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One of county’s first abstracted farms

By Staff | Apr 1, 2017

VIRGIL AND VIOLA WEST look over history of their heritage farm near Wallingford in Emmet County.

WALLINGFORD – A farm in Emmet County near the town of Wallingford is believed to be one of the first pieces of land abstracted in the county.

What used to be 160 acres is now 50 acres owned by Virgil and Viola West, of Wallingford; and Allen and Janice Vik, of Decorah.

Viola West and Janice Vik’s great-great-grandfather, Aanon Olson, homesteaded the farm in 1863, but the land wasn’t filed as an abstract until two years later.

Viola said Olson came from Norway with his wife and young daughter. His wife passed away at sea leaving him to care for their daughter, Oline, who was only 4-years-old at the time.

Aanon and Oline settled in Canada initially before he remarried. Years later, his second wife died during childbirth with their second child, leaving Aanon to care for three young daughters on his own.

VIRGIL AND VIOLA WEST have erected a landmark on their family’s farm showing their Century and Heritage Farm designations.

Out of Canada

At this time, Viola said her great-great-grandfather brought her great-grandmother, Oline, and his other daughters to the United States where he had heard about land available in Iowa’s Emmet County. He wanted to move west and homestead there. However, due to Indian uprisings, specifically the Spirit Lake Massacre in Dickinson County, Olson decided moving to that area wasn’t safe.

But a year later, after the Indian trouble subsided, Olson moved with his daughters to homestead in Emmet County.

When the daughters were grown, the land was split up into thirds. Two of the daughters, Viola said, sold off their shares and moved away.

After Aanon’s death, he was buried on the farm.

Her great-grandmother, Oline, married Mandrup Edwinson. They lived on her third of the land, eventually moving into a log cabin.

Viola said the log cabin was moved to the farm from the former Rhine Lake area. Oline and Mandrup had two children, a daughter, Berthina and a son, Albert. Albert died at age 2.

Family bones

Oline and Mandrup buried their young son next to Aanon. Viola said because cemeteries weren’t available for proper burials back then their family and other families in the area made their own makeshift areas for burying family members.

For years, Viola said her father, Sylvester Berge, would walk the area where he thought his great-grandfather and uncle were buried, only to never find anything to mark the area.

It was in 1997 when dirt was being moved for a hog confinement that several human remains were found. People in the area knowing Sylvester would talk about his great-grandfather and uncle being buried in the area were able to reach Viola.

Viola said she then had to sign paperwork in order to prove the bones were those of her white ancestors and not those of Indians. Had they been Indian remains, Virgil said they would have had to be left to lie, but because they were white, they could be moved allowing for the construction to begin.

The process started of exhuming the bodies. Viola said knowing her great-great-grandfather would be buried with a toddler next to him made the process of identifying them a lot easier.

Virgil and Viola’s granddaughter, Heather Heims, was 13 and interested in archeology. She was visiting and had the opportunity to be there on the day the crew was doing the removal. When they came across Aanon and the young boy, Viola said the archeologist allowed Heather to help bring her great-great-great-great-grandfather up from the grave, which eventually helped him and her great-great-great-uncle have a proper burial in their family’s cemetery.

Viola said Heather still possess the pearl buttons, the only thing left over from Aanon’s burial suit.

Rural perils

Viola said her father used to tell the story of a disaster on the farm caused by grasshoppers back when her great-grandparents were still farming.

“He said the grasshoppers came in and ate everything and all they had was the food they had preserved that thankfully was safe in the cellar,” said Viola.

The devastation caused Mandrup to go, by foot, to Minnesota to find work, earning money to help provide for his family.

“There was no feed for the animals, so many had to butcher or sell off their herds,” Viola recalled. “Conditions were better south of them in Emmetsburg so they were able to save one of their cows and put it to pasture down there until conditions improved the next year.”

Viola recalls a story where Mandrup and Oline worked tirelessly in order to save their home from a prairie fire.

“He could see the prairie fires were coming so they filled up several pails with water and he got up on the roof and Oline lifted the pails up to him while Berthina would fill them back up,” said Viola. “He constantly doused the roof with water and they all three were able to save their cabin.”

Family heritage

Berthina was Viola’s grandmother. She was married to Lewis Berge and they lived on their own farm. Mandrup and Oline remained on what is now the Heritage Farm until he died. Oline moved in with her daughter and son-in-law, making her the last person to live on the family’s farm in 1912.

Viola’s parents, Sylvester and Alvina were next to own the farm.

Viola and Virgil would like to see their 154-year-old farm remain in the family as their 50 acres is meaningful to them.

“It’s really neat,” said Viola. “I am amazed it has stayed in our family that long throughout all of the hardships.”

“Since being married to Viola it has been a part of me for over 60 years,” said Virgil. “I don’t think it should belong to anyone but family.”

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