Young Peoples' School) conducted in the church basement. The records show that a lot of work was done in basic English in order to give recent immigrants working knowledge of the language that through the years would become their own. The average school day began with a song, the Apostle's Creed, and the Lord's Prayer. Subjects taught by Pastor Svend Jorgensen and his brother, Peter, included Danish, English, arithmetic, U.S. history, geography, civics, Bible, and a period of gymnastics. With the exception of three years, this school was in session each winter from 1915 to 1928. From 1928 to the mid thirties, a two-year high school course was offered as a branch of the Plentywood High School.
Asking the congregation for a letter of recommendation, with the intention of becoming chaplain in the U.S. Army, Pastor Jorgensen resigned and left in October, 1919.
Pastor Arthur Frost accepted a letter of call and arrived in the summer of 1920. He recognized the need for a Sunday School program for the children of the congregation and it was begun in 1921. A Young Peoples' Society had been organized early in the history of the colony and under Pastor Frost's able supervision, was a very active organization during these years. Also organized at this time was a church choir which has remained active throughout the years. Plans for a new parsonage were submitted by Pastor Frost and the building was completed in 1925. Pastor H. C. Strandskov served the congregation while Pastor Frost vacationed and attended school in Denmark and remained as an assistant for a period of time.
After serving nine years in the congregation, Pastor Frost resigned in 1929 and moved to Askov, Minnesota. He was succeeded by Pastor Marius Larsen who arrived in April, 1930.
On October 6, 1931, the 25th anniversary of the founding of Dagmar was observed. A memorial stone was erected on the site of the old sod schoolhouse where church services were first conducted. The 25th anniversary of the congregation was observed during Midsommerfest in June, 1930.
Pastor Larsen terminated his services in 1936 and Pastor Mikkel Mikkelsen arrived in April, 1937. Up to this time the Danish language had been used for church services and Sunday School. Pastor Mikkelsen instigated a once-a-month English language service and began the conversion from the Danish to the English in Sunday School. The following years saw a language change completed and only an occasional Danish service was conducted. The congregation accepted Pastor Mikkelsen's resignation in 1939.
The congregation had to endure a number of disappointments before a new pastor finally accepted a call. He was Pastor John Enselmann who agreed to come after 15 pastors had declined the call in a period of four years. During these years visiting pastors were procured whenever possible and a number of lay services were conducted. Pastor Enselmann served from 1943 until 1948 when he moved to Clinton, Iowa.
About this time in our church and community history, a new generation was gradually assuming leadership. Pastor Ove R. Nielsen arrived in November of 1948 and his years of service among us showed a marked growth in membership and physical aspects of the church plant. Major improvements were made in the church basement and a new electric organ was purchased. THE GLEANER, first published September of 1950, brought news of church and community to parishioners and friends elsewhere. A two-week summer parochial Bible camp for the children was begun and has been well attended each year. May 18, 1952 was dedication day for the new Parish Hall that had been completed during the winter and adjoined the church on the south. The Young Peoples' Society now became known as the Dagmar-Volmer Luther League. Pastor Nielsen accepted a position with Lutheran World Relief and in April of 1954 resigned and moved to Minneapolis.
Student Pastor Robert Hermansen served the congregation during the summer of 1955 and after being ordained, accepted a call and arrived in June of 1956. The community was at this time getting ready for its October 6th and 7th fiftieth year jubilee in which the church took a very active part. The jubilee was a memorable event with approximately 1500 people attending the two-day festivities.
An addition to the Parish Hall, built in the winter of 1961, provided office space, Sunday School room, bathrooms and complete modernization of water and sewer facilities. Established at this time was the Dagmar Educational Fund which provides loans for students needing additional money for higher education. This program is funded by memorials and gifts and asks repayment be left to the discretion of the student and Board of Governors.
A major decision facing the congregation at this time was whether we, as an A.E.L.C. affiliate, should merge with other Lutheran churches to form a larger church body. After years of discussion pro and con, we voted for merger and in 1967 became an official member congregation of the Lutheran Church in America (L.C.A.). The Ladies Aid became known as the Lutheran Church Women (L.C.W.).
