Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Henrietta Olivia (SANDER) Johnson

Portrait. Henrietta Olivia SANDER (Decorah, IA: O. E. Borlaug, c. 1880). Image courtesy of Verla Williams.

Henrietta was born on 27 Feb 1861 in Madison Township, Winneshiek County, Iowa. She appears with her family in the 1870 and 1880 censuses. On 18 Oct 1881 she married Gustav Johnson.

Marriage record. Gustav Johnson and Henrietta SANDER (Glenwood, Winneshiek, IA, 18 Oct 1881). Image courtesy of

More information on Gustav and Henrietta's family and their descendants is found in A Johnson Blog.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Roadside Ramblings

This 1944 article provides a detailed history about Henrietta SANDER's youth and her life as part of a Winneshiek county pioneer family.

L. Dale Ahern, ed., "Roadside Ramblings," Decorah Public Opinion 50:13 (Decorah, IA: 29 Mar 1944). Image courtesy of Verla Williams.


Wagons creeping westward over untamed wilderness. The sun rising on little streams of immigrant caravans trickling from east to west down the virgin valleys and across the bleak hills of young America. And the same sun setting on the same little streams of humanity, still ebbing almost imperceptibly into the land of evening dusk.

You see these caravans, see the hundreds of home-hungry people, and feel the blood warming expectancy in their hearts, the fervent hopes in their songs and prayers, as you hear Mrs. Gustav Johnson tell of her youth as a child of early Winneshiek county settlers.

Mrs. Johnson, the former Henrietta Sander, was born in Madison township February 27, 1861, daughter of Brede and Karen Sander, who came to this country as emigrants from Solor, Norway, in 1853. Their story is the story of numerous other families who left Norway in the 50’s to seek greater opportunities in America.

The Sanders came by sailboat, were on the ocean seven weeks. They came with a small quantity of earthly possessions, three children, and an indomitable faith in the future.

Among Mrs. Johnson’s earliest memories are those of the Norwegian immigrants who found their way to her father’s pioneer home in Madison township. Every summer during the first years the immigrants straggled in, seeking rest and counsel on the knotty problems of establishing a home in the wild, new land.

The newcomers from the old country always found refuge at the Sander farm. In fact, Brede Sander erected a small log cabin near his house to serve as a temporary home for the settlers drifting in. Some of these visitors found land, built homes, and moved into them within a short time after arriving. Others lingered in the Sander cabin all summer.

The immigrants usually were met at Lansing or McGregor by relatives or acquaintances who had come here and settled ahead of them. The trip from the river was made by wagon. Mrs. Johnson recalls that Sunday was a big day in the lives of the pioneers. On the Sabbath day the settlers all gathered at one of their homes for Scripture readings and Norwegian hymn-singing.

These devotional meetings not only served to satisfy religious cravings they also helped to assuage the lonely hearts so strained with homesickness for Norway. In the cozy confines of a settler's cabin, compassionate souls enjoyed the spiritual exaltation known only to companions in loneliness.

Mrs. Johnson remembers that children were subjected to stern discipline during these religious devotions. While one of the elders read in sonorous tones from the somber verses of the Scripture, all young people were required to sit in absolute silence, keeping their hands folded in appropriate respect for the solemnity of the hour.

Family devotion, too, was a vital influence in the lives of many of those first settlers. Brede Sander and his wife always gathered their children about them each evening before going to bed. On such occasions Brede would read from the Bible, and he and his wife would sing Norwegian hymns. As soon as the children became old enough to carry a tune and master the words of these hymns, they joined their parents in the vesper services around the family altar.

Brede Sander did not take such matters lightly, so he expected rapt attention from his children during family worship. On the other hand, the children, being subject to the bodily weariness which all normal and healthy children feel after a big day of frolicking or labor, would sometimes doze away during the services. This brought a prompt reprisal from Brede Sander.

Rev. Vilhelm Koren came to Winneshiek county from Norway the same year the Sanders came. Not long after he arrived here, the settlers began gathering in first one cabin and then another to be led in worship by the new pastor. Koren went about Winneshiek county and Southern Minnesota organizing congregations of home worshippers. By his spiritual guidance and kindly leadership, Koren became a symbol of comfort and faith among his people.

When Henrietta Sander, the present Mrs. Johnson, was 8, her mother died. Brede never remarried. He and his children, with the help of the dead wife’s aged mother, shifted as best they could. When Henrietta was 9 or 10, her father moved to a farm in Glenwood township.

After moving to this new home, Henrietta started walking to the Washington Prairie church, a little church in which Koren had begun preaching, to read her Bible lessons for him and thus to prepare herself for confirmation.

A number of children from her section of the county were likewise going to Koren for their confirmation lessons. They walked great distances to receive this instruction. Henrietta walked about five or six miles. Some of her aquaintances walked much farther. Since the latter passed her house on their way, Henrietta waited for them, and then from the Sander house, they trudged away together.

Another memory often cropping up in Mrs. Johnson’s thoughts is that of her father and his prairie chicken trap. Brede Sander delighted in the sweet wild flavor of plump-breasted prairie chickens which he took time to catch for his family after the rush of farm work had been succeeded by the quiet, peaceful days of autumn.

Brede would roll a barrell out into the meadow where the wild chickens congregated to feed and roost. In one end of the barrel, he constructed a trap door. This door was made to spring downward when a bird alighted on it, thus dropping the bird into the barrel, whereupon the trap door sprang again into place.

By sprinkling shelled grain on the top of the barrel, Brede lured many a prairie chicken to alight upon the trap. In this manner he caught an abundance of wild meat in the early years of his life in Winneshiek county.

A certain Christian Pinkart, young Norwegian teacher, came to Winneshiek county, leaving his wife and children in Norway until he could have time to ascertain the possibilities for him in America. He went among the settlers, instructing the children in matters of religion, writing, bookkeeping, and other subjects. The itinerant teacher stayed at the Sander home, teaching the Sander children in return for his board and room.

Somehow, Pinkart lost heart in his work. Whether it was because of the meagerness of his earnings, his weariness with a struggling, new and seemingly pagan country, or his loneliness for his loved ones has never become a matter of record. It is known, however, that Pinkart at last gave up and returned to Norway.

Brede Sander built and operated a flour mill on his Glenwood farm. Later he converted it into a feed mill. Then the time came when this same mill building was used as a creamery, the Glenwood creamery.

When the Sander girls became old enough to work out, they took turns doing housework in Decorah during winter months. It was through this circumstance that Henrietta met the man who later became her husband.

She was working at the Rasmussen home in the house that is now the VFW headquarters. It so happened that a young fellow called Gust Johnson, a printer at the Lutheran Publishing house was rooming and boarding at the Rasmussen home. He had come to Decorah from the Skandinaven in Chicago.

About two years later Henrietta Sander became Mrs. Gustav Johnson. The couple lived in Decorah on Mechanic street five or six years. At the end of that time, Brede Sander broke up housekeeping. Gust and Henrietta bought the home farm in Glenwood township and moved to it, Mr. Johnson never again returning to the printing trade except occasionally to help at the publishing house.

The Johnsons lived on this farm until about 22 years ago. Gustav died in 1934. Mrs. Johnson at the age of 83 is making her home with a daughter, Mrs. Walter Williams of 210 East Broadway. Mrs. Johnson has two other daughters and two sons: Mrs. Carl Hexom, of near Waukon; and Mrs. C. H. Rosenthal, William N. Johnson, and Norman [sic, should read Arthur] Johnson, all of Decorah.

UPDATE (17 Dec 2018): Today I found the Community History Archive site for Decorah which had a scan of the original paper in which this article was found.