What is the measure of a man?  If our father had been born a century earlier or a century later, the circumstances of his life would have, of course, been different.


My brothers, Steve and Tom, and I, knew him for twenty-some years.  With him we shared football, camping, Scouts, fishing, hiking, clam digging, class plays, 4-H, carpentry, and our college years.  Those are the measure of our lives.


In 2015 we discovered his Time Book, where he kept records and wages of all the logging camps where he worked. 

 

We decided to take a trip through the Time Book, in search the measure of the man in the time before we knew him.

The Cowboy's boots are pointed to fit into the stirrups and the tall heel locks them in place for the best control of his mount.  His chaps protect his legs.

The miners cap and carbide lamp serve him well underground and his hand pick is always by his side.

The logger has his felling axe and his cork shoes, sometimes called caulk boots.  Spikes in the sole of the boot make him sure-footed as he runs along fallen trees and over limbs and underbrush.

This is a story about those loggers, as we see it through our father's timebook.

 

Corkshoe Cowboys

by Guy, Steve and Tom Swanson
Suzanne and Gary Nelson


Chapter One

Lovosen

 

 

World War One, the Great War, swept through Europe in July of 1914. Since the time of the Napoleonic Wars, Sweden had declared neutrailty and not initiated any direct armed combat.   Even though the country had a compulsary military service, young adult men did not go overseas to the Great War.  They stayed home to help in running the farms and economy.

 

Western Central Sweden is a land of small lakes and rivers, low hills, and valleys of fertile farmland bordered by forest. The lush green valleys are dotted with farmhouses and barns painted in the traditional Swedish color called Falu Red.

In the sixteenth century a red pigment that came from tailings of the iron and copper mines in the Falu region of Sweden was found to be very effective in preserving wood.   Still used as a paint ingredient today, that deep red has became a nationally well known and culturally important part of the Swedish landscape. 

 In the county of Varmland just a few miles from Sunne, there was a fifty acre farm called Lovosen. It had been passed down through the same family for at least nine generations, and it was where where Gustaf and Anna Svenson were raising their nine children. A long winding road led through pastures to the farmhouse where cattle grazed in the lush green pastures and among the the trees on the edge of the forest.

Summer days were long and it took a large family to take advantage of the productive growing season.   Farming was done with horse-drawn implements.    The fields were plowed, disked, harrowed and planted.    Hay was cut with sythes and horse drawn mowers, raked into stooks, dried, and stored in the hay loft for the winter.   

A typical family farm needed to put away between one and two hundred tons of hay to feed their cattle and horses during the long winter.   Cows fed on grass during the summer, producing the cream that was made into butter and cheese.  Milk and diary-related income was an important source income for Swedish agricultural business.  

By October the days were colder and shorter.  They needed twenty to thirty cords of wood to get through the long winter for both cooking and heating and the cellar need to be filled with root vegetables.   As winter settled in, cross-country skis and horse drawn sleighs were the transportation of choice.   In mid-December they celebrated the Festival of St. Lucia and the days began to get longer.  Soon the weather would get warmer, the days longer, and the cycle began anew.

When the war ended In June of 1918 Europe was back to farming, and the inflated wartime prices for farm goods returned to pre-war levels.   That brought on the economic crisis of 1921-22, the toughest challenge that Swedish industry had faced to date.   As the children of large family farms reached adulthood and needed real jobs  unemployment soared to over twenty percent.    

Gösta, the middle son in the family, turned eighteen in 1923 and took his turn at compulsory military service.   He served in the infantry, handling the horses that pulled the cannons.   He returned to a civilian life where jobs were scarce and the future was dismal.  

Since the late 1800's the United States had been promoting the Western states and they looked to Scandanavia for fishermen and lumbermen.  Swedes immigrated in large part because they were following someone else.   There was a well-worn path from Varmland  to the Pacific Northwest traveled by young men in search of their fortune.   Letters they sent home were full of the stories of silver-sided Pacific salmon and thick forests that were filled with money. 

Ragnar, Gösta's older brother by twelve years, had come to the Pacific Northwest around 1915  to work in the woods.   It was ironic that he came from a neutral country, avoided military service in Sweden, but was drafted in America to serve in WWI.    He trained with the American Expeditionary Forces, also called American Doughboys, but by the time they were to be sent to France the war was over.  As soon as his conscription was over he returned to Sweden .

