Pastor Ole Paulson Autobiography – Chapter Twenty-two; Willmar, Minnesota



Pastor Ole Paulson;

1907 Autobiography.

Chapter Twenty-two

Pastor Ole Paulson

A translation from the Norwegian language into the English language.

Copyright © 2022 by Gary C. Dahle, all rights reserved.

To Willmar

In 1874, I received a call from the Willmar, Eagle Lake, St. John’s, and Hardanger congregations in Kandiyohi County, Minnesota.

In the beginning of July, we moved to this call.

The congregations had constructed a pretty good parsonage in Willmar. I was the first pastor to live in the place. The congregations were all small. There was no church at any of them. The worship services were held in houses and schoolhouses. In Willmar, we turned to the old courthouse, which was used for all sorts of things, court, theater, dances, and worship services.

The Willmar congregation consisted of nine families when we moved to the call. The congregation increased greatly when about half of the Hardanger congregation joined Willmar, as they would be closer to worship services in the town than out on the prairie. In the summer of 1875, the Willmar congregation built what was, under the circumstances, a fairly noteworthy church. It grew more and more distasteful to keep to the courthouse for our worship services. The congregation was still fairly small and most of the members were poor. But where there is a will, there is a way.

The next year, the grasshoppers came. We had some materials for pews and the rest of the interior. Nels Olson, a member of the congregation and a good carpenter, took it upon himself to do the interior work free of charge. In 1877, the congregation invited the Conference to hold its annual meeting in Willmar. Now we were all so poor because of the destruction by the grasshoppers that we scarcely had food to put in our own mouths. We ventured to host the annual meeting anyway. Two years in a row, the grasshoppers had destroyed everything in the county, so that there was hardly enough feed for a hen. We received the annual meeting and everything went well. The parsonage had 15 guests. We ate up seven sheep that were given to us for the meeting. The church lacked paint on the interior. I went to a druggist, bought paint and colors, and painted the church myself and did a fairly acceptable job.

We begged for a collection at the annual meeting to pay the druggist for the paint I had bought.

The members of the Conference were fairly well satisfied with the lodgings they had had. Almost everyone in the city took in guests. I went to Arctander[1] and asked him to take a couple of guests during the meeting. In those days, he was neither Christian nor a churchgoer, but he was quite willing to receive a couple of men, however he wanted to choose them himself. That he would be allowed to do. He said, I want to have Professor Sven Oftedal and Melchior Falk Gjertsen. But I have no Bibles in the house. I certainly need to have a Bible on the table when I have such holy people in the house. “Can’t you borrow a nice big Bible from someone?” “I will try,” he said. He borrowed a Bible.

However, there was more for Arctander and his guests to do than to than to fool around. Mr. Arctander became so earnestly affected by God’s word that he was truly awakened and later became a member of the congregation.

It was a very serious and good meeting that we had in Willmar that time.

When the members of the annual meeting left, the grasshoppers also departed for good, and they have not been there since.

How did my beautiful, newly painted church look after the annual meeting? Like a pig sty. The thing was, the church was altogether too small for the many people who had gathered. People put up large platforms on both sides of the church. People tore the windows out of the walls so folks could hear as well outside as inside. When the meetings concluded, people stormed out through the windows and used the pews to stand on. The pews were scuffed and chipped by boot heels, so that they looked like the floor.

In the 12 years I was in Willmar, six churches were built in the call. I organized two new congregations, Sunburgh and Our Savior’s in Crow Lake. These congregations each built themselves a church. St. John’s, Eagle Lake, and the little Hardanger congregation each built themselves a church. With the exception of Hardanger, all of these congregations grew pretty significantly. Willmar, which was the smallest, had leapt past its sister congregations so that it was the largest in the call already when I left for Wisconsin. Now Willmar is a fairly significant congregation. The congregation has already several years ago built a roomy, modern, expensive brick church that seats 600 to 800 people and has a superb basement with kitchen and dining room and other modern improvements. Willmar is one of the largest Norwegian congregations in Kandiyohi County.

The Willmar call with the four original congregations was an attractive call. But when Sunburgh and Crow Lake came into existence as well as a preaching site 20 miles south of the city, the call grew laborious and heavy. It was 25 miles to Sunburgh, 30 to Crow Lake, and 20 miles to the Winfield congregation. On a winter day, at 40 degrees below zero and strong winds, it was not especially pleasant to drive this distance to these far-off annex congregations. Still, in the 12 years I served the call there were utmost few times when services were not held.

