Saturday, September 1, 2007

History of the Lillestol Clan

by Oline Lillestol (Philip’s aunt,
his one-room school teacher until 5th grade, and
his piano teacher until high school)
(with a bit of editing by Frank Trnka)

Ole Peterson Lillestol (Philip and Lois’ grandfather), son of Ole and Oline Lillestol, was born in Hornindal, Nordfjord, Norway, March 21, 1864. He immigrated to the United States in 1888 and came to Dwight, North Dakota where some cousins lived. He was a carpenter by trade and worked at that in this area.

At this time, the government was offering a quarter section of land for the cost of $5.00 to encourage people to start farming. It was called “The Homestead Act.” In order to be eligible for this land, suitable buildings had to be erected for habitation. Ole selected a piece of land and built a two room house with a loft and other buildings. He had also done some farming. When this was done and the inspectors were satisfied, he was given a deed to the land. This was known as “Proving Up.”

Laura Elise Lindh, daughter of Jacob and Bergitta Lindh, was born August 22, 1870 in Laukvik, Lofoten, Norway. Laura’s home in Norway was in “The Land of the Midnight Sun.” Lofoten is 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The summers are short and the winters long. In summer, the sun shines constantly for about two months and in winter it doesn’t shine at all for about two months, there is only daylight. Laura was born into a family of 15 children. Four girls and one boy died in a plague, four girls and one boy came to America and four girls and one boy stayed in Norway. The ones who came to America were Laura, Maja, Jacobina, Hansina and Hans. Some of the others were -Karen, Petra, Christine, Richard, Fernanda, Gina and Marianne. Hansina, Jacobina and Hans came a few years after Laura and Maja.

During the short summer, Laura and her sisters spent the time on a “seater.” This was a place up in the mountains where they would take the cattle and sheep to graze to save the grass on the lowland for hay in the winter. Because only three percent of Norway is cultivated, the rest is mountains and water. It is necessary to guard the hay sparingly for winter. The seater had a house and outbuildings and it was the responsibility of the girls to take care of the milk and make cheese and butter. Laura said it was a very lonely place. Only occasionally someone would come up with more food, but they couldn’t leave because of the animals.

Laura had worked as a maid in the home of a business man in the large city of Tromso. Each maid had special jobs; Laura’s was clothing and shoes. They were a large family and put their shoes out by their bedroom doors at night. Early in the morning the maids would polish the shoes and put them back by the doors. She said they were kind folks except for Petter, a son, who was a rascal. One day he was mad at his father, went in his closet and spit all over his best suit. She never knew how that turned out.

Occasionally the maids would have an afternoon vacation. This amounted to a long walk around the city. They carried a large key to the house, and for sport, if they saw an officious looking person coming by they would very innocently jab him with the key.

She immigrated to the United States in 1893 and also came to Dwight, North Dakota. She and Ole were engaged before he left Norway, but it was five years before she came over. She and a sister Maja, pronounced Miya, came to Dwight in October when the rain had started.

When the train stopped at the little station in deep slush, they refused to leave saying they were to go to a “city.” After some conversation, they had to leave and in their finery and carrying fancy umbrellas, they stepped onto the board platform into slush up to their ankles. Ole was a little late getting to the station and they wanted desperately to turn around and go back to Norway, but, of course, they didn’t have money for the long trip back. Ole came soon and brought them to the home of a friend where they were welcomed.

Ole and Laura were married in the Dwight Lutheran Church and then went out to the Homestead he had obtained. Maja soon found work in the home of a young bachelor that was furnished with everything necessary for a comfortable home. She was an expert cook and housekeeper.

Laura was very eager to learn the English language. She often kept the teacher to learn the language and to earn a !little money. One winter she allowed school to be held in the upstairs room for a period of three months. But, “just once,” she said. “Never again.”

Money was always a problem. Ole was a fairly good fiddler and would play his fiddle for a dance all evening for the sum of $2.00. One summer there was an abundance of hay on government land that the Homesteaders were allowed to cut. Ole cut, bunched, and sold it for $1.00 a load - as much as could be loaded on a hayrack and those loads were HUGE!

