Norwegians in North Dakota
North Dakota never achieved the total population of its neighboring states, and only about 200,000 of its population claims Norse descent - however, that represents one-third of the state's population. There is no state that celebrates its Norwegian heritage like North Dakota. (By comparison, Minnesota's 850,000+ residents that claim Norwegian ancestry represent only about 20 percent of its total population.)
Telemark settlers found their way to most of the major settlements in North Dakota in the late 1870's and early 1880's. In 1880, a band of Telers settled in the area of what is now Bue (named for the settlers' Norwegian home in Bø) in Nelson County. Their main cash crop was wheat, and they soon found that raising cattle was also quite lucrative. The main markets were in Valley City and Grand Forks.
Just south of Valley City in Barnes County lies a beautiful valley cut deep into the prairie. Telers began to arrive in the Sheyenne River Valley near what would become Kathryn ND in 1880. They said it reminded them of their Norwegian home.
Grand Forks County had a thriving Teler settlement, and many who came to that area along the Red River made the move to the Turtle Mountains along the Canadian border straddling the county line between Bottineau and Rolette counties near the town of Dunseith. Among the first settlers, arriving in 1883, were the Flaten, Medtvedt, and Aaland families from Telemark. The main crop was wheat, and they had to drive 100 miles to Devils Lake to market their products. In the early years Sioux Indians roamed the land. There were few if any violent incidents, but the Native Americans did not understand property rights or privacy, and more than once on a winter morning a settler would be startled to find a group of Indians huddled in the barn - or sitting by the fire in their cabins!
Also in 1883, Sveinung Aslakson and Neri Bitubek from Rauland in Telemark were the first to settle in Eddy County. Telers were also among the first to stake their claims to land around McHenry in Foster County about 1885. Tollef Thompson, Levi Sem, and Nels Kastet each had a fine homestead and made a good living growing wheat. Their closest market was in Cooperstown, just 24 miles away.
Sondre Norheim, Father of Modern Skiing, came to North Dakota and settled in Denbigh in McHenry County.
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