One winter, I had decided to meet in St. John’s schoolhouse at two o’clock in the afternoon. The weather was pretty windy and foul, and it was bitterly cold. It was nearly blizzard conditions. I drove off. Along the way lived a man by the name of Nils Nilson. He saw me coming and met me in the road. “It’s best if the pastor turns around and drives home again,” he said. “There won’t be people coming to the schoolhouse in this kind of weather.” “No, I won’t do that,” I said. “I’ll drive on; if there aren’t people there, then I’ll have the satisfaction of knowing I was there.” “Ja, then I’ll go along,” he said. “It’s not good to be alone on the road in this sort of weather.” “Thanks,” I said and drove. There was not one person at the schoolhouse. I was pretty well dressed, and it was certainly needed. The only part of my face that was exposed was the uppermost part of my nose. This bare patch was frozen. The horse suffered badly. All at once it stopped abruptly and rubbed its nose against its knee. At first, I couldn’t understand why it did that. When I looked more closely, I found that its nose was frozen over with ice. It rubbed the ice away with its knee.

One time, I had been at Crow Lake on New Year’s Day and held a worship service. The next day, I had to get home due to circumstances. But uff! How cold it was, with strong winds. It was 40 below zero. I waited as long as I could, until afternoon, in the hope that it would be milder, but it didn’t warm up. Thirty miles to drive. It was truly no joke. I gritted my teeth and drove off. I intended to stop halfway to stay overnight with an acquaintance. No one was home when I got there. Three miles further away, at Nest Lake, lived another person I knew, who I could stay with. Having come to the lake, I couldn’t find the road from the ice to the house. It was already dark. I gave up and drove further. There was a great deal of snow and the road was drifted over. I had to let the horse steer itself. He kept to the road. I had come to another lake in the Eagle Lake settlement, and I froze like a dog. Old Anders Bakken lived on this lake. The light shone so beautifully and I wanted to drive there, but it was impossible to find the driveway up from the lake. At one place, it looked like it could be possible to drive up the bank. I struck the horse and drove ahead. The snow was so deep, however, that the horse disappeared. But it fought its way through and got the sleigh and me up the bank. The misfortune then was that I was on the wrong side of the fence. Here I had difficulty to get through a multitude of enclosures and out onto prairie where I knew the road lay to Bakken’s. Out on the prairie, the wind took the sleigh blanket with it. Fortunately, I got ahold of it before it went too far.

I had bells on the horse and when I came to the house, Mother Catharina heard the bells ringing and came to the door with a lamp in her hand.

“Good evening” I greeted her. “Ask Anders to come out to put the horse into safekeeping. I’m freezing so that I could freeze to death.” Catharina called to Anders and said: “You must hurry, here comes our pastor driving in the cold and is almost freezing to death.” Anders came and took the horse and got me into the house, where I was welcomed.

I had many strange tribulations in the 12 years I was at Willmar.

One day I was going to go to Winfield, where there was a worship service planned for 11 o’clock in the forenoon. There were always a lot of people there; the big schoolhouse was always packed full of people. Most of them were Swedish. The road over the prairie was almost impassable in the late spring. In one spot, it seemed nearly impossible to get over the marsh. There was no thought of driving around it, as the marsh was miles long. I drove ahead. In the middle of the marsh, the horse and buggy sank. I crawled out front, so that I got the horse unhitched from the buggy. When the horse realized he was loose, he started to fight his way out and got onto dry land. There I sat in the buggy. I had to climb off as well as I could and come across. But there stood the buggy. The only thing I could do was to walk a mile and a half to the nearest neighbor and ask him for help. He took his team and wagon, got the buggy out of the marsh and got me on my way to Winfield. When I got to the schoolhouse, the people were still there waiting. They knew how the road was and that I would come, even if I was a little late. But for such people, it was gratifying to preach. When the Dalecarlians[2] came to the schoolhouse, they sat down and took their hymnals out and sang so that it was a pleasure to hear. They kept on in that way the whole time until the worship service started.

One day in the late fall, Pastor Anders Nilson Kleven and I were going to drive together to a circle meeting in Saron, Pastor Edvard Martinius Eriksen’s congregation in Chippewa County. Neither of us knew the way over the prairie. Greenfield, from St. John, offered to accompany us with his mule team. He knew the way. We had 40 miles to drive. It snowed a little and was bitterly cold. Greenfield drove in front. On toward evening, we came to an unpleasant marsh which seemed to be endless. Our leader knew the way, he did, and was of the opinion that “Here is where one has to cross.” He drove on with his mules. There was ice on the slough. When the mules got out to the middle of it, they sank and got stuck. The man had to get out of his wagon and unhitch his mules. Greenfield was a Nordlending[3] and was used to dealing with anything and everything; but we truly shuddered when we saw him in the marsh, struggling in the ice water with his mules. There wasn’t a dry spot left on him when he got his mules onto dry ground. We had three miles left to drive to Pastor Eriksen’s house. The wagon was left standing in the marsh and Greenfield walked the rest of the way. He threw his boots into our buggy and pulled on his “ludder,” some great big wool socks. This kept life in him, otherwise he would have kicked the bucket right in front of us on the road.