Since there were no trees in the area and wood was the fuel for cooking and heating, it had to be gotten from the Sheyenne River, many miles from there. Jacob was soon to be born and Ole decided he had to have more wood. He left at daybreak and Laura knew he would do well to get home that night. In mid-afternoon Laura began feeling ill and had only 15-month Peter (Philip and Lois’ father, born 1896) for a companion. She stoked the fire as long as she was able and then took Peter into bed with her and prayed a lot. Ole did get home that night and found Laura very ill and both she and Peter very cold. After comforting them but with no telephone, he had to take off again to get a midwife. Jacob arrived hale and hearty and what might have been a triple tragedy turned out fine.

When Jacob was one month old, and even in the dead of winter, it was necessary that he be baptized. The family in a lumber wagon and with horses went to Dwight, 15 miles away, where the nearest clergyman lived. Jacob was baptized with sponsors, Eskild Farup, a family friend, and Laura’s sister Jacobina Lindh. These two had not met until that day but Dan Cupid must have been around since they were married some months later. They settled on Eskild’s farm about six miles from Laura and Ole.

Hansina married Hans Rhode and settled on a farm close to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Maja married a young Englishman, Arthur Bayes. They lived in the Wahpeton area some years and then moved to Petoskey, Michigan. Hans tried farming but didn’t do well at that and wound up in Seattle working in the Ship Yard.

As the family grew, the little house became crowded. Ole added a good sized dining room and a kitchen. Laura’s neighbors envied her frame house but with no trees for protection from the blazing sun of summer and fierce winds of winter and no insulation, the house was uncomfortable much of the time. Young Laura envied a neighbor who had a sod house that was cool in summer and warm and cozy in winter.

In Ole’s family there were only three children: Andreas, Olina and Ole. Olina went to Canada, settled there and raised a family near Regina - her name was Olina Roset. There are now many Rosets in that area.

Andreas came to the United States and here’s the story. When Ole and Laura had their first five children Ole got a letter from Andreas in Norway saying that they were starving and could he send them money to come to America -the place with “Golden Streets.” Fortunately the house was enlarged by that time and Ole sold one of his animals and sent the money. They also had five children, four boys and one girl, which made seven more people. Can you imagine cooking and baking for 14 people day after day in the summer without electricity? Andreas did find work before too long and later a set of buildings became vacant and the family moved in. Their boys were a little older than Ole’s and also found some jobs here and there. In time they had a farm of their own in West End Township, west of Wyndmere. When they were much older and all of their children gone, they went to live in Minneapolis, where a son Leif and his wife, Doris, lived.

Ole and Laura with strong Lutheran backgrounds from Norway, felt the need of a church in this community. Ole headed the list and went from place to place for contributions. Before long, enough money was collected and the Homestead Church was built in 1908.

Ole and Laura became the parents of eight children: Peter Olaf, Jacob Bergeton, Iver Gren, Lilly Ovedia, Anna Marie, Myrtle Odina, Oline Fernanda and Harvey Selnor.

And how did Laura discipline all these children? She was not a large person, average height and slim, but when she said “NO!” that meant “NO!” Some didn’t need much correction, Peter, Jacob and Anna especially. I never heard of a “switch” being used, but I do remember a rap on the head if Laura was disturbed during a phone call, and also being sent upstairs to cool off. There was never any arguing at the table.

Ole was a very ambitious man and active in all community meetings. At one point, he was awarded the job of hauling lumber for a pound-yard at his place. He would have the job of building it if he would do it for $5.00. This was a place for straying cattle.

Early in February, Ole became ill with a very bad cold. The doctor from Wyndmere came out and said it was pneumonia. What medicine he had didn’t seem to help and Ole decided he wanted to go to Wahpeton. Peter brought him to Barney, where the train stopped for passengers, only to learn that the train was stranded in snow and wouldn’t be coming. There was nothing to do but go back home. A few days later, Ole died at the young age of 46 on February 18, 1910. He was the first to be buried in the Homestead Cemetery.

Now Laura was left alone to raise the eight children ages 14 to 1-1/2. The thought was overwhelming and she could hardly contain herself. She even thought of moving to Wyndmere in hopes of finding work. But kind and caring friends and neighbors convinced her she would be better off on the farm. Of all the wonderful friends that rallied around Laura and her family, one stands out as being special. He also had immigrated from Norway and homesteaded near them. His name was Arnie Hjelseth and he was well acquainted with Ole and Laura and also the children. When Peter became the father figure of this family, Arnie was there to help. He was a bachelor and didn’t like to cook, so he had eaten many meals at Laura’s table. Eventually he became a permanent member of the family. There are no words to describe what he did for them. He was very capable in every respect, thoughtful, kind, and pleasant. How could they have been so blessed.

