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Written by Guðni Júlíus Oleson for "Saga Íslendingar í Vesturheimi" (History of Icelanders in the West), Vol. V. Edited by Tryggvi J. Oleson, Dr. Phil. Publ. in Reykjavík, 1953 by Bókaútgáfa Menningarsjóðs. English translation by Cathy Ann Josephson, Vopnafjörður, 2003.

 

 

“The Minnesota Settlement”

 

In 1875 the settlement of New Iceland began, and in the same year the groundwork was laid for the Icelandic settlement in Minnesota when the first Icelandic settler took land along the Yellow Medicine River in Lyon County after driving his oxen 500 miles from Wisconsin. In his wake came a steady stream, and within two or three years the farmland in the Eastern Settlement (the Westerheim/Yellow Medicine area) was settled, very soon expanding westward into Lincoln County.

 

The First Settler

The man known as the first settler was Gunnlaugur Pétursson, born at Hákonarstöðum in Jökuldal on 10 Sept. 1830. His family had farmed there for many years, said to be about nine or ten generations. When he was 27 years old, Gunnlaugur married Guðbjörg Jónsdóttir Einarsson. Jón´s wife was Guðný Sigfúsdóttir of Snjóholt. Gunnlaugur took over the farming of Hákonarstöðum from his father, a large operation, until he left Iceland in 1873, rather bent with age and labors. He was among the first Icelanders who left East Iceland for the New World, said to have left with some means. Gunnlaugur went first to Wisconsin and was there about two years. In that area were many Scandinavians, and many of them had decided to head further west. At that time much land was becoming available for homesteading in western Minnesota. Many people were heading there, and with this stream of settlers was Gunnlaugur, in May, 1875. He moved all his family and possessions in a wagon pulled by oxen. After traveling about 500 miles, after three weeks time, he arrived in Lyon County, and took land on the banks of the Yellow Medicine River. He named his farm Hákonarstaður. He was the first Icelander who took land in Minnesota, and he lived in that prosperous area until his death. His wife died in 1898, and Gunnlaugur died 4 May 1909. The Icelanders in Minneota commemorated the fiftieth year of settlement with a celebration at Hákonarstöðum on 23 Aug. 1925, with Gunnlaugur Pétursson and his wife specially honored as pioneers. The festivities were held in a lovely grove which Gunnlaugur had planted and where summer gatherings were often held annually, and were attended by many Minnesota Icelanders as well as many people from the area. There was hymn-singing, a prayer, and the pastor of the Icelanders, séra Guttormur Guttormsson, delivered a short address. The legislator from Lyon County, Jón Gíslason, was master of ceremonies. P. V. Peterson (of Lincoln County) and Sigbjörn S. Hofteig (Lyon County), both early settlers, spoke about the early years in those settlements. Others who spoke were Jón Gíslason, legislator (son of Björn Gíslason from Grímsstöðum in the Mountains), professor Sigurður H. Peterson from Cornwallis, Oregon (the son of Westerheim settlers), Mrs. J. A. Josephson (Guðný Hofteig), Björn B. Gíslason, lawyer, and Gunnar B. Björnson, newspaperman. María G. Árnason (poetess and sister of Þorsteinn Oddsson, real estate agent in Winnipeg) read one of her poems, and Jón Runólfsson the poet read an older poem. Jón was often on a long visit to the Minnesota Icelanders. Kristine Gunnlaugsson, Dora Askdal and Marjorie Kompelien, all of Icelandic origin, sang. Marjorie Kompelien, dressed in the Icelandic “faldbúningi” which is the national dress with the white head covering, sang the Icelandic national anthem, “Ó, guð vors lands.” There was also singing by others of the settlement.

Some of the Oldest Settlers

.... As has been said, Gunnlaugur Pétursson from Hákonarstöðum in Jökuldal was the first Icelander who homesteaded land in Minnesota, settling in 1875. In the settlement history of the Icelanders in Minnesota in Almanak Ó. S. Thorgeirsson in 1900, most of those who had come in the first years were still there, and included: 1876: Sigmundur Jónatansson from Þingeyjarsýslu, Guðmundur Henry Guðmundsson of Dalasýslu, Eiríkur H. Bergman, Kristinn Ólafsson and Arngrímur Jónsson from Galtastöðum in Norður-Múlasýslu. 1877: Halldóra Jónsdóttir, a widow with two sons, Snorri Högnason from Ósi in Breiðdal in Suður-Múlasýslu, Jón Kristjánsson from Gröf in Eiðaþinghá and Guðmundur Pétursson from Langhúsum in Fljótsdal. 1878: Jósef Jósefsson from Haugsstöðum in Vopnafirði, Sigbjörn Sigurðsson (Hofteig) from Hofteig in Jökuldal, Jón Arngrímsson, the father of Arngrímur named above, Þorsteinn Guðmundsson from Fell in Vopnafirði, Guðlaugur Guðmundsson from Eyjafirði, Árni Jónsson from Hjaltastaðaþinghá, Sigurður Jónsson from Eyjafirði, Árni Sigvaldason, Stefán Sigurðsson, Jóhannes Magnússon and Magnús Gíslason. All these men who came in 1878, except Jósef Jósefsson and S. S. Hofteig, settled in Lincoln County, because others had taken all the land available for homesteading in Lyon County. This same year it could be that seven unnamed families from Vopnafirði also came, and settled in Lincoln County that August. 1879: Björn Gíslason from Haugsstöðum in Vopnafirði (bought land in Lyon County).

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