Polk County farm started with funds earned in Civil War
LATER – A young boy, just 12 years old, arrived on U.S. soil with his father, mother and four siblings from Norway in the fall of 1855.
It was this boy that eventually established the Tesdell family farm in Polk County that is not on- ly a Century Farm, but also a Her- itage Farm.
Ann Larson, a descendant of the Tesdell family, told the history of the family, including how they sailed down the St. Lawrence Sea- way, then made their way to Chicago, Illinois, walking 50 miles out of town to Lisbon, Illi- nois, where they were outfitted with covered wagons and banded with a group called the Palatine Pi- oneers, who eventually settled near Huxley.
Their mother eventually passed away, becoming the first death in that settlement. Their father, Eric Tesdell, raised the children, which included 12-year-old Severt.
Larson said they couldn’t speak English, but Severt enlisted and was shipped off to fight in the Civ- il War in order to help support his family.
“He thought he’d be gone for only a few months, but it ended up being three years. He sent money home from the war to help support his family,” Larson said. “The first year in Polk County, they lived in a dugout, then the family built a log cabin and remained in it until 1885 when they were able to build a new home.”
After Severt Tesdell returned home, he married a girl by the name of Ingeborg and they had
nine children. Severt Tesdell died in 1920, but not without using the money he earned as a soldier to buy land for the family farm.
The operation passed from gen- eration to generation until Ron Tesdell and his sisters’ parents bought it from their grandparents.
“There actually were six farms owned by my great-grandfather, so we had three great-uncles, two great-aunts and our grandfather who owned those farms,” Larson said. “Our great-grandfather Sev- ert was quite the entrepreneur, farming with oxen and then teams of Percheron horses.”
Larson, who is the oldest of five siblings, now owns the family farm along with her two sisters and a brother.
It’s farmed by their nephew, adding another generation to carry on the family farm’s legacy.
It’s family that Larson, who re- mains in Iowa, remembers most fondly from her days on the farm.
“One of the greatest things was being around all those extended family members – the great-un- cles and great-aunts and our grandparents and cousins all with- in a few miles of each other,” she said. “We had neighborhood pic- nics and threshing parties and raked oat straw with a Farmall tractor together.”
“There were so many wonderful things about growing up on the farm. We had a big garden and did a lot of canning.”
While growing up on the farm created wonderful memories for the family, there were also some tough times that have befallen the family in the farm’s 150 years of operation.
“There wasn’t anything worse than the Depression years,” Lar- son said. “We had to burn corn in our floor furnace, because we couldn’t afford coal and the corn wasn’t worth anything. Of course, there were droughts, then too much rain, things that every farmer experiences.”
Rosalie Locker recalled how much she loved being around and tended to the livestock on the farm.
The kids also had a pony that they rode.
“We’d ride our horses with our neighbor friends and we liked to ride down the gravel roads on our bicycles,” Locker said. “We even played on the hay bales.”
One thing Locker is thankful for, after spending her childhood on the farm, is her work ethic.
“Growing up on a farm, you de- velop a good work ethic,” she said. “You also learn the importance of caring for the land and animals. You also learn how to take care of yourself, growing your own food.”
“We always had a garden and my mother canned, plus we had wonderful homegrown meat and vegetables.”
While Locker married a school teacher and left the farm, she did- n’t go very far – she lives just five miles away from the home- stead on the edge of town.
“I have corn and bean fields be- hind me, so the view is pretty much the same as when I was growing up,” she said.
Sister Darlene Hetland, who now lives in Minnesota, loved the social opportunities living on a farm brought with it, along with always being outside.
“We always had family and neighbors around us. They’d drop by any time or we’d go to their farms and visit,” Hetland said. “I loved that sense of community. Most holidays were at our house, because there were five of us. Al- though I loved having siblings, it was also nice to go off by myself.”
Hetland said, growing up with- out endless money, she found en- tertainment where she could. That included a rock pile that she con- verted into a makeshift playhouse.
“Then I’d hide in the lilac bush- es and read my book in peace and quiet. I loved dreaming and think- ing and playing and being outside in nature,” she said. “We of course had chores, though, like hanging the laundry, weeding the garden and mowing the lawn. I even
plowed and drove the tractor to move bales, even though I was a girl.”
Brother Ron Tesdell recalled all of the skills he learned, like work- ing with engines, transmissions and hydraulics. All of that has transferred over to his line of work and the business he owns, which he started in 1975.
Some of Tesdell’s fondest memories were big family dinners and helping out neighboring farm- ers with chores like baling hay.
“Every afternoon we’d take a break and eat watermelon under the trees,” he said. “One thing I do remember is not having air condi- tioning. You also learn how to work long hours and fix things yourself. I also remember walking beans and stacking hay.”
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