Gösta had grown up with and was close with his cousin, Elmer Swenson, their birthdays were only six days apart.  Elmer had emigranted to the United States when he was seventeen and arrived at Ellis island with frostbite in some of his fingers and toes.  Eimgrants who were found to be diseased could be subject to repatriation, and sent home.    After a weeks stay in the hospital he was allowed to enter the country, took the train to Portland's Union Station and transferred to another train to Astoria.   There was a job waiting for him just across the Columbia River at Brix Brothers Logging Company in Grays River, Washington .

 

Varmlanders began immigrating to America in the later nineteenth century.  When his military service was over in 1926 , Gösta would join them in the Pacific Northwest.

Chapter 2

Migrations

It wasn't the first time that the men of Scandanavia left home to cross the sea to North America.  A thousand years ago Viking longships under the command of Leif Erickson visited the continent and set up short-lived settlemts in present-day Newfoundland, Canada.

In the seventeenth century, Sweden was among the first of the European countries to establish a colony in the New World, on the banks of the Delaware.   About 600 Swedes and Finns setled the colony of New Sweden (Nya Sverige), and brought with them the traditional Finnish forest house made of logs.  The log cabin became such an icon of the frontier that it is thought to be an American structure.  These men founded the Swedish West India Company with the aim of establishing trading posts in North America, but after the Pilgrims arrived the Swedish colony was assimilated into the new nation of neighboring Dutch and English communities.


Another wave of migration to America began when Sweden experienced an unprecedented population growth in the mid 1800's, said to be caused by " the peace, the vaccinations, and the potatoes".  More chilren were surviving to adulthood, but farms could only be subdivided so many times before they became to small to sustain a family.  The Famine of 1866-1868 swept Europe and was known in Sweden and Finland as "the great hunger years."

 

America was pushing westward after the Civil War, and the US Government began looking to Scandanavia for fishermen and lumbermen.   Over 100,000 Swedes made the journey between 1868 and 1872 and changed the America landscape.  Arriving immigrants headed to where their people were, settling in Minnesota, Kansas, Nebraska and Oregon.  For many of the Varmlanders, Astoria was the westerminus of their voyage.

 

It was during this time that some of Gosta's relatives journied halfway around the world to Astoria with dreams of making their fortune in logging and fishing.  Familial relationships were especially important during this time and the early immigrants defined the journey for those who followed.

Gösta's aunt, Kerstin Oldsdotter, and her husband Lars Olsson emigrated in 1874 and settled in Lewis and Clark Valley, a small comunity between Seaside and Astoria.

Big Ole was a cousin to Gösta, and fifteen years old when he came from Sweden with his brother, Nels, on April 18, 1893.  Big Ole logged along the Columbia at the site of Holbrook, just west of Portland.  They found trees were so large that it took two men one full day just to fall the tree.  Trees were felled by axe and crosscut saw and oxen pulled the logs over a skid road to the river.

Walfred Johnson left Varmland and came to Astoria in 1892.  He found work and a place to live in Lewis and Clark Valley and wrote his fiance back in Varmland.  They had planned on getting married, but much to his dismay, she never answered one letter.  He soon learned that she had married another man and started a family.

Carl Henning Svenson was another cousin to Gösta, his father and Gösta's father were brothers.  Born in Sweden in 1884, Henning came to America as an infant with his parents, Olaf Svenson and Mathilde Lindberg.  He grew up in Washington, learned the trade of a blacksmith and moved to Astoria where he opened a blacksmith shop in 1921.


These were a few of the early Varmland families who led the way.   Astoria could be a dangerous place for the new stranger, especially when they didn't know the language.  These Varmlanders who arrived in the 1800's paved the way for the next wave of immigrants who followed the lure of opportunity in this new land.

Chapter 3

The Crucible

The Portland Oregonian described Astoria as the wickedist city, for it's size, on earth.

Like Deadwood, the Barbary Coast, Tombstone and the Klondike, Astoria attracted those who sought their fortune and those who would take it away from them.  Fishing and logging brought immigrants to Astoria from all over the world, and the unwary immigrant with no family ties could find themselves cheated, shanghighed or worse.  Shanghing was not illegal until the start of the twentieth century, a lone soul on the street at night  could be led at gunpoint to the docks and end up as a deck hand headed for the high seas.

