Second of a series
Referred to as vagrants, bums or tramps, these men on the move often moved through southeastern Minnesota during the early years of settlement in the mid-to-late 1800s. Some were heavy drinkers, disheveled in appearance and possibly ill mannered. Even some who were obviously well bred and highly educated preferred an existence through charity rather than employment. They wanted a meal and sometimes overnight lodging. They were usually welcomed.
The Edwin Stewart family arrived in 1853, one of the first six families in what became the village of Caledonia, Minnesota Territory. One son, T. R. Stewart, recalled feeling safe at home because of “the General.” The family dog, General Brock, would not allow a tramp to enter the dwelling unaccompanied, would then watch their every move and would growl a warning if displeased. “They seldom ever needed more than one warning,” said T. R., whose mother told of one hungry visitor who fearfully departed before eating the food served.
One morning in the 1870s just west of Spring Grove, Narve Narveson awoke to find a strange man wrapped in a red blanket and coughing from a bad cold sitting outside the farmhouse, waiting for breakfast. After eating, the stranger quietly walked on his way. This small man was seen around the community until disappearing in the late 1880s. Nothing more was heard of him until a later immigrant told of a man who fit that description had shown up in his home area in Norway. No one could figure out how this man, bereft of money and relatives, could have made it back across the ocean.
Also in the 1870s, a small man with long hair down to his shoulders would wander through Spring Grove asking for food or sometimes a place to sleep. Roe Tune, who had immigrated from Norway, revealed little about himself or any family. He never cut his hair or shaved or wore anything on his head. He had no winter overcoat but wrapped himself in a blanket. However, he was well-versed in mathematics and was captivated by astronomy. In summer, he usually slept outdoors where he could gaze up at the stars. Intrigued by astrology, he claimed the ability to predict the future by the position of the stars.
Ole Krogstad, nicknamed ”Greip Ola,” was a Norwegian immigrant who arrived in Spring Grove in the late 1870s who was thought to come from a wealthy family. Disgraced by his wandering and alcohol addiction, they got rid of him by sending him to North America. He was a large husky fellow who was in demand for heavy work, but Krogstad was not dependable. He was said to stumble down the street mumbling about his fine breeding and social standing in Norway. He would often sleep on the street as well.
His drinking did not abate, making him unfit to perform hard work. He wandered around the village with his whiskey jug and a soldering iron, repairing metalware in exchange for money, food or a place to sleep. Most of his money paid for more alcohol rather than warm clothing for winter. When given an overcoat, Krogstad traded it for hard cider.
Having become a persistent nuisance around town, several citizens donated to purchase him a train ticket to North Dakota. Two months later, he was back in Spring Grove, boasting about how he made his way back on foot. One story had him carrying his whiskey jug when he fell over a rail fence and could not get up. As the whisky splashed out, he said, “I hear you my friend, but I am unable to help you.”
On one of his ramblings in 1897, Krogstad contracted blood poisoning after stepping on a rusty nail. He made it to the dwelling of Embrick Benson, where he was always welcome to stop, but he would die there at age 65. There was a disagreement about his final resting place with some in the congregation objecting to burial in the church cemetery. One well-respected member stated, “It is not for us to pass judgment on anyone. In spite of his failings, it is our duty to give him a decent burial.” Despite some opposition, Krogstad was interred in a corner of the cemetery.
Sources: “Percival Narveson’s Historical Sketches” and the Memoirs of T. R. Stewart as published in “Caledonia Pride, 1854-2004.”