The Muskego Settlement
In 1839, John Nielsen Luraas, the eldest son on the Luraas farm led a party from Tinn, Telemark. Ansten Nattestad was leading a group to America this season. John Luraas married Anna Olsen Berge on April 8, 1839. By September 8 they were in America. Of the 40 in the party, half were from the Luraas families. These 40 left from Drammen with the sloop Enighteten on May 5, 1839. In Goteborg they boarded the Clarissa Andrews June 1, bound for Boston. After arriving on July 20, the immigrants went west via New York and Buffalo, and after a perilous voyage on the Great Lakes arrived in Milwaukee seventeen weeks after they left their native land. Their original plan was to go to the Fox River Settlement in Illinois. They were talked out of it by a couple of Americans and they went to Muskego instead.
Almost immediately, the "America Letters" began to flow with accounts of freedom and equality. There was no need to bow to officials and "betters" in this land. The letters became an indictment of Norwegian class distinctions but also told of toil and hardship. The letters were copied and sent from farm to farm and community to community. Many were reprinted in newspapers.
On June 28, 1839, Johannes Johansen and Soren Tollefsen Bache left Store Walle in Lier and came to Fox River, Illinois. Johannes would go on to write the Muskego Manifesto. Soren would write a book about Muskego. They went to Muskego in the summer of 1840 from Fox River. The Muskego site seemed to Bache to be unfavorably located so he selected lands on the shores of Wind Lake in Norway Township. This led most of the Muskego folks to move here. Soren returned to Norway in 1842, left again in 1843, returned once more in 1847 and settled in Lier parish where he died in 1890.
The Norwegians arrived in Muskego during the dry season, and the swamps around Lake Muskego appeared to be an inviting prairie. It wasn't until the following spring that they realized the kind of terrain on which they had staked their claims. Swamp fever, ague, and malaria plagued the early settlers at Muskego even after they moved out of the low lands, on to Norway Township and adjoining lands in Racine County. Even Heg erected his barn in 1843, and it became the first home in America for many Norwegian immigrants, and the springboard from which families moved westward. That same year, Reverend C. L. Clausen arrived in America with his bride and became the pastor in the Muskego settlement. The first Norwegian Lutheran church in America was built on Even Heg's land at Muskego. 70 people died of malaria and related illnesses during the fall of 1843. Milton Wells visited the Muskego settlement during the winter of 1843-44 and wrote "the amount of wretchedness and suffering which prevailed was such as absolutely to mock all description". Men like Heg, Bache, and Johansen gave so much aid to new immigrants that Muskego became the place to be for the down-and-out. Every house had to hold 15-20 new immigrants, thus the susceptibility to disease.
Muskego became the first major way-station for Norwegians immigrating to the American Midwest. Later, Koshkonong and points west would become the first stop for Norwegians.
The State of Wisconsin erected a Historic Marker during 1963 to commemorate the Muskego Settlement. It is located at the entrance to Norway Evangelical Lutheran Church, across from Heg Park, on Wisconsin Highway 36 in Wind Lake, Wisconsin. It is inscribed as follows:
Under the leadership of John Luraas, forty pioneers came to Muskego Lake from Norway in 1839, to found one of the most important settlements in Norwegian American history. After temporary setbacks, the settlement flourished here ' through the leadership of Even Heg, Johannes Johannsen, Soren Bache, Elling Eielsen, James Reymert, and Claus Clausen, who sent glowing reports to Norway and encouraged a large movement to this country. This settlement gave rise to the first Norwegian Lutheran congregation organized in America (1843) and published the first Norwegian American newspaper. Old Muskego became well known as a mother colony to other settlements, schools, and churches springing up on the new frontier. Countless wagonloads of newcomers stopped here before continuing west. Nearby Heg Park commemorates Colonel Hans C. Heg, one of Wisconsin's Civil War heroes.
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