My Horse

All horses are not alike. Some are “pious,” as one Søren I. called his horse.

My horse was in no way a “pious” creature; it came up with dirty tricks every time it got a chance. It resembled a young boy, who is full of mischief. It was a real Peck’s Bad Boy.[4] Otherwise, it was a good horse. One day, I came ambling along to a lake and stopped to water the horse. I got out of the buggy and loosened the checkline so he could drink. Once he had quenched his thirst, he wanted to take a refreshing bath, too, and bolted into the water, which dropped off suddenly and deeply. I couldn’t reach the reins and had to wade out and crawl up into the buggy from the back end. Before I could get into the buggy and get ahold of the reins, the water was high up on the sides. Fortunately, the bottom was firm, otherwise it would have gone badly with the horse.

On my travels around the many big and small lakes that Kandiyohi County is full of, I had a habit of letting the horse go a ways out into the water to cool himself off. This he found pleasure in. One day, when I had driven him into the water and let him slake his thirst, he wanted to have a proper bath and let himself lay down in the water and broke the shafts on the buggy. Luckily, I was close to home and got help.

Another time, I came driving to Sever Olson’s at Eagle Lake. I was on my way home from Crow Lake, from where I had been driving all day, and wanted to rest the horse. I tied it to a little tree in the farmyard. The daughter gave him some oats in a half-bushel pail, which she set on a box in front of the horse. As he stood there and ate, he knocked over the box and scared himself. The horse began to struggle and tear at the halter. I went over to him, patted him and spoke kindly to him, and loosened the halter from the shafts. When the horse realized it was loose, it made a furious start, with me and the buggy, into the woods, following a narrow path. When I found that I couldn’t hold on, I had to let go. I fell head over heels and the buggy went over me and gave me a few light scratches. At lightning speed, the mad animal ran into the woods and kept to the narrow, crooked path so well that the buggy never crashed into a tree. He soon came out of the woods and into a newly plowed field. He found that this was not exactly fun to dance upon. He veered off to the right, toward Long Lake, some rods distance away. Here, the wild creature ran over a barbed wire fence and tore down four fence posts. Sever, who was working at the edge of the field, came to me. We walked down to the lake expecting to find bits of the buggy and the horse scattered about and bleeding. There stood the horse and buggy, both in good condition, not a scratch on either the horse or the buggy. It was quite a trick by the horse.

The Angel of Death Visits the House

Petra Augusta Paulson was born in Minnepolis on the 15th of August, 1872. She was a well-formed child in all respects, provided with great faculties, sound and healthy, cheerful, full of life and always happy. She had not seen an hour of illness in her short life. On the day the angel of death struck her, she played on the floor, full of life. All at once, she became deathly pale in the face and ran to her sister, who sat playing the organ, and said she had gotten diphtheria and asked her to look in her throat. She did so and said: “You don’t have diphtheria; you don’t know anything.” The child sat herself on the floor and said that she was sick. I went right away to the doctor, who came and said that the child had a cold and gave her cough medicines. The thing was, the doctor did not understand the illness. After a couple of days of terrible suffering, I understood myself that the child was stricken with encephalitis and said so to the doctor, who fumbled with the deathly sick child. He then changed medicines, but it was too late. Death came and freed her from her suffering on the 15th of December, 1875. She was laid to rest in the churchyard of the Eagle Lake congregation a few days later.

While I was away at the Crow Lake congregation, a son was born to us the 31st of December, 1882.[5] When I came home, all was well with the exception of the little one. He was not made for this world; he could not live. We gathered a few friends and baptized the child and called him Johannes. The next day, he went home to God, on the 3rd of January, 1883. He was laid to rest next to his sister in the Eagle Lake churchyard.

When I lay down my staff, which will not be long from now, I hope that my bones will be allowed to rest next to my two little ones. I suppose that many elderly, who come to the end of their days’ work at the Old People’s Home, want to be laid to rest next to Eagle Lake Church.

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[1] Paulson does not give a first name or first initial, only the surname Arctander. Possibly it is John Actander, who appears three years later in the 1880 U.S. Census living in Willmar. Arctander was born in Norway and at the time of the census he was a 32-year-old lawyer:

[2] This refers to people from the Dalarna region of central Sweden. The historical region of Dalarna aligns mostly with the borders of the present-day Dalarna County.

[3] A Nordlending is a person from Nordland County in northern Norway.

[4] Peck’s Bad Boy was a fictional character created by 19th century author George Wilbur Peck. His recurring character Henry Peck was a prankster and trouble-maker, and appeared in numerous newspaper serials, books, and films. Author George Peck served as mayor of Milwaukee and governor of Wisconsin in the 1890s.

[5] His burial was in January 1883, so birth must have been December 1882. Source:

Translation of chapter from the Norwegian language into the English language, and preparation of footnotes, by Denise Logeland.