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"You are a Hjørnevik, but who are you?"

Fri, Sep 13th, 2002
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Delivering tragic immigrant news about the 1862 Sioux Uprising 114 years laterBy Deb Nelson GourleyNovember 12, 2001

When I found the Hjørnevik farm near Evanger i Voss, in the Bergan area of Norway in 1976, I felt like I was really home. There were no roads leading to Hjørnevik, so it meant taking a train to the station, between the two mountain tunnels.

It was customary for Norwegians to use their farm name in Norway as their last name in America. Knowing only that my great-great-great-grandparents’ last name was Hjørnevik, it was possible to locate the one and only Hjørnevik farm in Norway.

I climbed up the steep mountainside path until I came to a quaint white and blue house with a breathtaking view of the valley and the Evangervatn, a lake-like passage that leads to the fjord. Two Hjørnevik sisters, Torbjørg, 88, and Maria, 83, answered the door. Never having seen me before, they took one look at me and said in Norwegian, "You are a Hjørnevik, but who are you?"

At that moment, a great sense of pride came over me, as I realized that I was the first person in my family to return to Hjørnevik from America. Torbjørg and Maria, speaking in their local dialect, began asking questions faster than I could understand.

I quickly dug out my genealogy chart from my backpack and began delivering the tragic immigrant news from America, 114 years after the events had occurred. It was the story of my family immigrating from Hjørnevik in 1860 and the parents being brutally murdered in 1862, in the Belmont Massacre during the Sioux Indian Uprising, near Jackson, Minnesota.

The next day I visited Torbjørg and Maria's brother, Salamon, 90, the Hjørnevik family genealogist. He was so excited he kept repeating, "slekt, slekt," (relative) over and over again. Salamon remembered being told how my family had immigrated to America and that they were never heard from again.

Salamon Hjørnevik's family genealogy records dated back to 1654. He traced my great- great-great-grandfather to a cousin of his grandfather.

Immigration to America, 1860

Once in America, the Hjørnevik's went first to Big Canoe, Winneshiek County, Iowa and then pushed on westward to Jackson. They settled in a Norwegian community, along the upper Des Moines River, called Belmont.

According to the history book Inkpaduta and the Sioux Indians, these Norwegian settlers who arrived in the early 1860's understood and spoke very little English. Their interests were centered in their homes, and they had few dealings with the outside world. They had settled almost in the heart of the Indian country, yet they knew nothing of the Indian customs or Indian warfare.

As early as June 1862, reports reached the Belmont settlement that there would be possible trouble with the Indians. At night the settlers gathered at different cabins that seemed to offer better protection.
Belmont Massacre

August 24, 1862

The following account is taken from the History of Jackson County and Historie om Udvandringen fra Voss og Vossingerne i Amerika (History of Emigration from Voss):

The attack on the Norwegian settlement of Jackson County occurred on Sunday, August 24, 1862. At the Ole Førde home, on the northwest quarter of section 22, Belmont, several families had gathered . . .when the Indians were seen approaching, Mrs. Førde, Ingeborg Hjørnevik and Bryta Mestad Ekse with the eight small children went into the cellar. . . twelve year old Ole Olson Førde (son to Ole Førde) piled clothing, boxes and trunks over it . . .the others remained upstairs.

The Indians burst in the east door. All who were in the cabins, except the boy, were instantly killed . . .Lars Hjørnevik (my Great-Great-Great-Grandfather) was shot . . . Ole Olson Førde, the boy, who was standing guard at the west door, bolted out and ran down a trail that led to a spring. . . the bullet struck his right elbow . . . the boy made his way to the church and warned other settlers of the attack.

The fears of those in the cellar were made worse by the crying of the two-year-old baby of Ingeborg Hjørnevik (my Great-Great-Great-Grandmother).

"That lady, with heroism seldom equaled in the annals of Indian warfare . . . deliberately came out of the cellar. . . she said . . . Your children are smaller than mine and they keep quiet; if I stay here the Indians will find us. She came up from the cellar with the child and was killed, her body being horribly mutilated."

The Indians did not learn where Ingeborg Hjørnevik came from because they were busy with the whiskey they found. The child (Johannes, my Great-Great-Grandfather) was un-harmed, but soon began to cry. When the Indians were gone, Bryta Mestad Ekse came up from the cellar, found the child in his mother’s blood, and took him back into the cellar.

The two women and all the children then hid in the cornfield. They spent Sunday night in a blacksmith shop on the Slaabaken farm and then walked south to the fort on Spirit Lake.

In the Historical Data Project, the journey of the women and children is further described: Four of the children were not big enough to walk . . . a younger Førde brother, age 9, transported two of the children while the other two women each carried one. To carry these two children, he would take one in his arms, run ahead some 25 to 50 rods, put the child down, run back and get the other child.

In fear of the Indians, the women and children did not follow the Des Moines River bottom. They had neither water nor food as they continued their flight for three days and nights. To partly quench the children's thirst for water, Mrs. Førde in the early morning would repeatedly wipe her skirt over the dew-laden grass and then ring it out.

The group was discovered by a small detachment of the U.S. cavalry that was sent out to gather in survivors of the massacre. The boy, Ole, who had been given up for dead, joined the group a week after the massacre. After some time, they were hauled in army wagons back to Winneshiek County.

Rattlesnake Hunter

Johannes Larson (the Hjørnevik baby), in 1882, married Ingeborg Nielsdatter Exe (Ekse) in Houston County. They had two children, Louis (born 1883) and Clara, (born 1886), my Great-Grandmother. Johannes and Ingeborg Larson were both buried in the Blackhammer Cemetery.

Clara's daughter, Esther Knudson, is age 93 and lives in Mabel. My Grandma Esther said Johannes farmed near Blackhammer and was "an old rattlesnake hunter." Johannes was bitten three times by rattlesnakes. He died when he was 47 years old of natural causes. Esther said Clara, growing up in the Blackhammer area, spent a great deal of time in the woods and was not afraid of the rattlesnakes.

Great-Grandmother Clara married Ole Thompson, and they spent their married life living in the Big Woods. I used to stay with Clara when I was a child. Clara had a pet squirrel, Chippy, in the house, and we always picked gooseberries and blackcaps in the woods. When Clara and Esther spoke Norwegian, I have since learned, they were speaking the same dialect as Torbjørg, Maria and Salamon Hjørnevik did in Norway.

It was difficult for me to return to Hjørnevik this past summer, knowing that Torbjørg, Maria and Salamon had all passed away. However, I was greeted with open arms by a younger generation of Hjørnevik relatives. Although it had been 25 years since my first visit in 1976, I still felt that special feeling of being really home when I returned to Hjørnevik.

Deb Nelson Gourley is a layout editor at the Jourrnal. She is working on a family history.

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