Peter Rosendahl of Spring Grove, Minnesota
author of “Han Ola og han Per” comic strip
Peter J. Rosendahl, the author of the Norwegian-American comic strip “Han Ola og han Per,” was born on April 14, 1878 on a farm nestled in a cozy valley surrounded by forests on three sides: oaks, hickory, poplar, cherry, plus a sprinkling of many other varieties of trees. Cool in summer from the shade of the trees and warm in winter because it was sheltered from the cold north winds by high bluffs, the farm was off the main road about a half a mile. It was quite a trek in the winter across the wind-swept bottom land but a warmer journey over the bluffs to the east which was a trail, very narrow, steep, rocky and surrounded by dense woods and tangled underbrush. This is the way they probably traveled during the winter months.
This farmstead was located about a mile and a half from Spring Grove, Houston County, Minnesota. It was a well-built farmstead consisting of a large house, barn, horse barn, granary and numerous other buildings. The Rosendahl farm consisted of two hundred forty acres, mostly bottom lands, having been enlarged at various times by land purchased since Hans Rosendahl, Peter’s grandfather, in 1855 had pre-empted forty acres of government land.
Peter’s parents and grandparents were emigrants from Norway. His father, Paul Hanson Rosendahl, who was born on October 18, 1839, came to America with his parents in 1851. They first settled at Jefferson Prairie, Wisconsin. Then in 1854, they continued on to Spring Grove where they stayed with their relative Anders Pedersen Kroshus. Kroshus was the name of the man who had first purchased the land that Anders had settled on. Anders Pedersen’s father, Peder Røsonsmoen was a half brother to Paul’s father, Hans. They both had the same mother, namely Kari Amundsdtr. Dvergsten. In time, there would be two grandchildren of Anders Pedersen Kroshus: Anna and Edwin Kroshus, and one great-granddaughter, Georgia Kroshus, who married Donald Rosendahl.
Peter lost his father when he was a little over two and a half years old. Peter, being the youngest in the family, had to depend on his older siblings and mother for his nurturing when growing up. Gunhild (his mother), with the help of hired men, was able to manage this large farm. Not much information as to how she made out has ever been documented, but one has to believe that most of the work fell onto the shoulders of her sons, namely Oliver, born in 1871; Otto, born in 1875 and Peter when he became older.
Gunhild must have been a hired girl at Rosendahl’s when Paul was in the Civil War. Gunhild’s grandson, Percival Narveson, wrote, “She often spoke of the many hardships encountered in those early years. Especially trying was the year of 1865 when Paul served in the Civil War and she had to look after the farm.” They had a son Olaus Rosendahl who was born on June 30, 1865, he died November 24, 1865. The county records indicate that Paul and Gunhild were married September 11, 1869 in Caledonia, MN.
Peter also had two sisters, Julia, born in 1866, married Edward Pedersen in 1886, a pastor of the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church and Hannah who was born in 1869, married Narve Narveson in 1898. Gunhild died in 1933 at the age of ninety-five years.
Before Paul Rosendahl died, he had paid passage to America for Gunhild’s father, Ole Anderson Brubraaten and two of her sisters, Karen and Ragnhild. Ole must have been a great help to Gunhild as also probably were her sisters. Hans’ wife Gudbjor also lived with Gunhild after her husband had left to seek ‘greener pastures.’ Percival wrote, “Ole was a kind, gentle old man, who was always mindful and appreciative of having been provided a home with his daughter. He quietly went about with his work of doing light chores, gathering firewood and mending fences almost to the day of his death.” When he died, he was ninety-four years old.
Education has always been one of the requirements for children growing up in a Norwegian home. Early records are not available, but we do find that Carl Otto Rosendahl not only attended the University of Minnesota, but he also attended in 1904, the University of Berlin in Germany. He went on to become a Professor of Botany at the University of Minnesota and discovered a plant that was named after him.
Peter never went beyond grade school. One has to speculate how many months of school this involved. Usually school was held during the winter months when there was no fieldwork—just the everyday chores. But Peter must have had a thirst for knowledge as we find that he not only purchased many, many books during his lifetime, he also subscribed to many magazines—some of which were “The Youth’s Companion,” and “Scientific American” to name a few. Above all, he liked to draw. Neighbors would tell how he would draw pictures in the dust on the threshing machine in the fall. Many of these pictures would resemble the men who were working with the threshing.
It was believed for many years, that Peter never traveled much outside his home at Spring Grove. But we have found that in 1904, Peter and his brother-in-law Narve Narveson took a train trip to the West Coast. There are many pictures documenting this trip. After he married Othelia Melbraaten, they took a trip to North Dakota to visit the Stoa’s. Mrs. Stoa was Gunhild’s sister. He also went to the Cities to paint a house for his brother Otto and while there wrote a poem about life in the city. He would go to Bemidji to visit his brother, Otto, who did summer work there in connection with his job at the University. Peter would also send his children to visit at the lake and there were many happy memories connected with these events. In turn, Otto’s sons would visit the farm in the summer and get to know first-hand what was entailed in producing milk and butter, pork chops and eggs. Otto always felt it was a great experience for his sons.
To be continued.