Siggie's acres: Immigrant makes home near Wadena
The sons of other lands, other climes, with the dirt of foreign soils beneath their fingernails, put their shoulders to the plow along with the ones born here to make Minnesota the great state that it is.
They cleared the land, grubbed stumps, and drained the swamps of Minnesota as diligently as did its native sons.
According to records, some 58 percent of all the immigrants passing through Ellis Island in 1900 claimed to be heading to Minnesota. My father-in-law, Sigverd (Siggie) Pearson, was one of them.
Crossing the North Atlantic in early May was never easy or safe. Besides floating icebergs, the seas were always restless this time of year, with swells so tall they often washed over the decks of immigrant ships.
The SS St. Paul, Sigverd's ship, was only three years old and dreadfully crowded. Two passengers had to take turns sleeping in one berth.
At last on terra firma, Sigverd stepped into the line some of his shipmates were in, headed for and important-appearing man behind a wire. Was he handing out money? He was! The men needed welfare before they had slept a single night in this, their new country. Siggie stepped back out of line. He would not beg.
Sailing instructions had clearly stated that each immigrant was to have enough money to keep him six months. Stormy seas and whiteouts had caused the voyage to take three weeks longer than a reckoned crossing, and may have exhausted their savings, Sigverd reasoned. What a wonderful country this was, to recognize need and give help without a dollar's worth of security.
Siggie straightened his shoulders, gripped the lone $10 bill in his hand tightly, and vowed that his new land, America, would never have to feed him. He would work and earn his keep. He was healthy, aside from what growing up in wooden shoes had done to his feet. Still, it was good to know there would be help if he needed it.
He got hourly work laying railroad ties. A month from this day found Sigverd entering a restaurant on the main street of a small town in Minnesota, called Breckenridge, where he was to meet wheat farmer Nels Hanson, his new boss.
Stiff from the long bus ride, Sigverd was anxious to finally work to earn his keep. A friendly lady, not long from the land of the midnight sun herself, understood what Sigverd was saying.
"You're Nels Hanson's new hand? Oh, no! They found Nels dead in bed yesterday morning."
Sigverd was stumped. Now what to do? Then the lady suggested, "You're welcome to sleep in one of our booths tonight. I trust you. it is 26 miles across the prairie to the Hanson ranch. Folks here don't travel much after dark." Sigverd thanked her and settled down to a sleepless night.
By daylight, Sigverd knew what he would do. He would catch a ride on a wagon headed that way. If Nels thought he needed an extra hand, his poor widow needed one now even worse.
he would go and just start working. Siggie was especially good with horses and Hanson's crop had to be saved. Farmers the world over understand that. Siggie was 18 years old and slender. He was of medium height. His face was rather plain under a thatch of light brown hair he usually wore a bit too long and tousled. he was more a thinker than a talker.
Nora Hanson noticed Sigverd after a few days and put him on the payroll. He stayed two years until she sold the ranch and moved to town. He saved all he could and sent a bit back to his mother each month.
Sigverd dreamed of a patch of sod to call his own. Not like the six sections Nora had, but something he could pay for and manage on his own, with the help of a strong son he might be blessed with some day. he would go to mid-Minnesota, where homesteads were still to be had.
April 16, 1904 found Sigverd standing on a spot six miles south of the small town of Wadena, looking at acreage on his right. He stood there, drawn to it for some reason. In his mind, instead of acres of brush and willows, he saw a pasture. A pasture with maybe a dozen Jersey cows grazing in it. There was a sweet grass meadow. Land nearby would be turned into acres of corn and wheat. His love affair with that sorry hunk of real estate lasted more than half a century.
Sigverd bought the land. The next two decades sped by as if on wings. Land was grubbed (a willow branch snapping back put out one eye), fences went up and a fine big house, the only one in the township with big closets and a cistern, was erected in time under tall shade trees.
When he was 26, Sigverd found Anna, a girl in his church who came from the other end of Sweden, and married her. Two girls and a strapping boy child were born to them.
Sigverd was among the first to practice conservation and to join a group that promoted farming. He offered a corner of his land for a school. At election time he always voted. While that part of Minnesota can never lay claim to being a part of the productive Red River Valley, Siggie's fields prospered under his ministrations.
In 1939, I, Ethelyn Linnel, married Sigverd's tall son, Milton. We bought his farm where we raised our family of two sons and a daughter. Sigverd lived in a small house, close enough to the farm for him to help ingrain in his grandchildren both work ethics and his special brand of national pride.
Sigverd, or Siggie, my pet name for him, lived until after his 92nd birthday. We buried him near his Anna in a quiet little graveyard plot next to the Compton Lutheran Church he helped into being, seven miles west of the hunk of raw prairie he had joyfully given his youth, his dreams, his pride.
I returned Siggie's first Social Security check the day after his funeral. Even after a lengthy hospital bill had been paid, he still had $400 in his bank account.