The fall before Ole died, he had purchased a large number and many kinds of trees to be planted in the spring for a grove. Now Peter and Laura planted all those trees. They grew and flourished into a large, valuable grove that can still be seen around the buildings at the old Homestead.

The children were doing well. All seemed to be in good health and growing up as children do. Crops were adequate and little by little more equipment and animals were purchased. In a few years, a large barn was built.

Jacob, now 20, went to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where a sister of Laura’s lived, to do carpenter work. He was there when the first world war broke out. He registered for the draft there and soon was called to serve in the army. When the day came for him to leave, Laura and others were at the train station to see him off. Laura remarked later that the hardest thing she had ever experienced in her life was to watch the train leave with Jacob on it - going to war. She felt she had to run after the train and get him off. Jacob served eleven months in France and Belgium. In spite of many hardships, he fortunately came home in good health.

Laura raised sheep on the farm. In spring they were sheared and she would wash the wool and spin it into yarn. From this she knit socks and mittens and other things. She would also card it and make it into pads to put in quilts for warmth. She knitted dozens and dozens of pairs of socks and mittens for the World War effort.

Laura taught her daughters to knit, crochet and other fancy work, and also to make quilts. Most of the quilts were tied, but some were stitched by hand, these were the more fancy ones. Nothing was wasted. Flour came in 100 or 50 pound cloth bags. The 50 pound bags became dish towels and the 100 pound became slips, bloomers, night gowns and even dresses. Sugar came in 25 pound cloth bags but most often in 10 pound cloth bags. These were sewn together with strips of colored cloth and became tops for quilts. For winter quilts, she would also cut up old suits, coats and jackets and sew the pieces together. Then she would often use colored thread to make fancy stitches over the seams.

Because there was no electricity to freeze food, it had to be preserved in other ways. Hams and bacon were soaked in brine and then smoked thoroughly in a smoke house. Beef and pork was cut up in chunks, put into a quart size glass jar with some broth and baked in the oven for several hours. The lids were then tightened firmly and the meat kept very well for a long time. Much fruit was canned, jams and jellies made.

For entertainment there were church programs and school programs and always a last day of school picnic. The parents came with lots of delicious food followed by a rousing game of softball. In summer there was an occasional barn dance when there was no hay in the loft. (The barn dance was for neighbors and friends - ONLY). During winter there was much visiting between neighbors and many Sunday dinners. And then there were Basket Socials, usually held in a school house and always well attended. The ladies would bring a decorated box or small basket filled with delicious food. The men who came were prepared to buy one of these and have the privilege of eating lunch with the owner of the basket. One of the men was elected to be auctioneer and the sale was on. If one of the men -or boys- had a special girlfriend he would try to spy her basket. At one of those socials, an especially beautiful basket came up and the bidding was spirited -until- up from the crowd came a voice- “Don’t tip the basket, there is sauce in there.” Silence. The bidding stopped. She was not one of the favorites. But the social went on. Proceeds from these events went to the school for library books.

Myrtle liked to be on the go. A very favorite place was “Saturday Night in Wyndmere.” People came from miles and miles and crowded the little town. The Main Street was about two blocks long. There were two grocery stores where one could buy anything from a stick of candy to a suit of underwear. The Bar was busy taking care of thirsty men, rarely a woman. There was a creamery, a drug store where ice cream was served and a Cafe for coffee and whatever. Sometimes the theater had a film and that was special. But unless Peter got the chores done he couldn’t take her. So - she learned to milk cows. Talk about determination. Of course others also went.


  1. Marcelle de Lacour,born Schaeffer in Besançon, Philipp's harpsichord teacher in Paris was my cousin.
    She died in 1997 when she was past 100.
    Her father Charles Schaeffer, was my great uncle and his sister was my paternal grand mother.

    If you want to know more about my cousin Marcelle contact me at

    I was also a Fulbright student. I spent a year in 1957-58 at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT. I am looking forward to your reply.

  2. François,
    I did not get notice of your comment for a number of months and the e-mail address above did not work at that time. If you have a current e-mail address, I would be interested in corresponding about your cousin, Marcelle de Lacour. Sorry for the delayed response.