The year 1964 was one of change with Pastor Hermansen leaving in June and Pastor Terrence Helseth arriving and being installed on August 9. The need for a new or remodeled parsonage was discussed many times and our annual Midsommerfest became Fall Fest in the hope of finding people less busy at that time. Participation in the "Friendly Town" program began in 1966, giving the people of the congregation a chance to share their blessings with the less fortunate.
The need for a new parsonage had now reached the critical stage and a joint meeting of the Nathanael-Volmer parishes voted to begin immediately with an addition to the old parsonage and extensive remodeling. This work was completed during the winter of 1967-68 and in a small way projects the faith that we have for the future of the rural congregation and community.
Pastor Helseth resigned in the spring of 1968 and Pastor Donald Kern arrived that fall and is presently serving the Nathanael-Volmer congregations.
COMMON PROBLEMS AND JOYS OF ALL PIONEERS
Some hardships and pleasures were shared by all pioneers. These have not been mentioned in individual biographies unless a personal experience was also related. Included are:
FUEL - Cow chips were the standard fuel during the summer months and were also of value in getting fires started quickly during the winter. They were so precious in some areas that ladies would quarrel about going into another's territory. Coal was available at Coalridge, but this cost money and also required a one-day trip by horse or oxen and wagon to get a load.
SUPPLIES - These had to be brought from Culbertson, at least a forth mile trip which took three days round trip.
PRAIRIE FIRES - A firebreak was a must. With the vast expanse of prairie grass one spark could burn a large area. One fire the first year passed right over the sod schoolhouse and another in 1909 almost burned the lumber around the new meetinghouse. Everyone helped fight the fires with barrels of water, wet blankets and sacks.
HARD WINTERS - Powerful snowstorms and very cold weather made winter difficult for the pioneers. In some households women and children were left alone while the men were away trying to earn some extra money. Several stories tell of being lost in a sudden blizzard; often they depended on their horses to find the way home.
FLU EPIDEMIC OF 1918 - The few people who did not get flu helped their neighbors with chores and nursing.
HAILSTORMS - On July 12, 1921 a bumper crop almost ready to be harvested was destroyed by hailstones in a few minutes. This hailstorm covered a vast territory; not one of the colony's members escaped and for many the crop was a total loss. The Dagmar Relief Committee was organized and about $7000 was given by members of other Danish congregations to help buy food, clothing, coal, and seed for the next year. Another hailstorm hit in 1928 but it covered less territory.
DUST STORM OF THE 30'S - In addition to drought and depression, the 30's brought dust storms. The wind would blow from one direction one day and from the opposite the next day. Dust was even in the drawers and cupboard of the houses and some people slept with wet cloths over their heads so they could breathe during the storms. Russian thistles grew as they always do and were used for cattle feed in the winter.
JOYS - In spite of difficulties neighbors still gathered for birthday parties, dances (there were many good accordion players); Fastelavn's (pre-Lent carnival); Fifth of June (Danish Constitution Day); Forth of July celebrations, and school and church activities. Most of these early settlers were members of the Danish Lutheran Church and Midsommerfest is mentioned as a highlight of the year.
SCHOOLS - The first sod schoolhouse was located where the Nathanael Lutheran Church is now. Later others were built; some mentioned and their distances from the present town of Dagmar are Hiawatha (1/2 mi. W), Hawthorn (3 mi. W), Richwine (5 mi. SW), Griffen (3 mi. SW), Garden Grove (6 mi. W), Rose Hill (9 mi. W), Lew Wallace (11 mi. NW), Lowell (6-1/2 mi. NNW), Garfield (4-1/2 mi. NW), Emerson (3 mi. N), Roosevelt (5 mi. NE), Wilson (8 mi. E), H. C. Andersen (6 mi. SE), Lafayette (7 mi. SE), Lincoln (12 mi. SE), View Hill (14 mi. SE), Sunny Hill (10 mi. S), Franklin (7 mi. S), and Lake View (13 mi. SW). School activities enjoyed by all were the Christmas programs and school picnics. The first schools were also used for home talent plays in the winter and Danish school in the summer. (NOTE: Of all the schools mentioned, only Hiawatha is still operating. The only two homesteaders in the following biographies who still live on the land they proved up are Conrad Conradsen and Peter Miller.)