Immigrants from most every nation on earth fell into a melting pot, creating a conflict between the rights of workers and the demands of capital.   The Industial Workers of the World began in 1906.  The Wobblies, as they were called,  were described as "revolutionary industrial unionism", with ties to both the socialist and anarchist labor movements.

Henning, Gosta's cousin, was a firebrand in the Socialist Party.  He began holding meetings at his blacksmith shop among his extensive library of books.

His customers at the blacksmith shop became his audience.  Fishermen and farmers came him for wagon parts, horseshoes, automobile parts and the iron pieces they needed.   Many afternoons he stood tall on a wooden box in front of the blacksmith shop, dressed in his black three piece suit and preaching Socialism.    By the twenties was the leader of the Socialist party in Astoria, and it is said that he even ran for president on the Socialist ticket.

Safely outside of the city, and closer to their work, the Varmlanders made their homes and communities near Astoria in Lewis and Clark Valley and along the Columbia near Gray's River.

 

 

Chapter 4

Lewis & Clark Valley


Gösta's aunt, Kerstin Oldsdotter, and her husband Lars Olsson, came to America in 1874 with their one-year old daughter, Hulda Christine Olson.   Some of the first Varmlanders to arrive in America, they would always be referred to as Grandma and Grandpa in Lewis and Clark.

At that time the transatlantic fares from Europe to New York were inexpensive.  Just five years earlier the Southern Pacific railroad to San Francisco had started opening the West, but parts of the country  were still untamed.  The Modoc War had just been won, the last of the Indian Wars in Oregon.   The Civil War had ended a mere nine years earlier and it would be two more years before Custer would make his Last Stand at the Little Big Horn.

Getting from San Francisco to Astoria at that time was by packet boat, steam vessels that carried mail, packages and passengers along the West coast.   The State of Oregon was just over tweny years old and small coastal communities were developing along the coastline. The US Government was advertising in Scandanavia for homesteaders, commerical fishermen and lumbermen, and many flocked to Astoria, the oldest seaport on the Pacific.

The Lewis and Clark River runs south from Astoria about 8 miles, and was only navigable by steamers or barges during high tide. It was alot like Varmland. Spruce, fir and cedar filled the forests and land was available for farmland and raising cattle.

Farmers navigated the river to Astoria for supplies, food for the family and feed for the cattle. Everything, furniture and luggage included, came to the Valley by boat and the farmers transported their farm goods to Astoria to sell.

Stavebold Landing was built in 1884 as a warehouse and boat landing for the settlers, farmers and loggers. Cedar trees cut into short sections of wood that were called stave bolts and were ferried downriver to the mills in Astoria to make wood shingles and clapboards.

During the winter the loggers dragged their fallen trees to the edge of the river. The first rains of the spring raised the water level, allowing them to float their logs down to the sawmills in Astoria.

Lars and Kirstin settled in Lewis and Clark Vallery, near Astoria.  Varmlanders on their way to America were sent off with admonition "You go across America to Astoria, there you find Grandma and Grandpa in Lewis and Clark, they take care of you".  Lars and Kerstin may not have been the immigrants actual grandparents, it was a term of identity and respect. From 1875 on, Lars and Kerstin greeted all from the Old Country.

Family and hospitality were and continue to be the defining behaviors of the Swedes.  It didin't matter what time of day or night they arrived. "Eat, now" was how they were greeted as the coffee, bread, cheese and meat was set out. They were home again.

 


John Walfred Johnson came to America in 1891 to settle in Lewis and Clark Valley. As soon as he got settled, found a home and work, he was ready for his fiance to come from Sweden.  He wrote her often, and for months his letters went unanswered. He finally realized that he had been abandoned.   Walfred was eighteen years old, starting a new life in a new country, but at least there were other people from the Old Country, he wasn't alone.

Nine years later, in February of 1900, John Walfred Johnson married Hulda Christine Olson, the daughter of Lars and Kirstin (Grandma & Grandpa in Lewis and Clark).   Wlafred was 32, Hulda was 27 and had two sons, Clarence (n.d.) and Lester ( born 1906).

 

 

In 1883 Ole Lindberg came to America, he was 15, and Kirstin was also his aunt.   His older brother, Sven, came around the same time. Their youngest brother, Nels followed later, but their father, also named Sven Lindberg, stayed behind in Sweden.

The boys began logging along the Columbia River on the Washhington side, in a place called Gray's River.

NEXT

Essay 5

Gray's River

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